"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Massachusetts Teacher Forum Becomes the Paul and Mitch Show

A Massachusetts ELL teacher, Esperanza Donovan-Pendzic, worked for days to fine tune a short speech she planned to deliver at a regional teacher forum in Agawam.  Esperanza, who also has her own television program aimed at the Spanish-speaking community, sent me this email with details on the big disappointment for the many educators who showed up in Agawam to share their thoughts on the state plan to evaluate teachers based on student test scores. 

Will the MTA and AFT remain quiet as church mice about this latest indignity, while Randi and Dennis continue to collect their half-million dollar salaries paid by the teachers who are being screwed by this sham process?

. . .It took me an hour and 25 minutes to get to Agawam. My husband and my friend were excited to film the event.  Then my friend asked the Secretary where we could set up the camera to film Esperanza while she is giving her speech. The Secretary said, there is no one speaking but Mitchell Chester (Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education ) and I.
We were surprised that the presentation was called a forum. Do they know the difference between a forum and a presentation? Then the Commissioner was making small talk and he said to my friend that he did not mind if we were filming, but he does not know what would happen if other people will mind. We said OK and we proceeded to sit. We really could not film at all--it was not what we expected.

There were about 150 teachers and administrators and other kinds of support school staff,  guidance counselors, school adjustment counselors etc.... After everyone received a folder with the agenda and a clicker to answer different questions in response to some of the commissioner's questions. The presentation started by the Secretary introducing Commissioner Mitchell Chester. After breaking the ice talking about his earlier accomplishment in education, he began to talk about misconceptions of his plan to evaluate teachers. He spoke about how wonderful the plan is because the district superintendent will have control and it will be locally determined by the need of their schools. All the material presented was not clear, and it felt like they were hiding something, but I could not pinpoint what.  There was a curtain of mistrust in the auditorium.

The Secretary and Commissioner were asking general questions so the audience could use the clickers. I remember some the questions: would you want your peer to evaluate you, do you want your administrator to evaluate you, should parents and children evaluate the performance of the teachersd. . . When the peresentation was over these two gentlemen ask if anyone had a question. Immediately some teachers asked questions pertaining to how does the evaluation process affect the teachers' tenure?  What happens to a district that is populated with a lot of poverty or the different degrees of learning occurring in the classroom?  Mr. Chester gave such a vague answer that it was confusing, so I asked him to clarify the answer,  but he failed to do so and many teachers were asking many questions, which he answered in a very general, confusing way. He reminded me of a car salesperson. Many teachers stated that we can't afford to go backwards with evaluations and many others in the room warned Mr. Chester that there is no sufficient data and research done on this particular way of evaluating teachers and that it should not be used.

Most eachers were upset, worried and angry because it felt that using MCAS to evaluate teachers is a done deal. No amount of teachers' opinions or questions will change their stance. It gives me the sense that everything was planned and set to be used in at least 9 different districts.  The concerns and mistrust were there and these two men just smiled and encouraged us to write our questions and worries and place them in a basket outside the auditorium. . . .

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