APPR Gone Astray

2015-05-01 22.29.51

I have been challenged by my buddy, Lisa Meade, to write about the new APPR direction in New York State.  Another good buddy, Christina Luce, wrote about APPR too, so the pressure is on! I have been rather quiet about this, due to the fact that first, I am a little miffed with what is happening in our state with public education.  I guess you would say, SHOCKED is a better word.  The other is that yes, I am a little “gun shy” in that I will get my hands slapped, but I know that I need to do this for our children and for our future.  Let’s face it, our kids need to be productive citizens, not widgets and autobots taking bubble tests.  It’s killing innovation and creativity.

Where did we lose it?  I have been in education for 27 years, 15 of them as a building leader, and I haven’t experienced anything like we are experiencing not only in New York, but within the nation.  Heck, Diane Ravitch called for a national teacher strike last week at the NPE conference in Chicago.  That will go over well.  I totally remember the teacher strike at the Centennial School District in Warminster PA in 1976.  I was in 6th grade and we missed 3 months of prime instruction.  NOT good for a 6th grader who had reading difficulties.  Educators are angry, and boy, so are the parents.  A rally call has been put out to parents, students and retired teachers to not give up and continue the civil disobedience because they are the ones that can really change the landscape because they won’t be fired!  Only in America can we do this and that is the beauty of this wonderful nation. (Check out Yong Zhao’s funny speech at the NPE conference in Chicago here.  It’s worth the time!)

The legislation of our new APPR system has gone astray.  What has happened is that we have lost our compass, what truly matters in education, and that is creating a society of children, who will not be creative and innovative, who will have the opportunity to be entrepreneurial, and who will not have a moral compass.  Bubble tests do not do this AND only focusing on Math and ELA will not be the end all be all.  What about the arts, science, civic curriculum, and social and emotional curriculum?

Before I go on, let me be very clear.  I believe in an APPR system that is what it is, an Annual Professional Performance Review that is fair and that will be a coaching model for our teachers and principals.  New York State has had this regulation in place for a long time, but what happened with Race To The Top initiatives has driven New York State education on a spiral path of FAILURE!  It’s time to listen to the wake up call! (Wakey, wakey!!)

So how can we improve this system?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Make the test available to teachers, administrators and parents.  Why such a secret?  Do we really think that the ELA and Math 3-8 tests are driving instruction?   Not when we get results back so late.  Even a July 1st release will be worthless because we had so many opt outs, let alone ONLY releasing 50% of the test..  Stop with the insanity of using these high stakes tests for teacher evaluations.  It was NEVER designed for this purpose.  What it is doing now is sorting our kids and schools.  Keep doing the same thing over and over again, and you create insanity.  Oh, and why so tricky and high levels of reading? I would like to see some Regents and State legislatures take a 5th grade Math and ELA test, see if they could pass it, let alone a 3rd grade test.  Why are we tricking our kids?  Give back the test design to our teachers.  We had a system in place, but maybe special interests got in the way. (AKA – Pearson and the $$! Cha-ching!)
  2. Let principals lead their schools.  As a building principal, I am burning out from evaluations and compliance.  Don’t get me wrong, I love walk through’s and the ability to have conversations and coach.  That is my job  as a lead learner, to spark conversation and reflections with my teachers and help them grow.  But we are burning out with the evaluation process.  Like Fullan stated, carrots and sticks don’t work.  The gotchya’s aren’t the answer – teacher capital and capacity is the answer.  Build the core and the group and develop leadership with our professionals!  What we are doing now is wasting time to  hurry up and meet the compliance deadline.  I do it, but I am wondering if it is meaningful for my staff.  They say it is, but I have been doing this for 10 years.  How are my colleagues fairing?
  3. Bring back trust and listen to the “experts”.  The Board of Regents asked to bring in “experts” to their May 7th forum.  What about teachers and principals who are in the trenches?  I love Linda Darling-Hammond and heard she was asked to be on “the panel,” but had declined. (That’s a shame or a sham?)  Why not ask those educators who are recognized as the Middle School principal of the year (Lisa Meade) or teacher of the year?  What about their voices?  Bring trust back – we are educators and we are professionals!
  4. Bringing in independent evaluators is cause for concern, and personally, a slap in the face of a building leader.  Basically, we are feeling that we are not trustworthy in leading our schools, so bring someone in who doesn’t work with the teachers, the kids, the students, the parents, and evaluate.  This is NOT a great coaching model for our teachers.
  5. And then, within all of this craziness and anger with the education system, we truly are having a big problem with the teacher education system and not being able to recruit aspiring educators to the profession.  We want the best of the best in education.  The cream of the crop should be applying for teacher education programs in colleges, but who wants to go into teaching with so much disrespect and such a big morale problem, let alone trying to pass the edTPA that costs $1,000.00.  The profession isn’t really enticing, and this sure isn’t the way to recruit the top students, when they can make much more in the private sector or industry and get much more respect.  I think it’s time to listen and hear the wake up call!

I had the good fortune to sit with a team of educators from our district in a two hour meeting with Regent Ouderkirk.  (A side note – Regent Ouderkirk had my position as East Side Principal in the early 80’s.  Kind of neat I thought.)  She impressed me with traveling her area on a listening tour to get feedback from the trenches –  parents, teachers, administrators, tax payers, you name it.  She heard what I listed above from this team and much more, and I assume, will get the same thoughts while she makes her rounds.  I applaud her for making the time to “listen to her constituents”.  A common theme during our conversation was this – we may have gone in the wrong direction and now, it’s time for a refresh or restart button.  Let’s take what we have in place and make it better!  Adjust and correct.  We know what doesn’t work and let’s improve on what is working.  

I am optimistic that something good can come from the “civil disobedience” from our parents and “friends of public education”.  I know these folks won’t let it go because they believe in public education and believe that our kids are more than a score.  Let’s stop the madness, move back to our moral obligation of teaching our kids, and get back to trusting the professionals who are in the trenches.  They know what our kids need to be the best they can be.  Stop the insanity and let’s get back to teaching our kids!

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