Why Does Commissioner John King Still Have A Job?

August 16, 2013

Smiling, soft spoken, treacherous John King
Smiling, soft spoken, treacherous John King

Despite their wrecking of the global economy and consequent creation of what looks more and more like a permanent recession, neo-liberals, corporatists, hedge fund managers and their supporters continue to babble on incessantly about the inherent superiority of private, as opposed to public, management, of efficacy and accountability, and “competing in the global economy.” What passes in the public sphere, they like to say and endlessly insinuate, would never stand in the “real world.” Moreover, such shabbiness as found in the public sector is ruining the country. Didn’t Condi Rice declare the public school system a “threat to our national security” at the Republican National Convention ? Isn’t such thinking implied in every syllable of Barack Obama’s Race To the Top ?

New York State Commissioner John King, like all “education reformers”, is a strong proponent of such lines of thought. Such thinking is, indeed, one of the reasons King and his confederates thought it was somehow a good thing that student’s test scores dropped 30% last year across the state.

King loves efficacy and accountability as much as he loves privately managed publicly funded charter schools and phony grass roots organizations like Students First and Educators 4 Excellence. What John King doesn’t seem to love are public schools and the teachers who teach there. This, despite the fact, as the top education official in New York State, his job is to insure their success; this despite his meteoric rise to the pinnacle of the New York State Public School system after a mere three years in the classroom, two of them in a charter school.

King’s new teacher evaluation plan recently imposed upon New York City and set to kick in in a couple of weeks, reveals such thinking about efficacy and accountability to be joke. Indeed, to be a very bad joke and one played on every teacher, principal, student and, ultimately, every community in the city.

Consider the following: as a result of educational policies completely dictated by billionaires and corporatists and imposed in policies like Barack Obama’s insidious Race to the Top, teacher evaluation schemes must now include (among many, many other things) standardized test scores of said teacher’s students.

This must be so even if there is no evidence anywhere that such tests actually improve the quality of education
This must be so even in the case of art, music, gym and speech teachers and others, where no such tests even exist.

No matter. Such teachers must be held accountable by standardized tests.

So what happens then? Does Dr. King say, perhaps we need to hold off on this evaluation thing until it is fair to all or, at the very least, exclude the teachers we have not yet created tests for?

Think again.

Will such teachers be rated as they have been rated before the obsession with standardized tests?

Surely you jest!

Will the state take no responsibility for the debacle they have foisted upon an entire system, and leave it to principals and teachers to lose their minds attempting to find some way to retain their ever more degrading and stress filled jobs?

Yep. Exactly.

Naturally, the state takes no responsibility at all, even when it places the livelihoods of teachers in serious jeopardy for a system that is as absurd as it is blatantly unfair.

But King and company are not without suggestions.

One suggestion is that such teachers be rated on the tests scores of other teachers.
( You read that correctly.)
Another is that they be rated on their work on students in displines they do not teach, such as math and English.

(These are not joke suggestions.)

There are thousands and thousands of such teachers.

And under the new system, if such teachers are rated badly on standardized tests they had nothing to do with, they will nonetheless be rated “ineffective.”

If they are rated “ineffective” two years in a row, they are fired and can no longer work as a teacher in the NYC Public school system. Their teaching careers are over.

Even if you accept (as I most definitely do not) the perverse and completely unproven notion that scores on standardized tests are a fair measure and reflection of student learning, no sane and responsible person could think of any new evaluation plan that includes such absurdities as anything but utterly irresponsible and unprofessional.
And the above, mind you, is merely the most obvious problem of this incomprehensible and incomplete scheme that a system serving a million children must now deal with on a daily basis.

Why the UFT not only went along with this disgrace but actually helped craft it and then insured it was passed into law is yet another kettle of decomposing fish. Their actions remain incomprehensible to me.

How is such a debacle possible? Why is it permissible to treat teachers with such open contempt and gross institutional injustice? Can you imagine the performance of a cop or fireman — or for that matter a hedge fund manager or a banker — being judged on the work of someone else?

Of course, not. Not in a million years. So why is this acceptable for teachers ? How is it even legal? Indeed, how was even legal for a figure like King to impose this on us ?

