Monday, June 23, 2014

Taylorism 2.0: Transforming Teachers Into Mere Test Proctors

Labor and "Ed Deform":

The Degradation of Teachers’ Work through Standardized Testing and the New York City Evaluation System
John C. Antush is a public high school teacher in New York City, a delegate in the United Federation of Teachers, and a member of MORE (Movement of Rank and File Educators). He was Monthly Review’s assistant editor in the early 1990s.
The biggest threat to education today is the corporate education reform movement—what many of us call “Ed Deform.” It is also the biggest threat to teachers’ working conditions. Changes in education legislation are creating new government-funded markets for education entrepreneurs. Spending is being shifted away from teacher salaries, benefits, and pensions and into standardized tests, curriculum, and technology.1

To maximize this investment opportunity teachers must be reskilled away from deciding on content, assessing students, and tailoring education to meet diverse students’ needs and interests. This reduces the room for teachers to implement, for example, the demands of anti-racist advocates and concerned parents for “culturally relevant curriculum” or, indeed, anything that deviates from relevant test-prep skills.2 Standardized test scores provide a simple metric for measuring “productivity” against teacher labor costs. One example of this Taylorist dynamic is New York City’s new “Advance” Teacher Evaluation system.

In 2013, State Education Commissioner John King imposed the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) system, “a multiple-measures evaluation system” for evaluating teachers in the wake of the failure of the city’s Department of Education and the UFT (United Federation of Teachers) to come to an agreement. I have been a public high school teacher and UFT member for nearly thirteen years. This is the largest change in our working conditions since our last contract was ratified in 2006.

New York’s Race to the Top application required the state to pass legislation mandating a new teacher evaluation system that “makes student achievement data [i.e., standardized tests] a substantial component of how educators are assessed and supported.” “Advance” imposes greater standardization over teachers’ labor and education in other important ways as well.

In Capital, Marx singles out teachers to provide an example of the absurd universality of exploitation under capitalism: “a schoolmaster is a productive worker when, in addition to belabouring the heads of his pupils, he works himself into the ground to enrich the owner of the school. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, makes no difference to the relation.”3

Of course, most New York City public school teachers are employed by the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), not by private capitalists. However, a growing number of teachers work in charter schools managed by private corporations. More broadly, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, who ended his third and final term in December, was an exemplary Taylorist “gang boss” in his promotion of Ed Deform. As Diane Ravitch put it, Bloomberg “applied business principles to overhaul the nation’s largest school system.”4 Unfortunately, these trends are likely to continue under our new Mayor, De Blasio, because they are part of Race to the Top.

Harry Braverman explains in Labor and Monopoly Capitalism that for business, “every non-producing hour” someone is employed is a loss. Therefore, management pursues “complete, self conscious, painstaking, and calculating” control over the production process.5 Facing stiff competition in the market, capitalists are driven to streamline production, splitting up skilled work into discrete tasks that can be executed by less skilled workers. This dynamic is “the underlying force governing all forms of work in capitalist society.”6 Of course, for the most part the public sector does not directly face market competition, but is subject to political processes. Ed Deform seeks to bring market-type pressures to bear on teachers’ labor. This requires a metric for measuring teacher productivity and quality, which is what “Advance” is designed to provide.

Education experts like Diane Ravitch have branded “Value Added Measures”—formulas used to quantify teacher impact on student test scores—as “junk science.” “Scientific management,” created by Frederick Taylor in the 1880s, was the original junk science. As Braverman puts it, scientific management—Taylorism—does not seek to improve production in general, but adapts “labor to the needs of capital. It enters the workplace not as the representative of science, but as the representative of management masquerading in the trappings of science.”7

Taylor’s First Principle: Dissociate Labor from Workers’ Skills
Taylorism’s first principle is “dissociation of the labor process from the skills of the workers.” Taylor writes that, first, “managers assumethe burden of gathering together all of the traditional knowledge which in the past has been possessed by the workmen and then classifying, tabulating, and reducing this knowledge to rules, laws, and formulae.”8 As Braverman explains, “the purpose of work study” was never “to enhance the ability of the worker, to concentrate in the workers a greater share of scientific knowledge. Rather, the purpose was to cheapen the worker by decreasing his training and enlarging his output.”9

New York City’s new teacher evaluation system is tied up with Obama’s Race to the Top, which also induced New York State to adopt the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and to develop a new gauntlet of standardized tests. The CCSS were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers in conformity with the requirements of Race to the Top. For the 2013–2014 school year, new CCSS tests in Math and English were introduced. According to New York State’s Race to the Top application, in coming years New York State “will build an integrated and comprehensive [student performance] assessment system that includes: formative, interim, and summative assessments aligned to the Common Core standard; comprehensive K–2 assessments; assessments in the arts, economics, and multimedia/computer technology, and the next generation of high school assessments.”10
Proponents of the CCSS argue that they were created with an eye towards developing critical thinking among students and to promote collaborative student-centered learning.

