Sunday, November 2, 2014

So Sorry, Minneapolis Teachers

As promised, this morning brought the publishing of teacher ratings, including VAM scores, with a map and a pearl-clutching interview with the district's superintendent. The gap is shocking, alarming, inexplicable.

I'm speaking of course of the apparent gap between Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson's brain and reality. How does somebody with this gigantic an inability to process data end up as a superintendent of a major school system?

Superintendent Johnson is shocked-- shocked!!-- to find that under this evaluation system, it turns out that all the worst teachers are working in all the poorest schools! Hmmm-- the poorest schools have the worst results. What's the only possible explanation? Teachers!! [Pause for the sound of me banging my head on the desk.]

“It’s alarming that it took this to understand where teachers are,” Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said Friday. “We probably knew that, but now have the hard evidence. It made me think about how we need to change our staffing and retention.”

No, Superintendent Johnson. What's alarming is that you don't understand a damn thing.

Here's what you have "discovered." If you rip the roof off a classroom, the teachers that you send to teach in that classroom will get wet when it rains. You cannot "fix" that by changing the teacher.

But apparently that's the solution being considered. "Okay," says Superintendent Johnson. "Over here we have teachers who stay dry and their students stay dry, so we'll put this dry teacher in the classroom without a roof and have a dry teacher for the wet rooms. That'll fix it."

And Superintendent Johnson appears willing to go further. "Maybe we just need to fire the wet teachers and replace them with new, dry ones," she may be thinking. [Sound of me banging my head against the concrete slab of my basement floor.]

If you want a dry teacher in the room, build a damn roof on it.

Look. Look look look look look. We already know that poverty absolutely correlates with test results. Show me your tests results and I will show you where your low-income students are. Poverty and lack of resources and underfunding put these students in a classroom without a roof, and anybody you put in there with them will be a wet teacher.

Build a damn roof.

Minneapolis public school officials say they are already taking immediate action to balance schools’ needs with teachers’ abilities. The district has created programs to encourage effective instructors to teach at high-needs schools and mentor the newest teachers. District officials say they are providing immediate training for teachers who are deficient. And last year, the district fired more than 200 teachers, roughly 6 percent of its teaching staff.

Wrong. All wrong. In fact, worse than wrong, because you are now in the position of saying, "Hey, over here we have a room with no roof on it, and if you teach in there and get wet when it rains, we intend to punish you. Now-- who wants to volunteer to teach in the roofless room??  Also, we'll probably smear your good name in the local paper, too. Any takers?"

And to the students, sitting in that roofless room day after day, shivering and wet as poverty and lack of resources and insufficient materials and neglect by the central office rain down on them, this sends a terrible message. "We know you are sick and wet in your roofless room," says the district. "So we are not sending a roof or even ponchos or an umbrella. We're not going to spend a cent more on you. We're just going to stand a different teacher up in front of you, to see if she gets wet when it rains."

It is absolutely mind-boggling that a group of presumably educated allegedly intelligent adults can look at data and get the interpretation of it exactly completely backwards. Minneapolis school leaders are looking at data that tells them exactly where they need to focus resources, support, funding, and build a roof. Instead, they are going to blame the whole complex of information on teachers.

They are going to blame teachers for getting wet in the rain.

I'm so sorry Minneapolis teachers. Apparently you work for dopes, and given the publishing of your ratings in the morning paper, fairly malicious dopes at that.

This is the worst. This is the absolute worst version of reformster foolishness, slandering and upending an entire city's worth of teachers. I don't know any Minneapolis teachers, have never met any, but even sight unseen, I know they-- and their students-- deserve better than this.


  1. The perfect analogy, thank you Peter!

  2. Thank you for expressing your indignation so skillfully, Peter. Thank you for speaking for all right minded educators everywhere.

  3. And in Massachusetts right now, we might add to that, "If you get wet for two years running, we'll take away your teaching license."

    1. Yup, New Jersey too. They're "evaluating" us with the Danielson form, which even Danielson said was never intended for that purpose. Two bad years of evals from untrained administrators and clueless supervisors, and it's adios. Oddly enough, they hit the older, more highly-paid teachers harder. Shocking, isn't it?

  4. Sadly this is only the beginning. This madness will continue to spread as more and more districts and states and even the feds blame the teachers for failing to solve problems that they didn't create and cannot fix. Public education is beginning its death spiral, and then the corporations will step in to "save" it, and we'll all be working for Wal Mart minimum wages.

