What I Would Tell the New Mayor of NYC

By Ann Neary

Begin by respecting educators. Show that respect by appointing an educator as Chancellor. Business people have transferable skills certainly. But as one who spent 30 years in business before becoming a teacher, what is often lacking is the empathy needed to work with children. Then show your understanding further by turning over your eight appointments to the Panel for Education Policy to educators who have that heart sense.

Bring back comprehensive high schools. They have a place in our large school system. They mirror the existing diversity by offering a myriad of academic challenges, after school activities, sports teams, and clubs. Children can test their wings on many levels all within the school community. No data has shown that creating multiple small schools on one campus has benefited any student.

Support partnerships with the community surrounding the schools. Because of the “choice system” allowing students to select a school, our students travel long distances every day. They are not connected to the community in any way. Job opportunities cease to exist, parents are not able to be a part of the school fiber; there is no pride in place.

Allow teachers within classrooms the freedom and flexibility to be innovative. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was recently quoted in the New York Times as saying, “do not be loose on goals but tight on how to get there.” We all want our students to be ready for the next step, and college and career ready. Teachers know there is more than one way to get there.

Support teachers to prepare our students by offering creative, useful and timely professional development. Afford them what we all want for our students: multiple ways to access and use knowledge.

In NYC we know that struggling schools have a disproportional number of high needs students. Give NYC schools the resources needed to help those students succeed.

When expanding student choice of schools by building charter schools, ensure that all financial data, political donations, student demographics-including suspension rates and attrition-are transparent. Give the same advantages offered charter schools to public schools. Do the same with the new small schools. And if you decline to disclose, do not compare these schools to existing schools.

Finally, listen. Listen to what children are saying about their educational experiences, listen to what parents want for their children, listen to what teachers need in order to prepare their students for the future that we envision for them, for our city and for our country.

AnnNearyAnn Neary teaches at DeWitt Clinton High School in Bronx, NY. She was a member of the VIVA MET Idea Exchange.


Teacher Evaluation Update: No Deal in New York City

by Mark Anderson

In my last post here, I expressed my loss of confidence in the leadership of both Mayor Bloomberg and UFT President Mulgrew. The failure of both sides to broker an agreement on teacher evaluations has only exacerbated my disapproval. But it is not simply that they have failed to reach an agreement that irks me; it is that both sides seem most concerned with exigencies of administration, rather than factors that will influence change in the place that needs it the most — the classroom.

As a VIVA teacher, I worked with other teachers across NY State to craft a set of recommendations on teacher evaluation in 2010. We spent some time considering what components of teacher evaluation will have the most impact on teacher growth, and thus, student learning. And we came the conclusion that the main factor was that no matter the ultimate measures and weighting, effective and meaningful feedback will only occur in the context of a professional learning community. Teachers — not simply the principal — must be empowered, as peer reviewers and facilitators of professional conversations oriented around growth and learning.

Yet all we hear from the NYC DOE has to do with principal autonomy.

We also recommended that student surveys be included as a measure of teacher effectiveness. After reviewing Ron Ferguson’s research and work with The Tripod Project and The MET Project, we were convinced that well-developed student surveys provided meaningful feedback
that would help a teacher to reflect and consider how to revise their instruction. The final findings from The MET Project have further strengthened the cause for inclusion of student surveys.

Yet the UFT will not consider inclusion of student surveys in teacher evaluations.

Both sides seem to be have gotten lost in the details and specifics of clauses, arbitration, and sunset dates without a clear vision of teacher professionalism in their minds.

Mark Anderson is a 7th and 8th grade Special Education teacher in the Bronx.

NY State Teacher Debate: Professionals or Bureaucrats?

By Mark Anderson

The American people have rightly lost confidence in their elected leaders; ideology appears to trump fundamental necessities of governance.

Here in NYC, I have similarly lost confidence in both Mayor Bloomberg and UFT President Michael Mulgrew to represent my interests, nor those of my students.

A lot of money is currently in jeopardy due to the standoff between the UFT and the Mayor over teacher evaluations. As with recent skirmishing in our nation’s capitol in the face of the “fiscal cliff,” it bears questioning as to how such matters of consequence could be allowed to come down to the wire due to grandstanding and partisanship.

The Mayor’s attitude on a recent radio broadcast was cavalier:

“If we can’t come to an agreement, it’s going to be very painful,” Bloomberg told host John Gambling on his weekly Friday radio show. “But the city’s certainly not going to sign on to any agreement that isn’t a real evaluation agreement, and one that can be monitored by the public.”

What is a “real evaluation agreement,” according to Bloomberg? Apparently only one that releases a teacher’s ratings to the public.

Mayor Bloomberg seems more concerned with ostracizing teachers than with creating a system of evaluation that will promote growth oriented professional learning environments and student achievement.

On the other side, we have UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who penned an incensed letter to the Mayor:

The Department of Education’s demonstrated inability to manage the school system correctly has led us to have serious concerns about getting anything constructive done with you.

Who can blame Mulgrew for having “serious concerns” about getting anything accomplished with a Mayor who compares his union to the NRA? But Mulgrew’s righteous beginning is subverted by what follows:

Two and half years ago the state decided to change this year’s standardized tests to the Common Core standards and since then you have done nothing to create a curriculum based on the Common Core. You have now left teachers in a horrendous situation where they are scrambling to try to get material appropriate for these new tests to teach their children.

