Teacher evaluation procedures should be locally bargained.

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IEA Executive Director Audrey Soglin. “What will this mean for us?” I asked. “It will be a challenge,” she responded coldly.

When I first started as a public school teacher, the district I worked in and the union local I was a member of had just settled a contract. As a result of their joint collective bargaining efforts, a committee was established to develop a new teacher evaluation program. At the time, although there were some minimum state guidelines, teacher evaluation was almost entirely a mandated part of the collective bargaining process.

Naturally a committee was established. The committee consisted of teachers selected by our local union leadership and it also consisted of administrators and board members. For three years they met and concluded in the points negotiated between the union and board. It became a part of our contract. Although the results of a teacher evaluation could not be grieved, a violation of the evaluation process could be the subject of a grievance.

As I think back on it, it was a extraordinary effort on the part of our little district. As in any committee work, many got frustrated. It seemed to go on and on. But what happened was that those involved engaged in a three-year dialogue over what counts as good teaching and tried to figure out a way to measure it. The voice of the teachers was present because our union was present.  As members of the committee they frequently reported back on the progress of the talks and welcomed input.

It wasn’t perfect. But it worked as well as any part of the collective bargaining process works.

I think about this now as I hear back from teachers who are receiving their evaluations and rankings from last year.

What I hear doesn’t sound good. I believe that much of the problem is the result of the loss of collective bargaining rights.

Some try to argue that teacher evaluation is a process for improving teacher practice. But this is nonsense. Evaluation is a process by which those in power positions decide who goes and who stays and how that should be done.

That is why it needs to be bargained.

The purpose of professional development is improving teacher practice. And for all its system-wide faults and weaknesses, professional development shouldn’t be confused with a teacher’s performance review.

Teacher evaluation has been – little by little –  removed from the collective bargaining process.

Our state unions are totally complicit in that change.

When IEA Executive Director Audrey Soglin was appointed by Governor Quinn to chair the committee that applied for a Race to the Top grant, it led to the legislature passing PERA, the Performance Evaluation Reform Act. PERA then became a part of Illinois’ Senate Bill 7, which changed the rules governing tenure, seniority, teacher evaluation and the right to strike by Chicago teachers.

This became the critical moment in Illinois for removing essential parts of teacher evaluation from local collective bargaining. Legislators and union bureaucrats had decided, with little discussion or research, what counted as good teaching practice and how to measure it.

At a IEA Representative Assembly shortly after Soglin led the move to remove major parts of teacher evaluation from local collective bargaining, I took to the microphone and pointed out that PERA had taken away all that our local had accomplished in creating an evaluation process that was working.

“What will this mean for us?” I asked.

“It will be a challenge,” she responded coldly.

The debate over what counts as good teaching practice and how to measure it is an important one. But like compensation and working conditions, it is best that the debate is reflected in a bargained agreement with teacher voices represented at the bargaining table through their local bargaining team.

We have lost that. Losing it was a loss of our collective bargaining rights.

Getting it back is the real challenge.

edTPA. The Gates and NCTQ plan, a long time in the works.

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Graphic: Rethinking Schools

edTPA is not new.

I have been posting about it now because the implementation of edTPA in Illinois, mandated by the Democratic Party controlled state legislature as the path to teacher certification, is moving at full steam.

If you go back to the summer of 2013 Rethinking Schools has an article by Wayne Au which places edTPA right in the center of the debate over corporate school reform, the Gates Foundation and the corporate National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).

Incidentally, I wrote about the cozy relationship between the Illinois Education Association’s Executive Director Audrey Soglin and NCTQ back in April of 2013.

But this is part of what Wayne Au wrote for Rethinking Schools two years ago:

Conservatives have been developing an infrastructure to attack teacher education at least since 2000, when the Thomas B. Fordham Institute created the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). As former Fordham Institute board member Diane Ravitch recalls: “Conservatives, and I was one, did not like teacher training institutions. . . . [The Fordham Institute] established NCTQ as a new entity to promote alternative certification and to break the power of the hated ed schools.”

