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Betsy Combier

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The E-Accountability Foundation announces the

'A for Accountability' Award

to those who are willing to whistleblow unjust, misleading, or false actions and claims of the politico-educational complex in order to bring about educational reform in favor of children of all races, intellectual ability and economic status. They ask questions that need to be asked, such as "where is the money?" and "Why does it have to be this way?" and they never give up. These people have withstood adversity and have held those who seem not to believe in honesty, integrity and compassion accountable for their actions. The winners of our "A" work to expose wrong-doing not for themselves, but for others - total strangers - for the "Greater Good"of the community and, by their actions, exemplify courage and self-less passion. They are parent advocates. We salute you.

Winners of the "A":

Johnnie Mae Allen
David Possner
Dee Alpert
Aaron Carr
Harris Lirtzman
Hipolito Colon
Larry Fisher
The Giraffe Project and Giraffe Heroes' Program
Jimmy Kilpatrick and George Scott
Zach Kopplin
Matthew LaClair
Wangari Maathai
Erich Martel
Steve Orel, in memoriam, Interversity, and The World of Opportunity
Marla Ruzicka, in Memoriam
Nancy Swan
Bob Witanek
Peyton Wolcott
[ More Details » ]
Outrage Spreads Throughout New York City And State At The Sell-out of Members' Rights By The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) And the Unity Caucus
NYC UFT officers are members of Unity, not the UFT. Yet Mike Mulgrew, President of the UFT has the authority to bargain for all members, and has at his side Attorneys Carol Gerstl, Adam Ross, Richard Iannuzzi (NYSUT) and NYC NYSUT Chief Claude Hersh. The recently released teacher evaluation data is sending a roar of protests through NYC as more and more UFT members demand that the UFT change its' ways and it's "support" of members' rights which no longer exist. I saw this first hand when I worked for the UFT. Betsy Combier
   Betsy Combier   
When is a fact a Law? What is the process of getting government information from our government under the Freedom of Information Law? Heavy questions that should be answered. I also believe that UNITY, the ruling class at the UFT (not UFT members) should look at how its' actions are unconscionable.

Take the 2005 contract, for example. Members gave back the right to grieve unfairness and lies in their personnel files. WHAT? Why would any member want this?

Maybe our government and all its' agencies dont want their business to be public, just as private entities dont want that information out on the internet. Where does the line get drawn? One of the most secretive groups around is the Unity caucus which rules the UFT officers' club with an iron fist. Think "Da Vinci Code". See James Eterno's analysis at the end of this post.

Even the New York Times has jumped onto the bandwagon of protest at the teacher evaluation data:

NYT Sues for Right to Publish Bad Teacher Data
02/24/2012 by Peter Hart, FAIR

The New York Times, along with a few other media outlets, went to court to win the right to publish Teacher Data Reports--the "value-added" ratings for some 18,000 New York City public schoolteachers. The Times explains today--accurately--that the numbers are seriously flawed:

Even before their release, the ratings have been assailed by independent experts, school administrators and teachers who say there are large margins of error--because they are based on small amounts of data, the test scores themselves were determined by the state to have been inflated, and there were factual errors or omissions, among other problems.

So why publish them? The Times hasn't adequately answered that question. On their SchoolBook blog, they offer a canned response: "With SchoolBook's partners at WNYC, the Times has developed a sophisticated tool to display the ratings in their proper context, a hallmark of our journalism." And the Times points out that individual teachers will be able to post a response to their scores. I suppose that's to be seen as magnanimous--some supposedly objective measure of your job performance is now public, but you can write a rebuttal.

The Los Angeles Times did something similar with teachers in that city. As Daniel Denvir pointed out in Extra! (4/11), that reporting was, like the testing data, seriously flawed--and it seemed to have been a factor in one teacher's suicide. A New York Times spokesperson told Denvir, "Obtaining this data advances our ability to inform readers about the quality of teaching and the way schools measure quality."