The editors of the important education journal Rethinking Schools point out that some teachers “are trying to use the space opened up by the Common Core transition to do positive things in their classrooms.” However, the CCSS were “written mostly by academics and assessment experts—many with ties to testing companies.” Achieve Inc., a consulting firm that has worked with the National Governor’s Association to develop the CCSS, brought together 135 people for review panels to direct the development of CCSS, but “few were classroom teachers or current administrators.

Parents were entirely missing. K–12 educators were mostly brought in after the fact to tweak and endorse the standards—and lend legitimacy to the results.”11 Most importantly student’s performance according to the CCSS will be measured by standardized testing, as mandated by Race to the Top. Student test scores are a central component of the “Advance” teacher evaluation system.

Another integral part of the new evaluation system is the Danielson framework, an attempt to compartmentalize and break down “those aspects of a teacher’s responsibilities that have been documented through empirical studies…these responsibilities seek to define what teachers should know and be able to do in the exercise of their profession.” Danielson draws on evidence from a 2009 research study conducted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation “which entailed the video capture of over 23,000 lessons, analyzed according to five observation protocols, with the results of those analyses (together with other measures) correlated to value-added measures of student learning.”12 Specific aspects of teaching are being brought forward by the Ed Deformers as an across-the-board formula for good teaching, eliminating the role that skilled educators have in assessing what is needed in different contexts to serve diverse communities of students.

Taylor’s Second Principle: Separate Conception From Execution
Taylorism’s second principle is what Braverman calls “the separation of conception from execution.” In Taylor’s words, this “involves the establishment of many rules, laws, and formulae which replace the judgment of the individual workman and which can be effectively used only after having been systematically recorded, indexed, etc.”13 Therefore, Taylor points out, “all of the planning which under the old system was done by the workman, as a result of his personal experience, must of necessity under the new system be done by the management in accordance with the laws of the science.”14 Ed Deform is attempting to separate the conception of teachers’ labor from its execution by providing teachers with new CCSS curricular materials that are designed to boost the very student CCSS test scores that will affect teachers’ job ratings.

Conforming to the new curriculum is presented as a choice based on teachers’ judgment: “Educators who are interested in aligning their classroom practices to the new standards should check the website for the most up-to-date information on the transition.”15 Driven by fear of a drop in student test-scores which will have a major impact on their evaluation rating, teachers are likely to conform to the suggested curricula. Educators’ labor will therefore follow the Ed Deformers’ prior conception:
  • “NYSED [New York State Education Department] will be approving and releasing Common Core-aligned curriculum resources, which will be freely available to teachers throughout the state. NYSED will also be facilitating curriculum-based professional development to aid teachers’ implementation of the new standards.”
  • “Curriculum modules will include: Year-long scope and sequence documents, Module framing/overview documents, Performance tasks (for administration in the middle and at the end of each module), Lesson plans, Lesson plan supporting materials (class work, homework, etc.), Formative assessments at the unit level.”16
Further, the EngageNY document “CSS, APPR and DDI Workbook for Network Teams/Network Team Equivalents,” instructs classroom evaluators to check that “All teachers use CCSS-aligned interim assessments or common performance tasks in all courses.” Evaluators are also supposed to check for CCSS “instructional shifts.” This means we will be evaluated on specific aspects of instruction while others will be excluded from consideration. Conformity to the new “scope” and “sequencing” of instruction can be enforced through the evaluation system.17

Taylor’s Third Principle: Dictate Workers’ Tasks
Taylorism’s third principle, summarized by Braverman, is management’s use of its “monopoly over knowledge to control each step of the labor process and its mode of execution.”18 According to Taylor, ideally, work “is fully planned out by the managementand each [worker] receives in most cases complete written instructions, describing in detail the task which he is to accomplish, as well as the means to be used in doing the work. This task specifies not only what is to be done, but how it is to be done and the exact time allowed for doing it.”19 In order for the new teacher evaluation system to help serve this function, a series of punitive Ed Deforms had to be in place first.

