A Call to Action: Tell Chancellor Walcott that teacher morale in NYC is low

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photo courtesy of Yasmeen Khan, WNYC 

On Thursday (10/17/13), Chancellor Dennis Walcott, along with David Weiner, NYC Department of Education’s deputy chancellor for Talent, Labor and Innovation, appeared on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show to discuss the new teacher evaluation plan.

Towards the end of the show (19:20), Brian Lehrer astutely remarked that “after 12 years of Mayor Bloomberg, NYC teachers are demoralized at historic proportions.”  Lehrer pressed Walcott to acknowledge this, but instead the chancellor assured listeners that both he and Bloomberg were appreciative of the work teachers are doing in the classrooms and that educational reforms have benefited NYC public schools.  Walcott continued by saying, “I’m not going to make the generalization that teacher morale is down overall.  You have some (teachers) that are impacted and some who are not impacted.”

Chancellor Walcott – I don’t know a single NYC teacher who hasn’t been impacted by corporate education reform.  I see the exhaustion, frustration and stress on teachers’ faces everyday.  We shake our heads at the ridiculous, time-and-money-wasting mandates that are imposed on us by both the city and the state, and we mourn our lack of  autonomy.  “You can’t make this up” and “This makes no sense ” are uttered throughout our hallways.

One example of Danielson’s 4f (Showing Professionalism) is “the teacher challenges existing practice in order to put students first.” Challenging corporate education reform policies, which do not put students first, is the essence of my blog, and with this post, my intention is to show Chancellor Walcott that teacher morale is indeed low throughout NYC.

NYC teachers – As of today (10/20/13) there are 40 comments on Walcott’s recent appearance on Brian Lehrer’s show.  Below is a copy of what I wrote.  Please add to the comments and let the chancellor know that low teacher morale IS rampant and problematic in NYC.

Chancellor Walcott’s tone remains arrogant and condescending, from joking about teachers calling in during school hours to admonishing educators for “politicizing” the new teacher evaluation plan.

Likewise, the chancellor continues to appear out of touch with the realities of NYC schools. For example, Walcott claimed that schools have choice and that a “wide variety” of measures exist to satisfy the 20% local measurement of student learning (MOSL) component of the new teacher evaluation plan. His implication that this has been a democratic process is a sham, not to mention insulting to teachers and administrators who know better.

In contrast, the ailing middle school teacher from Brooklyn spoke the truth about what’s happening in our schools. Walcott and David Weiner responded to her criticism of a NYC DOE Performance Assessment by claiming that teachers were involved in creating these tests. After administering the 1st grade ELA Performance Assessment, I find this wholly unbelievable. No teacher I know finds them to be of any value.

This is not politicizing the issue, Chancellor Walcott. We object to these performance assessments because, in our professional opinion, they are NOT educationally sound, nor is their administration and scoring a wise use of time and money. We know our students best and would much rather be teaching meaningfully, addressing the individual needs of all of our students.

The chancellor talked at length about improving teacher quality, but who is holding Tweed accountable? I propose he spend time each month teaching singlehandedly in an overcrowded Title I classroom. Better yet, have him administer these assessments.

http://www.wnyc.org/story/chancellor-walcott-teacher-evals/

Thanks, Katie

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My response to Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s email to NYC DOE staff

July 16, 2013

Dear Chancellor Walcott,

I am writing in response to your ‘Extraordinary Year’ email, which you sent to NYC DOE staff on June 26, 2013. In the spirit of diversity, I wish to share with you my year end reflections, which differ from yours. In my view, there appears to be a disconnect between your office and working teachers; thus, my intention is to help bridge this gap.

I prefer to describe the 2012-2013 school year as crushing. This spring, for example, I felt the heavy weight of your initiatives while commuting to and from school. Staring at me from the subway walls were NYC DOE advertisements promoting your Common Core curriculum. They claim – in both Spanish and English – “We’re not satisfied just teaching your children basic skills. We want them prepared for college and a career.” In my seven years of teaching English-language learners (ELLs) at the same Title I public elementary school in Brooklyn, I have never just taught basic skills. Frankly, I find these ads insulting to the large number of NYC teachers I know who have long held high standards and expectations for their students.

During my first year of teaching (pre-Common Core) my second grade ELLs, inspired by the realistic fiction book City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, wrote letters to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz persuading him to allow us to convert a local vacant lot into a community garden. The lesson was meaningful on different levels; it made connections to content and to real life, and my students acquired high level academic vocabulary. They were also expected to use reasons and evidence to defend their arguments. In your June 26, 2013 email to us you stated that students are “getting used to supporting their ideas with evidence.” This is not a new skill for our students, nor is it unique to the Common Core curriculum.

I raise this point for two reasons. First, I’m concerned that your message, which implies that pre-Common Core teaching needs to be fixed, is misleading the public. Similarly, as our schools experience budget cuts, I question the large sum of money being spent on the Common Core package – advertising, testing and curriculum – when, in my opinion, our current instruction differs only slightly from what many of us have long been doing.

The biggest change to instruction that I have seen concerns standardized testing. The new Common Core state tests have left me despairing of the future of public education in both NYC and throughout the country. First, this year’s testing resulted in a significant loss of precious classroom time that instead could have been used for meaningful, targeted instruction. I proctored the math and ELA exams to a group of former ELLs in fifth grade. Not only did they sit for a total of 13.5 hours to complete these lengthy exams, but leading up to the six days of high-stakes testing were countless hours of educationally unsound test prep. Four Acuity Benchmark assessments (two in each subject area) also preceded April’s exams.

After the ELA and math tests, I proceeded to administer the four-part NYSESLAT to our ELLs. Nearly 1.5 months were devoted to the administration and scoring of the exam as well as to related administrative duties such as bubbling grids, transcribing scores and answers onto grids for the speaking part and for ELLs in K-2, and packing up the testing materials by following a complex set of directions.

During the 2013 oppressive testing season, our ELLs were deprived of their mandated services. When a co-teacher remarked to me one day that her kids stopped asking her when I’d be back in their classroom (I am a push-in ESL teacher), I knew I had to speak up and vocalize my doubts concerning the value of these tests. Continuing on this road of high-stakes testing and excessive accountability is unsustainable.

My concerns are far-reaching, and this letter has just begun to address them all. Therefore, I would greatly appreciate an opportunity to dialogue with you in person at your convenience. In all areas of life, I believe that we must be honest with ourselves and with one another for real growth and improvement to occur. I am reachable via email at: katielapham1@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Katie Lapham
NYC public school teacher katielapham1@gmail.com

Cc: Barack Obama, US President
Cc: Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education
Cc: Dr. John King, NYS Education Commissioner