June 2011 Issue
May 21, 2011

From the president's desk: The option to fail

Author: Richard C. Iannuzzi
Source: NYSUT United

The new APPR regulations for evaluating teachers and principals are seriously flawed. With only three Regents standing up for children - Regents Cashin, Rosa and Tilles - the remaining Regents determined that it was acceptable to offer school districts, teachers and students the option to fail.

In a letter to the full Board of Regents, 10 experts, led by Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, said it succinctly:

As researchers who have done extensive work in the area of testing and measurement, and the use of value-added methods of analysis, we write to express our concern about the decision pending before the Board of Regents... We urge you to reject proposals that would place significant emphasis on this untested strategy that could have serious negative consequences for teachers and for the most vulnerable students in the State's schools.

In a letter to Chancellor Tisch and circulated to the full board, I put it this way:

The proposed amendments ignore sound educational research; reject significant portions of the work of the Task Force consisting of practitioners from every stakeholder group; seek to circumvent local collective bargaining; and attempt to create regulations contrary to the language and intent of the existing law. . .New York State is poised to take the lead on a path to a thoughtful and comprehensive evaluation system to ensure that every child faces an effective teacher and that every school is administered by an effective principal. I sincerely hope that the full Board of Regents does not choose a different path.

Next steps

NYSUT has suspended its collaboration with SED for the remainder of this school year while we reevaluate our relationship; we have pulled our support for SED's June conference on union/district collaboration; and, we are pursuing all available legal avenues.

Beyond arguments pertaining to collective bargaining, the role of standardized tests and the meaning of trust is an issue more critical and more substantial: the opportunity/achievement gap. The new regulations "allow" school districts to choose the use of state standardized tests for up to 40% of teacher and principal evaluations instead of choosing locally developed, rich and authentic multiple measures of student growth.

We know all too well how the choice will be made. It will be made based on wealth. Well-to-do districts will choose to continue their work in creating meaningful and authentic evaluation systems that will positively impact instruction and student success. Middle-income districts will struggle, but will try to do right by their students and teachers. Poverty ridden, overwhelmingly minority districts and small, struggling, poor rural districts will have no choice - they have no resources.

They will be forced to choose the option that is a disservice to their students. They will be forced to choose cheap and flawed over rewarding and authentic. They will be forced to choose widening the achievement gap over closing the achievement gap. The Board of Regents' choice leaves no choice for struggling school districts. If communities serving children of poverty were seeking a path to academic success, that path has been taken away. Instead, the Board of Regents has given them an "option" - the option to fail.

I still believe that partnering and advocacy can coexist - that you can communicate and not capitulate. I also believe that to be successful at both requires recalibrating relationships at strategic moments. This is one of those moments.

Richard C. Iannuzzi