As Braverman puts it, an “abrupt psychological wrench” is required to force workers to accept the transition to task labor. Taylor describes it as the job of the “gang boss” to “nerve and brace them up to the point of insisting that the workmen shall carry out the orders exactly as specified on the instruction cards. This is a difficult task at first, as the workmen have been accustomed for years to do the details of the work to suit themselves, and many of them believe they know quite as much about their business as [their bosses].”20

One such “abrupt psychological wrench” occurred in 2001, when thousands of teachers lost their teaching licenses and jobs in the New York City system because they either did not take or failed the newly required teacher certification exams. Many had taught for decades and had regularly received favorable evaluations. Some had Masters degrees and Doctorates.

One, Regina Powell, had worked nineteen years in the predominantly African-American low-income neighborhood of East New York, Brooklyn. “I’ve gotten so many award letters, and accolades from parents and the Board of Education,” she told the New York Times.21 Only 57.9 percent of first-time black test takers, and only 55.1 percent of first-time Latino test takers, passed the new required LAST (Liberal Arts and Sciences Test).

Meanwhile 90.25 percent of whites passed it. Failing the test meant loss of new teachers’ conditional licenses, the relegation of opportunities to substitute teaching, and lower salaries, fewer benefits, and less seniority.22 Some teachers who did not pass the National Teachers Examination (NTE) lost their permanent licenses, seniority, retention rights, and in some cases tenured jobs, and saw their salaries dramatically reduced.23 Somewhere between 8,000 and 15,000 may have been demoted or terminated, or suffered lower pay and other losses according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.24

Mayor Bloomberg further shored up his power as Taylorist gang boss, however, after Mayoral Control was established in 2002. For thirty years the system had been run by the Board of Education and local school boards.

Now Bloomberg had the power to appoint the schools chancellor, set policy, and create budgets. The Panel for Educational Policy was established with eight out of thirteen members appointed by the mayor. It never voted against him. This allowed Bloomberg to introduce a blitzkrieg of Ed Deforms: grading of schools based largely on students’ standardized test scores, co-locating privately managed charters in spaces used by already-existing public schools, a record number of school closings, systematic denial of tenure for most new teachers, and a stunning barrage of other attacks.

This is the polar opposite of the community-controlled school boards some in the black community had fought for in the 1960s.

In the words of Diane Ravitch, Bloomberg’s reorganized system was a “corporate model of tightly centralized, hierarchical, top-down control, with all decisions made at Tweed [i.e., the NYCDOE headquarters] and strict supervision of every classroom to make sure the orders flowing from headquarters were precisely implemented. The mayor planned to run the school system like a business, with standard operating procedures across the system.”25

At one point he enforced a “workshop model” on schools which dictated “each day’s activities defined in precise order and detail.” Inevitably, “teachers complained of micromanagement, since they had to follow the new directives about how to teach even if they had been successful with different methods.” Supervisors increased “close scrutiny of bulletin boards in classrooms and hallways,” where unit and lesson plans had to be posted.26

Bloomberg later replaced this with an incentive-based method of control. In 2007 Bloomberg’s NYCDOE began grading schools with A–F report cards. Schools got an “A” if their students’ scores went up a certain amount compared to the previous year. At the same time, schools that started off with high student test scores could easily get a lower grade the following year, because it was hard for them to register gains. Conformity to a test-prep curriculum was therefore guaranteed.

Other factors determining schools’ grades, according to the NYCDOE, include students’ progress in “earning course credits and passing Regents exams, and annual changes in student attendance.” Absenteeism, of course, is usually related to issues outside school, such as job and family responsibilities. Schools that got three “C”s could be shut down. Closings have been disproportionately imposed on schools in poorer neighborhoods with the largest percentages of black and Latino students. In 2014, Mayor De Blasio took office and is promising that there will be a moratorium on school closings. Closings that were already set in motion under Bloomberg are still proceeding at this point.

The “Advance” Evaluation System: Towards a Taylorist Slide Rule for Teaching
After June some time, New York teachers will receive a score of 0 to 100, to sum up our performance for the year. Under the old evaluation system, we were rated “Unsatisfactory”/”Satisfactory.” Now we will be ranked “Highly Effective,” “Effective,” “Developing,” or “Ineffective”. It is the intention of the state that around 10 percent of teachers should fall into the Ineffective category.27

