Are for profit cyber charters run from Lima Peru really what’s best for education

From Education Week

by Diane Ravitch

The next big idea in “education reform” is online instruction and cyber charters. I know that teachers are doing wonderful, creative activities with technology, and there is no doubt that technology can bring history, science, and other studies to life in vivid ways. But there is a cloud on the horizon, and that is the growth of the for-profit cyber charters. I confess that it troubles me to think of children sitting at home, day after day, with no opportunity for discussion and debate, no interaction with their peers, no face-to-face encounters with a real teacher.

I recently read several shocking articles that have reinforced my concern about for-profit companies that provide virtual schooling. One must-read is Lee Fang’s remarkable investigative article, titled “How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools.” It is a chilling account of a well-developed campaign to persuade state legislatures to endorse for-profit virtual schools. Led by Patricia Levesque, an experienced lobbyist who works for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the campaign has scored notable successes in the past year, promoting for-profit virtual charter schools.

Lee Fang seems to have sat in the back row of many a “reform” meeting, quietly taking notes. At a conference last fall in San Francisco, he reports, Levesque recommended that “reformers should ‘spread’ the unions thin ‘by playing offense’ with decoy legislation. Levesque said she planned to sponsor a series of statewide reforms, like allowing taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools by overturning the so-called Blaine Amendment, ‘even if it doesn’t pass … to keep them busy on that front.’ She also advised paycheck protection, a union-busting scheme, as well as a state-provided insurance program to encourage teachers to leave the union and a transparency law to force teachers unions to show additional information to the public. Needling the labor unions with all these bills, Levesque said, allows certain charter bills to fly ‘under the radar.'”

So, while the unions are fighting to stave off attacks, the virtual charter industry steadily moves forward, almost unnoticed. See also Dana Goldstein’s description of the for-profit charter industry. In Michigan, 80 percent of charters are run by for-profit companies.

What kind of record do these virtual charters (cyber charters) have? Not a very good one. Walt Gardner blogged about these issues last week. He sees this movement as “the stealth campaign to privatize education.” Gardner says there is no evidence to support the claim that students learn more by technology than in the traditional classroom.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal (“My Teacher Is an App”) said that full-time enrollment in cyber charters has grown nationally in the past two years from 175,000 to 250,000 students. It cited a study by the Colorado Department of Education showing that students in cyber charters had lower scores than those in traditional public schools, in reading, writing, and math, in every grade tested.

But, despite evidence that students do worse in cyber schools, for-profit entrepreneurs are vigorously lobbying state legislatures to permit for-profit virtual schools. A recent article in The Washington Post detailed their efforts and included a review of the poor performance of cyber charters, such as “At the Colorado Virtual Academy, which is managed by K12 and has more than 5,000 students, the on-time graduation rate was 12 percent in 2010, compared with 72 percent statewide. That same year, K12’s Ohio Virtual Academy—whose enrollment tops 9,000—had a 30 percent on-time graduation rate, compared with a state average of 78 percent.” But details like these don’t seem to have slowed their momentum. In Idaho, online companies supported the campaign of state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, who is a strong supporter of virtual instruction.

In Tennessee, one legislator pushed back. Representative Mike Stewart wrote to his colleagues to oppose for-profit virtual schools. He noted that the chief executive officer of the largest chain was paid $2.4 million each year and other executives also made outsize salaries. The promise of the cyber charter to the state, he said, was the prospect of saving money. The virtual charters do not have physical buildings or libraries or ball fields or janitors or nurses. They have class sizes of 50 students per teacher, instead of the 15.7 per teacher in Tennessee’s regular schools. But, he said, the “savings” turn into profits for the company and its shareholders, not returns to the state.

Stewart’s appeal to the Tennessee legislature failed. The legislature authorized for-profit cyber schools, and in addition, it banned teacher collective bargaining, eliminated tenure for future teachers, and removed local oversight of charter schools. Public school teachers have certainly gotten their comeuppance in Tennessee, and the private sector has been unleashed.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with businesses making a profit when they offer value for goods and services. But there is something about this for-profit education industry that feels unseemly. I find myself uncomfortable about the very idea of making a profit by providing public education. Isn’t it—or shouldn’t it be—a basic public service available to all at public expense? Shouldn’t all the money go directly into improving education rather than paying exorbitant salaries and making money for shareholders?