With $5 million from then-Secretary of Education Rod Paige and the Bush administration, the NCTQ founded the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE), which would grant anyone a “passport to teaching” as a valid teaching credential in any state that agreed, as long as the individual had a bachelor’s degree and passed a background check and a computer test. Voucher proponents and advocates for privatizing public education filled the ABCTE’s advisory board, and Kate Walsh, now president of NCTQ, served on its board of directors.

Although the ABCTE still exists as an online teacher certification program (get your teaching credential for just under $2,000!), it lives on the fringes of the national education policy conversation. On the other hand, corporate education reformers have placed NCTQ in a position of national prominence. Diane Ravitch explains: “Today, NCTQ is the partner of U.S. News & World Report and will rank the nation’s schools of education. It received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to review teacher quality in Los Angeles. It is now often cited as the nation’s leading authority on teacher quality issues. Its report has a star-studded technical advisory committee of corporate reform leaders like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee.”

NCTQ supports the use of high-stakes test scores in teacher evaluation (known as value-added measurement, or VAM), including using test scores of students to rate the teacher education programs from which their teachers graduated. Taking a page directly out of the rabidly pro-corporate American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) playbook on education reform, NCTQ has already issued report cards for teacher education by state and is on the verge of “grading” most individual teacher education programs in the country.

Kate Walsh and the NCTQ are part of the cabal of corporate reformers dismantling public education today, and they have teacher education squarely in their sights.

So the edTPA has to be seen strategically as a push back against the forces of corporate education reform. It aims to reframe teaching as a profession along the lines of being a medical doctor or a lawyer (think national bar exam for teachers).

This would explain why edTPA has roots in the ideas of Linda Darling-Hammond and other proponents of focusing on teacher quality.

Like other education reform ideas that seemed good at the time, they often get turned into their opposites with the infusion of foundation and corporate dollars.

I got into a Twitter debate about edTPA with John Seelke, an employee of the University of Maryland and someone who does student teacher placement and supervision

He has been one of the rare defenders of edTPA to comment since I started writing about it.

Seelke’s objectivity is suspect as someone who is employed to implement edTPA.

But he raises a good question:

“Connection to Gates? Is edTPA perfect? No…do it think it’s better than other current assessments like praxis?”

By praxis, John means the current system of local cooperating teacher evaluation along with a university or college supervisor.

Au raises a similar question:

If we sink the edTPA, what will we be left with? In the midst of corporate education reform, will we in teacher education get stuck with whatever Kate Walsh, the NCTQ, and the privatizers have in store for us? That is a dilemma, and I don’t have the solution. I do know, however, that the edTPA has had a significant impact on my teacher education program.

As I have written before, whatever problems there are with current teacher preparation practices, nothing can be fixed by handing it over to private corporations like Pearson which rake in million of dollars in profits or by implementing the plans of the Gates Foundation.

Field notes: “It’s time for leadership to stop trying to be clever and cute and start being more straightforward.”

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– By Conrad Floeter. Conrad is an Illinois teacher, activist and delegate to last week’s IEA Representative Assembly.

We heard a lot at the IEA-RA about communication problems between leadership and members. The culprit most often identified was unopened e-mails sent to local leaders. But based on the fact that Fred and at least half the delegates thought the New Business Item that Marsha Griffin and I introduced was not supported by leadership, the problem runs a lot deeper.

Marsha and I were ad hoc leaders of a loose coalition of members seeking to derail the PARCC test and support the opt out movement. After the Wednesday evening board meeting it seemed that leadership had moved a lot closer to where we wanted them to be with a legislative platform amendment supporting opt out and a NBI to seek alternatives to the PARCC.

Seeking to move the IEA a little further in the right direction we submitted a Legislative Platform amendment. The Legislative committee suggested that it might be better to submit a New Business Item directing the Executive Director to form a task force. After submitting the NBI, our Executive Director, Audrey Soglin approached me to say that we didn’t need a task force. She shared with me her yet-to-be-delivered presentation on “Putting the pieces together to safeguard our future”. One of the 5 pieces included a bullet point on “Developing community partnerships” which could include opt out parents. She also shared her presentation on PERA that discussed how teachers can be the leaders in determining appropriate assessments and stand up to administration on unnecessary testing. Based on her input, we crafted our NBI.