First teachers will be scored on two “Measures of Student Learning.” The first of these “value-added growth scores,” worth 20 percent of our overall score, will be based on our students’ state test scores. The second measure, worth another 20 percent, is called “Growth on Local Assessments.” Back in September, in each school a committee made up of UFT members and people appointed by the principal had to choose this measure from a menu. The decision will be made in the same way annually, going forward. The menu options for the “Local Components” for 2013–2014 were limited to:
  1. Using the same state test scores as the other 20 percent.
  2. Selecting from a number of other standardized tests created by vendors such as Scantron.
  3. Selecting prefabricated “performance-based assessments.” These were essentially standardized tests with no similarity to genuine performance based assessments that a teacher might develop to suit their specific educational context or school community.
Rather than choosing a different measure, it was easier for many school communities to use the state test scores as their local measure. That way, teachers could focus on preparing students to score well on one measure, rather than teaching them how to score points on, what were essentially, a whole other set of additional standardized tests.
According to state guidelines, teachers who are rated “ineffective” on this 40 percent (20 percent state tests plus 20 percent “local measures of student learning”) “must be rated ineffective overall.”28 Therefore, 40 percent equals 100 percent. A host of studies confirm that the equations used for “value added measures” of teacher performance produce wildly varying results from year to year. Anecdotal evidence and obvious logic suggest that student test scores are affected by a wide variety of changing factors that cannot be reduced to teacher effort or competency.

Up until now, students have not been required to take statewide high-stakes tests for every grade. Also, some of us teach subjects and grades where standardized tests are not yet in place.

The state plans to introduce high-stakes testing for every grade, starting with new English Regents for ninth and tenth graders, tests for middle schoolers in Social Studies and Science, and “progress monitoring” for K–3 this year.29 Assessments for other areas are being developed.

The other 60 percent of teachers’ evaluations are called “Measures of Teacher Performance.”

Thirty-one percent are based on classroom observations by administrators using the “Danielson” rubric. Twenty nine percent will be based on other measures, like “Artifacts” from the classroom (samples of teachers comments on students work, sample lesson plans, etc.), evidence of planning, and other factors.

When Taylor tried to break down the highly complex work of skilled mechanics, Braverman describes how he:
worked with twelve variables, including the hardness of the metal, the material of the cutting tool, the thickness of the shaving, the shape of the cutting tool, the use of a coolant during cutting, the depth of the cut, the frequency of regrinding cutting tools as they became dulled, the lip and clearance angles of the tool, the smoothness of cutting or absence of chatter, the diameter of the stock being turned, the pressure of the chip or shaving on the cutting surface of the tool, and the speeds, feeds, and pulling power of the machine. Twelve variables, each subject to a large number of choices, will yield in their possible combinations and permutations astronomical figures, as Taylor soon realized. Nothing daunted, Taylor set out to gather into management’s hands all the basic information bearing on these processes. The data were systematized, correlated, and reduced to practical form in the shape of what he called a “slide rule” which would determine the optimum combination of choices for each step in the machining process. His machinists thenceforth were required to work in accordance with instructions derived from these experimental data, rather than from their own knowledge, experience, or tradition.30

The Danielson rubric is an, albeit limited, attempt at a kind of “slide rule” to measure teacher’s performance based on four “Domains”:

1. Planning and Preparation 2. Classroom Environment
1a. Demonstrating Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy1b. Demonstrating Knowledge of Students1c. Setting Instructional Outcomes1d. Demonstrating Knowledge of Resources 1e. Designing Coherent Instruction
1f. Designing Student Assessments
2a. Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport2b. Establishing a Culture for Learning2c. Managing Classroom Procedures2d. Managing Student Behavior 2e. Organizing Physical Space
3. Instruction 4. Professional Responsibilities
3a. Communicating With Students3b. Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques3c. Engaging Students in Learning3d. Using Assessment in Instruction 3e. Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness 4a. Reflecting on Teaching4b. Maintaining Accurate Records4c. Communicating with Families4d. Participating in a Professional Community 4e Growing and Developing Professionally
4f Showing Professionalism

Teachers receive a score for each of these twenty-two components, where 1 = ineffective, 2 = developing, 3 = effective, and 4 = highly effective. To give just one example, under “Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport,” evaluators will look for “Body language indicative of warmth and caring shown by teacher and students” and even “Physical proximity.”31
Some of this violates our contract. In an effort to get out of paying municipal workers raises Bloomberg has left the new mayor, De Blasio, with all fifty-two municipal union contracts unresolved. The UFT has not had a new contract since 2009.

However, in New York, because of state law, we are still covered by our old contract, which states that “The organization, format, notation and other physical aspects of the lesson plan are appropriately within the discretion of each teacher. A principal or supervisor may suggest, but not require, a particular format or organization, except as part of a program to improve deficiencies of teachers who receive U-ratings or formal warnings.”