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2011/11/should_schools_be_run_for_prof.html?

Jeb Bush seeks to avoid responsibility… again

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Make no mistake. FCAT is Jeb Bush’s baby. He, in fact, has staked his entire reputation on them. It is FCAT which is the basis for the school grade model he touts when he speaks to legislatures all over the country and is one which he believes should replace NCLB’s flawed, rigid guidelines. His foundation has naturally come out in opposition to changes in the way FCAT scores are utilized.

That is hard to swallow given the “college remediation issue,” said Mary Laura Bragg, director of state policy for former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Bragg, who used to run the education department’s reading initiative, was on the panel with Vogel but did not agree with its recommendation on the three tests in question.

Emphasis mine.

Bragg, like her boss, apparently see FCAT as the only benchmark that measures success in Florida’s students. The frightening increase in the numbers of college freshmen who needs some sort of remediation in reading, writing or math occurred on their watch. Her answer defines insanity downward as she – and by association, Bush – insist upon doing the same thing in hopes of getting different results.

But battle lines have clearly been drawn. The state’s educators and school boards want changes in the role FCAT plays in school grades. Bush’s foundation and the Florida Chamber of Commerce want more of the same. The invisible elephant in the room is corporate giant Pearson, whose very existence depends on the sanctity of Bush’s FCAT. Any chinks in the FCAT armour could start a wave of justifiable discontent for standardized testing that neither Pearson nor Bush want. At some point Florida voters will begin to realize that the dollar dots are connected.

http://bobsidlethoughtsandmusings.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/jeb-bush-dodges-accountability-for-floridas-poor-remediation-rate-but-wants-more-fcat/

Why do teachers leave? Here is a hint it’s not the salary

From the blog All Things Education

by Rachel Levy

As some of you know, I am starting to look for, ahem, a job, including positions that would put me back in the classroom. The position of “unpaid writer” isn’t exactly putting food on the table and I’m starting to feel antsy writing so much about education without actually doing much about education. Reading over and updating my teaching resume, I am reminded of former students, colleagues, schools, and yes, curriculum. I am reminded of how much I enjoy teaching, for teaching itself but also for the content I got to ponder. I graduated at the top of my class in high school and went to an elite college. I’m “the type” many education reformers talk of attracting to teaching and, initially, attracted I was, but given what teaching has become in many cases, I am somewhat reluctant to go back.

The first reason is the working conditions. While I agree teachers are underpaid and I appreciate Secretary Duncan’s strident acknowledgement of this, I would do the work at the current salaries if the working conditions made the job more manageable: if I knew classes would be reasonably and appropriately sized; if I were given adequate time for planning, development, collaboration, and frankly, bathroom breaks; and if I knew the school where I might work would be fully staffed with content teachers, a librarian, a nurse, a social worker, enough administrators, etc. If I knew I could do an adequate job in a 40-hour week (obviously, it would be more some weeks and a bit less during others and yes, the work would always be on my mind), I might never have taken the break I did in the first place. I can’t work the punishing hours because I have my own children to raise. And I’m in favor to the idea of changing compensation systems to reflect the different roles and demands of different teaching jobs. If there are teachers out there who have the space in their life and desire to take on more work and responsibilities than I can, I think they should be paid more. I would be happy to take on a lesser teaching position for less money than a harder working colleague if it meant I could be in the classroom again and still be the parent I want to be. Unfortunately, it became clear to me that I had to choose.