  5. Eureka! Get the Nobel Prize ready for me. The way to cure cancer is to FIRE THE ONCOLOGISTS!!!!

  6. Well someone is an idiot! Why do they never go to the teacher and ask how to fix things s? The teachers know what they are talking about! I guarantee if they did more teachers smaller classrooms and hired interventionists to go Into the classroom For reading and math small groups, given a couple of years the issue would be fixed! It isn't about bad teachers it is about students that need so much one teacher can't fix it

  7. I taught at-risk and highly at-risk students in LA for 26 years. Most qualified to have lunch "on the county." Many went on to college or good jobs. Few tested well. Many put their heads down or made interesting bubble patterns on the state tests, and did not even pretend to try until the high school exit exam was introduced. Would I teach "those kids" now? Probably not, and not because of them. I might even go to law school instead, because that would give me better tools to fight for social justice for students.
    I did keep a blog for a while. Here's my favorite post:

    1. I have a similar list of rules for my classes. We recite them every Monday. It's nice to know I'm not alone.

  8. Roma, that would be a good start. But, if we truly want to fix the problem, we'll have to deal with the larger societal issue of mass wealth inequality and the resulting unfair access to associated resources. Schools and teachers are a great smokescreen but, of course, we all know the Minneapolis "solution" is no solution at all.

  9. This post is an absolutely, sadly, poignant assessment of the Minneapolis Schools' lack of leadership.

  10. Teachers are always to blame for what's wrong in education. Please read my book, "Flawed System. . .Flawed Product. . .the TRUTH about the educational system from a teacher's perspective.
    God bless you!

  11. What happens when the formerly superb teachers are now up for firing? Will the powers that be admit they were wrong? Nah, the teachers will have become complacent in their new luxurious surroundings of course. This is all coming to my state of Nevada. Our governor, running virtually unopposed, is just waiting until after the election to finish reforming and destroying public education her.

  12. "And to the students, sitting in that roofless room day after day, shivering and wet as poverty and lack of resources and insufficient materials and neglect by the central office rain down on them, this sends a terrible message. "We know you are sick and wet in your roofless room," says the district. "So we are not sending a roof or even ponchos or an umbrella. We're not going to spend a cent more on you. We're just going to stand a different teacher up in front of you, to see if she gets wet when it rains."
    I've personally been screwed over for choosing to get wet in a school that is filled with administrators and quasi-admins who knowingly deflect the rain onto other faculty, and I'm starting to finally sing out in the rain in the right forums to be a voice for wet teachers.
    HOWEVER, I am shocked by the fact that even though I thought I was fighting the good fight I also forgot about what's most important in this fight-the children.
    I've been talking about being a wet teacher and working with some of the best teachers imaginable at wet schools for years, but what i haven't been talking about is what happens to the wet students after it rains.
    If your passionate about teaching in wet schools like me you know all about the struggles the children are faced with. Mobility is one of the tops. Not just their mobility rate from school to school but the mobility of the people they look up to in their personal lives.

    To teach at a wet school you have to prove yourself by spending considerable and consistent time on your relationships with students. They are very unsure of adults in general because they haven't always sheltered them agains the storm.
    I am shocked that through this process I have never thought about how horrible it is to be a wet student who is moved from roofless school to roofless school just when they figured out what tree to duck under, who is apart of a family full of adults that intermittently umbrella them just as quickly as they are whipped away with the wind forever, and are now faced with a staring fresh at school with a new teacher who isn't used to getting wet. I imagine they all watch her mascara run down her face while thinking, "Do I have to tell another one to wear waterproof?"

  13. I am a new employee of Mpls Public schools (16 yrs prior experience), and we received an email last night from our union president about all of the info that was provided to this reporter who chose not to include these items. Unfortunately, the Star Tribune has a history of not providing all facts and sides in order to create an unbiased story. Please email our union president for more information:

    It's unfortunate that those statements were made, but there are some good initiatives we have implemented or are in the process of implementing. Everywhere I look in Mpls in my short time thus far, I have seen professionals working hard to provide a world class education. That's not to say we don't have things to fix, but I'm proud to be teaching here among some amazing colleagues and leaders. These issues are raised by teachers over and over, and many times our leadership listens and helps us take action. I see it in my school with our extensive after school programming which helps students boost their learning, explore avenues not provided in the regular school day, and work with community partners.

    Thanks for listening.

    1. Very thoughtful comment, Heidi. Some of us are working with the Mpls Federation to encourage the district o establish site governed and or teacher led schools. The district recently agreed to allow up to 5 such schools. I hope you and your colleagues will consider applying to do this.

  14. Great article. Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson's comments placing blame on teachers is a sad and desperate attempt to save her job and deflect her own failures. It's not rocket science to understand what is really the problem.

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  16. Actually, the Minneapolis newspaper did not publish individual scores for teachers. Reading the newspaper story makes this clear:

    The newspaper did say that in general, schools with lower test scores tended to have teachers with less experience and lower ratings, using the criteria that the district & union have agreed to use. But no individual teacher rankings were published.

  17. This post is absolutely spot-on. I'm in Florida--but your points are accurate, relevant, and applicable throughout our nation. It's a frustrating, heartbreaking scenario.