However, Danielson calls upon evaluators to rate lesson plans, and to judge how well a lesson plan “indicates correspondence between assessments and instruction.” This has led many principals to require particular lesson plan formats from teachers and to assess teachers on how well their written plans conform to suggested curriculum for state tests. The NCYDOE asserts that the imposition of the new evaluation by New York State Commissioner King renders the contract language on lesson plans obsolete, while the union disagrees.

As of this writing, the UFT and Education Department are in arbitration over this.
Starting next year student surveys of teacher performance will also count as a percentage of our evaluations. I am part of MORE (Movement of Rank and File Educators), a caucus within the UFT. MORE has objected that student evaluations of teachers, if included as part of teachers’ official job ratings, will encourage “grade-inflation and a lack of discipline.” Making students official evaluators of teachers in this way “poisons the relationships between teachers and students, who now in addition to their test scores bear even more responsibility for the future of their teachers’ careers.”

With these changes, as MORE has put it, teaching may “be reduced to a series of mechanical steps. Even the most skilled and veteran teacher, one whose experience informs their teaching style, will be forced to ignore their professional judgment when it conflicts with a supposedly ‘objective’ observation rubric.’” The new system will “pressure teachers to enforce a more narrow, lock-step curriculum.”32

Diane Ravitch observes that the evaluation system “will certainly produce an intense focus on teaching to the tests. It will also profoundly demoralize teachers, as they realize that they have lost their professional autonomy and will be measured according to precise behaviors and actions that have nothing to do with their own definition of good teaching.” She goes on to say, “Evaluators will come armed with elaborate rubrics identifying precisely what teachers must do and how they must act, if they want to be successful.” Furthermore, school districts will have to “hire thousands of independent evaluators, as well as create much additional paperwork for principals. Already stressed school budgets will be squeezed further to meet the pact’s demands for monitoring and reporting.”33

The new evaluation system also feeds into the dynamic described by Braverman where “a structure is given to all labor processes that at its extremes polarizes those whose time is infinitely valuable and those whose time is worth almost nothing. This might even be called the general law of the capitalist division of labor.”34

Under the new evaluation system, top scorers will be ranked from “Model teachers,” up to “Teacher leaders,” to the highest grade “Master Teacher.” Model Teachers may be asked to “model lessons for other teachers.” Master Teachers may have an “increased role in school improvement programs, curriculum development, inquiry teams, etc”; may be asked to “Mentor/coach developing or ineffective teachers”; and may be “Trained to assess teacher performance using new evaluation tools” or to “Provide formative or, if agreed, summative assessments of peers.”35 This divides teachers by creating what are essentially new layers of management among them.

As for those whose “time is worth nothing,” the Ed Deformers have not just made it harder for teachers to win appeals of unsatisfactory ratings, but they have also created a floating “Absent Teacher Reserve” made up of excessed teachers. Any teacher can appeal their rating and take it to the chancellor. Under the new evaluation system 13 percent of all the ineffective ratings system-wide can be appealed to a neutral body. These 13 percent will be chosen by the UFT, and will only be appealed if harassment or other factors outside job performance have played a role.36

Also, under the old system, teachers who were rated with a “U” could decide whether or not have an outside evaluator examine their performance as part of appealing their “U” rating. These evaluators were known to generally uphold “U” ratings, but teachers could simply choose not to include this evaluation process as part of their appeal. This kept the burden of proving teacher incompetence on the DOE. Under the new system, outside evaluators are mandatory for teachers rated “ineffective” two years in a row. Therefore, the burden has been shifted more onto teacher, to prove they are not incompetent.

Furthermore, before 2005 excessed teachers had the right to be placed in a vacancy within the same district based on seniority within their license area. Our 2005 contract ended the right of teachers to transfer and gave principals the power to decide which teachers may transfer into their schools. Subsequently, when schools are closed, many staff members get thrown into the “Absent Teacher Reserve.” Members of this literal reserve army of labor rotate from school to school weekly to cover classes of absent teachers. These teachers are treated as unskilled help. Changes in the structure of school funding under Bloomberg also incentivized principals to hire newer teachers who are lower on the pay scale, instead of veteran teachers with seniority.

