Wednesday, May 13, 2015

UFT Gets the E4E Perspective in NY Teacher

There's a lot of talk about testing nowadays, and when UFT wishes to discuss it in the union paper, the first person they go to is E4E member Starr Sackstein. Sackstein says she doesn't want to prepare kids for tests, but rather for college. And after all, college readiness is a hallmark of Common Core and all the reformy folk who say our schools are failing.

That's certainly the direction in which we're moving. Personally, I lost seven class days to a newly extended version of the NYSESLAT exam, ostensibly to determine the English level of my students. Having now given the oral part a million times, and having read the written part, I'd argue it's a better measure of just how Common Corey the kids are.

When I teach, I don't aim for test prep or college readiness. For one thing, so-called college readiness is based on a hodge-podge of minimum standardized test grades that likely indicate little. Studies show that teacher grades are, in fact, a much more accurate indicator of ensuing success of lack thereof in college. I teach kids how to speak, write and understand English. I'd argue this is fundamental not only for college, but for life. I'd argue setting up kids to be happy and successful prepares them for college, if they choose college, whether they like it or not.

Of course, I'm not E4E, which is just one reason you won't be finding pearls of wisdom from me in the pages of NY Teacher. The other, of course, is that my philosophy on education is aligned more closely with Diane Ravitch than Michael Mulgrew. Unlike Mulgrew, I oppose VAM absolutely. I don't think it's OK if you dust it off, dress it up and call it a "growth model." I believe the American Statistical Association when they say teachers only affect test scores by a factor of 1-14%, and that using VAM can be counter-productive to good education. I don't believe in mayoral control, or school closings, or charter schools, or two-tier due process, or having teachers work under conditions of abject terror. I believe an appropriate response to meaningless and time-wasting tests is opt-out.

UFT leadership, as is their right, disagrees. That's why the E4E member is pictured in the story, and that's why E4E POV gets top billing. When it comes to fighting for more work for less pay, UFT desperately wants that seat at the table. That's why they cannily negotiated to get money everyone else got in 2010 by 2020. Not only that, but they managed to negotiate this with someone reputed to be the most left-leaning mayor in decades. And as if that weren't enough, we still have no idea how much we'll be paying to help the city, now flush, with health care costs.

But leadership has other priorities. I often get upset with Chalkbeat NY for running idiocy like how E4E got 100 signatures for more effective means of firing teachers, or whatever Gates money has them pushing for this week. It's even more disappointing to see the official UFT paper giving them top billing. I thought one purpose of a union was to seek better working conditions for working people, a group that will soon include our children and students.

I don't think that's what E4E wants, and it's unconscionable that they are promoted in the pages of our union paper.

But I never know what the hell it is that union leadership wants. Yesterday, I got an invite to spend a weekend with Randi Weingarten, TFA's Wendy Kopp, and reps from the Gates Foundation for the low, low AFT price of 50 bucks. I hadn't planned to write about the UFT's E4E feature, but invites like that make me feel like leadership thinks we'd do just about anything for 50 bucks.

There are words for people who do anything for 50 bucks, and none of them describe my profession.

Not yet, anyway.
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