Second of all, I was attracted to teaching because it’s intellectual, interesting, stimulating, creative, and socially useful. Well, at least it should be. As Diana Senechal put it in this comment:

The McKinsey researchers examined teacher recruitment and retention in Singapore, Finland, and South Korea. They found many factors that make teaching an attractive profession in those countries: salary, job security, autonomy and trust, cultural respect, and more. Given their own findings, it’s odd that they or anyone would conclude that financial incentives should reign supreme. And there were things they should have investigated but didn’t–for instance, the intellectual and spiritual appeal of the profession.
Look at the talented people in professions where the pay is decent but not stellar–the arts, humanities, teaching, scholarship, nonprofits, journalism, and more. What brings people to these professions? Not incompetence, but interest. The work has substance.
But when the substance is driven out, when the work turns into busywork, people turn to professions that offer the combination of qualities that they seek.
Yes, the work has substance. Or it did. Or it should. Of course teaching is going to have some busy work–all jobs do. Sometimes I even look forward to the busy work as it gives me a break from the harder tasks of thinking, evaluating, planning. Of course, there are going to be some tasks I enjoy more than others. Reading up on the Bubonic Plague, planning how my students will learn about it for a world history class, and then assessing what the students have learned counts as enjoyable. Figuring out how to teach the standardized reading test to my world history students and doing a technocratic version of reading tea leaves, i.e., charting who got the “main idea” and “context clues” questions wrong on said standardized tests is not. And when the job starts to become mostly useless, fruitless busy work and mostly teaching vapid curriculum, that’s when I’d rather work as a self-employed, unpaid writer and blogger or work at something less demanding that would still save time and energy for writing.

As Nancy Flanagan put it in her typically thoughtful way,

Good teaching is not about classroom rules, cute videos, raising test scores, cool field experiences or unions. It’s about relationships, mastery, analysis, persistence, diagnosis and continuous reflection. It’s complex, layered intellectual work. And it happens in hundreds of thousands of “regular” classrooms, every day.
Yes, it’s complex, layered, challenging, and intellectual work with so many decisions to make at almost every turn. This is primarily why I want to do it. Okay, so the pay isn’t great, but when you take away the substance of it, I no longer even enjoy the work and I don’t want to do it. I’d rather do something mindless (wait tables, bar tend, or be someone’s personal assistant) where I won’t have to go against my principles.

As teacher James Boutin describes here (and again here), at some point in my teaching career, I began to feel like a bureaucrat:

During a visit I made to a private school in Denver last November, one of the teachers there confided in me that he moved out of public education because he didn’t want to be a bureaucrat. The comment struck me. I’d never thought of myself as a bureaucrat before, but he’s right – I am.
Yes, there’s certainly more room for me to be more data-informed and consider the values of a technocratic approach. But if that’s what I wanted to do, I’d go be a bureaucrat or a technocrat. If I wanted to teach test prep, I’d go work for Kaplan. That’s not what I see as the primary role of a classroom teacher. As James further demonstrates in this must-read series, the data-driven dimension of teaching has gotten out of hand and has become a huge waste of time and resources for educators and students alike. Moreover, as I was engaged in it and was forced to make ill-advised curricular choices, I realized that such tasks weren’t helping my students learn or improving my teaching, but were fueling political point-scoring and sustaining the education reform industry.

So thanks, Arne Duncan, for saying teachers should be paid more and thanks for your attempts at debunking flawed research that states otherwise. For a next step, consider advocating against acceptance of the “new normal” that translates to terrible working conditions for teachers and principals and terrible learning conditions for students. And then consider how you’re going to attract more serious college and graduate school students to the profession if the work you’re asking them to do lacks substance and insults their intelligence and, eventually, expertise. Finally, consider that if the most educated among us don’t want to do to the work because it’s bankrupt of creativity, intellectual exercise, meaning, and substance, then the education our students are going to be getting will hardly be rich, meaningful, and relevant. Think about how many of our best and brightest would rather get paid poverty wages working as adjunct professors and journalists than teach in the classrooms your and your predecessors’ policies are molding.

Perhaps this isn’t the best post to put out there as I apply for teaching jobs, but then again, I’m not going to lie or pretend. I’m going to do my best to be a team player and to be open to the advantages of a more quantitatively- or data-based approach to teaching. But I’m not going to give up my principles or knowingly engage in educational malpractice. Frankly, I’d rather scrub floors.

http://allthingsedu.blogspot.com/2011/11/its-substance-stress-not-salary-stupid.html

Duval County’s Priority One? Keep black kids down

You would think the “priority one” in the Duval County school system would be to provide a first class education to all of our students. Nope, the poorly named priority one is instead designed to make sure students in magnet school neighborhoods have the first choice to attend those schools. Since most of our magnet schools are in the city’s poorer neighborhoods, this option is at best a bit disingenuous on the part of our school system. At its worst, it is part of the systematic dumbing down of our minority children doomingt hem to a life filled with struggle and without opportunity.