I don’t know about other teachers, but I shudder to think of what kind of curriculum the NYC DOE would “create.” That’s the last thing I want to see happen, when the opportunity is here for curriculum to be developed from the ground up by classroom teachers.

How should teachers be viewed? Are we professionals, scholars, and experts of our content areas and capable of growth through reflection and collegial feedback? Or are we mere public employees, clamoring for our administration to tell us how and what we are to teach?

I’d prefer to be viewed as a professional educator that is part of a vibrant, dedicated community of professional learners and scholars. Unfortunately, that perspective is not something that seems to be shared by either of the elected officials that would purport to represent me.

They seem more interested in winning out against their political opponents. It’s the rest of us who will lose.

Mark Anderson is a 7th and 8th grade Special Education teacher in the Bronx.

What is a Good Teacher?

So much of the chatter in education policy these days is shaped by the goal of getting rid of bad teachers. While that is something we certainly should do, shouldn’t we spend a lot more time thinking about getting as many good teachers as possible into our nation’s classrooms? What about thinking about how to help good teachers become great, rather than the myopic focus on punishing lousy teachers?

The key, of course, is knowing what a good teacher is. I’ve been catching up on my reading lately and came across two recent(ish) studies that will help us make that shift to think about effective teaching.

In “Transforming Teaching: Connecting Professional Responsibility with Student Learning,” the National Education Association (click to download) published the work of its Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching. The report lays out an exciting vision for a teacher-driven public school system. It contains a clear call to elevate teachers’ professional leadership and responsibility and lists specific characteristics of effective teachers.

There’s a lot of food for thought in this report and we ought to spend a lot of time thinking about how we tap into the professional skills and judgment of classroom teachers–not just in their classrooms but in shaping our approach to public education.

Source: National Archives and Records Administration

In The Hangover: Thinking about the unintended Consequences of the Nation’s Teacher Evaluation Binge, the American Enterprise Institute tackles the incredible pace of change in our thinking about teacher evaluation. More than 20 states have put new teacher evaluation laws on their books in the last three years. And, the rhetoric around most of these legislative changes has been pretty dismal. The authors caution that there’s a lot of connecting the dots to be done to make these laws work well and actually have an impact on teaching practices.

Engaging Teachers

At VIVA Teachers, we think the more we engage classroom teachers in these conversations about what a effective teacher looks like, and how you actually measure effective teaching, the more likely our children are to have a good (or better) teacher in front of their classroom.

VIVA Teachers in New York and Minnesota have made some of the same points as the authors of these reports: that teachers’ professional judgment needs to be part of the calculus on effective teaching. That data is indispensable to evaluating effective teaching. In two detailed reports, these teachers outline a clear action plan for professional evaluation of teachers and principals that will help all of us understand what effective teaching looks like.

Where Will We Find the Trust Our Students Deserve?

Today’s blog topic: Trust.

It’s a tall order in short supply, particularly at this point in our political calendar. The presidential candidates spend far too much of their time attempting to undermine our trust in their opponent and not nearly enough time shoring up our trust in them.

Likewise, when teachers’ unions and school districts play their respective roles in the important work of running our nation’s public schools, they display precious little trust in the public. Worse, when the two sides head to the negotiating table to figure out how to work together in the interests of our children, they display even less trust in one another.

If we are going to achieve our national goals of ensuring that every student has a real opportunity to succeed, we have to be able to trust one another enough to speak the truth. About money. About what we need our children to know and how we can tell if they get it. About the definition of a great teacher. About how to get rid of the not-so-great teachers.

These aren’t easy conversations. But they are issues that great teachers–the teachers who have participated in our VIVA Teachers online conversations in Chicago, Arizona, Massachusetts, New York and Minnesota–have talked about openly and honestly.

VIVA Teachers exists to give teachers a place to talk amongst themselves and build the trust to speak the truth. To collaborate with peers and bring their experience to bear on the administration of public education, not just the delivery of material in the classroom. To grapple with the hard issues and come up with pragmatic, workable solutions. Maybe not the ideal for them, maybe not the ideal for their students, but solid, defensible actions that will deliver on our promise to children and not undermine their profession.

And, VIVA Teachers has caught the ear of some important listeners, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton. Even Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel–not generally the Jeopardy answer to “The best listener among America’s politicians”- -was willing to listen deeply to what teachers had to say.

I’ve seen the results of those conversations in policy steps each of these public officials has taken. It’s electrifying to know that a bunch of hardworking classroom teachers have spoken truth to power and been heard.

But, we’ve only just now celebrated our first year (happy birthday to us) and those conversations between teachers and leaders are still far too few. The depressing fact is the vast majority of what passes for dialogue in the public sphere still consists of shouting past each other, sometimes literally!

So let’s stop arguing about personal values and personality issues and start talking, respectfully, about how we deliver on our promise of a great education for every American child who wants it, regardless of their household income, their ZIP code or their roots.

All it takes is a little trust.

What would make you give an extra dose of trust to a public official or leader?