That's confusing. If the test scores are unreliable, they tell you nothing about the "quality of teaching." If the point is to demonstrate that these scores are highly flawed, and shouldn't be used by the city to determine anything at all, then exposing those flaws is a worthy journalistic pursuit. And as Denvir points out in the Extra! piece, the Times' journalism on the problems of value-added testing has been pretty good overall.

But it's still hard to understand why an outlet would make these scores public if it believes they are seriously flawed. The Times even published an op-ed by Bill Gates (2/23/12) arguing against publishing the information. The argument for publishing bad data--which will single out individuals by name, and falsely damage reputations--is still hard to figure out.

Here is the post I read on one of my favorite blogs, NYC Teacher on February 26, 2012:

The Annual Shaming of the Teachers

AFT and NYSUT Presidents are on Twitter declaring that evaluation data from upcoming NY state and city evaluations is not subject to FOIA. In one respect, they are correct, and that's why your S or U ratings have not made it to the pages of fine publications like our highly respected NY Post, not to mention the Times--with "all the news that's fit to print" displaying data that its own pages state are highly flawed.

Diane Ravitch tweets:

NY Times on teacher ratings: "Margin of error" is "35 percentiles in math and 53 in English, the city said." Garbage in, garbage out.

And Yoav Gonen from the Post suggestsit's even worse:

Maximum margin of error for a teacher's percentile ranking on #TDRs is 75 in math and 87 in ELA

In either case, as Ravitch pointed out, your odds are worse than a coin toss. That is some pretty alarming data about the VAM junk science that has landed teachers on pages with labels like "City's Worst Teachers." A problem with VAM is not only that it is junk science, but that no form of it has ever been established not to be. Arguments that a new system will contain less junk than this one are impossible to verify, and preposterous in any case since there is no planned pilot period. Even more ridiculous, as revealed by Leo Casey on Edwize, they anticipate system will improve, though they have no basis whatsoever for that assumption, and wish to raise 20 percentage points of junk to 25. (This assumes locally negotiated 20, or consequent 15% will not consist of more junk, an assumption I'm not yet willing to make.)

Casey claims only extremely low scores will jeopardize teacher jobs, but Michael Winerip shows it's entirely possible for good teachers to get very low scores:

According to the formula, Ms. Isaacson ranks in the 7th percentile among her teaching peers — meaning 93 per cent are better...What you would think this means is that Ms. Isaacson’s students averaged 3.57 on the test the year before; they were predicted to average 3.69 this year; they actually averaged 3.63, giving her a value added of 0.06 below zero.

A new system may indeed be better. Or it may be worse. Or it may be better sometimes and worse other times. These are the drawbacks of using junk rather than science to make conclusions, and the fact is, under the proposed system, teacher jobs can and will depend on that.

Let me return to FOIL. This is the ability of people or entities to request information, just as the papers did so they could release the crap data reports that have humiliated so many working teachers for no good reason. While your S or U could not be FOIAed, numerical data can. VAM formulas and proposed 1-100 grades assigned to teachers are numerical data, and as such, subject to FOIA. This clearly suggests the public shaming of teachers based on junk science will be an annual event.

When you are told it will not be, remember we were also told the grades that were released would not be. While I don't think the agreement was ever a good idea, I'm not faulting UFT leadership for the release of grades. There was, in fact, an explicit agreement they would not be. But Michael Bloomberg's morally bankrupt Department of Education recognizes no rules, and after having worked to break the agreement, simply lied about it.

Here's what our unions cannot promise--that the DOE will keep its promises, even written ones. This is particularly true because the DOE cannot make promises on behalf of the Daily News, the NY Post, or even the faux liberal New York Times. In fact the DOE can ask these papers to FOIL info help them out of inconvenient promises, as we've seen this week. If these and other media outlets see fit to FOIA numerical teacher data, as included in new reports, there will be nothing we can do about it. And our First Annual Shaming is a precedent, highly likely to be repeated.

