United We Bargain, Divided We Beg

DCTA Talks LEAP

By Bill Weisberger  teachers-fist

Sitting in the Sandoval Room at North High School on Monday night, I was nearly brought to tears multiple times by the stories teachers told about the damaging effects of LEAP teacher evaluations in DPS. Testimony included veteran teachers demoralized by younger, less-experienced administrators, special education teachers consistently rated less than effective by evaluators with no qualification in SpEd, and expert science teachers who had been working for years in the poorest schools and had been observed by a new administrator every year due to the revolving door (30% turnover) of administration in our lower income schools. Many of these teachers needed to teach their evaluators what best practice means in a science classroom to help combat confusion and lower scores that resulted from a lack of expertise.

In my own testimony I mentioned that in his visit to my school in October, Tom Boasberg admitted to the staff at my school that it is, in fact, harder to earn an effective or distinguished score at a red school than at a green or blue school. I have spoken further with members of DPS’s offices about this issue, and they have confirmed that it’s true – you are more likely to earn a lower LEAP rating if you work at a poorer school. And what’s worse, while DPS will admit that this is an unfortunate situation, there seems to be no solution on the horizon.

So LEAP is clearly not perfect. I wrote an article outlining many of the issues with teacher evaluations several weeks ago, which can be found here. Teachers who earn distinguished marks describe changing their instruction to the detriment of their students, and teachers who believe in how they are teaching often resign themselves to low scores, unwilling to sacrifice their convictions. While I don’t know what will come of the teacher evaluation system in DPS, I am happy that DCTA has forced the conversation, and that teachers from all over the district have showed up to make it clear that a change is exactly what we need.

I look forward to working on behalf of teachers throughout the district to make our profession better for us all, which is why I’m running for DCTA Board of Directors. Win or not, I will be in this fight for us all.

 

 

 

United We Bargain, Divided We Beg

Without Warning, Two Community Parents Deported Last Week

13681136303_fee36b812e_bBy Bill Weisberger, January 23, 2017

On Thursday this past week a student ducked into my room 10 minutes before the morning bell and asked if he could just sit for a while. I said sure, no problem, but when I actually looked up to see his face I realized that he had been crying. It took me asking him one time what was going on for him to burst into tears. His father had been taken from their home at 5am, just before he left for work. “He didn’t do anything,” my student said. “I don’t know what happened.” Without any notice, his father had been taken from their family before the sun came up. It was shocking and terrifying, but they couldn’t call the police because it was the police who had taken him. Sadly, the student told me that he was more worried about his baby sister than himself because she’s just a little kid and she loves her father.

The bell rang, I told him I was there for him, and the student pulled himself together and went to class. I shot emails around to ask for help from the social worker and school psychologist, and I let the student’s other teachers know to take it easy on him today. I felt terrible for him, but I didn’t give it more thought than that.

The next day it happened to another family at our school. The exact same thing – kids wake up to see their parent being taken away as they head off to work before dawn. And now I’m starting to wonder what’s going on.

I don’t know if this is the start of some terrifying Trump-era pattern of deportations and broken families or the result of the tail-end of Obama’s immigration policies. And maybe these deportations were completely isolated incidents. Regardless, I think it’s better to be safe and let it be known.

Last week, two of our parents were deported without warning or reason. Maybe you can share out if you know the same thing is happening more frequently in other communities.

Without Warning, Two Community Parents Deported Last Week

Yes We Can

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By Bill Weisberger – January 10, 2017

Barack Obama gave his farewell address to the nation tonight. It was a call to action, and it was a tearjerker at times. I would have been emotional seeing Obama leave regardless, but the fact that Donald Trump will be taking his place is what really kills me. In fact, it’s because the country chose that hateful, money-grubbing schmuck to lead us that I started this blog.

Obama’s main message was that we, the people, can make this country better if we try. “Yes we can.” In fact, I decided months ago, after realizing that the world was going to crap, that I couldn’t sit around and watch without doing something. So, I tried to figure out what should be done.

As I see it, what follows is a list of statements that everybody agrees are true and bad for the country, and yet nobody talks about because we all believe that’s just the way it is.

#1: Corporations run the government and protect their interests through lobbying.

#2: People who earn anywhere near the minimum wage do not make enough money to live.

#3: College is prohibitively expensive.

#4: Medical care is prohibitively expensive.

