Monday, October 27, 2014

MA Committed to Chasing Teachers Away (Updated)

It seems that several states are locked in a contest to determine who can do the most to undermine and gut the teaching profession. From Florida to North Carolina to Tennessee, state governments are doing their best to find creative ways to tell professional educators to go straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect any dollars.

Massachusetts has taken a bold leap forward by extending the misuse of student test scores. The proposed revisions in the licensure process are a masterpiece of bureaucratic gobbledygook, but then, they have to be-- because if the people who wrote these exquisitely stupid rules had written them plainly, it would be obvious just how foolish they are.

There are three proposed versions (A, B & C) of the new system, and they all share one piece of twisted DNA-- they link teacher evaluations to teacher licenses. Not pay level or continued employment in that particular school district-- but licensure. A couple of below-average evaluations, and you will lose your MA license to teach.

There is no profession anywhere in the country that has such astonishing rules. Good lord-- even if your manager at McDonalds decides you're not up to snuff, he doesn't blackball you from ever working in any fast food joint ever again! Yes, every profession has means of defrocking people who commit egregious and unpardonable offenses. But-- and I'm going to repeat this because I'm afraid your This Can't Be Real filter is keeping you from seeing the words that I'm typing-- Massachusetts proposes to take your license to teach away if you have a couple of low evaluations.

It will not surprise you to learn that those evaluations would include all the usual groundless baloney. Student Impact Ratings-- did your real student get better test scores than his imaginary counterpart being taught by an imaginary average teacher in a parallel universe? Did you successfully climb the paperwork mountain generated by a teacher improvement plan (duly filed with the state department that doesn't have time to do the work it has now, so good luck with the new influx of improvement plan filings)? One version of the plan even allows for factoring in student evaluations of teachers; yes, teachers, your entire career can be hanging by a thread that dangles in front of an eight-year-old with scissors.

You can read the proposed plans here -- apparently hosted by an outfit called the Keystone Center, who have  this to say about themselves: "The Keystone Center was established to independently facilitate the resolution of national policy conflicts." Those conflicts seem to most often have to do with oil and gas stuff, as well as Colorado higher education and monarch butterflies. How they ended up helping Massachusetts blow up teaching careers is not clear to me. But it's easy to see how their "project partners" ended up here, because they're teamed up with TNTP, a group that never met a set of teacher job protections that they didn't want throw in a woodchipper and burn with fire.

If TNTP ever has a legitimate mission, it has long since been replaced with one single-minded focus-- to make it easier to fire all teachers everywhere all the time.

Keystone is also the "vendor and facilitator" for some "stakeholder meetings." These meetings do not appear to be designed for freewheeling stakeholder discussion.

During the upcoming stakeholder meetings, we are not asking for people to vote on or express their support or opposition to any one or more of the Policy Options. Rather, we will be asking stakeholders to identify pros and cons of each of the Policy Options as well as specific considerations or challenges and how to address these challenges.

Massachusetts Teachers Association members who attended the first of these meetings report that they are exactly the cheery railroad ride one would expect.

Members who attended the first session reported that the conversations were controlled and participants were not given the option of challenging the faulty premises being promoted by DESE. (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education)

The MTA site also has some direct and strongly worded objections to all three plans, and I would recommend that the rest of us all study these because if TNTP has their nose in this business, they'll be telling all their friends across the country about this fun way to chase people out of teaching.

I would point out to the people pushing this that it's a great way to chase people away from teaching in Massachusetts ever. I would point out that young people interested in starting a teaching career might favor a state where that career can't be snuffed out because of random fake data that's beyond their control. I would point out that this is one more policy that will almost certainly make it even harder than it already is to recruit teachers for high-poverty low-achievement schools. I mean, most states are settling for evaluation systems that punish inner-city teachers with just losing that particular job; it takes big brass ones for Massachusetts to say, "Come teach in a poor struggling under-funded low-resource school. Take a chance on the job that could end your entire teaching career before you're even thirty." Who on God's green earth thinks this is a way to put a great teacher in every classroom?

Well, the answer is nobody. I would say all those things to the people pushing this program if I thought they cared about any of that. But it seems increasingly obvious that creating a massive teacher shortage is not a bug, but a feature. It's not an unintended consequence, but the chosen objective.

The MTA is a feisty group. I hope they keep fighting, and fighting hard, because if they lose this, two bad things will happen.

First, Massachusetts will become one more state where teachers choose to work only if they're forced to by personal circumstances like friends and family or if they have no other options.

Second, other reformsters in other states (near other branch offices of TNTP) will look at Massachusetts as a model to follow, and the cancer will spread.

(Update! Good news. In fact, the best. In the face of a storm of howls and opposition and, the DESE in Massachusetts has said, "Um, never mind."  The memo (which I can't find a linkable copy of this morning) was pretty straightforward-- the high poobah of MA education said, "I've heard from a buttload of people voicing strong opposition and I've concluded that they're right, so we're not doing this." He has also reportedly invited MTA to continue the conversation. So this story has taken a definite turn for the better.

So now we get to learn a better lesson from this adventure-- that a strongly organized union that throws its back into pro-teacher advocacy can Get Things Done. Rather than worrying that this kind of rules change might infect other state departments of education, we can hope that this sort of strength infects other state teacher organizations (and who knows-- maybe the national ones, too.)


  1. As a teacher in Massachusetts, I have to say: Thank you. I teach remedial English, consisting of (surprise!) mostly special education and ELL students, and I honestly think I would have to leave this post if this "reform" passes. While I love the job because I get to see the students enjoying reading for the first time in years, I'm not sure they will have a jump in test scores that will be required for me to keep my license, particularly now that we have the PARCC exam, which looks like total crap.

    Either that or I start teaching in a neighboring state. I'm not that far from the border (nobody in MA is *that* far from the border), so I wouldn't even have to move.

  2. Inspired writing about a horrible situation.

  3. Well everyone knows what poor-quality educators we have here in Massachusetts---just look at how our schools rank compared to those in the other 49 states.

    Oh wait...

  4. All you need to know: Mitchell Chester, chairman of PARCC (not a conflict of interest, of course!) is Commissioner of Education in Massachusetts. The rest follows as naturaly as day follows night. Three cheers for Barbara Madeloni and the MTA!

  5. :( That is all that I can muster up for a comment. The whole situation, nationwide, is :(. It's so disheartening.

  6. Heather Peske is the Associate Commissioner of Educator Quality who is running this ship. There's so much conflict of interest - former Teach Plus and TFA person. Look up Teach Plus - they're another astroturf corporate reformer in the name of "teacher advocacy" in policy. Teach Plus has had a lot of involvement with this ridiculousness as well. Meanwhile, they keep saying they want more diverse teachers to represent the public school population in MA. Yah right.

  7. If this goes into effect you can bet that most evaluators will be scared away from giving teachers low evaluations of any kind (tests or no tests) because of the incredibly high stakes nature of low ratings and the grievances and litigation that will surely follow. Massachusetts, in trying to give its evaluation system teeth, may de-fang it altogether.

  8. Here's the link to the MTA's announcement from Thursday. I had tried posting it here the other day, but for some reason it didn't go through.