It's time to back the New York Principals and stop this in the legislature. It's time to stop appeasing anti-teacher zealots. It's time to look this thing right in the face and see it for what it is--a disaster waiting to happen.

New York’s Education Law §3012-c

What To Think About the New York City Teacher Value-Added Scores

The highly-controversial New York City teacher value-added scores released yesterday are being presented by the New York Times with substantial margins of error. And in the end, understanding and reacting to margins of error is the essential challenge of teacher evaluation. Teaching, learning, and the interaction between them are incredibly complicated. As such, there’s no way to measure teacher effectiveness with 100 percent accuracy. It’s not a question of whether effectiveness measures have margins of error, only how big they are and what to do about them.

It’s worth noting that this is also true for traditional measures of teacher quality. Sometimes there’s confusion on this point. After all, there’s no margin of error in counting the number of years a teacher has been employed or the dichotomous variable of having a master’s degree, is there? But that’s like saying there’s no margin of error in the number of questions a student answered correctly on a multiple-choice test, or the dichotomous variable of whether a principal checked the “satisfactory” box on a one-page teacher evaluation. It’s technically accurate, but not the point– just as there’s a lot of potential error in a single test’s representation of the actual truth we care about–the totality of student learning in a given domain–the presence or absence of a master’s degree is a very poor, error-ridden method of determining the actual truth we care about–whether a teacher is more effective in helping students learn.

So while it’s perfectly reasonable to be concerned that the Times is publishing estimates of individual teacher effectiveness that may be wrong–that, given the scale involved, some of the estimates are, statistically speaking, almost surely wrong–let’s not forget that we already do that when we make available teachers’ levels of experience, educational credentials, and tenure status and pretend that these are reasonably accurate proxies for their effectiveness and value in the job market. They’re not.

The challenge, then, is to identify different ways of assessing the things we care about when it comes teacher quality, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of those measures, exploring their potential combination, accounting for their time and money cost, and making decisions with the information they yield that appropriately accounts for the risks and uncertainties inherent to margins of error. It would be crazy, for example, to fire a teacher based on a single value-added score in one subject and grade, which is why, of course, the New York City Department of Education hasn’t tried to do anything of the kind.

It’s also important to understand that the proper management of the risks inherent to imperfect measurement is particular to public K-12 education. Aaron Pallas explores this issue in a recent post titled “Reasonable Doubt”:

For the employers, it’s all about efficiency. It’s in the public interest, they argue, to recruit, retain and reward the best teachers, in order to maximize the collective achievement of students. A teacher-evaluation system that fails to identify those teachers who are effective, and those who are ineffective, can neither weed out consistent low-performers nor target those who might best benefit from intensive help….For teachers, the key concern is fairness. Fairness is primarily a procedural issue: Teachers, and the unions that represent them, seek an evaluation process that is neither arbitrary nor capricious, relying on stable and valid criteria that they believe accurately characterize the quality of their work…The values of efficiency and fairness collide head-on in (New York State's proposed new teacher evaluation system, which includes value-added among other measures)…

Pallas then locates this issue in historical debate:

William Blackstone, an 18th-century English legal scholar, wrote “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Benjamin Franklin, one of the founders of our country, later upped the ante to 100 to one. The principle captures squarely the trade-off between the value of efficiency and the value of fairness…It’s important to note that Blackstone and Franklin were concerned with the workings of government; fairness in the private sector was not a central concern, and efficiency was taken for granted as a consequence of market forces. Civil servants, as agents and employees of the state, arguably are subject to a different set of rights and responsibilities than those working in the private sector, and teachers are one of the largest groups of such public servants. What’s an acceptable tradeoff between efficiency and fairness in the mix of teachers’ rights and responsibilities? It’s a lot easier to speculate about percentages in the abstract than to confront the possibility that you, or someone close to you, might be out of a job because of an untested teacher-evaluation system that cuts corners on fairness.

