Buckle your seat belts and hold on for your life. Teachers and principals, welcome to APPR Airlines flight 2011. Your journey on the ‘plane to be built in the air’ just took off from New York’s Albany airport.
This description of the New York teacher and principal evaluation system known as APPR is not my critique of an incomplete and untested evaluation system. Rather, it is the description provided by the state Education Department itself. Across New York State, all of the school and district leaders who evaluate teachers are being pulled out of their schools for mandated, taxpayer-funded training in this APPR teacher and principal evaluation system.
The scripted curriculum given to local trainers by the Education Department begins with a bizarre video of smiling mechanics wearing unopened parachutes, building an unfinished plane in flight—all of which the trainers liken to APPR, which means Annual Professional Performance Review. As the narrator tells us, “Some people like to climb mountains. I like to build planes…in the air.” You can find the video here.
It is labeled a ‘funny video’ on YouTube. Not a school leader in the room laughed. Likening a system that is now driving professional evaluations and student testing to what could have been an episode of the Three Stooges did not amuse. I felt sad. Leaders of integrity and courage do not let unfinished planes with students and teachers aboard off the ground.
As the day progressed, we learned just how unfinished that plane is.
Here is a new post about the fate of APPR across New York from Burris, who retired as principal this past June and is now the executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education Fund. She was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. In 2010, she was selected as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State.
By Carol Burris
The controversial 2015 New York teacher evaluation system rushed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will be put, for all practical purposes, on hold for the 2015-16 school year. According to a report from North Country Public Radio, 90 percent of all school districts in New York State were granted hardship waivers by the State Education Department because they were unable to successfully negotiate new evaluation systems by the November 15th deadline. And so the Board of Regents is expected to punt the deadline still further into the future, making it nearly impossible to evaluate teachers and principals using the new system this school year.
You can expect that within a week or so, the governor will have his new education adviser, Jere Hochman, draft a statement that will attempt to mitigate the damage. You can hear it now—”we need to get this right,” “the Common Core,” “parents are telling me” –everything will be said but this truth: that he did not listen to educators but rather to his reformer advisers and the teacher-bashing, hedge fund guys who financed his campaigns.
Last year, Cuomo was in a pique because not enough teachers had bad ratings from his 2011 evaluation plan. Cuomo referred to it as “baloney,” even though he put the system in place. This was the same system he called “one of the toughest in the country” and “groundbreaking.”
After the baloney declaration, Cuomo’s aide, Jim Malatras, asked Chancellor Merryl Tisch, how the law should be changed. Tisch urged the governor to toughen the law and increase the weight of test scores in teacher evaluations. Cuomo then held the budget hostage until the legislature complied.
The new law required that teachers and principals be evaluated by two components–one based on “student performance” and a second based on observations. This raised the weight of the Common Core standardized test scores to 50 percent.
The law also mandated that at least one observation of the teacher or principal be done by an “independent” evaluator from outside the building. When school officials complained this was an unfunded mandate, the glib reply was to swap administrators among schools—regardless of whether or not they were qualified to observe the teacher, or had any vested interested in the principal’s or teacher’s professional growth.
After the bill was passed, the legislature was bombarded with phone calls and emails from educators and public school parents. They called the new system what it was—nonsense that would further promote teaching to the test.
The legislature, especially members of the Democratic Assembly, immediately began back-pedaling, claiming that test scores were not 50 percent of the new evaluation at all. This further angered the education community, which seemed to have a far better understanding of the system than did the legislature that passed it.
For New York parents, already disgusted by the Common Core and its excessively long and difficult tests, the new evaluation system was a last straw. Parents in New York’s robust Opt Out movement had become increasingly vocal in opposition to the evaluation of teachers by test scores. The stress on kids was enormous as teachers frantically taught to the test.
A few weeks after the new law was passed, over 200,000 New York students in Grades 3-8 opted out of the Common Core exams.
Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo who once declared himself the “advocate for students,” saw his education ratings drop like a stone. The latest Siena poll, released in October, reports that only 27 percent of New Yorkers approve of the job he is doing to improve education.
Chancellor Tisch, who is up for reappointment this coming spring, recently announced that she will not seek another term. Tisch has long promoted and championed the New York reform agenda, which is increasingly under attack. She would have faced an uphill battle if she had sought to maintain her position.
In a telephone conversation last evening, Regent Betty Rosa told me that the Regents were “taken off guard” by the North Country Public Radio report about APPR. “We will certainly be asking questions at tomorrow’s meeting,” she said. The new commissioner, Mary Ellen Elia, apparently has not made the Regents aware of the extent of the waivers. Meanwhile, the Gates-funded teacher evaluation system that Elia put in place in Hillborough County, Florida has been abandoned due to huge cost overruns and no apparent beneficial results.
In 2011, I attended an administrators’ training in the new evaluation system. It began with a viewing of a bizarre video of smiling mechanics wearing unopened parachutes, while building an unfinished plane in flight. The video ended with the mechanics safely parachuting off the plane, leaving behind a child staring out the window.
The state-funded trainers likened APPR to a plane being built in the air. One of them told me that he first saw the airplane video during his own State Education Department training. For a short time, it was even posted on the department ‘s website.
Four years have passed since I first saw the video of the plane being built in the air. At the time I was horrified that a Department of Education believed that this capricious, hastily designed evaluation system was amusing. David Steiner, who was commissioner when APPR was enacted, “parachuted off” shortly, returning to a university post. John King, commissioner during implementation, left earlier this year to join Arne Duncan at the U.S. Education Department. Deputy commissioners, Slentz and Wagner, who praised and supported APPR are also long gone. And now the chancellor is bailing this spring.
Hundreds of millions of tax dollars from districts, the state, and the federal government have been wasted “building a plane” that never should have left the ground.
New York is not alone in this folly. Over half of all states adopted evaluation systems that give student test scores an oversized role, of up to 50 percent in teacher evaluations. Even those states that have minimized tests scores have created enormous paperwork for teachers and principals, forcing them to be the collectors of evidence rather than the instructors of children.
These tedious and ineffective teacher evaluation systems were funded in some school districts by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Duncan’s Education Department coerced states to adopt them with Race to the Top dollars and No Child Left Behind waivers. But there was never any evidence that they would work, or serve the best interest of kids. It has been nothing more than a costly, experimental plane being flown, even as it was being built. It is time to send it to the scrap heap where it belongs.