I told her I didn’t think most members understood how they could take charge of mandated student assessments and based on all the questions that were raised during her presentation they don’t. And as far as the “Putting the pieces together” presentation I doubt there are more than a dozen delegates who could tell you even one of the five pieces. Despite the defeat of our NBI, I was told that we needed to go ahead with training on building alliances to fight over testing of our students. Let’s see if IEA can come up with something simple and straightforward that empowers our members.

I believe it’s time for leadership to stop trying to be clever and cute and start being more straightforward. One of the objections to our NBI was that it created an “us vs. them”dynamic. Not sure who us and them are, but since NBI was to provide training to collaborate with parents, I’m guessing to wasn’t parents. I’m told members are afraid to confront administrators and school boards. But isn’t that why we have unions? We need to recognize that it is already us vs them, and us includes teachers, parents, administrators, school boards and our students – anybody who genuinely cares about good public schools. There is a lot more of us than them, but they have lot more money which is how they’ve gained the power and the influence to convince the public and our legislators that education is in a crisis and in need of reform. PARCC and other high stakes tests are just another weapon in their arsenal to label teachers and schools as failing, paving the way for privatization through charter schools and dismantling our union. The opt out parents are the best allies we have right now and we need to build on that.

The debate on our opt out legislative amendment got bogged down in pointless discussions on what exactly is a standardized test and the inclusion of district testing which isn’t the issue and is not included, for good reason, in HB306. Debate was closed before my yellow card was called. But it seems like other delegates had similar questions to mine, which included “Is there any specific statutory language that gives DOE or ISBE the  authority withhold funding based on opted out students?, “Will IEA aggressively defend members disciplined for sharing opt out information with parents” and “Does this amendment mean IEA will lobby for HB306?”.

We got our answer Saturday morning when our President, Cinda Klickna, told us that she had heard those questions and that our legislative platform amendment did not support any specific legislation (like HB306). That opting out students could put us at risk of losing funding and that members were vulnerable if they spoke to parents about their opt out rights. So what exactly does our support of opt out mean?

Earlier in the RA, Cinda told us that if we all stood together in our locals when administration came after us for fighting unnecessary testing, we could not be defeated. IEA needs to stand together with all the other states and state affiliates who are fighting toxic testing and standing up for members. Simple and straightforward, like this resolution that a fellow NEA member from Hawaii shared with me. One tenth the words as our opt out legislative platform amendment. Saying just what needs to be said.

“The Hawaii State Teachers Association believes in the right of parents/guardians to collaborate with teachers to determine appropriate assessment options for their child’s proficiency if they wish to opt out, and/or refuse to allow their child to take the statewide standardized assessment. HSTA believes in advocating for the right to do so without retaliation.”

IEA’s democratic process and the use of polling.

I haven’t had a chance to report on a meeting I attended Wednesday night with IEA Executive Director Audrey Soglin.

I got somewhat distracted by Ben “The Stalker” Velderman.

Soglin presented the IEA’s legislative reform package at a breakout session of a Region membership meeting. The IEA leadership is promoting this package as an alternative to the anti-union Performance Counts bill backed by Stand for Children, The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club and Advance Illinois.

The IEA package is also supported by the IFT and the Chicago Teachers Union.

I have discussed frequently the two proposals and why I am concerned about the concessions on tenure, seniority, RIFs and evaluations that our union leadership is making.

But I found something very troubling in Soglin’s presentation.

On slide six of her power point, Soglin presented the self-described highlights of a member poll, conducted by a paid polling company of 400 IEA members with a 4.9%  margin of error.

According to the poll 70% favor a process that would speed up firing teachers. 67% favor doing away with using seniority as the sole criteria when RIFs are made. 69% favor revoking certification of teachers for chronically unsatisfactory rankings. 86% oppose taking away our right to strike.

Do you find these results fantastically absurd? Me too.

Aside from the failure to pass the laugh test, this whole polling thing is an assault on our Association’s democratic process.

Our legislative platform is determined by elected delegates to the yearly Representative Assembly. And while it is a broad platform which cannot predetermine every legislative issue that may arise between RA’s, it does address these current issues.

That the leadership would substitute a poll for the rules and procedures of our Association is pretty bad.

It is all too typical of the reign of IEA President Ken Swanson.

IEA, Race to the Top and the Illinois budget crisis.