New technology is also part of the Taylorist drive to dictate teachers’ tasks. As Jeff Faux of the Economic Policy Institute sees it: “These ‘data-driven’ investors are not so much interested in students’ scores, as in the opportunities to cut costs by using online technology. Ironically, while reformers insist their goal is to develop more skilled teachers, a goal of their financier allies is to get rid of them. The central question, says education entrepreneur John Katzman is ‘How do we use technology so that we require fewer qualified teachers?’”37 A great deal of educational “philanthropy” flows from sources such as the Gates Foundation that are connected to corporations that profit as states adopt new standardized curricular materials and assessment systems, most of which are tied to computer technology.38

Marx describes how capitalist firms seeking to increase productivity are driven to replace what he called direct “living labor” (labor performed by the worker) with “dead labor” (labor embodied in new machinery produced previously—in this case workers who made the hardware and software involved in computerized curriculum and tests). Braverman elaborated how scientific-technical innovation under capitalism does not seek neutral efficiency, but is designed to overwhelm and dominate workers, to enforce a series of simplified tasks, in order to “incorporate ever smaller quantities of labor time into ever greater quantities of product.”

Technology is used to “cheapen the worker by decreasing [her/his] training and enlarging [her/his] output.”39

Along these lines, Diane Ravitch predicts that the next wave of deform is “online learning. We will hear that lessons can be delivered at less cost and with greater efficiency through online instruction. We will hear that teachers cost too much, that their pensions and healthcare are a public burden. We will be told that virtual schools can accomplish more while permitting a reduction of 30 percent or more in the teaching force.”40

New York State is a “Governing State” in the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC), which is developing computer-based CCSS tests. As part of its participation in the state’s Race to the Top agreement, New York City also agreed to add up to one hundred schools to the city’s “Innovation Zone” (or “I-Zone”), through which schools are experimenting with online learning and instruction among other technology-based techniques. The Race to the Top application also allocated funding to support as many as a dozen new online schools.

It is apparent that the efforts I am describing are aimed primarily at controlling teachers’ labor, which points to the practical limitations of actually replacing it with computers. Of course schools should adopt the latest technology. My own school, City-As-School High School, is in the I-zone and students and teachers have benefitted from the use of technology. In the hands of a skilled educator, technology can be a powerful tool. The question is not whether technology will be used, but how it will be used system-wide and for what.41

Conclusion: Our Working Conditions Are Our Students’ Learning Conditions
Unfortunately, UFT President Michael Mulgrew and the union’s current leadership have focused on negotiating details while accepting Ed Deform’s premise that the art of teaching can be broken down, quantified, and standardized. President Mulgrew and the leadership of the dominant UNITY caucus within the UFT:
  • Argue that the Danielson system is “professional and fair and is designed to help teachers improve their skills throughout their careers.”42
  • Assure us that some aspects of the evaluation system will be addressed in contract negotiations.
  • Assert that the NYCDOE is only interpreting Danielson as calling for evaluation of teachers based on lesson plans. Mulgrew and the UNITY leadership claim that this is not so. They are also backing targeted grievances on this issue.
  • Support the use of high-stakes tests and value added measure junk science as a legitimate factor in teacher evaluations. (They argue that it takes some power away from principals by providing “multiple measures” for evaluating teachers.)
  • Support the CCSS.
  • Support Mayoral Control.
  • Signed on to New York State’s Race to the Top application, with all of its Ed Deform requirements.
My caucus, MORE, was formed in the spring of 2012 by teachers concerned about the lack of democracy and rank-and-file participation in the union, about declining working conditions, and the leadership’s complicity in Ed Deform. We have pointed out, “A child who starts Kindergarten under this new regime will have been tested hundreds of times by the time they graduate from high school. Their curriculum will be little more than a regimen of test-taking strategies aimed at getting them to fill in what private testing companies consider the ‘correct’ bubble. The full learning experience that includes critical thinking, reasoning, researching, abstraction and civic engagement will be lost.”43

In addition to informing teachers in our UFT chapters about issues of importance; holding meetings, forums, get togethers, and protests around problems such as the evaluation system, the spread of standardized testing, abusive administrators, and the disappearance of black and Latino educators; and providing mutual aid and support for teachers where the current leadership has fallen short, MORE is working with parents and students.

In our newsletter and petitions (stuffed in teachers’ mailboxes across the city in September and again in January), at an October rally outside the union’s Delegate’s Assembly, and in resolutions we have introduced to the UFT, we have highlighted the common ground students and teachers share in opposing high-stakes testing and the evaluation system. On February 1, 2014 MORE teamed up with other grassroots organizations including Teachers Unite, Change the Stakes, and the NYC Student Union to hold a conference called “MORE than a score: Talking Back to Testing.” We attracted more than 150 parents, teachers, administrators, and students.

