accountability Archives - The Jose Vilson


Dear John B. King,

Let me just get this out of the way: testing is not natural.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that parents have gotten fed up with the abundance of testing placed upon their kids, and the continual dependence on standardized testing as a measure of actual student learning. The facts are out, the voices have started to quake, and the general tenor of the educational debate has struck a chord with the general public. The terrible after-effects of the No Child Left Behind Act along with corporations pushing local and federal governments towards their own beliefs about public education have only pushed the protests further. There’s only so much misinformation that the general media can push onto parents before they too catch wind of what students and educators have seen all along.

Public education is becoming less public.

To further that sentiment, you said the following:

[quote]“The environment around standardized testing has become so acrimonious that we’ve forgotten that adults need to set a positive tone for students around assessment as a natural part [of education].”[/quote]

Wait, what?

Mr. King, I beg your pardon. Are you insinuating that adults, meaning those of us actually working with the kids, need to grin and bear it while our students get pummeled with a standardized test month after month? That they should equate the way that states give tests with actual learning? That we weren’t already trying to create a positive tone without these tests actually being in the way of that?

I’m in no way outraged because, as it turns out, I expected you to show your hand when it came to these things. The same money used to draw the huge contract recently doled out to Pearson to create (and probably fix) these tests could have been used to hire more adults to our neediest schools. Plus, your department asked the rest of us to carry out your agenda in the form of a memo. As if the kids haven’t already picked up that most of these tests shouldn’t be taken seriously. As if testing them this many times will actually matter in the lives they hope to lead after K-12.

Sure, life throws tests at us all the time, but they don’t directly affect the profit margins of Pearson and the plethora of third-party vendors trying to get us ready for something no one fully understands yet. They often come sporadically, without schedule or modifications. Some of the tests my students have passed in life, you or I might have failed given those conditions. Yet, we continually push the edge of pushing the students most disenchanted with school away from school.

Making schools better isn’t a matter of who gives the most tests, but whose testament assures that all adults have assured students their best efforts to educate them, no matter their circumstances. Testing isn’t natural, but you know that by now.

Mr. Vilson, who has a few more letters to write.


You Have No Idea What To Count, So Shut Up

by Jose Vilson on January 1, 2012

in Mr. Vilson

Ira Socol, the unabashed scholar he is, dropped my first favorite quote of 2012 in his meme on December 30th:

Things I don’t want to hear in 2012: (3) “Accountability” – you have no idea what to count, so shut up.

Gospel. I almost fell on my face laughing. How did he jump in my skull and pull that thought out? After the recent news that the UFT (yes, my union) and the NYC Department of Education (yes, my employer) came to an impasse about how teachers ought to be evaluated, I could only think of the tense conversations that happened in that room.

DOE Rep: If you read the Danielson framework carefully, you’ll see right there that it says you can fire teachers at will.
UFT Rep: No, it doesn’t.
DOE Rep: I’m telling you, if you read the appendices and the fine print, she says so unequivocally.
UFT Rep: No she doesn’t.
DOE Rep: But we want to fire teachers.
UFT Rep: No.
DOE Rep: Please?
UFT Rep: No.
DOE Rep: Ummm … you really don’t understand. There were … umm … a few dimensions she just added …
UFT Rep: Where?
DOE Rep: Umm … they’re right … there. It says it. Why are you so difficult?
UFT Rep: I can read.
DOE Rep: You saying I can’t read? I’m insulted.
UFT Rep: Oh ok.
DOE Rep: So … when can we start firing teachers?
UFT Rep: Nope.
DOE Rep: Nope is not a good time. Nope isn’t even a time. What are you talking about?
UFT Rep: Not happening.
DOE Rep: Aww man. Well, we’re telling the media.
UFT Rep: #shankershrug

All this over a cool $60 million in funds that probably won’t go straight to the schools, but will be in “deliverable goods” like third party vendors and the like. They’ll eventually swim right through the schools, the city will have to foot the bill when the funds run out, and then they’ll be back to square one. $60 mil is a good spot of cash for any public school system, but if there is a school system that won’t do the money justice, it’s ours. Instead of investing in experienced teachers and administrators, we invest it in people we may or may not see a few times a year.

