Teachers fight back after report card smackdown
STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 3/1/2012, 2:52 p.m.
New York City's teachers continue to fight an uphill battle.
Last Friday, as a result of a September 2010 Freedom of Information request by several media outlets, the Department of Education (DOE) released their teacher data reports, which are used internally as an aid in determining tenure for close to 18,000 teachers in the city's public schools. The reports start with the 2007-2008 academic year and end with the 2009-2010 academic year.
Those who support the release of the test scores do so under the guise of checking a teacher's ability to affect student test scores and measuring job performance data. It also includes the name of each teacher in the system.
United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew questions the timing of the release and the numbers in the report itself, calling the reports an attack on teachers.
"The teacher data reports are based on bad data and an unproven methodology with a huge margin of error," said Mulgrew in an emailed statement to the AmNews. "They are not an accurate reflection of the work of any teacher. Their release is particularly inappropriate in view of the fact that the Department of Education has already announced that they will be discontinued and replaced with a statewide program." As a show of solidarity and support, Mulgrew met with teachers at several schools around the city, including P.S. 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a school with a good academic reputation that got mixed results in the data reports.
New York Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, in a letter distributed to school principals and obtained by the AmNews, tried to soothe their fears and said to use the report only as a measuring stick despite the fact that it's two years old.
"We want to be clear on where we stand: The data is now two years old, and it would be irresponsible for the press to use this information in isolation to render judgment about individual teachers," wrote Walcott. "The data does not tell the whole story of your work as a teacher. Teacher data reports were created primarily as a tool to help teachers improve. They show how much progress teachers helped their students make each year, compared with the progress students made in other classrooms across the city, while accounting for students' previous academic histories, poverty levels and other factors outside a teacher's control.
"The reports gave teachers and principals one useful perspective on how well teachers were doing in their most important job: helping students learn."
New York University research education professor Diane Ravitch called the numbers rubbish.
"It is junk science," Ravitch told the AmNews. "[This is] a terrible mistake on the part of the DOE. How does it help teachers to publish these inaccurate scores? How does it help students? How does it improve schools?"
Ravitch expressed similar sentiments via social media. Taking to Twitter to bash the release of the scores, she responded to arguments in favor of the release by saying, "NYC teachers feel 'shamed' by posting of inaccurate scores online and in print. Good ones demoralized. Could be them next year. Facts do matter. Cannot improve education by demoralizing people who do the daily work of teaching. No real leader does that."
With the names of teachers and their scores according to the DOE now public information for all to see, Walcott warned principals and teachers that their names could be included in media reports. However, he assured them that the DOE will help New Yorkers understand the data. "Ultimately, each news organization will make its own choices about how to proceed," said Walcott. "Although we can't control how reporters use this information, we will work hard to make sure parents and the public understand how to interpret the teacher data reports."
But it may be too late for that now. You can't take back the scarlet letter.