Part of this madness is due to the orchestrated sense of urgency, if not outright emergency, manufactured by the reformers as a political ploy to ram their idiotic ideas into policies before most people even know they exist. Consider the genesis and the tsunami like implementation of the Common Core State Standards. In this line of thinking, every moment not “reforming” education, closing schools and firing “bad teachers” is a moment in which we heartlessly condemn yet another generation of children to the hell of the achievement gap, un-ready for college and career, incapable of competing in the global economy.

Under such circumstances, as in war, extreme measures are called for, scream the reformers. Remember: Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus. Thus, as with all education reform schemes, policies are rushed into place as quickly as possible and in as large a scale as conceivable in a kind of “too big to fail” insurance policy, with as little discussion or public oversight as you can get away with. This “not a second to spare” approach, perfected by Geoffrey Canada, is practiced by both every three card Monty con artist and Ed reformer hustler from coast to coast.

The other explanation for so cruel and ridiculous a plan is that, just as the Common Core aligned tests were designed to insure mass student failure, this scheme is designed to fire as many teachers as possible with no regard whatsoever to fairness.

Hard to argue with that one.

Some questions: in what other profession would such craziness be permitted?
In what other profession are people’s careers — careers that requires years of schooling before you can even step into the classroom — considered so expendable?

More to the point of accountability and all that, what would happen to the leadership of any other organization that dared to present as reckless, half assed, and inequitable a plan as King has imposed upon an entire city ?

In short, giving the disaster-by-design test scores of last week and the disaster–by-design teacher evaluation that begins in two weeks, how does this man even have such a job and why are we as parents and educators standing for it?

7 Responses to “Why Does Commissioner John King Still Have A Job?”

  1. BM Says:

    It is not only Commissioner King who is to be faulted for the dismal state of educational affairs in NYS, nor is it primarily the unions. Further investigation will lead one to see that the NYSED is no longer being run by the certificated educators who are working (or recently retired from) there, but by the Regents Research Fellows who are not legally beholden to the Board of Regents, but only to Chancellor Tisch who signs their paychecks through her “foundation” that is funded by herself and her bazillionaire friends. They represent a shadow bureaucracy that owes its allegiance only to Tisch and her allies. Take a good look at the Fellows’ educational credentials, and you’ll see very little experience, outside of ties to TFA or various “reformist” organizations.

    For a more detailed analysis of the incestuous ties in the entire Common Core/reformist movement, you can also view this video:

  2. Your analysis is right on, Patrick. I would only add that King no doubt wanted the scores to be as low as possible because they are going to be used as a benchmark for future “progress,” which gets NYSED off the hook for future failures. As for how we respond, I think Diane Ravitch hit it on the head in an op-ed in the Daily News when the scores were released: parents should boycott the tests next year by pulling their kids out of school on test day. Teachers can make a difference by supporting that kind of movement.

    I also think that teachers and parents (and even principals) should be demanding that schools be given the option of substituting a portfolio-based assessment system that we control in place of the standardized tests. There was a precedent for this–the New York Consortium for Performance Assessment, which consisted of about a dozen NYC alternative high schools. They got a waiver from NYSED on the Regents exams and were allowed to substitute student-chosen projects for the exams. This would be revolutionary because it would undermine value added assessment, which requires universal compliance. This would have been pie in the sky before the Common Core fiasco, but in the wake of it we have a real opening.

  3. sympathy from MI- unions are hierarchies Says:

    Doing what they can to f it up and get rid of the professional educators (women) who are in the way. In your face… we want to do what we want… teachers need to get creative and fast.. show students democracy and action.. and DUMP THAT UFT from taking your money and selling you out.

    • patrickwalsh Says:

      Good morning Daisy,
      and thank you for writing. While I agree with your sentiments and share your anger with the UFT, it is my belief that unions — albeit, radically different kinds of unions than what we currently have — are essential which is why they’re spending so much money and time trying to destroy them or, in the case of the UFT, successfully convince them them to commit mass suicide.

      all the best,


  4. paulvhogan Says:

    What are the prospects of going around the union and approaching this through the court system via outside counsel ?

    • patrickwalsh Says:

      I think the prospects are very, very small. The union is our legal representative. On the other hand, if such a campaign began it might shame the UFT into action. But them we would be portrayed as union busters. We are in a nightmare situation.

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