Monday, September 28, 2009

The UFT's rebuttal to Hoxby's study; fighting The Blob

Jonathan Gyurko, who is (was?) Randi's Special Assistant and was the co-founder of the UFT's charter school in NYC, posted this response to the Hoxby study on the union's EdWize web site.  He makes the usual critiques of charter schools, but comes up with one I've never heard -- a real head- and knee-slapper: that charter schools contribute to segregation to having too many black and Latino students!!!  I'm not making this up -- here are his exact words:
The answer actually depends on how policymakers weigh the goal of improved student achievement against other worthy goals, such as greater educational equity and meaningful diversity. And on these other objectives, nagging questions dog the charter sector.

For example, Hoxby finds that 92 percent of charter students are black or Hispanic, compared to 72 percent in district schools and concludes that “the existence of charter schools in the city therefore leaves the traditional public schools less black, more white, and more Asian.” Such racial segregation is consistent with research on charter schools in other states including North Carolina, Texas and elsewhere.

Although this statistic is likely to be a function of charter schools’ location in largely black and Hispanic neighborhoods, Hoxby also reports that fewer white students are applying to the charters; although 14 percent of residents in the charter school neighborhoods are white non-Hispanic, only 4 percent are applying.

So, for years the unions accused charter schools of creaming/skimming, taking fewer disadvantaged students.  Yet now that charters (at least in NYC) are deliberately locating in the worst neighborhoods, to serve the neediest students, and even within these neighborhoods try to target black and Latino students (who, every study shows, are further behind than white students), the union line of attack has shifted to charters contributing to increased racial segregation of our schools!  As I said, ya can't make this stuff up...
This raises a larger and VERY important point: while creating great schools and teachers, putting up great numbers, and closing the achievement gap are critically important for charter schools (and the school reform movement in general), we shouldn't think that this will quiet our enemies -- who I call "The Blob", meaning not just the teachers' unions, but the entire entrenched system -- or make it smooth sailing when it comes to passing reform legislation.  In fact, the better we do, the MORE The Blob will try to kill us because our success is an even greater threat to the cherished (and immoral) status quo.
For years, I feel like we've all been pushing an enormous ball up a hill -- brutally hard, time-consuming, painful work.  For the first time, I feel like we're now pushing the ball on a flat surface -- not downhill yet, but at least flat.  The Blob became lazy, complacent, bureaucratic, inept and careless, which caused it to horribly misplay its slam-dunk winning hand -- after all, it outnumbers and outspends us at least 1,000 to 1 -- so now it's scrambling to cope with bombs going off all over the country.  The Blob is back on its heels -- maybe even on the run -- but IT IS NOT GOING AWAY.  Every day, in every city and every state, year after year, decade after decade, thousands of members of The Blob wake up and spend every day focused on a clear agenda: higher pay, better benefits, shorter work hours and greater job protection for the adults in the system.  They have been extraordinarily effective at achieving these aims -- in all of these areas, the trends have been very favorable for decades.

The Blob has also been very clever to embrace the children, such that any attack on it or its interests appears to be an attack on children and children’s interestsIn fact, however, the interests of The Blob are often completely contradictory to the interests of childrenFor example, it is obviously in the best interests of children if ineffective teachers and principals can be removed quickly, yet their unions fight – generally very successfully – to make it extremely difficult to remove even the most ineffective performer.  Or, among the unions favorite prescriptions to fix our schools is to reduce class size, which obviously benefits unions because it requires hiring many more teachers, yet the evidence shows that this is very costly yet does little to help students – and may even harm disadvantaged students
School reformers must make it clear that they, not The Blob, are the ones who are putting the interests of children first, and gird themselves for an enormous, expensive, bloody, brutal war that will last for decades, because The Blob will not go down without a fight.

Hoxby’s Other “Stubborn Facts”

Stanford University economist Caroline Hoxby released yesterday an update to her 2007 study of charter schools in New York City.1 In the study, she compares the state examination results of students enrolled in the City’s charter schools (i.e. those students “lotteried-in”) to the results for those students who applied to a charter but were not selected for admission (i.e. the “lotteried-out”). In many respects, this is a good approach as it aims to account for the possibility that charters enroll more motivated families and that it is this motivation, rather than any particular charter school effect, that is the cause of stronger student achievement.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Accountability in Public Schools

It is certainly indicative of a massive shift when the NYT editorial page is writing things like this: "Arne Duncan will need to hold firm against the likes of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, and others who are predictably clinging to the status quo."
August 29, 2009
NYT Editorial

Accountability in Public Schools

The Obama administration laid down an appropriately tough line in late July when it released preliminary rules for the $4.3 billion pot of money known as the Race to the Top Fund. The administration rightly sees it as a way to spur reform by rewarding states that embrace high standards and bypassing those that do not.