Workshops covered topics such as “High Stakes Testing 101,” “Stopping the Test-Fueled School to Prison Pipeline,” and “Portfolio Based Assessments in Our Schools.” One MORE-led session addressed ongoing efforts to secure a new union contract through drawing rank-and-file UFT members into dialogue and action. In April 2014, a small number of MORE members and other teachers organized with coworkers in their schools to take a stand as “teachers of conscience” and have refused to administer some tests. They are making a very public statement against the standardization of education and the accompanying degradation of our labor.
The UFT leadership, meanwhile, has focused its criticism on the lack of Common Core curricular materials that teachers would need to fully prepare students to improve their test scores. Michael Mulgrew and other UFT heads have called for a moratorium on consequences of test scores for teachers until these curricular materials are provided, along with professional development on how to use these materials to help students raise scores on the new tests. They have also voiced opposition to the new K–2 standardized tests.

I am sure that the only hope for slowing down Ed Deform lays in critical rank-and-file participation inside UFT structures combined with organizing that brings together teachers, students, and parents within and across school communities. There is also the possibility of uniting with other working people—both public workers and those who depend on public services—regarding the introduction of market-style Taylorist deforms across public services.

The recent formation of Public Workers United, a cross-union, rank-and-file grouping in New York City, suggests that finding common ground along these lines is possible. The permanent elimination of the Taylorist impulse in education, however, will only come with transition to a fundamentally different political economy.

  1. John Bellamy Foster describes this as: “Leadership in the twenty-first century corporate school reform movement—even preempting the role of government in this respect—has come from four big philanthropic foundations, headed by leading representatives of monopoly-finance, information and retail capital: (1) The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, (2) the Walton Family Foundation, (3) the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and (4) the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.” See Foster, “The Education and the Structural Crisis of Capital: The U.S. Case,” Monthly Review 63, no. 3 (July-August 2011): 6–37.
  2. Change The Stakes, “The Truth About High-Stakes Testing in New York City Public Schools,”
  3. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (New York: Vintage, 1977), 644.
  4. Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System (Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2010), 62.
  5. Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998), 45.
  6. Ibid, 57.
  7. Ibid, 59.
  8. Cited in ibid, 77–78.
  9. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, 81.
  10. New York State, “Race to the Top Application: Phase II,” June 10, 2010, 93,
  11. The Editors of Rethinking Schools, ”The Trouble with the Common Core,” Rethinking Schools 27, no.4 (Summer 2013),
  12. Charlotte Danielson, The Framework for Teaching (Princeton: New Jersey, 2013), 4.
  13. Cited in Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, 77-78.
  14. Ibid, 79.
  15. EngageNY, “Changes to the State Standards, Curricula, and Assessments,” April 22, 2013, 2,
  16. Ibid, 6.
  17. EngageNY, “CSS, APPR and DDI Workbook for Network Teams/Network Team Equivalents,” 3,
  18. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, 82.
  19. Cited in ibid, 82.
  20. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, 83; Taylor is cited on the same page.
  21. Katherine Zoepf, “City Hall Rally Protests Policy Of Firing Uncertified Teachers,” New York Times, August 28, 2003,
  22. Nate Raymond, “NYC Discriminated Against Black, Latino Teachers: Court,” Reuters, December 5, 2012.
  23. Center for Constitutional Rights, “Gulino v. The Board of Education of the City of New York and the New York State Education Department,”
  24. Finally, in December 2012, a U.S. judge ruled that the Board of Education had discriminated against black and Latino teachers by requiring them to pass a standardized test that wasn’t properly validated to become licensed, in violation of violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Unfortunately, the decision did not directly affect the newer version of the LAST that has been in place since 2000 (Raymond, “NYC Discriminated Against Black, Latino Teachers”). All the teachers in the class covered by the case had masters degrees, had passed content specialty exams, had completed required course work, and had received only satisfactory evaluations while working as city teachers, some for up to fifteen years (Center for Constitutional Rights, “Gulino v. The Board of Education of the City of New York and the New York State Education Department”).
  25. Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, 73.
  26. Ibid, 72–73.
  27. See the analysis of the NYS Race to the Top Application, in Carol Corbett Burris, “Are Half of New York’s Teachers Really ‘Not Effective?” (guest column for Valerie Strauss’s “The Answer Sheet”), Washington Post blog, December 7, 2011,
  28. The University of the State of New York Education Department, “State of New York Commissioner of Education, In the Matter of the Arbitration Proceeding Pursuant to Education Law 3012-c(2) (m) – between- NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION–and–UNITED FEDERATION OF TEACHERS–DETERMINATION AND ORDER–In the Matter of the Arbitration Proceeding Pursuant to Education Law 3012-c (2)(m) = between – New York City Department of Education, and Council of School Supervisors & Administrators,”
  29. Ibid; “New York Kids to To Be Put To the ’Tests’,” New York Post, March 20, 2012,
  30. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, 76–77.
  31. Danielson, The Framework for Teaching, 35.
  32. MORE (Movement of Rank and File Educators), “Does Michael Mulgrew Believe That Our Teachers’ Working Conditions Are Our Students’ Learning Conditions?,” February 3, 2013,
  33. Diane Ravitch, “No Student Left Untested,” New York Review of Books, February 21, 2012,
  34. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, 57–58.
  35. EngageNY, “Designing Career Ladder Programs for Teachers and Principals,” June 2013,
  36. Michael Mulgrew, “Mayor Doesn’t Get His Way,” New York Teacher, June 13, 2013,
  37. Jeff Faux, “Education Profiteering: Wall Street’s Next Big Thing?,” Huffington Post, September 28, 2012,
  38. At the same time, on a parallel track, traditional for-profit investments have also advanced. As one consultant put it to private investors in 2012 who were interested in for-profit education, “You start to see entire ecosystems of investment opportunity lining up.” Investment in for profit education shot up from $13 million in 2005 to $389 million in 2011. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and other heavy hitters are getting in on the action. Stephanie Simon, “Privatizing Public Schools: Big Firms Eyeing Profits From U.S. K-12 Market,” Reuters, August 2, 2012,
  39. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, 118, 81.
  40. Ravitch, The Life and Death of the Great American School System, 283.
  41. There are also concerns about student privacy. Reuters has reported that nine states, including New York, planned to give confidential student data to in-Bloom, Inc., a Gates Foundation-funded corporation, so that this information could be shared with for-profit vendors. InBloom, Inc. reported that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information storedor that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted” (cited in “Protect Illinois Students’ Privacy,” MORE objected that, “The consolidation of test and other data, combined with the junk science of VAM-based evaluations, will make teachers even more vulnerable to digital surveillance, micromanagement, absurd and wasteful mandates, harassment and abuse” (“Our Children’s Privacy For Sale,” March 14, 2013,
  42. Michael Mulgrew, “President Mulgrew’s Member Letter On the New Evaluation Plan for Teachers,” June 1, 2013,
  43. MORE (Movement of Rank and File Educators), “Does Michael Mulgrew Believe that Our Teachers’ Working Conditions Are Our Students’ Learning Conditions?,” February 3, 2013,