Two points here. First, the efficiency / fairness tradeoff isn’t a zero-sum game. It can be improved by more accurate information. The invention of DNA fingerprinting, for example, improved the accuracy of criminal prosecution. The more sure we can be about guilt and innocence, the fewer guilty criminals we have to let loose upon society in order to keep the number of incarcerated innocent people at a morally bearable level. So, too, with more accurate methods of teacher evaluation.

Second: Pallas, I think it’s fair to say, believes that fairness (so defined) should be given more weight in the case of public-sector teachers than for private-sector employees. But does that really make sense? If you own a cardboard box factory, you’ll want to produce boxes as efficiently as possible, but you’ll also have to work out some set of labor arrangements with workers who have an interest in fairness, e.g. not being fired for no good reason. That’s why we have labor unions and collective bargaining. But however the deal is struck, whether it unduly favors management or labor or finds the perfect balance between them, the consequences are limited to management and labor. If the deal is struck so badly that the company ultimately fails, customers can always buy their cardboard boxes from someone else.

Public schools aren’t like that. Children can’t choose to be born, can’t choose where to live, and they can’t choose whether to live in a world that requires an education in order to lead a decent life. They are legally required to attend school. They have an enormous interest in the quality of their education, whether they know it or not. They can’t just buy a better teacher from someone else, and even the most ambitious school choice plans aren’t going to take all the friction out of that dilemma. So let’s not forgot that for every teacher at risk of being publicly identified with the wrong value-added rankings, there is a group of students at risk, too.

Finally, let there be no illusions that this, too, will pass. The test-based evaluation genie can’t be stuffed back in the bottle. Society will always have an interest in evaluating student learning in some kind of comparable way. Once that information exists, it will be legally available to the public. And the cost of converting it into teacher effectiveness measures is trivial in the grand scheme of things and getting cheaper all the time. I have no doubt that fill-in-the-bubble tests will become obsolete, probably sooner that people think. But whatever replaces them will be digital, analyzable, and usable for teacher evaluation. So get used to thinking about margins of error. They’re with us for the long haul.

Kevin Carey February 25, 2012 at 8:26 pm
I think the observation that data can be so bad as to render this discussion moot is true enough. Whether that’s the case in New York is an empirical question. But as a general proposition don’t the results from Chetty, Friedman and Rockoff and also the Matt Chingos and Marty West paper suggest that value-added measures aren’t so bad as to be worthless? They seem to correlate with some important and significant things.

Sherman Dorn February 25, 2012 at 6:54 pm
I talked about this a few years ago, and what I omitted in that post was the type of case we evidently have here, where the mechanisms are inherently untrustworthy — the inclusion/exclusion of students and classes so corrupt, the tests so problematic — that bad data are worse than no data.

UFT Pseudo Democracy Explained
By James Eterno; UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

Usually around UFT election time, members approach me and say, "Why can't an opposition group win control of the UFT?" They tell us all the time how we are great fighters who could do a better job than the UFT leadership. I usually smile, say thanks and ask for their help to spread the word, knowing full well that being in opposition to Unity Caucus (Randi Weingarten's faction of the UFT) is not a great career move.

Around the time of the giveback laden 2005 Contract, many people approached me to find out how such a horrible Contract was approved by teachers. They questioned their fellow teachers reasoning skills. I answered that their colleagues are very busy people who often trust their Chapter Leaders to do what is right. Most UFT members do not have the time nor desire to learn about the UFT's internal structure.

If anyone is interested, the best place to look for information on how and why the UFT operates more like an insurance company than a labor union, then please read one time AFT President David Selden's book, The Teacher Rebellion. However, since most teachers don't have the time to be able to find let alone read this excellent book right now, here is a very brief rundown on the UFT's power structure.

