Once again, a predictable story is playing out. UFT President Michael Mulgrew and NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina are touting the new evaluation system announced December 21st as a victory for teachers, parents and students. Once again, progressive teachers who want autonomy in the classroom and parents who want their children to succeed in the classroom and in life beyond are disappointed. Those who purport to speak for teachers, parents and children have once again left us with an inadequate agreement that fails to address any of the systemic issues that are most problematic for the New York State and New York City school systems.
Michael Mulgrew’s announcement email hailed the new evaluation system as a victory, which should be the first clue to anyone who’s paid attention over the last six years that it isn’t. He said the same about going from the old Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory evaluation to the one we currently have which leaves every teacher a nervous wreck waiting to see the results of 4-6 (as opposed to formerly 2) evaluations per year and waiting until September every school year to find out if their students’ test scores were high enough according to a formula that no one I know (and I know many math teachers) understands. According to Mulgrew the new evaluation system is a victory because it no longer has a 1 to 100 scoring system and because some of the high stakes testing is replaced with project based “authentic” assessment and portfolios. As a high school teacher who has nearly all Regents classes, I am not looking forward to spending time that could be devoted to preparing my students to pass and graduate on preparing portfolios to be graded as part of my evaluation. Observations of what teachers are actually doing in the classroom was 100% of our yearly evaluation before the new evaluation system went into effect, now it is down to 50%.
Carmen Farina’s letter to teachers indicated that this new system does what any teacher evaluation system should do, put the focus on improving instruction for students. As a high school person, to me these are the words of someone who has not had to deal with the pressure of teaching to the Regents Exam in a subject while also showing evidence of tiering and differentiation, grading papers, doing parent outreach and attending endless PD sessions in which so-called “experts” tell experienced educators how to do a job they generally don’t do. Portfolio-based assessment will be one more headache for teachers who are already overburdened and will stretch our instructional time even more thinly than it already is stretched. Last I checked, the DOE is not adding extra hours to the 24 hour day or the 168 hour week, nor are we cancelling other obligations on teachers to make room for the inevitable complications of this new assessment mechanism.
Of course teachers do not want to be rated based on a standardized testing metric that no one understands, so this new system looks at first glance like a step forward, but as we learned with the 2014 contract, the devil is often in the details. Comment below with your questions and concerns.