Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Dear Team Polazzo - Why Matt Polazzo's Article Is Wrong

On my previous post I received a student commenter from Team Polazzo who asked me why I and other education bloggers believe that their teacher Matt Polazzo was wrong and misguided in his article in the New York Daily News last Sunday. The student was respectful and asked me why we attacked their beloved teacher for speaking his mind. I thought about it and believe that they deserve an answer. Therefore, here is my response.

First, your teacher flatly stated that all the teachers in the "rubber rooms" are "bad" teachers and the ATRs are incompetent. If he really understood the issues concerning the two groups he defames he would have known that Chancellor Joel Klein and his non-educator cronies caused both problems with their anti-teacher policy. The increase in "rubber room" teachers and the ATR mess were caused by closing down schools and cutting school budgets to the bone while encouraging principals to hire inexperienced and ill-prepared teachers to replace the experienced teachers in Tweed's "children last" program.

Second, the DOE brought in a fair student funding program that was not revenue neutral as the program was intended to be. This forced principals to hire the cheapest teachers to balance their budget and as a result many of the worst schools have little or no experienced teachers, just those "Teach For America" two-year wonders who couldn't teach to save their collective lives while experienced teachers languished on the ATR list.

Third, Chancellor Klein gave the Principals power to remove teachers they don't like and kick them off the school payroll in sixty days. The sevenfold increase in teachers in the "rubber room" is not about what is best for the students it is what is best for the principals, many of them with limited classroom experience themselves. For your information 90% of these so called "bad" rubber room teachers are sent back to the classroom after an independent arbitrator hears the case against the teacher.

Finally, the DOE practices age discrimination, both in the "rubber room" and the ATR ranks. I just need to refer you to last year's survey on the Queens "rubber room" as evidence to this. If you consider senior, experienced, and highly paid teachers as "bad" then you should work for Joel Klein's DOE.

I am sure Matt Polazzo is a great teacher and the students just love him and deservedly so. However, his knowledge of what really goes on in the "rubber room" and the ATR issue is sorely lacking. Therefore, his article is misguided, unfair, and inaccurate and he deserves the criticism that he brought upon himself.


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for your post. You set a much better example of yourself than Teacher in the Bronx did with your most recent post.

(Though, I think the last and he deserves the criticism that he brought upon himself. was unnecessary... But whatever, this goes many steps above than just plain and simple ad hominem attacks.)

Mr. Talk said...

Great post, Chaz. I believe Team Polazzo has let their personal feelings about Mr. Polazzo color their judgment. He may be a fine teacher, but he wrongly places the blame on the UFT contract. In truth, principals hire teachers and grant them tenure, and if there are incompetent teachers, principals should be on the hook for them. Maybe if the DOE started firing principals who grant tenure to unqualified individuals, this argument would be academic.

Farro said...

Firstly I'd like to thank Chaz for being one of the very few to publish a sensible reasonable rebuttal to Polazzo's article without resorting to McCarthyist tactics (which is basically what's been happening on much of the web. Denouncement as a traitor, ad-hominem attacks, calls to give up protections, etc... all very much resembling the McCarthy era).

One of the points that Mr. Polazzo's article didn't really make (it made it, but not very strongly), and that is relevant to this article, is the problem with seniority pay (and other seniority benefits).

Seniority should never be used as a basis for pay or for that matter, any other granting of benefits. All teachers should be protected from arbitrary action by prinicipals--not just those that have been around an arbitrary amount of time.

There are broader issues involving the rubber room--many teachers don't get investigated for years, which is bad for both them and the system--we're paying bad teachers while good ones can't teach (although at least they too get paid).

To the third point, I would like to say that in my mind, Klein, Blomberg, and the UFT are all guilty. They all have their issues. I have as much a problem with the fact that prinicpals are pushing out senior teachers because they are more expensive as you do.

