Saturday, February 25, 2017

The disaster plan: Illinois’ teacher evaluation by Mark Stefanik

“Having just experienced the new teacher evaluation process in my district, I’ve had my fears confirmed.  It is a coercive instrument whose first purpose is not to improve teachers, but to control them.  It is a negative metric which creates and seeks flaws. It is a checklist for ‘Wuzza’ teachers who have mutated into administrative hacks. It is a template for mediocrity.

“Under the grand banner of improving public education, the pinky-ringed wizards of Springfield enacted a law that turned an essential truth – that teachers are the most important element in schooling – on its head.  If there’s something wrong with schools, there must be something wrong with teachers.  Put another way, a simpleton’s syllogism swayed the sages of the statehouse:

“There are problems with public education. Teachers are the most important element in schools. Therefore, there are problems with teachers.

“Oh, the ideas that this bit of reckless reasoning inspired.  Oh, the strange bedfellows it rallied.  Billionaire dilettantes linked arms with working class mothers.  Tax policy conservatives swayed PTA parents into charter school advocates.  Union bashers recruited the voiceless and disenfranchised, the very folks that unions protected.

“Forget inadequate funding.  Forget socio-economic factors.  Forget prejudice.  Ignorance and Want gave the politicos an early Christmas present.  A consensus swept the land.  Fix the teachers and we fix our schools. And so, in 2011, SB7 was born.  It went right to the heart of the teacher problem.  

“We’ll make teachers better by diminishing their rights and protections, and, it only follows, that this will improve the classrooms. Which will improve our kids.  Which will secure our futures.  Yada-Yada-Yada.

“A key to this improvement would be the state codified Teacher Evaluation Plan, a colossal cluster of criteria adapted by each school district. If you believe that this approach will be used to improve teachers, then you must believe that the City of Chicago’s restaurant code is designed to make 3 star restaurants into 4 star ones.

“The codes, standards, and regulations look good on paper, but the devil awaits in their execution.  With a surfeit of regulations, the city can shut down any establishment it wants to.  With a surfeit of standards, an administrator can silence or remove any teacher.  That’s the beauty of a negative metric, at least for the evaluators.  Flaws can be found anywhere.  Excellence can be minimized, or as is the case with most Evaluation tools, omitted.  

“Is a teacher at fault when only 20 of 25 students participate in a 45 minute class discussion?  Is this a sensible criteria when the evaluator judges that teacher by only 1 period in an entire school year?  

“Is a teacher at fault when her Math classroom must also double as a science room and the requisite marble topped wooden tables are not conducive to modular desk arrangements?

“Is a teacher at fault when the theory behind a class activity, even though it was thoroughly discussed in a post-observation meeting, is not provided in writing?

“The list of petty applications of the plan is as long as the plan itself.  I have offered only a sample of the supposedly constructive criticism of the teachers’ classroom management and curriculum design.  The metrics for ‘Professionalism’ would require their own column.  Let’s just leave it at this:  Whatever cockamamie project your boob of a principal wants you to do on your time had better be done.  Her ‘career’ rests on you.

“Speaking of principals or administrators or assistants, their roles in this farce bear examination.  If we account for all of the stake-holders in a school district, who benefits from these evaluation plans?

“The students?  Hardly.  The major flawed assumption of this entire mess is that they will benefit from the diminishment of a teacher’s rights and autonomy. The teachers?  This should be obvious. The parents?  They’re not getting transparency.  They’re getting diversions based upon bad data and disingenuous interpretations of student and school performances.

“The taxpayers?  They are getting the short term benefits of a cheaper work force (out with the wise; in with the inexperienced) at the long term costs of a morale-gutted and visionless faculty.  Even if they don’t care about the schools, they should certainly be aware of the relationship between the schools and their property values.

“Whose left?  The administrators, of course.  They’re the big winners.  More power.  More false measures with which to deceive.  It’s the old story of the Emperor’s new clothes, re-imagined where the School Board is the Emperor and the managers to whom they have entrusted the well-being of their district are ambitious charlatans, most of whom couldn’t sharpen pencils in a good teacher’s classroom.  

“What will it take to challenge the myth that administrators were formerly the best teachers?  This, too, would make another column.

