LETTER: Criticizing AFT position on Race To The Top

[Editor's Note: The following letter was sent to the American Federation of Teachers regarding an article on Race To The Top that appeared in "American Teacher." The writer forwarded it to us for publication at and in Substance. George N. Schmidt, Editor, Substance].

Jan. 30, 2010

Dear Editor Glass,

I just finished reading the February issue of American Teacher. I always look forward to finding out what my union is doing to help teachers. In reading the article “Race to the Top Revisited”, I was discouraged to find out that despite input from AFT that did produce some positive results for students and teachers, the legislation still contains punishments for schools and teachers. Some of the punishments, like replacing 50% of the staff at low performing schools, have been tried at schools in Chicago and resulted in having no positive improvement to actual creating a more dangerous school environment when teachers who knew the students and the community were removed and replaced by staff who were unfamiliar with them. Even the AFT supported positions that were accepted, like more professional development and “expanded instructional time”, are not necessarily beneficial to teachers. As a teacher in a “low performing” school of primarily low income and language learners, we are continually provided with questionable professional development that mostly concentrates on raising test scores on a state test that does not measure student growth. I’m happy that AFT works with the US Department of Education to form policy that not only works to respect educators as workers but also as advocates for students and public education. That is why it seems very important that our union is clear when it comes to issues like teacher evaluation. I’m concerned that when our union collaborates with the Department of Education, we might lose some important protections in this area. Primarily, I’m concerned about President Weingarten’s letter “Empowering teachers to do a great job” when she advocates for adding test score data into teachers’ evaluations. She followed that by adding that it would be “one or several measures to use but only when they are valid and reliable”. But, what happens if that part is negotiated out and we are left with only test score data?

First, standardized tests do not measure student growth and are not normed for Language Learners or Special Education students who are required to take them and whose scores are used to evaluate schools. California Federation of Teachers have supported a resolution since taken up by US Congressperson Joe Baca that calls for a moratorium on high stakes test until, among other things, tests are devised that supply multiple measures and are normed to all the students who take them. The resolution also questions spending money on invalid testing material when we are in such dire financial straits. I would ask that the AFT be firm about not including test scores as part of any reform to teacher evaluation. If we are firm about that, there can be no compromise. I also would like AFT to follow CFT and support Congressperson Baca in calling for a moratorium on high stakes testing. Sincerely, Sarah Ringler, Santa Cruz, CA 95062, AFT Local 1936


February 3, 2010 at 3:35 PM

By: Karen Lewis

High Stakes Hurt Everyone

Ms. Ringler has brought up the proverbial 800 lb gorilla that lurks in the corner of every classroom. The AFT has missed the boat completely on the inclusion of test data in teacher evaluation. While no one can think the "drive-by" evaluations that pass muster here in Chicago are worthy of the paper on which they're written, the political nature of CPS will not allow reasonable alternatives. Any real evaluation must take place over an entire year and start with teachers making the decisions about what they want to concentrate on and the approaches, resources and support they will need to accomplish their goals. Principals have to get out of their offices and into the classrooms, so they can be the educational leaders of the building.

The use of high stakes testing to make policy and educational decisions should be an affront to every stakeholder - parents, students, faculties and communities. There are better ways to provide feedback to teachers so they can adjust their lessons to suit the needs of their students. Unfortunately, in times of fiscal crisis, states have shown themselves to be willing partners in the destruction of publicly funded public education for a few pieces of silver. In Illinois, it amounts to about $200 per student. That the politicians, current union leadership and unsuspecting citizens use these tests to punish schools and communities is nothing less than criminal.

February 4, 2010 at 2:38 AM

By: kugler

closing hearings tell the truth

everyone should come to the school closing hearings and really see how the Board twists data to justify closing schools. in all the testimony i have documented none of the data cps has presented is factual or an honest depiction of what is happening at a particular school proposed for closure, turnaround or consolidation.

John Kugler

The Hawthorne effect is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve an aspect of their behavior being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they are being studied, not in response to any particular experimental manipulation.

Campbell's Law

"The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."

What Campbell also states in this principle is that "achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways. (Similar biases of course surround the use of objective tests in courses or as entrance examinations.)"

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