They offered a choice they knew few would take advantage of. If kids are struggling at Raines and Jackson what chance do you think they would have at Paxon or Stanton? The correct answer is they would have two chances: slim and none. Magnet schools, and whether you think they have a role or not, have been a pox on our urban schools, they siphon many of the best students and motivated parents out, leaving the schools ripe for dismantling at the hands of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. A law that has done damage to our urban schools that the state is seeking to get out of.

Look at the state’s waiver to get out of No Child Left Behind. The draconian measures have already gutted many urban schools, paving the way for charter schools of dubious quality and instead of fixing the problems at the schools; they deprive the schools of funds by sending the students away on opportunity scholarships. The students that then remain are taught by micromanaged, over burdened, and often inexperienced teachers.

What is the district’s solution to at least put veteran teachers in those schools? They have two. One, throw a few dollars at the problem by trying to bribe veteran teachers to go to them, something few do and to contract with Teach for America to bring in a hundred teachers whose sole education background is a two-week access course. The district’s own study said one of the problems in our urban schools is too many inexperienced teachers, which makes the district’s solution to add more inexperienced teachers even more confusing, unless it is part of an overall plan. By the way, very few Teach for America teachers stick around for more than two years meaning they will constantly have to be replaced, thus continuing the cycle of novice teachers in our hardest classrooms.

The reason the state is now filing for a NCLB waiver has nothing to do with helping our urban schools. It has everything to do with stopping what happened to our struggling schools from happening to our affluent schools. The legislature knows that the ever-increasing requirements of NCLB are about to give suburbia a kick in the gut, so the state decided to put a stop to it. The powers-that-be say we can’t have our white students being shuffled off to charter schools of dubious quality, besides we all know that most charter schools are for poor black kids anyway. Though are they going to back up and put the proper resources into out struggling schools? Nope this summer they are going to take them over because our district has no idea what it is doing.

Speaking of charter schools, which cater mostly to poor minority students, look at the KIPP School. The KIPP School had the worst grade on the FCAT in Northeast Florida; in fact its children regressed. What does the district do? Ask for more oversight? A plan for improvement? No. It allows them to open up two more schools. Waiting to see if the first school is ever a success was too much to ask apparently. They said, lets double, no triple down and push away more of our poor black kids. In KIPP Schools defense, where their track record is dubious at least they aren’t a for profit operation more concerned with the bottom line than how our children do. I wonder how many of their teachers are new or stick around?

Instead of working to improve our struggling schools, to help our minority children all the state and district do is put more obstacles in their way. Do you know what the difference in curriculum is between the most motivated student at Stanton and a marginally interested student, who lives with his grandmother, who wants to drive a truck, that goes to Ribault is? The answer there is none. Well, make that the student at Stanton is getting the education he wants to get while the one at Ribault is forced to muddle through school taking classes that he isn’t interested in, in a one-size-fits-all system.

The state ignores poverty saying it is an excuse, well look where all the schools that have been taken over, or are in danger of being taken over reside. There isn’t a school in Mandarin or at the beach in danger where neighborhoods are doing a little better is there? No they are all located in the depressed North side and West sides of town. Poverty, by the way, is the number one quantifiable measurement in education; those students that live in it as a group does worse than those that don’t. But that’s not to say we should just throw our hands up and quit and dismantle the schools and ship the students out, something the state and district seem to want. The state, so its friends can make money off the privatization movement, and the district because they don’t have a clue as to what to do.

There are common sense solutions that don’t break the bank or reinvent the wheel, and don’t wreck neighborhoods in the process. We should have discipline and rigorous classes. We do students no favors when we pass them along without discipline, or a work ethic, or the basic knowledge that they need. If we provided legitimate after school and summer school opportunities we could catch the kids up to where they should be. We could make the schedules more manageable (8 classes at a time, really) and make school more enjoyable to kids by making sure each student had a least one elective on their schedule that is more meaningful to them by putting, trade, skill and arts opportunities in the schools.

