•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

New York state attacks unions and public education

Published Feb 22, 2012 10:19 PM

Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, an education expert at the Brookings Institution and a high-ranking official in the Department of Education under George W. Bush, admits, “We know much more about what works and what doesn’t in education than we did 15 years ago … but our level of ignorance dwarfs our understanding by orders of magnitude.” He made this claim in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education this past November.

This high “level of ignorance,” however, has not hindered states from imposing harsh, arbitrary and inconsistent evaluation standards on teachers, hoping to pin the blame for educational failures on what happens in the classroom.

Education is in crisis in the United States, especially since changes in the economy have made advanced skills acquired through education, rather than on-the-job training, a gateway to employment at a decent wage. But many students leaving high school, especially those from communities of color, are not prepared to go on.

New York State’s evaluation system, which was just accepted Feb. 16 by New York State United Teachers as a framework for local school board contracts throughout the state, was opposed by nearly 1,400 principals because it relies on student test scores to evaluate teachers.

Carol Corbett Burris, who won an educator of the year award in 2010 and is principal in a fairly affluent school district on Long Island, has written a long and careful critique of New York’s plan, which is considered a “national model” by the federal DOE. (tinyurl.com/73a9fqa)

One of the most pressing issues for teachers’ unions is how to respond to unfair evaluations. Teachers can be rated as “ineffective” for all sorts of reasons outside their performance, including personal bias; the principal’s need to reduce personnel costs, which might lead to downgrading experienced, highly paid teachers; and not following guidelines on mandatory classroom practices, like breaking students up into small groups.

This attack on teachers also has an anti-union component. According to the New York Daily News, a union will only be able to appeal up to 13 percent of the “first-year ineffective ratings.” The NYSUT, comprised of more than 1,200 local unions with a total of more than 600,000 members, did win the concession that these evaluations will be monitored by an independent evaluator.

Limiting the right of teachers to respond to evaluations they consider unfair, and of unions to defend their members, attacks the very existence of education unions, even if an “independent agency” is in the mix.

Bloomberg plans to close schools

New York City’s billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg was shut out of these negotiations at the state level. But he has another rock with which to bash the United Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers and some paraprofessionals in the school system that services 1 million students.

That rock is labeled “school closings.” At a raucous Feb. 9 meeting, which overflowed with anger at Bloomberg and his school policies, the Panel for Educational Policy, which Bloomberg controls, voted to close 22 schools and programs at five others. He has closed 117 schools in the past 10 years. Parents, union members and students all united in their rage to say “Fix our schools — don’t close them.”

The PEP is also planning to put 33 schools under the DOE’s “turnaround” model. If the schools don’t improve by the end of June, they will be closed, with half the teachers labeled ineffective and fired.

Instead of devoting time and energy, and of course money, to fixing the system, wholesale firing of teachers and unfair and rigged evaluation schemes are not going to improve education in the United States.