“Finally, let’s not underestimate the damage being done.  There is only so much time in the day.  Considering time as a commodity, we can apply the economic principal of opportunity costs. For every hour spent on satisfying administrative needs for forms, one hour less will be spent on preparing thoughtful activities for students.  For every hour spent collaborating with colleagues on how best to explain to administrators what it is we do, one hour less is being spent on getting better at what we do.  For every mediocre evaluation received, the seeds are being planted, not for creative and risk-taking lesson planning, but for plans that will meet the crushing and petty and gap-filled expectations of these current instruments.

“Make no mistake.  These new tools will change things. I fear for my grandchildren.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

“The profession of literary criticism depends upon exploitation”—Kevin Birmingham

“…[T]o talk about adjuncts is to talk about the centerpiece of higher education. Tenured faculty represent only 17 percent of college instructors. Part-time adjuncts are now the majority of the professoriate and its fastest-growing segment.

“From 1975 to 2011, the number of part-time adjuncts quadrupled. And the so-called part-time designation is misleading because most of them are piecing together teaching jobs at multiple institutions simultaneously. A 2014 congressional report suggests that 89 percent of adjuncts work at more than one institution; 13 percent work at four or more. The need for several appointments becomes obvious when we realize how little any one of them pays. 

“In 2013, The Chronicle began collecting data on salary and benefits from adjuncts across the country. An English-department adjunct at Berkeley, for example, received $6,500 to teach a full-semester course. It’s easy to lose sight of all the people struggling beneath the data points. $7,000 at Duke. $6,000 at Columbia. $5,950 at the University of Iowa.

“These are the high numbers. According to the 2014 congressional report, adjuncts’ median pay per course is $2,700. An annual report by the American Association of University Professors indicated that last year ‘the average part-time faculty member earned $16,718’ from a single employer. 

“Other studies have similar findings. Thirty-one percent of part-time faculty members live near or below the poverty line. Twenty-five percent receive public assistance, like Medicaid or food stamps. One English-department adjunct who responded to the survey said that she sold her plasma on Tuesdays and Thursdays to pay for her daughter’s day care. 

“Another woman stated that she taught four classes a year for less than $10,000. She wrote, ‘I am currently pregnant with my first child. … I will receive NO time off for the birth or recovery. It is necessary I continue until the end of the semester in May in order to get paid, something I drastically need. The only recourse I have is to revert to an online classroom […] and do work while in the hospital and upon my return home.’ Sixty-one percent of adjunct faculty are women…

“The abysmal conditions of adjuncts are not the inevitable byproducts of an economy with limited space for literature. They are intentional. Universities rely upon a revolving door of new Ph.D.s who work temporarily for unsustainable wages before giving up and being replaced by next year’s surplus doctorates.

“Adjuncts now do most university teaching and grading at a fraction of the price, so that the ladder faculty have the time and resources to write. We take the love that young people have for literature and use it to support the research of a tiny elite...

“All of this is to say that the profession of literary criticism depends upon exploitation. Even this formulation is too soothingly vague, so let us be more direct: If you are a tenured (or tenure-track) faculty member teaching in a humanities department with Ph.D. candidates, you are both the instrument and the direct beneficiary of exploitation. Your roles as teacher, adviser, and committee member generate, cultivate, and exploit young people’s devotion to literature. 

“This is the great shame of our profession. We tell our students to study literature because it will make them better human beings, that in our classrooms they will learn empathy and wisdom, thoughtfulness and understanding. And yet the institutions supporting literary criticism are callous and morally incoherent…”

For the complete article, The Great Shame of Our Profession, How the Humanities Survive on Exploitation by Kevin Birmingham, click here.

For 53 articles on this social injustice, click here.

Monday, February 20, 2017

President's Day


“Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties. And not to Democrats alone do I make this appeal, but to all who love these great and true principles.” August 27, 1856 Speech at Kalamazoo, Michigan

“Let us then turn this government back into the channel in which the framers of the Constitution originally placed it.” July 10, 1858 Speech at Chicago

“I have borne a laborious, and, in some respects to myself, a painful part in the contest. Through all, I have neither assailed, nor wrestled with any part of the constitution.” October 30, 1858 Speech at Springfield

“The people -- the people -- are the rightful masters of both congresses, and courts -- not to overthrow the constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it.” September 16 and 17, 1959 Notes for Speeches at Columbus and Cincinnati

“I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle.” February 21, 1861 Speech to the New Jersey Senate


“When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.” August 24, 1855 Letter to Joshua Speed

“That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles -- right and wrong -- throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings.” October 15, 1858 Debate at Alton, Illinois

For more selected quotations by Abraham Lincoln, click here.