Priority one should be fixing these schools not figuring out how white kids can make it to Stanton and Paxon, and it can be done, all that is stopping it is the will, leadership, and a district and state that are more interested in hamstringing these children just as their lives are beginning.

A teacher laments, I don’t have time to care about my students

This was sent to me in an e-mail. -cpg

“One thing parents need to understand is we do value our students and want the best for them. However, it’s often that are hands are tied by the districts non sensical policies that makes it look like we don’t have our students best interests at heart.

I can’t teach what I know my students need. I have to teach exactly what my other fellow teachers are teaching on the same day and the same way, which is ridiculous…not all kids are the same… and you can sometimes get your point across in better ways.

Trust me I am not in this for the paycheck… as it hasn’t been growing in a few years and in fact this year shrank… but the amount of workload I have OUTSIDE of teaching has grown… I should post a photo of my CAST evaluation notebook I have to keep with tons of data and the like… it’s ridiculous…

I have to work extra hours before and after school just to keep up with it all. I RARELY have time to call parents and grade papers which to me is far more important than all the other work put on us.”

Duval County School’s bussiness model

The superintendent is having the district follow a business model. He wants to make sure the numbers look good no matter how empty they are. Hey the grad rate is up, which is great even if we have to ignore the fact that kids cant read and have to take remedial classes at FSCJ. We’re keeping referrals down which is awesome even if it means disipline is gone and people leave the system or place their kids in charter or private schools. Nobody fails either, why would they when we can just pass them along and out. And to complete the model the district treats it’s employees like yoked mules, well the ones it doesn’t treat like easily replaceable cogs that is.

Yep that’s the business model the district employs.

Duval County’s Priority One? Keep black kids down (rough draft)

You would think priority one in the Duval County school system would be to provide a first class education to all of our students. Nope, the poorly named priority one is instead designed to make sure kids in magnet schools neighborhoods have first choice to attend those schools. Since most of our magnet schools are in the cities poorer neighborhoods this option is at best a bit disingenuous on the part of our school system. At worse it is part of the systematic dumbing down of our minority children dooming them to a life filled with struggle and without opportunity.

They offered a choice they knew few would take advantage of. If kids are struggling at Raines and Jackson what chance do you think they would have at Paxon or Stanton? The correct answer is they would have two chances of course, slim and none. Magnet schools and whether you think they have a role or not, have been a pox on our urban schools, they siphon out many of the best students and motivated parents leaving the schools ripe for dismantling at the hands of No Child Left Behind law. A law now that is has done its damage to our urban schools the state is seeking to get out of.

Look at the states waiver to get out of No Child Left Behind. The draconian measures have already gutted many urban schools, paving the way for charter schools of dubious quality and instead of fixing the problems at the schools; they deprive the schools of funds by sending the kids away on opportunity scholarships. The students that then remain are taught by micromanaged, over burdened and often rookie teachers.

What is the districts solution to at least put veteran teachers in those schools? They have two, one, throw a few dollars at the problem by trying to bribe veteran teachers to go to them something few do and to contract with Teach for America to bring in a hundred teachers whose sole education background is a two week access course. The districts own study said one of the problems in our urban schools is to many inexperienced teachers, which makes the districts solution is to add more even more confusing, unless it is part of an overall plan. By the way very few teach for America teachers stick around for more than two years meaning they will constantly have to be replaced continuing the cycle of novice teachers in our hardest classrooms.

The reason the state is now filing for a NCLB waiver has nothing to do with helping our urban schools by the way. It has everything to do with stopping what happened to our struggling schools from happening to our affluent schools. The legislature knows that they ever increasing requirements of NCLB are about to give suburbia a kick in the gut, so the state decided to put a stop to it. The powers-that-be say, we can’t have our white kids being shuffled off to Charter schools of dubious quality, besides we all know that most charter schools are for poor black kids anyways. Though are they going to back up and put the proper resources into out struggling schools? Nope this summer they are going to take them over because our district has no idea what it is doing.

