THE BLOG

The Teachers of the New York City Public Schools Need Your Help

02/27/2015 05:00 pm ET | Updated Apr 29, 2015

Governor Cuomo has proposed major changes to teacher evaluations in New York State. We want to let you know, from a teacher's perspective, the changes this law could bring to public schools -- and to our profession -- if it passes.

  • 50% of a teacher's rating will be based on state test scores. (Currently it is 20%).
  • 35% of a teacher's rating will be based on the findings of an outside "independent observer" who will conduct a one time visit to the classroom. (This has never been done before. Currently our principal's and assistant principal's observations count for 60%).
  • 15% of a teacher's rating will be based on observations by the principal or assistant principal. The very people who know our work best will have the least input into our evaluation.
  • 50% + 35% = 85% of our evaluations will be removed from the hands of our community and placed in the hands of the state.

And then, using these numbers, any teacher who is rated ineffective two years in a row can be fired. Principals may have no say in this.

So what might this mean for our schools?

Realistically, many of us could be fired.

Every year.

And many more of us may be pushed away from the profession we love.

Here's something that's not being made clear to the public. Even in schools where children do well on the standardized tests, many teachers do not. Teachers' ratings are not based on their students' raw scores for the year, but whether their students improved from one year to the next. If a student with a '3' gets one fewer question correct in 4th grade than she did in 3rd, that student might not have demonstrated the "added value" their teacher is expected to have instilled. Even though the student has mastered that grade's content. Even though it's just one question.

That is why so many schools in NYC spend so much time prepping for the tests. One or two wrong answers can make or break a teacher's rating. It has already happened.

If Governor Cuomo's evaluation proposals come to pass, it may start to happen more and more. And if we are rated ineffective as a result of Cuomo's proposal two years in a row, we may be fired.

That is what forces teachers to do test prep. Even though we don't believe in the standardized tests. Even though we know that the tests do not give an accurate picture of student learning, or of the effectiveness of teachers. Even though we know that teaching to the test is bad teaching. Faced with the reality of loss of a paycheck (and the loss of the careers we are building, have built, or want to build), these proposals may push us to teach in ways we know to be counterproductive. The schools that we all love with active, engaged learners, inquiry, questioning, creativity, and joy in learning may cease to exist.

Time spent on test prep will mean less time for real learning and real curriculum study. There will be no time for creating suspension bridges, experimenting with water wheels, or closely observing pigeons in their natural habitat. No time for raising silkworms and weaving the silk into belts, recreating a life-size wigwam in Prospect Park, or figuring out how the Maya moved water in aqueducts. No time for exploring real world problems, such as using clean energy to create electricity, designing ways to mitigate storm water runoff in our school yard, or composting cafeteria waste and using it to fertilize the school garden. Through projects like these, we engage all types of learners. We teach children to question, problem solve, and work collaboratively. Test prep does not teach this.

And what about the social and emotional toll these changes will inflict on children? As teachers, we look at the whole child. We know how they exist and operate within a community, and we strive to meet their emotional needs. We want our students to become citizens of the world. Narrowing our focus to improve performance on standardized tests means losing sight of the whole child. We know the emotional toll this takes on children. The genuine joy of learning disappears and is replaced with headaches, stomachaches, and school avoidance. None of us want this for our students. We didn't go into teaching to spend hours, weeks, months, on mind-numbing test prep.

We hope this is not the type of education you want for your children.

So, we need your help. And we need it now. The education law is folded into the state budget. It goes up for a vote on April 1st.

If you want to take action, here's what you can do:

1. You can send letters of disapproval to your state senator, your assemblyman, and the Governor, or send emails, or call.

2. You can also click here and sign the letter to let your legislator know you disapprove of the law.

3. We need you to talk to your friends and your family members and post the information on Facebook.

4. In short, we need you to get the information out any way you can.

If you want public education to move forward, we need you to stand up and let your voice be heard.

  • Cora Sangree, Nancy Salomon Miranda, and the teaching staff at The Brooklyn New School, PS 146