Both Arne Duncan and the IEA leadership have some responsibility for the current budget crisis in Illinois and its impact on school funding. The increase in the state income tax doesn’t really address this part of the problem.

When Pat Quinn established a committee to write Illinois’ application for Duncan’s Race to the Top grant, a committee that was chaired by IEA Executive Director Audrey Soglin, it included a number of programs that came with a cost. In addition, the proposal made statewide changes in the way teachers would be evaluated, linking our evaluation to test scores.

While the state did not receive the Race to the Top grant, the programs were adopted by the legislature and the bill has come due.

Any money that might have gone to other education programs must now compete with the ones Arne Duncan demanded and the Illinois committee led by the IEA proposed and got adopted.

Jim Broadway addresses this in his State School News.

Education “reforms” with high fiscal impact were enacted last spring to bolster the state’s application for a federal RTTT grant. The grant didn’t happen, and the cigarette tax aimed at generating $375 million to pay for the new programs also failed.
But the reforms remain to compete with existing programs for limited funds.

You won’t read about this in IEA President, Ken Swanson’s description of the last days of the 96th General Assembly.

Maybe I spoke too soon. Ken finds common ground with Stand for Children.

As the so-called education reform committees of the General Assembly gear up for post-holiday hearings in Aurora, so has the IEA.

But just when I thought that President Ken Swanson and Executive Director Audrey Soglin were about to spine up and fight for our members, they revert to their old form.

One of the prime movers and shakers in the current attack on teacher unions is Stand for Children, a reformy Superman outfit that dropped a cool 600 K backing a handful of legislators in the November election.

Some of those legislators were placed by Boss Madigan and Cullerton on House and Senate education reform committees.

What is the SFC agenda?

  • Undermine local collective bargaining rights.
  • Ban the right of teachers to strike.
  • Binding arbitration.
  • End seniority and tenure rights.

These so-called reforms might very well find their way into bills by the first week in January.

Ken and Audrey sent a letter to our Region containing a promise to fight. Yesterday.

But at the very same time Communications Director Charlie McBarron was sending the following message on behalf of Ken and Audrey to Region Chairs and Grass Roots Political Activists (GPAs):

It’s important to understand that, while portions of this legislation
are deeply offensive and are absolutely off the table as far as we are
concerned, we also have some common ground with Stand for Children, including a desire to streamline the process for getting bad or ineffective teachers out of classrooms. 

A blanket “No” response is not appropriate and would be
counter-productive to our mission and to our desire to continue to be seen as leaders in education improvement in Illinois.

Yep. Ken has found common ground with Stand for Children. On what issue? Funding? Class size? Training and support for teachers? Opposition to the glut of standardized testing that has overwhelmed us?

Nope. Ken has found common ground with Stand for Children on the issue of finding a way to speed up due process and fire teachers faster.

Ken has become a character in an old western movie. “Hey paw. I say we hang ’em now and sort ’em out later.”

Here’s Ken’s argument as he expressed it to our Region:

The question of whether there might be some additional factors in addition to seniority used in RIF/recall procedures was raised in response to a great deal of publicity this issue received last spring particularly in Chicago. I don’t believe anyone in IEA is going to say seniority should not matter. I certainly don’t believe it should not. The question is whether there are any other factors we could agree should be used as part of the decision making process. For example, if two RIf’d people are nearly equal in seniority for a recall and one has excellent evaluations and the other is in remediation, should the one in remediation be brought back ahead of the excellent teacher because the excellent teacher was hired ten days after the remediation teacher was hired?

And how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

In order to find common ground with what is among the worst of the reformy groups, the president of our union has managed to come up with a straw man who would make Dorothy proud.

Let me be clear. In 26 years of teaching, years as a Grievance Chair, 15 years of dealing directly with RIFs and rehires and 10 years as a local president, I have never, once, ever expereienced this issue. Ever. It is totally bogus. A fiction.

But it sets the stage. What will Ken and his cohorts sell out for his precious but over-stated “public support.”

If Ken won’t defend fair and due process as negotiated locally by his own locals, what will he fight for?

Is a new IEA sell-out in the works? What stand will the leadership take on pension taxation?

Rumors are circulating in the IEA that the state leadership is willing to support a bill that would tax teacher retiree pensions.