Naturally, some of my detractors might say that if I don’t believe in the DOE proposal for evaluating teachers, then I believe in the status quo. Well … not exactly. Sherman Dorn did a good job of addressing the issue of status quo a while back, but here’s something else: I do believe in teacher evaluation. However, if we’re going to do it, it’ll be under some stringent conditions, ones that might *ahem* revolutionize the school system as we know it.

  1. Evaluators need to have been in the classroom for five years or longer i.e. become a good teacher.
  2. Teachers ought to see and understand the nuances under which they’re evaluated.
  3. People should be taught the difference between tenure and due process, the latter which should be afforded to all teachers.
  4. Administrators should assure that the systems created help everyone in the system grow as professionals, not just make them punitive measures.

That’s only my off-the-cuff thoughts on teacher evaluation. Based on the Danielson model, it’s harder to “count” things or make them into checklists for administrators to see, but people have done it already anyways. In the meantime, the idea of mutual “counting” never happens here. It happens to the people at the school level (generally), but, for the person who controls it all, there is no accountability. No slap on the wrist. No expose in Newsweek or ABC Nightline. If a feeling of disappointment and a grimace are somehow the means for accountability, then we’re very far from an education system for all.

If it’s about $60 million, we ought to just give it back. Outside of that money, we don’t even know what to count.

Jose, who will savor as much writing as he can do for the next few days …

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I have exactly 5 days to prepare my students for the New York State Mathematics Test. 40+ multiple-choice questions, 8 short-response, and 4 extended-response. Cathie Black Dennis Walcott and Co. implicitly put the burner under our butts when they released our Teacher Data Reports a couple of weeks ago for us to peruse and look at the smooth graphics. Fully aware that these reports mean nothing, I can either go into these next 5 days with a kill-and-drill mentality, one I didn’t espouse all year, or get them to remember the more important topics that usually come up on the extended-response questions, and pray for the best. Instead of preparing for these next five days, I thought I’d give a great cheat sheet to all my fellow teachers going through the same struggle I am, and here goes. Here are five things for you to remember in case you’re really nervous about how your students will do on this exam.

5. It’s Not Your Fault

You’re not the only teacher worried. You’ve had 120+ days to teach students by any means necessary all the material you’re possible going to teach them. You think a few more days will somehow make everything click for them? No.

4. It’s Not Your Fault

As I recently researched, these Teacher Data Reports aren’t the end of the world. They’re actually laughable at best, monstrous at worst. They don’t prove your worth as a teacher. Your teaching is. Speaking of which …

3. It’s Not Your Fault

You’ve probably been collecting pieces of evidence showing that 2 hours doesn’t equal a lifetime of learning. All those grids, graphs, and portfolios you’ve been stressing about for the better part of this year? That’s the wave of the future. You’re so ahead of the curve. Fantastic.

2. It’s Not Your Fault

When you see the test, you’re probably going to point at it and say to the test, “Oh man! I knew it!” It’s like when you go out on a date, thinking you should have gone with the maroon sweater instead of the fuschia. If they call you back, great. If they didn’t, then that’s OK, too. At least next time, you’ll wear some black pants to offset your ridiculous sense of wardrobe. And you probably won’t have to wait another year for a date, either.

1. It’s Not Your Fault

What’s on the test tends to fluctuate year-to-year. The kids’ capacity for the material can, too. Frankly, their study habits do. Daily. The economy changes. The environment around them does. Your leadership probably does. The amount of sleep and breakfast they’ve had changes, too. How the state government grades the exam does (and will). Your personal life changes. While it’s great that everyone wants students to succeed on these tests (because I know I do), I know it’s not the end of the world.

Find peace in knowing that we have lots of opportunities to prove your mettle. Just as students need different forms of showing that they’re worth their weight in chalk (or magic marker, or pixels), teachers do too.

And if you didn’t do any of the things I described, then you have lots of cramming to do for the kids. Because as it turns out, it’s probably your fault.

Jose, who has a fancy e-mail button at the bottom of this post, just in case you know someone who needs this now …

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Hooray Accountability …

December 6, 2007

I like sitting down listening to Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” and thinking whether they had a worry in the world while smoking their drugs in their recording sessions. At the time of that song’s creation, they were already considered geniuses, so they didn’t really have “bosses,” or anyone to really hold them accountable outside of […]

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