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The Press Just Doesn’t Get It: How the Release of NYC Teacher Stats Will Hurt Teachers and Do Nothing for Our Children

December 14th, 2010 · 12 Comments

By Jude Soto

Today was an ordinary day at work.  Forgive me for my lack of humility, but I teach well.  I engage my students, and they learn to think independently.  Some of them will thank me, others will curse me, but the truth is, I am a fully licensed and tenured pedagogue and I do my job well.  In spite of this, I still can’t help but get heartburn every time I read a story about the desire of the New York media to release teacher data reports.  In spite of a claim to embody transparency in the public school system, these release of these reports only serves to harm the reputations of teachers, while serving of no legitimate benefit to students.

Teacher Data Reports are pretty simple for a teacher and an administrator to understand, they are a record of the percentage of students that passed a particular teacher’s class.  They are available to each individual teacher and their respective administrative supervisors.  I am not one to hide from facts, I am looking at my Spring 2010 report right now.  I passed 100% of my sophomore honors class, 91% of my seniors, and 50% of my 17-year-old repeater freshmen.  The question I have for you is, without knowing anything else, do those numbers alone tell you anything about how good a teacher I am?

At work, I have to deal with a variety of different children.  Some of them happen to work harder than others.  My honors students are honors students because they work hard, and when I give them constructive criticism — get this –they take it.  My seventeen year old freshmen are falling behind because they do not work hard, nor do they take school seriously, or listen to constructive criticism from their elders.  I work hard every day, and I have a track record of focusing on the individual learner, but let’s be honest, if passing every honors student isn’t necessarily a sign of my awesomeness, than failing half of my repeaters isn’t necessarily a sign of my inadequacies.

Various media outlets have filed requests for release of the Teacher Data Reports under the Freedom of Information Act, while the United Federation of Teachers is making legal challenges to block the request, which is my desired outcome.  I imagine myself in the shoes of the hypothetical anonymous parent.  I’ll drop my child off, and then pick up the copy of Any New York Tabloid from the bodega.  The headline will be something scary, yet emotional like: THEY FAILED YOUR KIDS.  Shocked, I turn the pages to the list of teachers, and read, among other names, “Ramirez, Chad – 53%; Henderson, Tina – 85%.”  I realized that Mr. Ramirez is my daughter’s government teacher and immediately demand that she be taken out of his class.  She should be transferred into that Ms. Henderson’s class.  I then write letters to the school principal and assistant principal demanding that Ramirez be fired.

Now back to reality for a minute.  What hypothetical dad does not know is that Chad Ramirez is actually a brilliant teacher who emphasizes accountability with his students.  He sets high standards, but he knows the students can reach them.  On the other hand, while still being a good teacher, Ms. Henderson is a bit of a pushover.  Her students get away with pulling the wool over her eyes, and she never demands accountability from them.  The only reason why she has a higher passing percentage then Ramirez is because she knows that if she fails students, she’ll be seen by the politicians as being ineffective.  In the end, Ramirez was harmed by having ill informed parents failing to realize that data does not fully demonstrate the educational experience.

Funny story: this morning in my class full of seventeen-year-old freshmen, while showing clips from a movie depicting nuns in a convent, a young lady yelled out, “This movie makes me want to be a prostitute!” After disciplining her and thinking about the fact that she comes from a broken home with a parent who really doesn’t care about her, I realize that I am still somehow responsible for her educational outcome.  Come January, I’ll fail her, and if the data reports are released, this will lower some magic number and make me look slightly worse in the eyes of the general public.  As for the young lady, she will be just another statistic used by politicians and their media allies to destroy teacher autonomy.

Jude Soto has been a teacher in a low-income public high school in New York City since 2004. A native New Yorker, Soto has an M.A. in history from Brooklyn College. Outside of the academic world, his pursuits include traveling, weightlifting, and long distance running.

Tags: Education · Government Accountability

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tweets that mention The Press Just Doesn’t Get It: How the Release of NYC Teacher Stats Will Hurt Teachers and Do Nothing for Our Children -- Topsy.com // Dec 15, 2010 at 8:08 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by LatinoPolitics, Diane Ravitch. Diane Ravitch said: RT @LatinoPolitics: How Release of NYC Teacher Stats Will Hurt Teachers & Do Nothing 4 Our Children: http://bit.ly/eD7oE1 #education @Di … […]

  • 2 Richie // Dec 16, 2010 at 6:07 am

    I would tend to agree

  • 3 Paolo Jimenez // Dec 16, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Thats why half the kids in NYC graduate and don’t know how to read! Think about it, the Ms. Henderson example given in this article: she passes everyone and that means, according to the media and politicians, that she is a good teacher. But anyone who has gone to school in NYC knows about the teachers who pass everyone. The teachers who pass everyone usually don’t teach. Very often, the teachers who pass the fewest students are the ones who do the most work and teach the most. But then again, none of these people ever went to NYC schools.

  • 4 A. DeMiguel Sevilla // Dec 16, 2010 at 11:14 am

    This article “The Press Just Doesn’t Get It”, illustrates one of the many other issues that need to be analyzed by the media and politicians before embarking in their campaign to vilify teachers and public education.

  • 5 Chicano future tense // Dec 16, 2010 at 11:18 am

    Maestro Soto

    many of us Latinos sympathize and appreciate your predicament as a teacher.
    What you report is happening everywhere,not only with teachers but across the full spectrum of labor and unions.

    The wealthy corporate (and government) elites
    continue to squeeze the lifeblood out of labor,keep workers as virtual hostages on a plantation where they will submit to authority,say yes to everything they want.

    These statistical evaluation models you speak of are nothing more than elaborate hi-tech scams,excuses,justifications for keeping teachers under control. In part they enforce these models by fear mongering the public,using teachers as scapegoats- blaming teachers for all the ills of a broken society.

    As I stated above these problems are happening everywhere with working people.
    The fact is the wealthy elites want a free hand with which they will be able to completely exploit and oppress working people whether that worker be a janitor,a farmworker,teacher or engineer.

    I always try to make this connection apparent and transparent in my commentaries because the “gente” need to realize that all these problems are not isolated and specific to just one area or another,one trade or another,but rather such problems are in the “big picture” systemic structural symptoms inherent in the capitalist system.
    I know there are many people who once you mention the word “capitalism” they don’t want to hear it or they react out of an anti-communist knee-jerk conditioning which they have been brainwashed in K-12 ..higher education,the church and ignorance.

    People see the individual bars, guards,cells,dogs in their lives.

    It’s only when they see the entire structure as a whole (the prison) that they can truly comprehend the magnitude of situation they are in.

    The Capitalist system is the prison.

    What is happening to you and all other working people is a result of the capitalist system doing what it was designed to do-maximizing it’s effort to extract more profits at the expense of working people.Once a person comprehends this they have made a big leap in political consciousness.

  • 6 Smirnoff // Dec 16, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    I think the problem is really that passing kids is becoming a new form of discrimination. Politicians dont want the kids to actually learn, they don’t want them to properly learn English, they don’t want them to learn how to become good citizens, and they don’t want them to learn how to succeed in college. They want them to pass and get out. They want the teachers to pass them no matter what. Anybody who has gone to NYC schools in the past couple of years can tell you sometimes you pass classes and you don’t even know how. You show up a few times and get passing grade even if you haven’t passed any exams or done any homework. Its not a question of making people educated, its a question of passing people along and improving statistics. So when there is pressure to pass more black and latino students it doesn’t mean that those students are actually recieving any kind of help. There statistics are improving, but many of those same students fail out of college later on because they were passed through high school and not properly prepared for higher learning.

  • 7 Chicano future tense // Dec 16, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Smirnoff

    I think you’re right with all those points you make about Latino and black students not getting a good education.
    You make some good points.But I believe they are symptoms of a larger problem.

    The big question to ask about these symptoms is WHY are they happening?

    The wealthy corporate and government elites place profits above students.This is the creed of capitalism..capitalism in action.
    Simply put they don’t want to spend the money and dedicate valuable resources to giving Latino and black kids a good education,or offer teachers decent salaries,benefits educational resources and stability.To them those things are just too damn expensive and they would prefer that money and resources be in their own pockets as well as in the pockets of their rich cronies and business associates. In respect to the teachers,as far as the rich capitalist elites are concerned they’d love to destroy the teacher’s unions,teachers unity and resistance.

    In the eyes of the racist,xenophobic US capitalist white power structure Latino and black kids have low value if any at all,and dedicating money and resources to their education is not important.To the rich less money spent on them is best.White kids first and any leftovers and crumbs to the Latinos and blacks.this is how it works.

    So,it’s a combination of factors which contribute to poor ineffective education for Latino and black kids.

    The institutional racism built into the capitalist white power structure,the collapse of our economy, society and moral values, exponentially compounds the mess we see in educating Latino and black students.And it is a huge mess… a disaster.

    So the things you bring out are all right,they are symptoms of a bigger problem.

  • 8 irma // Dec 16, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Mr. Soto,

    Do not despair the lowering of standards is occurring everywhere. Most medical schools
    consider a passing grade 65%, 20 years ago
    75% was the passing minimum. You are not endangering the public by passing unqualified
    doctors.

    I am an educator at the graduate level. We are finding that our PhD graduate students can’t write , have abysmal vocabularies and have mastered basic concepts that should have been part of their undergraduate curriculum.

    Stick to your principles. Thanks for not sending me someone who never really learned how to read or write.

  • 9 Anna // Dec 16, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    It seem as though teachers always object to any method of measuring their effectiveness. They dislike stanadardized tests, and I understand their concern that relying on them creates a environment of ‘teaching to the test.’ They don’t like statistics on teacher effectiveness.

    Can we all agree that not all teachers are effective and that some of them should be replaced? What kind of system should we create to weed out bad teachers?

  • 10 irma // Dec 17, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Teachers should take standardized tests to prove their competency. This could be the problem.

  • 11 webmaster // Dec 17, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    “Teachers should take standardized tests to prove their competency. This could be the problem.”

    Possibly, but how would testing teachers prove that they are competent in the classroom? It would probably only show that the teacher has mastered a particular set of material. In CA, I know that teachers have to pass certain subject tests, CSET (California Subject Examinations for Teachers). Many people are good at taking tests, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are good at teaching the subject matter or presenting it in a way that inspires or provokes students to learn.

    By the way, I’m not opposed to testing, but I think it we have to acknowledge that testing is rather limited.

  • 12 Richie // Dec 20, 2010 at 7:39 am

    The problem is that effectiveness should not be measured by students passing rates. If thats the case, then every teacher will just pass every student so that they win teacher of the year awards. Some of the best teachers have very low passing rates because they set high standards. These are the teachers that the city tries to get rid of. The problem with statistics is also that it doesn’t take into account different students. So an ESL student who just arrived in America is punished for not learning English and passing the English Regents in the same time as a native-born American student. By the same measure, a school that has mainly ESL students is punished because there students need extra time to learn English and graduate. The politicians don’t seem to care if the students know English or are ready to be citizens, they just want them graduating as fast as possible so that statistics look good. Thats why New York City is full of ESL students who graduate from high school and barely know the language.

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