From those I have talked to, this is another Swanson/Soglin “at least we’re sitting at the table” strategy, justified by the argument that at least we would be keeping a defined benefit plan.

But if the rumors are true, this will be a very hard sell to the membership which is seeing large numbers of teachers entering the TRS system. It would amount to a huge reduction in their retirement benefits.

I’ll try and find out more.

And if you hear something, let me know.

Now there are no excuses. IEA should work to repeal student performance based teacher evaluations.

“It will be a challenge,” said IEA Executive Director Audrey Soglin when I was finally recognized at the IEA RA. I had asked Soglin a question about the impact of Race to the Top  legislation on local bargaining (I do prefer NY Governor’s Paterson’s new name for it).

Soglin was a leader of the panel established by Illinois Governor Quinn to make proposals to the Illinois legislature that would make us more marketable for Race grants. Chief among the proposals was making student performance based teacher evaluation procedures a mandatory part of every district’s bargaining.

Yesterday, Arne Duncan announced the losers in the Race. Illinois was among them.

The result is that we have the rules. We don’t have the money.

It is no secret that many of us never thought we should have conceded collective bargaining rights in exchange for a one-time payment in the first place.

What’s done is done.

Now, the IEA should go back and work for repeal. Get our bargaining rights back.

What excuse could there be to do otherwise?

As the response to the LA Times naming names scandal showed, the use of individual student performance data to evaluate individual teachers is not supported by any research, some AFT union leadership’s statements to the contrary notwithstanding.

There is no evidence to support its use in improving instruction.

Let’s do what’s best for kids, as they say.

Repeal the Illinois teacher evaluation law.

IEA on R2T is like talking to someone with multiple personalities.

Jim Grimes is an IEA leader. He sits on the NEA’s Board of Directors. He has a post on the IEA website. The first paragraph is spot on.

Our nation’s public education system should not be run like the NCAA Basketball tourney. Unfortunately our friend Education Secretary Arne Duncan seems to have reverted to his basketball days and created a competitive game to dole out a small prize to states and so-called low performing schools.

Yes! Way to go Jim.

But wait. That was the Good Jim. Then we have Bad Jim just a few paragraphs later.

Barely mentioned in the news stories about RTTT is the hard work and collaboration between many groups that resulted in the application and the real reforms that have been proposed. Those groups included the State Board, administrators, business and industry, and our education unions. The changes outlined in Illinois’ application and the legislation passed to move it along are revolutionary. Unlike with No Child Left Behind (and untested) this time those who actually work in classrooms were consulted.

Okay. He’s not really “Bad Jim.” Let’s say it’s Jim talking nonsense. Revolutionary indeed.

Jim talks about collaboration as if it were an end in itself. In this case, collaboration meant having to meet the requirements that school’s boss Arne Duncan established for Race. That included a requirement to have lots of tracking data (read: standardized testing) and linking that data to individual teacher evaluations. It led to our legislature passing (with IEA’s enthusiastic but quiet approval) a bill that made making that link a mandatory part of local bargaining.

Jim doesn’t point to any specific results, revolutionary or otherwise, that came from this collaboration in Illinois. Why the silence on this point?

When I was finally called on at the RA, (I apparently was not visible at the mic wearing the ugliest bright orange sweater ever made.) I asked IEA Director Audrey Soglin about the impact on our locals of making the link a mandatory issue for bargaining. All she would say is that is presented a challenge. Revolutionary. Like teachers don’t face enough challenges already.

I am reminded again of the profound comments of Mike Rose in the recent issue of Educational Leadership.

The history of school reform has taught us, however, that good ideas can become one-dimensionalized as they move from conception through policy formation to implementation. Also, in the heat of reform, politics and polemics can become an end in themselves, a runaway train of reform for reform’s sake. In addition, reforms can have unintended consequences. As a reform plays out in the complex, on-the-ground world of districts, school boards, and classrooms, it can lead to counter productive practices.

So, let’s hear more from Good Jim. Let’s hear less about reform and collaboration that are for their own sake. If those of us in the classroom were truly represented in the discussions of R2T, we surely would have heard more about the unintended (let alone the intended) consequences of R2T collaboration. Those of us who are actually in the classroom can testify.