An interesting exchange has been taking place between New York City Chancellor of Education Joel Klein and teachers. Here’s the chain of recent events, from my perspective at least.
1. Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein announce major budget cuts to city schools this coming year.
2. The news trickles down to principals who are hiring and making personnel decisions for next year. Many positions are now “subject to funding,” and many teachers may be excessed, but won’t know until September. It also means larger class sizes and fewer resources for an already stressed public school system.
3. Bloomberg and Klein finally publish NYC test scores, reporting they have “risen sharply.”
4. I write a somewhat bitter blog post detailing how this news may not be such a positive thing for our children (I also coyly question the accuracy of the results).
5. Chapter leaders call for final UFT meetings at their schools. In the meetings, teachers are handed surveys with secret ballot envelopes asking us to evaluate Joel Klein’s work as chancellor.
6. The shockingly negative results of the union’s survey of teacher’s opinions of Chancellor Joel Klein are published.
7. In a NY Times article reporting the results, Klein and Bloomberg are defensive, citing test scores as evidence of Klein’s clear success. They fail to comment on the results of the UFT survey and discount it because it was administered during already “tense” times.
The questions on the survey and the considerably unified negative responses from teachers across the city say a lot about the teaching profession as a whole at the current moment. For example, 85 percent of teachers disagreed with the statement that “The Chancellor’s emphasis on testing has improved education in my school.” And 82 percent of teachers disagreed that Chancellor Klein “has confidence in the expertise of his educators.”
If you asked these same questions to teachers across the country of their educational policy leaders, I bet the response would be much the same. I’ve had the opportunity to discuss educational policy issues with teachers all over the United States on the Teacher Leaders Network and at various national education conferences. The overwhelming message I get is that the shift toward testing as the ultimate assessment of students, teachers, schools, and legislators has created many new problems in schools and left many children behind, contrary to the original intention of these policies. Teachers are frustrated because we have been denied a voice in the decisions that led to such a dramatic shift that plays out daily in our classrooms.
So before we give Klein a cookie for “raising test scores” citywide, we should look at the larger picture of what has happened inside our schools since Klein became Chancellor and since the implementation of NCLB, and what our students and teachers loose when we focus our teaching and resources on tests.
Likewise, before we call Klein a monster, we should look at the bigger context in which Klein is operating. He is a former businessman with no experience as an educator in a K-12 school. Like many other politicians, he has bought—hook, line and sinker—into the NCLB era’s defining principle of standardized test scores as a fair and valid measure of student learning. To that end, he’s shown himself to be a guy who gets things done: he has quickly and almost completely restructured NYC public schools around the data of standardized test scores.
Now, if he is wise, Klein will think twice about the results of the UFT’s “report card” for him. He will begin consulting with master teachers and educational researchers (without corporate interests), who can offer deeper insight—insight that is closer to the realities of teachers and students—into the direction New York City schools need to take in order to see true improvement. Chancellor Klein, I hope you are listening.
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