However, I do not believe seniority can be the basis of pay. One idea suggested on various comments on the other articles has been some sort of rating system. One place where Mr. Polazzo hit the mark was where he mentioned that there are only two ratings. I understand concern about administrative ratings, but I believe they have a role with some form of student ratings (which according to UFT reps at Stuy, the contract doesn't allow; supposedly it's not banned, but either way the UFT is guilty here--they either banned student ratings or their representatives lied). The main objection to student ratings, that they can be unfair, biased, or based on the wrong things, is not really valid as it's fairly easy to differentiate between valid and invalid ratings (as an exercise, I suggest you go on ratemyteacher and look up a random teacher (who you do not know) and see if you can figure out which comments are serious and which aren't--it's not too hard). Also, if a survey is made extensive enough, people generally answer seriously (mr. Polazzo, for one, does a very good year-end evaluation). It could be possible to also put standardized test scores in there somewhere, but caution must be observed--one problem w/ Klein (and the US education system in general) is overreliance on test scores. My main point here is that we need a more detailed ratings system, and the ratings need to come from multiple sources. This sort of structure could make it easier to determine a pay scale (and maybe even a how-easy-to-get-rid-of scale, although that could be going too far).

Any teacher fired for genuine incompetence should not be paid, and should not be put in any pool.

There should be some way for students to be able to make formal complaints against teachers (and administators).

However, I'm sure if you brought up any of these reforms (especially those that invovle student power) the UFT would object. Unfortuantely, as it is, the UFT power structure still favors seniority over ability, which is problematic. And the UFT is somewhat anti-student, or rather, anti-student power--a famous anecdote involves a former stuy principal wearing a button that said "kids first." She was forced to remove it by the UFT rep because it was supposedly "anti-teacher."

Thank you.

(Do be aware that these ideas are rough; as such they have flaws--so if there's an oversight, that's all it is)

Chaz said...


I do believe there should be student input in teacher evaluation along with peer and administrative input. However, its the DOE will never allow for non administrator input not the UFT.

Farro said...

If the UFT reps lied about the provision banning student input, it would seem they were against it, too.

I'm pretty sure both have their problems with it. Of course, since students have no real representative organization of their own, they go powerless...

Pogue said...

NOW we are getting closer to the true problems behind a NYC quality of education debate...Bloomberg, Klein, and the "accountable" DOE has rendered more than students powerless, as we may include communities, parents, and teachers to the victims list. Cheers to another four years of this approach to education.

Farro said...

If it's any consolation, I voted against Bloomberg.

I do think the approach of running schools like a business is a real problem, especially charter schools (which is basically improving the system by cheating, in a sense).

However, the UFT still has something to answer for, particularly the whole seniority thing.

Anonymous said...

As a teacer I'm not inclined to agree with any negative comments regarding seniority.

Furthermore, imagine the ridiculous standards that teachers are measured by, would be used to hold doctors and lawyers "accountable".

It is like telling a dentist that if your patients keep on getting cavities then you are going to be held accountable and we will revoke your license.

The problem with accountability is that those who are truly in need of being held accountable are never brought to task. Consider that Bloomberg and his henchmen are never held accountable for the educational catastrophe that has been in existence for eight horrible years.

The entire gist of the ed deform is to privatize public sector funds. The loot goes into the corporate bottom lines of corporate cronies of the administration. How else would you explain the no bid contracts.

The entire city is corrupt and there is no light at the end of the tunnel except that of an oncoming train.

Merit pay is another ploy to destroy the dues harvesting union that has aided and abbetted all of the monstrous changes in the education sector.

Teaching to the test only skews the statistics in favor of more of the same.

It is the responsibility of the education system to turn out educated functional citizens. Education is not to generate statistics so Reichfuhrer Bloomberg can slap himself on the back and tell us his marvellous achievements in education.

Turning out people who cannot think or function, yet can fill in a bubble sheet is not what education is about.

What the system wants is corporate drones who will work for an ever shrinking paycheck, diminished benefits and longer hours.

All of you students who defend your wonderful teacher should know one thing. When your great teacher falls out of favor with the administrators it will be him who is either in the rubber room or an ATR.

Consider the fact that both groups are filled with excellent teachers who are not two year wonders. These are people who have devoted their lives to helping young people get an education. We are your advisors, your surrogate parents,and we also worry about you.

What the ed deformers have done is try to reinvent the wheel. Teachers have lost respect and control over their own profession.

How come anybody who ever sat in a classroom is now an expert on education. Why do those in positions of power wield such influence over something they know absolutely nothing about?

Do you know that the standards are dropping and that NYC public schools are graduating functional illiterates that need intensive remediation once they walk into college.

Mr. Polazzo spoke with authority on something that he has no understanding of.

What protections would Mr. Polazzo have if he was to have the union agreement scrapped and it was him that was being targeted?

It is admirable that students are participating in this discussion. However, there are many things that they are not aware of, in the many challenges and sacrifices that teachers have to go through in this so called profession.

By the way kids, be aware of one thing for certain. You know have unparalelled power over your teachers. Any complaint that you lodge, no matter how stupid, is taken with utmost seriousness by the Nazi's who are also called administrators. In fact they will listen to you and then start an evil quasi legal process against the teacher who has no hope of anyone reasonable ever listening to what they have to say.

There are frightning similarities to what transpired in Pol Pot's Cambodia, Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union and Chairman Mao's China, to what is happening in this country today.

We are becoming if not already a facist state. Jesus was also a teacher and look what they did to him.


Farro said...

Umm.. although Bloomberg and Klein are pretty terrible administrators, I don't think you can really compare them to Mao, Stalin, Hitler, or Pol Pot.

We only have that power over teachers IF the administration also has a reason to dislike the teacher. Otherwise, nothing need come of it. Additionally, as it is, there isn't much of a clear procedure on how to complain, and one serious problem is that a parent's complaint has more weight than a student's. (I'm not actually sure if there is a procedure or not; if there isn't, that's a problem, if there is, it's a problem that it clearly isn't well-known).

I understand that you are disinclined to agree with issues involving seniority/merit pay, but you fail to state WHY.

As I see it, an genius who inspires his students and really teaches them in depth (beyond the test/beyond the books) who's only been in the system one year should not make less than a dud who's been around for forty. Forty years of experience doesn't make an idiot smarter, nor does the lack of experience on the genius's part do anything to lower the quality of the education he gives.

So what's the real justification for seniority pay?

Anonymous said...

Seniority/longevity pay is common to all public sector jobs. It would be impossible to change so don't waste your thoughts. On the other hand, performance based bonuses might be in order...

Chaz said...

I for one agree somewhat with Farro that our union does not encourage student input. However, Pogue and anon are right that the Bloomberg/Klein administration has ignored student and parent input in any school decision making. Just look at the New York City Parents blog about this.

I am also impressed that Farro realizes that students are widgets and teachers are cogs in a business model does not work in schools. However, Farro still must explain how a newbie teacher is better than an experienced veteran and the age discrimination practiced by the DOE.

Farro said...

I do not believe that a new teacher is better than an experienced one--what I believe is that experience is a fairly minimal factor in how "good" a teacher (or almost anyone) is.

Basically, I believe that experience is a poor measure of a teacher's ability. To quote myself from above:
"As I see it, an genius who inspires his students and really teaches them in depth (beyond the test/beyond the books) who's only been in the system one year should not make less than a dud who's been around for forty. Forty years of experience doesn't make an idiot smarter, nor does the lack of experience on the genius's part do anything to lower the quality of the education he gives."

Basically, I don't think seniority really pays a role. I do NOT believe that a less experienced teacher is necessarily better--but I do think it is possible.

Another(Former)StuyStudent said...

"Maybe if the DOE started firing principals who grant tenure to unqualified individuals, this argument would be academic."

This would not resolve the issue of what to do with the unqualified individuals that those principals had hired...

There is one more point I want to make somewhere, and this seems to be the place with the most reasonable tone of conversation so I may as well say it here.

Many of the teachers posting have essentially emphasized the ideal of fairness to the teachers, and giving teachers the respect and money and job security they deserve, which to some extend is certainly something to strive towards.

However, the ultimate goal of running a school, when it comes down to it, is not to satisfy the teachers, but to give the students a good education. Yes, there is an argument to be made that students learn well from teachers that don't have to worry about their job security, and students learn well from teachers who are paid well. However, these arguments, I believe, should be made from the vantage point of how it will better the end result of education, rather than how it will affect the lives of the teachers.

I wholeheartedly agree that hard-working, dedicated teachers should be paid well. I think Mr. Polazzo would likely agree as well (I somehow doubt he thinks that he should be paid dirt). I also agree that higher salaries will attract better teachers to primary and secondary educations. But I think that teachers will teach better if they are given an incentive to do so. This includes some form of merit pay. I agree that test scores are not necessarily the greatest measurement of teacher success, but if we combine them with student evaluations (written out, not just bubbling a form), and observation of classes by administrators and fellow teachers (that obviously shouldn't be pre-announced), then we may have a start.

This also involves, as Mr. Polazzo states in his article, being able to fire bad teachers, where how "bad" a teacher is can be determined a number of ways, as discussed earlier.

When it comes down to it, it was a short article that provoked a long debate. Obviously Mr. Polazzo couldn't make every point that has been brought up in the debate in his article. But this is a debate worth having, and I am happy that on this blog, it has been mostly a debate on the issues, rather than a litany of personal attacks in one direction or the other.

Chaz said...

Ferro and Former:

We can go around and around on the value of experience, teacher pay, and who are bad teachers. However, it does not take away the fact that Matt Folazzo made assumptions that are not only untrue but gives incompetent or vindictive administrators a pass. I can only assume that Mr. Polazzo has designs on being an Administrator himself and the other teachers in his school should be very careful of him.

I think this should end any more discussion about Mr. Palazzo and his unfortunate opinion piece.

Anonymous said...

"I can only assume that Mr. Polazzo has designs on being an Administrator himself and the other teachers in his school should be very careful of him."

Please don't make assumptions similar to this one; it's almost as wrong as the assumptions that Matt Polazzo made. As all the comments pointed out, we should not make assumptions that are not fully analyzed and verified.

Chaz said...


I base my assumptions on my 16 years of experience in the NYC schools and dealing with teachers like Mr. Palazzo. I would bet my pension that Mr. Polazzo has already taken or is taking his administrative courses. Of course will will know for sure five years from now.

ed notes online said...

There is a case to be made for seniority.

It brings some measure of stability to a large system.

Since you lose school wide seniority when you leave a school it provides an incentive for people to remain in the school, also a factor for stability. (I think having people spend many years in their school is a good thing, especially in elementary school.)

Do years of experience make a difference? Maybe not to the Stuy students who have not usually struggled in school and can easily be taught by newer teachers. And yes, incompetent teachers. But in the more difficult schools it makes a major difference. Incompetent teachers are often driven out by the behavior of the students. There is no free ride. I guess some of them end up at Stuy, where the livin' is easy. When we try to compare the experience in Stuyvesant and the rest of the universe, it is apples and oranges.

Should pay be based on seniority? Basically I would say yes but the gap between the top and the bottom is way too large and it should take fewer years to reach maximum. As for merit pay, show me how to judge a teacher's competence, though I do think the student opinion is more valuable than that of many administrators. If someone comes up with a rubric for truly judging teachers I'd like to see it.

As for the students commenting here, why don't you make a list of your criteria for a good teacher? Teachers should come up with their own list. And I bet if supervisors did theirs would be very different from the others. And parents should also make a list of criteria.

I bet if there were published ratings somewhere, there would be some red-faced teachers who just might shape up. There is a difference between lazy and incompetent teachers. You can fix the former. The latter often just don't have a clue. But I would bet there are some out of classroom jobs for them in the system that many of them could do.

Sometimes this debate reminds me of Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski in The Wire. He was a terrible street cop but found redemption doing back office investigative work until he was out on the street again and killed someone (incompetent cops are way more dangerous than incompetent teachers.) Of course the irony here is that Prez becomes a great teacher.

The Wire was so realistic about the police force and showed all the insanities. For teachers to see the kinds of attacks they face in the face of so much incompetence at all levels of government certainly sparks some levels of defense.

Chaz said...


I certainly agree with you on the difficulty in what makes a "good teacher. I also have a real problem with a teacher who has an out of classroom position who thinks he knows what a "bad" teacher is.

I do believe that teacher evaluation should incorporate student, peer, and administrative reviews. Too many teachers are in the"rubber rooms" (700) because an administrator does not like the teacher and was tareted.