Friday, November 20, 2009

Cost of Living Raise or Pay Cut: The High Cost of Teaching!

Anyone reading the paper these days will know that the teachers in my district are being threatened with a 12% pay cut PLUS four furlough days to be taken during what is already our contracted spring break. Demoralizing? Yes. But even moreso when one contemplates how many district employees are moved around from bogus position to bogus position as empty reminders of empty district goals. What's worse is contemplating how much district money is spent on external contractors and other programs designed to make bad teachers better when that same money could be spent on rewarding smartly evaluated good teachers.

Just a week ago, prior to the Superintendant’s supremely callous Friday, 5pm, YOUR-PAY-WILL-BE-CUT letter,  we gave the first scheduled SPA (Secondary Periodic Assessment) of the year. This means that as a department chair, I have to follow administrative directives and rally the teachers to swap our classes’ 9th grade SPA essays so we can grade our students' work more objectively. Theoretically, this means that we have all set the same goals, have taught to those goals, and have seen whether and to what degree we have met those goals. But this test asks that students read mind-numbing essays, charts, stats and graphs about big bad video games; then they are asked to write a “persuasive” essay where they are to take and defend a position on the “issue.” And let us not forget their “position” had better be against those dangerous, evil video games, or else!

Here is the real rub, especially in the face of these horrendous pay-cut threats. The district contracts this “benchmark” test to Princeton Review, but only AFTER the students take the test--having read the information, the prompt, and the rubric--does the district's Secondary Literacy Department create what they call  “DECISION RULES.”  They describe these rules as follows:

“. . . established during the process of selecting the SCORE POINT REPRESENTATIVE PAPERS that help determine “proficiency.” These rules, which were developed through consensus among those selecting the training set papers, address questions and issues that might arise when teachers score their student work. Knowing these rules up front assists scorers and helps 'standardize' the scoring process.”

Irony? Let me count the ways:

1. Time and money have been spent not only on the Princeton Review’s silly and irrelevant test, but also on salaries earned by LAUSD "literacy experts" tasked with modifying the contractor’s sham test.

2. The LAUSD rightfully demands that teachers’ expectations be clear enough for students to understand what they need to do in order to achieve goals and grades, yet our Secondary Literacy Department (a name that can be read two ways, I know) creates grading rules AFTER THE FACT.

3. "Standardizing” what could be clever, original, intelligent writing (which these tests not only do NOT promote but work hard to prevent), the kind of writing that sometimes happens despite the idiocy of the test, is a ridiculous goal.

4. This benchmark proves nothing about students who are working hard in their classes to think and write intelligently and inventively about literature. But if they can read VCR instructions, they are on their way to the kind of proficiency that warrants a high-school degree.

5. The district has cut teacher pay, has ignored teacher contracts, and as these tests seem to indicate, maintains priorities that do anything but serve the community it's supposed to serve.

Cut away, Superintendent! I probably do not deserve the pay I receive if I see these ironies clearly but the effectiveness of these benchmarks, not at all!


  1. It's a wonder you're not principal already, Mrs. F.

  2. I've spilled a whole bunch of virtual ink trying to figure out the logic behind standardized testing, and here you've summed up the whole issue in just seven words: "Both not a good idea and impossible." That is the single most consice description of standardization (not to mention Communism, which is really just violent form of standardization) that I have ever heard.

    And as to why Ms. F is not yet principal: I, for one, blame video games.