Mulgrew, Casey Drink the Teacher Eval Kool-Aid
“Value-Added” Deal A Betrayal
UFT/NYSUT Tops Sign on to Teacher Evaluation Scheme That Would Lead to Firing of Hundreds, If Not Thousands of Teachers
By Class Struggle Education Workers/UFT
MARCH 7 – In a nutshell, the bogus “teacher evaluation” deal with New York governor Andrew Cuomo agreed to by Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers (along with Richard Iannuzzi of New York State United Teachers) is a mortal threat to the union and to the jobs of thousands of teachers. The UFT and NYSUT tops have accepted the principle that teachers can be fired based on student scores on standardized tests, a centerpiece of the corporate/capitalist war on public education.
This is even worse than the 2005 contract the UFT agreed to that gave up seniority transfers, giving principals the right to hire teachers and hugely expanding the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool. The side agreement with NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg for a minimal appeal procedure won’t alter the fact that this scheme is designed to result in firing hundreds and possibly thousands of dedicated educators. This is the central purpose of all these teacher eval schemes.
This was never about improving education or “putting children first” as the bourgeois pols demagogically claim. In fact, it will grievously hurt students by forcing teachers to “teach to the test” out of fear of losing their jobs, and by penalizing those educators who deal with English language learners, special education and at risk students in poor neighborhoods. In addition to those fired, by holding new teachers hostage to the numbers crunchers and delaying or denying tenure, it will drive far more of them out of NYC schools, and in many cases out of teaching.
Coming barely a week after the monstrous teacher evaluation pact, the publication by all three major New York daily papers of more than 12,000 NYC teachers’ individual rankings based on student test scores has teachers – and even many administrators up in arms. Much of the ire will focus on Bloomberg and his schools chancellor Dennis Wolcott.
But this is more than about a Republican billionaire mayor and his hatchet man at the head of the NYC Department of Education, and the teacher bashers in right-wing media. The New York Times as well as the New York Post and Daily News tabloids joined in witch-hunting teachers by publishing the DOE’s phony stats. It is a capitalist class war on teachers unions. And it comes right from the top, from liberal Democratic president Barack Obama in the White House and his education “czar,” Arne Duncan, as well as from Democrat Cuomo in the Albany state house.
By now, the 110,000-plus UFT educators are aware of how rigged the teacher evaluation scam is. They know that the published Teacher Data Reports were chock full of errors; that they were based on state tests which were phonied up to artificially show progress when the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed none; that the 2009 results were so inflated that they had to be tossed out (“recalibrated”).
Many have read articles by Diane Ravitch, a former supporter of student test-based teacher “accountability,” noting that “the current frenzy of blaming teachers for low scores smacks of a witch-hunt, the search for a scapegoat, someone to blame for a faltering economy, for the growing levels of poverty, for widening income inequality” (“No Student Left Untested,” New York Review of Books, 21 February). With an average margin of error for English teachers of 53%, and up to 85% in some cases, Ravitch quipped that flipping a coin would be more accurate.
UFT members are aware that more than 1,400 principals – a third of those in New York – signed a petition opposing the state’s test-based teacher evaluations. An initiator of the letter, Carol Burris, named NYS Educator of the Year in 2010, called AFT president Randi Weingarten’s endorsement of the agreement with Cuomo “beyond comprehension.” And many UFTers have been outraged as they read UFT vice president Leo Casey’s defense of the treacherous deal with the governor, accusing Burris of “alarmist alchemy” (“Setting the Record Straight on Teacher Evaluations,” Edwize, 22 February).
Casey claims that “the role of standardized testing in the evaluation will be minimized” under the evaluation scheme. Nonsense. The press release announcing it stated plainly: “Teachers rated ineffective on student performance based on objective assessments must be rated ineffective overall.” So the 40% for student assessment trumps the other 60%. But only 20% is state tests, says Casey. Would he have us believe that the DOE will agree to local assessment that isn’t test-based, when it is paying big bucks developing its own tests?
In a second installment, Casey argues that with provisions for a “teacher improvement plan” and “independent validators,” plus an appeals process (but only for 13% of “ineffective” ratings), “the educational integrity and fairness of the teacher evaluation process are secure.” That is about as much “security” as Joel Klein’s letter saying the DOE would oppose any attempt to publish the Teacher Data Reports. Tweed then turned around and encouraged the papers to request the TDRs.
At the end of this piece Casey comments: “But it may well require a new mayor and new leadership at the DoE, prepared to negotiate in good faith, for that teacher evaluation system to be established.” The UFT' tops’ real position is to “negotiate” with an administration that won’t negotiate, and wait for a new mayor. But a Democrat will be no better.
The bottom line is, this is a class assault on teachers unions and unions in general, and it can only be fought by hard class struggle. The AFT/UFT’s usual tactics of lobbying, slicing and dicing, giving in to part of management’s demands and claiming victory because it could have been worse, won’t work. There are no contradictions among the capitalist parties here. And this fundamental issue stymies the various union opposition groups as well.
James Eterno, who has courageously fought the closing of Jamaica HS, wrote on the ICE-UFT blog (16 February) dissecting the disastrous teacher evaluation “deal.” He ended: “If there is anything positive to take from today's events, it's that President Mulgrew was there with the governor announcing the deal and maybe they are developing the kind of bond we can use to influence the state to pass legislation to end mayoral control.” Yet Mulgrew and Cuomo are both supporters of mayoral control of the schools!
During the 2008 election campaign Democrat Obama and Republican McCain ostentatiously agreed on their education programs, going after teacher tenure and demonizing “bad teachers.” Even so, the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association endorsed Obama. Most teacher activist groups were right in there with the bureaucrats, either openly or tacitly backing Democrat Obama. Class Struggle Education Workers was almost alone in opposing the candidates of both capitalist parties.
In February 2010, when the corrupt rulers of Central Falls, Rhode Island fired the entire teaching force, Obama praised them. The Obama/Duncan “Race to the Top” education program mandates charter schools, closing “failing” schools, “merit pay” and teacher evals based on student test scores. Yet the AFT and NEA have already endorsed Obama for reelection! The UFT membership should repudiate the outrageous endorsement of teacher-basher Obama.
It will take mobilization of the UFT’s strength in militant class action, including mobilizing students, parents and the workers movement in defiance of the no-strike Taylor Law, to defeat the all-sided attacks, of which teacher evals are only a part. As we argued in a CSEW motion presented at the last delegate assembly, the racist school closings should be fought by occupying closing schools. We say: oust the bureaucrats, break with the Democrats, build a class-struggle workers party.