As I reflect on the last several years under the Bloomberg administration and the recent changes at City Hall and the Department of Education, I am hopeful but still very angry.
We now have a mayor with whom we have a good relationship and a chancellor who understands education and our concerns, but as I visit you in your schools, speak to you over the phone and read your emails, I see that many of you are angry, too. And you are right to be.
Mayor de Blasio is committed to change, but that does not mean we can snap our fingers and the damage done to our school system and our working conditions by Mayor Bloomberg and his misguided policies will simply disappear. We will need to negotiate with the new administration and work with them to fix our schools for our communities and our kids. It will be a long and, at times, difficult road.
Mayor Bloomberg left behind a disastrous legacy.
Before we can move forward, we must resolve many outstanding issues from those dark years, starting with our working conditions, which are also our students’ learning conditions.
The excessive paperwork we are forced to complete is outrageous, and we must have relief from it. Paperwork takes up far too much of our valuable time. That’s time we would otherwise spend planning our lessons, collaborating with our colleagues or, most important, meeting with, mentoring and teaching our students.
The evaluation system imposed on us by State Education Commissioner John King is another source of tremendous aggravation and must be revised. We have fought and will continue to fight to make evaluations about helping teachers. The United States is constantly in competition with countries across the globe, but we will never win that competition because those countries’ teacher evaluation systems are based on helping the people who help children. We do not have that here.
It is ridiculous that teachers in subjects like music and art, which don’t have state tests, are being evaluated based on students’ results on math, science and English exams.
The evaluation system is also far too complicated and, as a result, almost impossible to implement correctly. We’re not the only ones upset about its complexity; principals are also overwhelmed and perplexed by it. The Danielson Framework for Teaching, at the heart of the system, must be used as it was intended. And the system as a whole should emphasize student work and portfolios rather than test scores.
Finally, the state’s rollout of the Common Core Learning Standards has been an absolute debacle. Schools and teachers have been told to teach to the standards but were never given the materials they need in order to do so. Meanwhile, the state’s standardized tests, which are being used to evaluate teachers, have been aligned to the new standards.
No wonder students’ scores dropped precipitously last year. High-stakes testing related to the Common Core must be put on hold until the state addresses its implementation problems.
We struggle with these challenges every day at the same time that we perform the most important and most difficult job: educating our youth. Yet we have not seen an increase in our pay in years. It’s simply not right. We need a new contract that takes into account the years we have gone without a raise and respects the hard work that we do every day.
How are we going to tackle these problems we’re confronted with? It’s going to take time, and it’s going to take effort. We’ve got plenty to be angry about. Our challenge is to harness our anger and channel it in a productive direction as we fight for the changes we need.
Now is our time for change, and I know that, moving forward, the changes made to our school system will be changes for the better. We have a right to be angry, but we must remember to be hopeful, too.