1 comment:

Sean Ahern said...

Congrats on publication of your article. Good description of what is going on and good job connecting the dots between standardization, value added assessment, deskilling of teachers with the corporate deform. Very clear jargon free writing. Thanks for this, but I think your reliance on Braverman leads us away from considering how we got to this point and how we might turn the tables.

I read Monopoly Capital over 20 years ago and can't even find my old copy but I recall that I thought at the time that Braverman romanticized craft production a bit and never paid much attention to how monopoly capitalists established political hegemony in the second half of the 19th century.

His focus on changes at the point of production was an important contribution but what other factors contributed to the defeat of the Homestead strikers in 1892 and more generally, blocked the working class from becoming a class for itself after the Civil War and Reconstruction, NLU, 8 hour movement, Populism? Was 1892 really the most significant defeat here? I was much more drawn to the explanation offered by of Theodore Allen on the role of white supremacy in US history.

Similarly today, yes the corporate reform aims at the deskilling and transformation of work in the consciousness industry for control and profit, just as was done with steel production but what is the political economic context that has concentrated wealth and power to an unprecedented degree in the past 40 years and has turned back the clock on positive reforms made in curriculum and school governance as a result of the civil rights and Black liberation movements, anti war, student movements, opening of higher ed to working class students, etc.

With regards to education prior to the corporate reform, I don't think we want to characterize it as primarily teacher directed, because it wasn't. Even in the 19th century curriculum was determined by what was in the "primers" and textbooks. In the early 20th century the factory model for schooling was already in place. Way back then Dewey raised up the model of student centered education in opposition and was forced out of Chicago before WWI. The best reforms we can point to prior to the corporate deform came from the mass struggles of the 60's and 70's. How the Unity Caucus came to be a leading opponent of many of these and divided the membership from the communities we serve is in my view the starting point for understanding the rise of neo liberalism and the corporate ed deform and how to fight back.