Putting teachers and children last
From Illinois to Hawaii to New York and all across the nation, local control of school policy is being hijacked by ALEC’s “accountability” model. It’s happening in New Mexico, too.
I used to get really excited when people told me they wanted to become teachers. I eagerly invited them to visit my classroom and introduced them to colleagues.
That eagerness flows less easily these days. I recently met a woman who knew she was born to teach. I could tell she could be one of the great ones, but I found myself hoping she would reconsider her options.
A recent nationwide survey conducted by MetLife shows teacher satisfaction at its lowest in decades. Unions are under attack nationwide, and ALEC (the same group that wrote Florida’s “stand your ground” law that got young Trayvon Martin killed for walking down the street) has infiltrated education departments around the country, including in New Mexico.
ALEC’s education “reform” package is just as reckless and culturally insensitive as their “stand your ground” law. Couched in euphemistic language like “accountability” (personnel decisions), “student growth” (standardized test scores), and “parent choice” (private school vouchers), these measures are ripping schools apart and hurting our most vulnerable kids.
Teacher morale has been steadily sinking since the new “accountability” craze began. From Illinois to Hawaii to New York and all across the nation, local control of school policy is being hijacked by ALEC’s “accountability” model. I cannot imagine the pressure principals are under now as they watch their teachers drown under these conditions and simultaneously have to encourage new recruits to join their crew.
In the end, it will fall to principals go down with the ships.
In 2010, Governor Martinez picked Hanna Skandera to lead our Public Education Department. Skandera arrived from Florida with no knowledge of New Mexico and no classroom experience whatsoever. Instead, she came with reams of ALEC legislation dripping from her pockets.
After two years of failing to convince our legislators to pass a version of the ALEC “teacher and leader quality act,” which advocates firing teachers whose students don’t make enough “growth” on standardized tests, Skandera and the governor have turned to executive rulemaking to enact it, and embarked on this plan last week.
In order to comply with the NCLB waiver requirement of “stakeholder involvement,” last week the PED called for nominations for teachers, principals and business leaders (but no parent representatives) to join a panel to hash out the evaluation details. From the list of nominees, Secretary-Designate Skandera will personally select all 18 panelists.
This is nothing new. In 2011, Skandera appointed the “Teacher Effectiveness Task Force” for exactly the same purpose. The task force recommended the same measures found in ALEC’s “teacher and leader quality act.” I am dubious that this year’s panel could arrive at conclusions that differ significantly from the ALEC plan Skandera brought from Florida.
Anticipating this rule change, we expected a new wave of anti-teacher rhetoric like the “accountability” sales pitch from the Albuquerque Journal editorial board this week. Teachers are getting used to insulting insinuations these days. The more we are seen as less than professional, the easier it is to convince the public that teachers need to be “held accountable” for “student achievement.”
Indignity and disrespect
Skandera’s “teacher evaluation system based on student achievement” plan is one of the most harmful in the ALEC “accountability” cannon. It calls for standardized test scores to make up 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.
Standardized tests are not very accurate. As the New York Times reported recently, the “Pineapplegate” Pearson Testing scandal shows that tests are filled with questions that are misleading, have wrong answers, or even have no correct answer at all. Worse still, for teacher evaluations, test scores are run through a “value-added model,” which is a complex algorithm that is supposed to show the difference between the actual teacher and a hypothetically “average” one.
The difference between the two scores becomes the “value” the teacher has “added” to the student. Years of research show that value-added ratings have 30 plus-point margin of error.
In states that use the ALEC system, teachers of special education students, who, by definition, do not produce the kind of “growth” that mainstream students achieve, often suffer poor evaluations. This is also true of teachers working in high poverty schools, and teachers of English Language learners. Even teachers in high-performing schools that always score in the 90+ percentiles suffer bad value-added ratings when their students run out of “growth.”
The majority of teachers don’t teach tested subjects, but in these data-driven days, officials want something to measure. The solution from ALEC and Skandera is for those teachers’ evaluations to be based on the school’s A-F rating, which is another value-added measure based on school math and reading scores. Art and PE teachers will be evaluated on a school’s A-F score, unless New Mexico buys fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests for those courses, and all others, like dance and home economics.
No matter who Skandera chooses for the new panel, New Mexico’s teacher evaluation system will likely follow the same old ALEC recipe that caused a highly respected English-as-a-second-language teacher in New York to be labeled “The City’s Worst Teacher” alongside her name and photo in the New York Post. One devoted teacher even committed suicide when inaccurate value-added scores were published in the L. A. Times.
Is it any wonder that teachers are jumping ship into early retirement, career changes and overseas teaching opportunities? Our elders nearing retirement say they pity us younger ones. They foresee years of indignity and disrespect for us who are too deep into teaching careers for other options, and too far from the shores of retirement to be safe.
We will remain strong
We will remain strong in the face of what we see on the horizon. We will focus on the children in our classrooms and fill them with what buoyancy we can, and we will embrace any brave new teachers who are determined to join us on the deck of this Titanic.
But we are not as brave in our quiet hours. Last week, after meeting that prospective teacher who was seeking what should be a joyous and meaningful life, I went home and I did what a lot of teachers do these days. I simply wept.
Alyssa Agranat is a National Board Certified Teacher who holds a master’s degree in the subjects she teaches at Albuquerque Public Schools.
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