#5: Black and Latino people are much more likely to be poor, unhealthy, and incarcerated.

Bring these things up and people roll their eyes. “Yes, that’s true. Yes it’s bad. We should change them. But we can’t.” Well not anymore. I’m going to fix everything.

Har har. I know sitting on my couch and posting things to Facebook is the lowest form of activism, and I’m aware that it’s completely insane to think me typing will change anything. But in a world where despicable people can leverage fear and fake news to win control of the country, I needed to get involved somehow. And I believe that we can fix these problems.

So, I actually am going to do something besides sit on my couch. I’m going to run for a position with the Denver Teacher’s Union (DCTA) where I can represent multiple schools and their teachers. And I may start a newspaper at our school to help give our students a voice. And who knows what else.

The point is that I’m going to start actively trying to fix it. And it will probably come to nothing, but I’m tired of feeling powerless, because I don’t think we are.

 

 

Yes We Can

Evaluate This

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By Bill Weisberger – January 3, 2017

I read this article recently from the Washington Post outlining the reasons behind the teacher shortage across the country. The author, Valerie Strauss, writes that teacher shortages are likely due to increases in unfair teacher evaluations, high stakes testing, low pay, loss of professional autonomy and lack of resources. Ms. Strauss couldn’t be more correct.

If you’re a teacher, you don’t need anybody to tell you how bad the situation has gotten with respect to teacher evaluations. Your classroom is graded using checklists, your performance is marked in matrices, numbers are entered into Excel spreadsheets and referenced as if there is scientific validity to this process or any correlation to effective instruction; and you know deep in your heart that none of this makes sense or is helping your students. Conditional formatting can never describe what happens in a classroom.

And if you’re a teacher who feels this way, you are not alone. In April 2016, the Network for Public Education (NPE) published a report on how teachers feel about teacher evaluation’s impact on education (The report can be found here). Surveys of 2,964 teachers in 48 states provided a clear picture of teachers’ opinions.

*Of the teachers surveyed:

  • 67% say teacher evaluations have hurt their relationships with students
  • 75% say good teachers are labeled ineffective as a result of inadequate evaluations
    • 41% of black and 30% of Latino teachers say evaluations are racially biased
    • 50% say evaluations are biased against veteran educators
  • 85% say evaluations using rubrics and test scores don’t lead to professional growth
*Data taken from infographic detailing NPE report findings

The NPE’s report makes it clear: the vast majority of teachers agree the status quo of teacher evaluations hurts rather than helps education. And who would know better if these evaluations are effective than the thousands of teachers who are subjected to them? Yet policy makers continue pushing for further corporate reforms and pressure on teachers, as if all the problems in education stem from our classrooms. Stop trying to pin the struggles of low-income families on their teachers.

We teachers are not the problem in this country. To the contrary, we are the solution. If anybody should be asked how to fix education, it is us. We are in the trenches every day, talking with hundreds of students representing hundreds of families. And for those of us who work with poor and undocumented students, students who have special needs, and students who are English Language Learners, we may be the only voices they have. It is time for us to speak and be heard.

College is more expensive than ever and poor families are having trouble making ends meet. Undocumented students and students with undocumented families have no sense of security and no sense of a bright future in this country. For the first time in history, many of our students have lower life expectancies than their parents. The problem here is not teachers. The problem is a system that ignores the inequities in our communities in favor of blaming the victims.

And despite what most people think, the real problems do have solutions. The money that we spend on ineffectual testing and damaging evaluation practices would be better spent in programs and personnel to support our most vulnerable students. Stop spending millions in contracts with testing consortia that do not help students or teachers improve, and put that money into the communities we serve. Stop paying outside contractors hundreds of thousands of dollars to observe minority schools that you intend to close, and instead invest that money into more support for those schools and their students. And stop pressuring teachers to solve the effects of institutional poverty in fifty minute periods.

We are the academics and professionals who work long hours for low pay because we care deeply about our country and its people.  Trust us. Listen to us, and we will help lead this country. Put your faith in your teachers and direct your funding to the communities we serve. Give us your faith and some real support. Yes, I mean actually put money into education.

As teachers, we serve. But we do not have to serve this broken system. You have a voice. Use it.

 

If you live in Colorado, here are some next steps:

For Denver Public Schools employees:

 

By Bill Weisberger

 

 

Evaluate This