Federal regulations are often modified in line with criticisms that arise during the legally mandated comment period. But Education Secretary Arne Duncan will need to hold firm against the likes of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, and others who are predictably clinging to the status quo.

The administration plan would award grants based on how well state applications cover several topic areas. States must, for example, submit plausible plans for improving teacher effectiveness, equalizing teacher quality across rich and poor schools. They must also show how they would turn around failing schools.

The most important provision — the one that should be non-negotiable — requires states to show how student achievement will be taken into account when judging teacher performance. The systems for making these judgments are still in the formative stages. And when they are developed, they might differ from place to place.

Of course, those systems need to be sensible and fair. But the country will never get where it needs to be if we take the approach — as union leaders have sometimes done — that student test scores should be out of bounds when it comes to judging teacher effectiveness. That is an indefensible position. The unions can either help to create this system, or get left behind.

In the past, the federal government talked a good game about requiring reform in exchange for federal dollars, then it caved when it came time to enforce the bargain. This time, Mr. Duncan has proposed using a closely calibrated evaluation process under which states get points for reforms they have made and points for changes they promise to make — as well as conditional financing that can be pulled back if the states fail to perform. Mr. Duncan should hold fast to that plan.

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Amid Hiring Freeze, Principals Leave Jobs Empty

What's going on here is absolutely fascinating -- NYC principals are choosing to be understaffed rather than hire certain teachers who've been excessed:

Less than two weeks before the start of school, about 1,800 teaching jobs in New York City remain open as principals appear to be resisting orders to fill vacancies with teachers whose previous positions were eliminated.

Facing steep budget cuts, the Education Department enacted a hiring freeze in the spring, requiring principals with openings to hire teachers who are already on the city’s payroll but who have no permanent position, often because their schools were closed for poor performance.

But many principals prefer new teachers. So in an act of quiet defiance, they are allowing jobs to sit vacant, leading to one of the most difficult hiring seasons in recent history despite the large number of vacancies and the thousands of candidates who could fill them.

This article doesn't do this complex issue justice.  At first glance, this appears to be a simple case of principals not wanting to hire lousy teachers (which is something that should be celebrated!), but that's not the full story.  In today's tight budgetary environment, many teachers are excessed due to layoffs driven by economic factors -- and since these layoffs are driven nearly entirely by seniority (rather than merit -- yet another way the union contract screws kids), many good young teachers are laid off.
The good teachers are quickly hired, as will most of the nearly 2,000 still looking for positions.  The long-term ones (more than 300 have been in the pool for over a year), however, are either not trying very hard or, more likely, are mostly truly abysmal teachers who principals are (correctly) refusing to hire, so let's hope Bloomberg and Klein are successful in renegotiating this:
With the teachers’ contract up for renewal this fall, Mr. Klein said he would push for a limit on how long teachers could stay in the reserve pool before they could be laid off. But an arbitration board has rejected such a limit.
A final comment: during their tenure, Bloomberg and Klein have successfully given principals much more power, control and autonomy and, at the same time, have created accountability for them: they stand to make extra money if their schools succeed, but also are at risk of losing their jobs if their schools fail.  This is EXACTLY as it should be for managers of any sort.  Regarding the issue of hiring excessed teachers, principals are behaving independently and courageously, acting like accountable entrepreneurs, resisting enormous pressure to do what's best for their schools and their kids.  Three cheers for the principals and for Bloomberg and Klein, who reformed the system to create these circumstanes!

Amid Hiring Freeze, Principals Leave Jobs Empty

Published: August 28, 2009

Less than two weeks before the start of school, about 1,800 teaching jobs in New York City remain open as principals appear to be resisting orders to fill vacancies with teachers whose previous positions were eliminated.

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The Rubber Room: The battle over New York City's worst teachers

Run, don't walk, to read this article in the latest New Yorker about the insane system in NYC of removing the very worst teachers.  Yet another leading publication on the left (following the lead of the Washington Post, NY Times, etc.) that has turned against the unions and is exposing how their contracts and policies entrench mediocrity (or worse) and screw kids.
These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city’s five boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent.
The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every daywhich is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at schooltypically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolvedthe process is often endlessthey will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.
“You can never appreciate how irrational the system is until you’ve lived with it,” says Joel Klein, the city’s schools chancellor, who was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg seven years ago.
Annals of Education
The Rubber Room
The battle over New York City’s worst teachers.
by Steven Brill August 31, 2009
In a windowless room in a shabby office building at Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street, in Manhattan, a poster is taped to a wall, whose message could easily be the mission statement for a day-care center: “Children are fragile. Handle with care.” It’s a June morning, and there are fifteen people in the room, four of them fast asleep, their heads lying on a card table. Three are playing a board game. Most of the others stand around chatting. Two are arguing over one of the folding chairs. But there are no children here. The inhabitants are all New York City schoolteachers who have been sent to what is officially called a Temporary Reassignment Center but which everyone calls the Rubber Room.

