Note to NYS Teachers and Unions

Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York State, to give
him his due, is wrong about using Common Core test results as 50% of a teacher
evaluation. He assumes that some of our schools get poor results because they
have poor teachers. This is a kind of sweeping generalization, a logic trap
that is easy to fall into where complex factors actually contribute to results,
because it is simple solution and it clears the desktop. But who is testing
administrators or parents to see if they measure up. Administrators are fewer
in number but they get paid much more than teachers. There are also not union
members and therefore should be much easier to push around. Come up with a plan
to evaluate administrators who come more directly under your powers.
Great teaching is a somewhat unquantifiable amalgam of
intelligence, training, creativity, drive to succeed and personality. Even good
teaching is pretty darn difficult to pin down. If there were not some sense of
a je ne sais quoi factor at play here
then we could just make a checklist and teach someone every skill on the
checklist and voila! – perfect
teachers could be cranked out over and over again.
Could we also quantify and clone the qualities of
the perfect school district, perfect students, perfect neighborhoods, perfect
parents? That would solve the whole thing and none of those pesky individual
factors to worry about. But when put this way, we can see how impossible and
ridiculous this is. Thank heavens we tend to produce many great teachers and
even greater numbers of good teachers and we have done this in America for
decades without stopping to get a check on the student test results of those
teachers. Why start with a test that even good students are having some
difficulty with.
But there are also bad teachers, teachers who hide
behind their union memberships and work the system. They don’t like teaching;
they don’t feel that connection between student and teacher that can keep a
teacher going through a few rough years. They only see that if they get tenure
they are assured of a good income until they decide to retire. If students or
other teachers complain about them they talk to the union. Why does the union
back up bad teachers? Surely they can tell from the feedback they are getting
if someone is a bad teacher. But these people pay the union to support them,
not to evaluate them so the union does its job. However, in being faithful to
its members unions bring into question the qualifications of all of the great
and good teachers they represent. Unions and teachers owe it to all of the
great and good teachers to come up with a way to stop supporting bad teachers.
Bad teachers can sue their unions and win because no one is documenting the “bad”
behaviors of these teachers.
A common core test will not help us here. What if a
school district, to cut down on chaos, assigns good students to bad teachers
because they will practically teach themselves? I don’t know if this happens or
how often it happens but it could certainly skew test results. Even assigning
poorly performing students to a bad teacher can make matters worse in terms of
student progress, student behaviors, and student retention, but poor
performance by these students on periodic test will not really prove that they
have a “bad” teacher.
Unions and teachers – police your own ranks – hold some
work groups and conferences to get started on this right away. Come up with a
plan and keep coming up with plans until you get one that works.
I understand there are “bad” teachers sitting all
alone in tiny closets all over New York City counting paper clips. I don’t
think you will find this problem occurs often outside NYC limits. If our state
government is trying to solve a NYC problem by involving the entire state then
they should be on notice that we know that they wish to make a complex human
problem quantifiable, and good luck with that. State government could put some
education dollars into workshops where teachers can share their experiences with
Common Core and work to create lessons or suggestions that would help make
Common Core come to life (if that’s possible). Some of these funds could also
be used to provide teacher training so that teachers approach curriculum with
confidence and a sound background in theory and technique.
Two problems to solve – both should be tackled by
communications. The union and the teachers should tackle one problem, the
problem of bad teachers; the union, the teachers and the state should tackle to
second problem, bringing everyone up to snuff on Common Core. (Hint to NYS –
offer bonuses to teachers who do this work.)
By Nancy Brisson