This is a good time to review UFT 101 as teachers are once again asking me how it is possible that the Delegate Assembly (the highest policy making body of the UFT) does not represent what people are feeling in the schools. We proposed a very sensible amendment at the October DA to unequivocally oppose the power grab by the City Council to extend term limits for themselves and the Mayor. 89% of city voters in a recent Quinipiac poll said they were against the Council bill. We are quite sure that a similar number of teachers would be opposed to the City Council voting to end term limits without going back to the voters who twice voted for the limits. However, we only received support from 30-40% of delegates at the DA. Some were puzzled by this low number. Is the DA that out of touch with the rest of NYC? The answer is no. In reality, 30-40% in favor of something the UFT leadership opposes is actually not bad when you consider what we are up against.


The UFT, basically since it was founded in 1960, has been controlled by a closed, invitation only political party called Unity Caucus. Unity, under the leadership of Al Shanker, organized a strict, top-down corporate structure that pretty much ensures that they will retain power but it inhibits true unionism that should come from the rank and file. This does not mean that there aren't good trade unionists who care about education and the members in Unity. I've worked with Unity officials who have helped my Chapter on many occasions. It's just that within the top-down hierarchical structure, the Unity machine stifles any real movement from the rank and file that would be necessary if we are to exert our union power.

We must first understand the most important obligation for a Unity member. Mr. Education Notes, Norm Scott, calls it the "Prime Directive." In order to join Unity Caucus, a potential recruit must agree as part of their membership obligations to "Support the decisions of the caucus and Union leadership elected from the caucus in public or Union forums." Some call this the "Unity Loyalty Oath."

When the Unity leadership makes a decision on any issue, Unity members must support that decision and publicly advocate for it or they could be sanctioned by the Caucus leadership. Some have been banished from Unity for opposing an important caucus position. If a Chapter Leader or a Delegate belongs to Unity and represents the members in their schools who don't like a leadership proposal like the horrible 2005 Contract, then that Chapter Leader or Delegate could end up in trouble. Unity leaders are all over the Delegate Assembly and can easily see whose hands go up when an issue is voted on. The next question then is how does Unity enforce this strict party discipline?

The answer is quite simple. Since Unity wins every UFT Election (Explaining slate voting and the at large election system is another post.), they control the decision making bodies of the Union (the Ad Com, Executive Board and DA). Just as importantly, they are in charge of the perks of the Union. At the bottom of the Unity food chain are Unity members who receive free all expense paid trips to the American Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers' Conventions. These free convention jaunts only go to Unity loyalists. Next up the line are those whose loyalty is rewarded with part time paid Union jobs. These are after-school positions and also jobs for retirees. These jobs are only opened to Unity Caucus members and lately to New Action supporters. New Action was a traditional opposition group that I once belonged to that has not run a candidate against President Randi Weingarten in the last two UFT elections but the Caucus is still on the ballot. Now, their people are on the Union payroll too. They were not in the past.

Finally, there is the grand prize of being able to escape the classroom and get a full-time Union job with a salary that is tens of thousands of dollars greater than a senior teacher and also includes an expense account and a second pension to go along with the City pension. These jobs virtually all belong to Unity members. One moves up the Union food chain by being loyal to the leadership who then pick people for the prized jobs. Competence is not necessarily a requirement.

Functionals (the Retired Teachers Chapter and other non-teachers in the UFT) now make up a clear majority of the Union. Each Functional Chapter has their own elections and their own perks to dole out for delegates to ensure their loyalty to Unity. Add to this the school Chapters that are controlled by Unity Chapter Leaders and Delegates and Unity easily controls the Delegate Assembly and thus the Union.

Therefore, when a resolution comes up to oppose the City Council power grab that 89% of the people in the City would agree with, it is not surprising at all that the DA does not represent the will of the teachers and other UFT members working in the schools. The only way to change this system is to organize an opposition in every school and demand that each Chapter Leader and Delegate follow the will of their Chapter. Or maybe, just maybe, there will be a revolt within Unity as there was a split in the majority caucus in Chicago. I've been involved in UFT activities for over a decade. I truly believe that one day this Union's top-down corporate structure that serves itself better than the membership will crumble.

Posted at the ICEUFT Blog , 10/27/08

© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation