Monday, February 2, 2015

Cuomo to Teachers: Get the Hell Out

I'll give Andrew Cuomo this-- when he makes threats to come after someone, they aren't just empty political promises. He said he would try to break the public schools, and he appears to be determined to make it happen.

Cuomo's assault has started with a lesson in how data can serve as a mirror to reflect the biases of whoever is gazing into it.

Mangling data

Cuomo's talking points and reformy agenda have started with a simple set of data. The proficiency rate for 3rd-8th graders is 35.8% for math and 31.4% for reading. Over 90% of New York teachers received effective ratings. There are three possible explanations for why these numbers don't fit together.

1) The teacher effectiveness ratings are wrong.
2) The student proficiency numbers are wrong.
3) There is no connection between student test results and teacher effectiveness.

#3 is by far the most likely. At the very least, there isn't a shred of documentation, study or much of anything else to support the notion that test results have anything to do with teacher effectiveness. Let's also remember that we're talking about math and reading scores for 3rd through 8th graders-- exactly what should tell us about, say, 11th grade history teachers?

#3 is also affected by #2-- if the student scores don't actually mean anything, they can hardly be connected to teacher scores. And since student cut scores weren't set by any particular supportable academic standard, it's highly unlikely that they are really telling us anything about how many students are "proficient" (a term that doesn't have any actual meaning in this context).

Cuomo has, like a student who fails to check all options on a standardized multiple-choice test, simply stopped at answer #1 because that's the one he likes. He has not even pretended to consider the other two options. It would certainly appear that he is less interested in figuring out what's actually going on and more interested in using test results to draw a target on New York's teachers.

And what a target. 

Cuomo proposes that fifty percent of a teacher's evaluations be based on test scores. (This fun starts on page 229 of his Opportunity Agenda Book.) In the case of non-tested subjects or grades, "a student growth measure that measures one year of academic growth." Whatever that is supposed to mean and wherever those are supposed to come from (since the stated goal here is clear-- "We will eliminate the local measure."

Thirty-five percent of the teacher's evaluation must come from an "independent observer" who can be either 1) a principal from within or without the district, 2) an observer from the state-approved list of "entities" that can do that sort of thing or 3) a faculty member from an education program at a state university of New York (and I am imagining college ed professors across the state slapping their heads and saying, "Why, yes, thanks, that's exactly what I want to spend half my year doing!")

The remaining fifteen percent can come from a local administrator.

And that's it. Screw the whole "multiple measures" idea, and nerts to evaluations by people who know the territory, the teacher, the students, the local lay of the land.

But wait. There's more. Cuomo proposes that all cut-off scores be set at the state level. And if the teacher fails either portion of the evaluation, she fails the whole thing. In other words, if the live human says, "I watched her work and she is a great teacher" and the test scores come in low, the live human observer is over-ruled.

Can we make a teaching career less viable?

Tenure? Screw that, too. It was for 19th century college profs so they could resist political pressure, and of course there are no politics associated with teaching in New York public schools. I wonder how long it took the governor's typist to stop giggling before he could finish this part.

Now tenure requires five straight years of effective ratings. Until you hit those five straight years, you are probationary, and as long as you're probationary, you can be fired at any time for any reason.

Cuomo could not be more clear if he required every college education department to put a giant banner over its doors saying, in huge bold letters, "Get the hell out of New York."

What sane person would try to start a teaching career under these conditions. You must have five straight years of good test scores, which means that taking a job in a high-poverty school would simply be the kiss of death. In fact, if the cut scores are going to be kept the same so that almost seventy percent of New York students are failing The Big Test-- well, that means that most of the classrooms in New York will be the kiss of death to a teaching career. You would be better off betting the state of New York that you can roll snake eyes five times in a row.

Best and brightest

And yet Cuomo's plan blithers on, as if it's not obvious that he's telling future teachers to Get the Hell Out! The teacher beatdown section of the Opportunity Agenda starts with some noise about setting up a doctor-style interning program for training teachers, and I actually support that, having come from a similar residency program myself-- except that, with the stakes of testing so incredibly high, who in their right mind would let a teacher trainee into their school? The residency idea is probably necessary, because under the new, highly punitive evaluation system, what teacher would agree to host a student teacher? The residency idea begs all sorts of questions (how will the state possibly have enough capacity to handle the number of teachers they need to train) but it doesn't really matter, because given the impossible hurdles placed in the path of becoming a tenured teacher with anything remotely resembling job security, who is going to want to invest the time and effort to start on a path that can at any time, through random factors outside of your control, be yanked out from under you?

But after five sections of flipping the middle finger to every future teacher in New York, the Agenda starts its next section with this sentence:

Once we can attract and recognize the best teachers, we need to keep them in our schools.

First of all, this new system defines "best teacher" as "teacher who has class of good standardized test takers." This idea fails twice-- once by basing teacher evaluations on the results of bad invalid tests and again by removing all other considerations of quality from teaching. Nothing matters in this system but test prep. Nothing.

The Agenda goes on to say that we don't want to lose great teachers to other "more lucrative" professions. It does not say anything about losing future great teachers to other professions where they have greater work to do than spend all their days preparing children to take a pointless standardized tests. Or losing future great teachers to other professions where they are treated like professionals. Or losing future great teachers to other professions where job security is not based on a random roll of the dice.

Sigh. Cuomo proposes to set aside $2 million for incentive payments of up to $20K to encourage great teachers to stay in hard-to-staff schools. Do you know how many payments of $20K you can get out of $2 million? 100. What do you think, Andy? Will 100 teachers take care of all the hard-to-staff schools in New York?

I can answer that. No-- no they will not, because those hard to staff schools will become SUPER hard to staff once you implement a system under which teaching at high-poverty low-achievement schools is an excellent way to never get to start your teaching career.

But just in case, Cuomo also wants to streamline the firing process, and since all non-tenured teachers will be fireable at any time for any reason, I think he's got that covered. Also, no more trying to rehab incompetent teachers, because under this new system, New York will be up to their collective tuchus in eager new educators.

The kisses of death

What's next? Well, back in the first section, Cuomo allowed as how teacher traineess need less theory and more real-world classroom training and experience. However, in this next section, he wants to make sure the new teachers are Good Enough by giving them some standardized tests, which I was going to mock, but you know, since in Cuomo's New York a teacher's job is to prepare students to take a standardized test, it does make sense that taking a standardized test should be the basis of teacher training. So prospective teachers will have to pass some standardized tests, and if too many of them fail, their college program will be shut down. So congratulations, future New York teachers, and welcome to four college years of test prep. Wow. I bet that will attract even more of the best and the brightest to teaching.

I know this is running long, but I want you to get the full grandeur of Cuomo's public school-crushing plans.

We'll make it harder to get into grad school. We'll make your certificate dependent on getting continuing ed hours, but we'll put all of those programs under the direct control of the state education department.

This next one is genius. Cuomo wants to guarantee that not student will have an ineffective teacher two years in a row. Let's think this through. An ineffective teacher is one who is put in a room with the low-scoring students. Whatever teacher we send those students on to will likely also "become" ineffective. Some schools can look forward to small packs of teacher-crushing students, moving like kryptonite through the system. Depending on the VAM sauce that's being brewed, those packs could be composed of low-ability- high-poverty, or even highly gifted students. This schedule shuffling will also guarantee that teachers can't easily develop a specialty, and that administrators can't schedule based on what they know about teacher strengths and weaknesses. And those young teachers trying to get their five straight years of good test scores in? It just became even harder. What, I wonder, does Cuomo propose if a grade level or subject are in a school runs out of teachers who were rated effective this year?

Once again, the message is clear-- whatever you do, don't get a job in a high-poverty low-achievement school.

Finishing touches

Cuomo commits to the Bottom 5% model of school failure, guaranteeing that there are always failing schools. Lucky for them he has decided to scrap time-consuming turnaround plans and just implement receivership, a nifty technique for privatizing a school and handing it over to a specialist for carving up.

Carving up for whom? Well, the very next item is the abolition of caps on charter authorization, so that charters can bloom across the land like a thousand flowers. This comes attached to a meaningless provision that is hilariously called an "anti-creaming provision" because what fun are these long government documents if you can't slip some mildly obscene easter eggs in there? Cuomo also wants to establish educational tax credits, aka vouchers by another name.

Final touches? Let's expand the market for Pre-K providers by pumping more money into that, along with a rating system. The term "high-quality" let's you know that it's nothing but the best, spared no expense. It also lets you know that the state will require assessment so that presumably parents will know how well their four-year-olds are learning to take standardized tests. Oh, wait-- did I say four-year-olds? Let's up the ante and extend this to three-year-olds. Opening up new markets is always good for entrepreneurs, and those three year olds have all been slacking anyway.

So you see? When Andrew Cuomo says he wants to bust up the public ed monopoly, he's not just generating sound bites for the evening news-- he means it. The program is bold and audacious in the same way that pushing a carload of nuns and puppies into the East River is bold and audacious. In particular, it reduces teaching to a job that people would be less likely to want, and then makes it nearly impossible for them to hold onto it anyway. I try to stay away from reaching conclusions about character, but looking at this, I have to figure that Andrew Cuomo is an incredible dolt or a giant prick. I will leave it to my brothers and sister in New York to decide.


  1. As we all know, everyone is an expert on education since everyone has gone to school, just as everyone is a plumber because they can flush the toilet.

  2. It occurred to me just last night about a cohort of low-achieving kids moving through the grades - social promotion is still alive and well- and causing every teacher they encounter to be ineffective. One group could destroy multiple careers.
    I started teaching fresh out of college in 1979, as you did (except I stayed home for a lot of years in the 80's to raise my 3 kids) and some years you have exceptionally bright kids and other years you wonder how they ever got to 9th grade. I could always guarantee getting a class through any of the NY math Regents exams in the old days....but now not so much. I can retire in the next few years ....unless Cuomo gets me out sooner...or kills my meager pension....but the poor kids still coming through the system won't have any good choices.

  3. In addition, Cuomo founded the "Women's Equality Party" this election. Minutes after he was elected, he announced that he was going after the 75% female teaching profession and the monopolistic teacher unions. Teacher unions that were at the forefront of the fight for paid maternity leave and job security for working mothers. So, Cuomo's idea of "Women's Equality" is that they are equal to men, so therefore should not have maternity leave or any benefits that men do not have.

    I cannot think of a synonym to properly describe the enormity of his prickishness, or since it is women's equality, douchey-ness

    1. Well you know the President of NYSUT Is a woman so there you go. And I think Grade A Douche Bag is a good synonym.

  4. Cuomo is both an incredible dolt and a giant prick. I don't think one precludes the other.

  5. This is why I am now teaching for a not for profit organization. Sure I an not making $95,000 anymore but I am not getting screwed over any more.

  6. He's a giant prick, most certainly. Cuomo was not endorsed by NYSUT in either 2010 or 2014, and now has an ax to grind with the union. Unfortunately, it's harming the kids - again. If this "reform" goes through, then working as an educator in NYS will soon be intolerable. I started my career here in a charter school, and have no intention of ending in one. Band together, spread the word, and demand that our students and our profession are respected.

  7. As I've said countless times, the deformers want to destroy education as a profession. They want to do to education what fast food did to careers in the restaurant business: de-skill it, so that they can pay less. If all teachers quit or are fired, they can be replaced with TFA scabs, part-timers given scripts, or online programs.

  8. I just did not know where to go with this....I really wanted to send you an e-mail about St. Louis, it is very difficult to broaden the discussion of education the St.Louis Post Dispatch, the entire agenda of the reformers is simply taken for granted......they have forums for everything from soccer and house pets, but none for education, which can be discussed under current affairs, which makes all posts disappear among the rest of the world's issues. The PD has stopped readers from posting comments about their editorials, and letters to the editor. I keep a steady barrage of offerings, and sometimes something gets discussed in some depth.....but more often, I am ridiculed for talking to myself. I have one I am enjoying....despite much participation.....I note it here, your use of Governor Cuomo to draw attention......I am focusing on a Missouri politician......whose daughter is opening a new girls only charter in August......and they are not hiding the fact.....just making sure they control all that is said about it is controlled. How on earth can I explain what I am trying to do with this one......and there are all sorts of interconnected things....I understand it...and so do a couple of my friends......

    1. Why not start a blog to consolidate your thoughts on education in St. Louis and Missouri?

  9. P.G,
    A simple and straightforward explanation of how public education's continued demise persists to emanate from mayors and governors elected by big money. The ad homonyms aside, what is really needed is a popular revolt. It seems we, as teachers, remain in the mental masturbation stage, or worse, consort with the enemy as does the NPE group, cowing beneath some kind of Stockholm syndrome.

    Public education and its educators will truly go to hell. Only when the populace recognize the demise of their public commons, their public schools, and take action outside the confines of letters and petitional pleas will traction hold and a push back, say with numbers equal to those who watch Super Bowls, will replace our current condition of whining and bitching.

    It comes to this. When you got nothin' you got nothin' to lose. They say we don't miss a lot of things until they're gone. It's a land side of loss funded by the rentier class to which the likes of a Cuomo belongs. Time for some traffic problems in the public commons.

  10. I am laughing and crying right now, this is fabulous. Thank you so much

  11. This is the Vitality curve on Viagra.

  12. cuomo might be a prick, but he is certainly no dolt, and either choice obscures that he is the ny front man for the sabotage of public education and the busting of teachers unions. the above piece accurately foretells what the result of cuomo's progam will be unless it is defeated, but it is naive to think he doesn't know that, or for that matter that he is doing it in retribution to teachers unions not supporting him. he's a front man for the hedge fund managers and wall st. investors who see public education as a juicy morsel to privatize,using charters and school choice as trojan horses. and we should all be clear--the fish rots from the head down. obama and his national flunky duncan will go down in history as surpassing bush in undermining public education under the false flags of "reform". it's SABOTAGE.

    1. I agree, but history is written by the victor, so the demise of education will be celebrated, or told from a very skewed perspective.

  13. I have been unsuccessful in posting anything beyond my post about my thread in the sl pd, which required more explanation--and the link does not seem to work...if you pasted it in, and found it, and were able to figure out the role of saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, you understood the rest of it. Politicians like Cuomo and Danforth have a couple of characteristics in common....skills in manipulation, and a huge value for secrecy. A subtle followup thread has Joe Biden (not the same sort of politician as Cuomo and Danforth) in the title.....but the substance is how Clarence Thomas became the only black member on the supreme court.....and a few hints about why the people who put him there might not be the best people to be running an all-female charter school for leadership. Hope this link will if you paste it in....