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Comments about the Rubber Room

A friend of mine, a lawyer who is very familiar with the process of trying to remove bad teachers in NYC, shared these comments:
In federal court, even in the most complex litigation, judges tell you how many days you have to present your case, and both sides have to present their cases in this period of time, period. In contrast, teacher disciplinary hearings can take forever because no ground rules/limitations are set for the process (how much time you get to present your case). Teachers' lawyers, of course, have every incentive to drag out proceedings, because even if a teacher is bound to lose a case, extending the case by a few more hearing dates will give a client 2-3 months more time on payroll.  (Think about how that affects all the other cases on an arbitrator's long docket of cases.) Arbitrators are reluctant to limit the amount of time given for the presentation of cases for fear that their contracts will not be renewed by the union.
It's crazy, but in these proceedings there is an overwhelming amount of process, but very little justice, particularly when we think about the wrongly accused, who sit in Rubber Rooms awaiting their turn. (Justice delayed is justice denied.)
These incompetence cases are way over-litigated, particularly for "administrative" proceedings that should be governed by fairly permissive evidentiary rules that give strong weight to hearsay evidence.  At the end of the day, these incompetence cases, with PIP Plus, should be cases based almost entirely on the documentary evidence (plain-written memos and other records), and should not require every conceivable witness to explain what they wrote (years earlier) or to recall the minutiae of the details in their memos; that's what takes forever, particularly during cross-examination (where irrelevant, non-probative questions abound and waste time).  These are business records prepared by professionals, and the documents should speak for themselves!
It is almost impossible to get teachers fired for incompetence. Truth be told, these cases require one not only to prove incompetence (which is no easy task in front of even bright, fair-minded arbitrators whose engagements must be agreed to by both union and the DOE), but also that the teacher has no redeeming quality left to allow for one last chance. That's really difficult.  Absent the ability to show that a teacher is not remediable, an "incompetence case" is lost and a teacher is given another chance.
A good defense – a fail-safe legal strategy if employed by teachers’ lawyers in these proceedings – would be for a teacher to acknowledge a great deal of the deficiencies in performance, to show that the teacher is actively engaged in professional development activities, and to stress that the teacher will not blow another opportunity.  Such a defense works every time, because the real standard for “incompetence cases” is gross incompetence plus unwillingness/inability to remediate.
What's really sad is that a system that allows for the protection of the grossly incompetent can do nothing to remove the merely mediocre.  In fact, a principal would never try to get rid of a mediocre teacher because (a) it is an ordeal and (b) absent an ability to show that the teacher is not remediable, it would be a waste of time. And that's how principals look at it as a practical matter.  The track record in these incompetence cases supports principals’ instincts not to prosecute borderline incompetent teachers.
There are potential solutions; the system can be changed through legislation, given that 3020-a proceedings are a statutory construct.  Limit the number of days, by statute, in which these cases can be concluded—say 10 hearing dates total. This would give arbitrators cover to demand that the litigants present the most salient parts of their cases without over-litigating cases. Wrongly accused teachers would benefit because their cases would come up sooner, and justice for these teachers would not be delayed. Capping trial dates is a pretty good solution that would really help move cases and ensure that all sides have an adequate opportunity to be heard—protecting everyone’s due process rights, including those of the grossly incompetent.  Indeed, incompetence proceedings should not take the same amount of time to resolve/litigate than complex, class action tobacco litigation. 
The question is, who has the gravitas to persuade the UFT that resolving incompetence cases in the span of 10 hearing dates best serves all teachers—particularly the wrongly accused?  It would be unfortunate if the UFT were to view a cap on hearing dates as an assault on teachers’ "due process" rights—all that our system of justice promises is to offer litigants their day in court with rules that are fair to all parties (recall that federal court judges always set rules/limitations for trial days, lest they have a total backlog of cases).
Limiting 3020-a hearings to no more 10 full days of trial, including opening and closing arguments, might prove revolutionary (at least by NYC standards).  But one must be able to persuade a powerful union that their members’ due process rights are still being protected, and give cover to union leaders and politicians, all of whom have a stake in ensuring that the current system doesn’t continue protecting the grossly incompetent in administrative proceedings that rival capital punishment cases in time and resources.

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