Andrew Cuomo and the Common Core

images from Google image search
Andrew Cuomo replaced some disastrous governors in
New York State. He made Albany function again. However, he is hardly perfect.
He is strong, but he is also patriarchal. He is not one to consult the various
interest groups in the state and then arrive at his policy decisions by wending
a careful line between them. He has his own firm opinions and he seems to work
from the strategy that “if you want something done right (fast) you must do it
It’s difficult to complain when Andrew Cuomo has set
New York State back on a stronger financial path and when he does something as
brave and endearing as issuing a fracking ban. But he has not managed to put
much of a dent in the corruption that is so rampant in Albany and he created
quite an as-yet-unresolved stir when he cancelled his own commission just when
the members started to focus on him.
The good seems to outweigh the bad so far except for
the Governor’s views on education. His stern edicts in this area are misguided
and perhaps even harmful. Here he is at his patriarchal worst. He is a bull in
the china shop, thrashing around and breaking everything.
This current trend to end tenure needs to go away.
Tenure is not the problem, at least not the main problem, with education.
Instead of ending tenure we need to get a great teacher evaluation system that
will sort out hopeless educators, provide more training or support services for
teachers who will be great with just a slight tweak, and which will provide
merit awards to the best teachers.
I believe there is also such a strong tendency right
now to blame unions and to engage in union busting and that this is a very
wrong-headed tendency. Those in positions of authority have long histories of
antipathy towards unions because unions give individuals the strength of a
group of lobbyists. Unions give job security and the state is the boss in the
case of teachers. Unions also promise benefits in lieu of salary increases that
cost the state money – at least from a budget-eye view. Teachers, however,
would have to demand higher salaries if such benefits as health insurance and
pensions were not offered in place of wages. Current leaders feel that previous
leaders made bad bargains and that it will be a pinch to honor these old deals.
They would like to nullify these old bargains. Since our corporations left us
and since many unions are left with no one to fight against, there has been some
success with busting unions using right-to-work rulings.
This climate offers a perfect opportunity to attack
public employee unions which have, by definition, an adversarial relationship
with their managers (which are state and local government). Of course, without
the protection of a strong teacher’s union the employer (the state) could move
teacher salaries  and benefits up and
down in response to the financial climate of the times offering little security
or few incentives to our teachers who have families to support.
Cuomo is using a strict approach to teacher
evaluation in order to break up what he feels is the unfair advantage that
tenure gives to bad teachers. Teacher’s unions and teachers need to stop
stonewalling and come up with such a system. A great peer review evaluation
process could be every bit as effective as ending tenure and busting teachers’
unions and far more fair.
Not only does Governor Cuomo want to base teacher
evaluations on tests and how students perform on tests, but he wants to base teacher
evaluation on the new Common Core student evaluations. He’s an intelligent man
so I am suspicious of his motives in taking this controversial stand. New York
education standards were high enough that we did not need to go with the Common
Core. Neither students nor teachers are used to the new Common Core curriculum.
The tests do not accommodate for special education students or students with learning
disabilities and we know it will be unclear for a number of years whether this
population of students will ever be able to benefit from the Common Core
I am very disheartened by the current “war on
teachers” with government officials encouraging weary citizens to act like
spectators at the gladiator contests in the old Roman arenas, going after
teachers with a certain glee (perhaps people resent the relative security
teachers still have because of their unions). The “war on unions” is also being
enjoyed by factory workers who found that their unions actually had little
power to protect them. It is quite effective to pit the people against the
At the federal level we see legislators trying to
take down our system of social supports. They cite the suspicion that citizens
are taking advantage of the system. We are doing the same thing with our
schools, citing bad teachers that the system protects as a reason to take
control away from teachers and from the unions. If you want to evaluate
teachers then come up with a peer review system. If you want schools that
function without the kinds of discipline issues we are seeing then get rid of
the Common Core, find more interesting ways to implement it, or find some more
interesting hands-on and community-based ways to stress math and science
skills. Common Core may function well in upscale schools, although I doubt it,
but it is not helping teachers or students in at-risk populations or schools.
Just putting your “mean” face on, Governor Cuomo,
will not change a thing and only proves the anti-government argument that
education should be taken out of the hands of government. I wouldn’t go that
far but I don’t think the fact that the money flows through governments turns
those who govern into education experts. Just divvy up the money fairly, facilitate
teachers and schools, and step away from controlling curriculum or teacher
evaluation. I’m talking to decision-makers at all governmental levels and I’m
talking to you too, Governor Cuomo.
By Nancy Brisson