Friday, May 23, 2014

Are Prosser teachers 'gaming the system'? Or is this reporter gaming them?

"If anyone out there has been in Prosser for more than a second, they would see that you can't make a Prosser teacher do anything they don't believe in." -- Prosser teacher Maria Magdalena
After reading Ted Cox's piece (Prosser Staff 'Gamed' CPS Survey, Gave H.S. Leaders Inflated Marks: Sources) in DNAinfo yesterday, I had to use breathe-in, breathe-out techniques for anger management.

For one thing, I love Prosser Career Academy, where I used to coach basketball. Despite its relatively high achievement record and talented (CTU members) faculty and staff, the school, like so many others in Chicago, has become the target of privateers. The neighborhood has a burgeoning Hispanic population and the city's charter operators see it as a potential market and prime territory for expansion. There's even a new privately-run Noble charter school now under construction right across the street from Prosser, despite protests from parents and community residents. Freshman students at Prosser have told me that they've been receiving phone calls at home from charter people, trying to recruit them away from Prosser.

Protest at Noble charter school site
I hate to see teachers or principals unfairly debased or accused of high crimes and misdemeanors in the media and left with no voice in their own defense. That's exactly how I felt after reading Cox's piece. It wasn't just that he was surmising what teachers probably would do if confronted with a high-stakes survey. We can all do that. He was actually making accusations which could lead to charges of unethical behavior.

Using only hearsay and unnamed sources and without one piece of evidence, Cox claims Prosser teachers were intentionally lying and manipulating one of Byrd-Bennett's "surveys" to make their supposedly bad school look good and doing so at the direction of  principal Ken Hunter (now on medical leave).

Ironically, the only source named in Cox's article is Carol Caref, a CTU research consultant, who Cox says, "confirmed 'teachers reporting that they were told in meetings that, if they didn't want their school to be downgraded, they should fill out this survey in a positive way.'"

I asked Carol about that this morning and she assured me that she wasn't referring at all to Prosser. She said she hadn't spoken directly with any Prosser teachers and that she was only speaking generally about principals pressuring teachers to say positive things about their schools. Cox calls that a "confirmation."

DNAinfo then publishes the survey to show "evidence" of "inflated" marks from previous surveys. But real climate surveys aren't supposed to be made public even though CPS has displayed them for years at website of CCSR at the University of Chicago. Caref told me, "it's only in the past year that they've been used as a performance assessment."

Surveys aren't high-stakes standardized tests. They can't be "gamed" unless they're part of a game, with winners and losers. Teachers can't give leaders "inflated" marks unless those surveys are not surveys at all, but a backdoor way of doing principal evaluation. And if that's what they are, the results certainly should not be made public or published at DNAinfo, any more than teacher evaluations based on student test scores should be published in the L.A. Times. Where are you, Chicago Principals Association?

Who from CPS gave this story to Cox? Who put him onto to this "scandal"? Inquiring minds want to know.

Stories like this one (and others about teachers cheating on test scores) are very believable. You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing and you don't need any evidence to understand how teachers might not be totally forthcoming in CPS "surveys." especially when it comes to saving their school or their jobs. This particular survey, the Five Essentials, is not meant for evaluative purposes. It's supposed to be a predictor of school success, and only an "indicator" of it. I wish surveys, instead of standardized test scores,  actually were used as measurements of success.

This from the survey itself:
The power of 5 Essentials comes from their prediction of school success, the intuitiveness of the overall framework components (Instruction, Environment, Leaders, Teachers, and Families), and the reliability of the survey measures... The 5 Essentials framework as measured by our survey instruments is a leading indicator of school performance now and predictive of the future. 
Here's more:
As detailed in the seminal book, Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago, UEI researchers determined that there are five essential supports for school success. These “5Essentials” detail the perspectives and processes central to the delivery and support of student learning.
The late Donald Moore, who first came up with the notion of 5 Essential Supports, would be turning over in his grave if he saw the way this survey was being used. The 5 Essentials were meant to support and improve schools, not to threaten them with closure, teacher firings and privatization. Surveys like this are supposed to be confidential. We already know that neither Rahm nor Byrd-Bennett give a rat's ass about teacher morale or school environment or culture, especially at schools they targeted for closure or "turnaround".

Cox got the story wrong. Somebody (I'm still trying to find out who) put him onto to this potential scoop and he was really too lazy to do more than make a few phone calls. He even called me and asked me if I knew anything about teachers "gaming" the survey. I told him no. I was a basketball coach, and wasn't privy to the teachers survey and told him I didn't know this one was even being given.

Turns out, Cox found no one who would talk to him on the record. Good for them. Like me, they must have suspected another hatchet job in the works. Why else would he be on this fishing expedition?

So what does a lazy reporter do when he has no facts? He does this:
A source familiar with the situation confirmed the school principal told teachers that by criticizing his leadership on the surveys, they were potentially hurting themselves by putting the school in the line of fire. The source said that after years of giving the school's leadership bad marks, the teachers were swayed that the surveys were reflecting poorly on the overall reputation of the school.
Then he Tweets:  Prosser teachers "game" #CPS leadership survey, sources say 
After breathing in and out for a while, I Tweeted Cox:
@tedcoxchicago Going after Prosser teachers, the principal and the school with "unnamed sources". #Slimejob
Cox Tweets back:
 @mikeklonsky Not "going after" anybody, Just reporting the facts on a smart, self-aware faculty. You know it's true.
Now I'm really pissed. I know it's true? He's calling me a liar on Twitter? Didn't he just interview me on the phone? Didn't I tell him straight up that I didn't know if it was true? Now he's pushed my wrong button. Not only lazy, slanted reporting but using me to cover his ass. Cox owes me an apology.

I make some phone calls and do some FB-ing of classroom teachers I know (doing Cox's job?). Here's one of them, Maria Melita Magdalena:
Maria Magdalena
As an actual teacher from Prosser, I was not party to any "gaming" of anything. I think, like most sensational reporting, something got twisted here. If anyone out there has been in Prosser for more than a second, they would see that you can't make a Prosser teacher do anything they don't believe in. One of Mr.Hunter's best qualities as an administrator, has been building a staff of talented people who work for their students and community. Teachers have his blessing to create and implement curriculum that not only demonstrate growth by district, state, and national standards, but engage students in meaningful ways.
I invite folks in all the time, who cannot believe all the good work we do. If Mr. Hunter was pointing out inequities in these rating systems, I don't think that's news to anyone. I know plenty of teachers that didn't complete the survey last year, or this year and then, nothing happened. After the last few teacher-bashing years, if your administration tells you to take yourself seriously and respect the school you helped build, then you might rate him or her highly, and I did. And I would again. And no person instructed me to do so. And no one high-fived when I was done.
I asked Maria if I could quote her directly? She responded, "Please. Use my name. Twitter is cool too. This makes me feel sick."

I said, thanks, check my blog tomorrow. If anyone else wants to speak out, let me know. Maria responded,  "They will. Thank you. Clearly, we need a voice."

More to come on this.


  1. Just to clarify: CCSR, not CPS, has been posting the "My Voice My School" survey for years. The new performance policy goes into effect next year, but this year's survey results feed into next year's performance rating.

  2. Good point Carol. Thanks for the correction. But it also raises the question about the role of CCSR in all this. Why do they publicize survey results when they are being used as high-stakes performance assessments? And when you say, "not CPS", isn't CCSR under contract with CPS on this. Could they post results without CPS permission?

    As for the way your quote was used out of context, shouldn't you ask DNA to print a correction? A clarification on this blog isn't enough. Don't you think?

  3. Former Prosser teacherMay 23, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    Actually Carol, you can link to the Prosser survey results through CPS's website. And if you want a composite assessment of Prosser, go to CPS's site here. You will find that Prosser's graduation rate is quite a bit higher that district average and that Prosser students outscore the district as a whole on ACT and PSAE. College enrollment is a shade below the district average but that could be for lots or reasons including the school's high Latino student population. Lots of undocumented families and income levels that make college out of reach.

  4. This story says more about CPS use of surveys to punish schools, teachers and principals than it does about this reporter. He was just sloppy and missed the boat. An honest case of poor reporting.

  5. There was an email from CPS that if teachers did not answer this survey; NOT get the percentage of teacher respondents required, that 5% more would be added AGAINST the elementary schools NWEA scores in reading and math. High stakes indeed!


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