Speaking of charter schools, which cater mostly to poor minority students look at the KIPP School. The KIPP School had the worse grade on the FCAT in Northeast Florida in fact its children regressed. What does the district do? Ask for more over sight, a plan for improvement? No it allows them to open up two more schools. Waiting to see if the first school is ever a success was too much to ask apparently. They said, lets double, no triple down and push away more of our poor black kids. In KIPP schools defense, where their track record is dubious at least they aren’t a for profit operation more concerned with the bottom line than how our children do. I wonder how many of their teachers are new or stick around?

Instead of working to improve our struggling schools, to help our minority children all the state and district does is put more obstacles in their way. Do you know what the difference in curriculum is between the most motivated kid at Stanton is and a marginally interested kid, who lives with his grandmother, who wants to drive a truck, that goes to Ribault is? The answer there is none. Well make that the kid at Stanton is getting the education he wants to get while the kid at Ribault is forced to muddle through school taking classes that he isn’t interested in, in a one size fits all system.

The state ignores poverty saying it is an excuse well look where all the schools that have been taken over or are in danger of being taken over reside. There isn’t a school in Mandarin or at the beach in danger where neighborhoods are doing a little better is there? No they are all located in the depressed North side and West sides of town. Poverty by the way is the number one quantifiable measurement in education; those kids that live in it as a group does worse than those kids that don’t. But that’s not to say we should just throw our hands up and quit and dismantle the schools and ship the kids out, something the state and district seem to want. The state so it’s friends can make money off the privatization movement and the district because they don’t have a clue as to what to do.

There are common sense solutions that don’t break the bank or reinvent the wheel, and don’t wreck neighborhoods in the process. We should have disciplined and rigorous classes. We do kids no favor when we pass kids along with discipline, a work ethic or the basic knowledge that they need. If we provided legitimate after school and summer school opportunities we could catch the kids up to where they should be. We could make the schedules more manageable (8 classes at a time, really) and make school more enjoyable to kids by making sure each student had a least one elective on their schedule and more meaningful to kids by putting, trade, skill and arts opportunities in the schools.

Priority one should be fixing these schools and it can be done, all that is stopping it is the will, leadership and a district and state that are more interested in hamstringing these children just as their lives are beginning.

10 reasons to stay out of the teaching profession

From Teacherbad.com

by Mr. Teacherbad

Ladies and Gentlemen–

I may have just dis­tilled the entire blog down to 10 talk­ing points. See what you think.

10) Object of wide­spread pub­lic scorn

9) Dig­nity offered up as a sac­ri­fice to unholy lovechild of Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee

Lazy, whiny, stu­pid, absent and/or unpre­pared stu­dents (Turns out this is now your fault.)

7) Need to use the bath­room? Great!! Your plan­ning period is in two hours.

6) Lazy, whiny, stu­pid, absent and/or unpre­pared par­ents (That’s right — also your fault.)

5) 28-year old vice principals

4) Ram­pant fetishism of rubrics and low-quality data

3) In ironic twist, teach­ing no longer requires higher order think­ing (banned in some states)

2) Com­pul­sory atten­dance at most ridicu­lous, unnec­es­sary meet­ings on planet

1) Work with chil­dren and be treated like one, too!

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

Hugs,

Mr. Teach­bad

http://teachbad.com/2011/11/28/top-10-reasons-you-may-not-want-to-teach/

Florida’s college students rally against Rick Scott

From ABCActionnews.com

by: Kristal Roberts

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Students from seven Florida universities are joining forces to rally against what they’re calling, an “attack on higher education”.

Supporters from University of South Florida, USF St. Pete campus, UF, UCF, FIU, FAU and FSU will gather at the University of Florida December 1 to urge Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature to stop the attacks, according to a media release from the group.

“Along with the Florida Legislature, Gov Scott has taken aim at students through countless bills. The tuition of all state universities is poised to rise 15 percent each year for up to a decade,” the release states.

It goes on to say that the state academic scholarship, Bright Futures, is covering less per credit each year, and the program could lose funding all together.

“This attack on public education comes within the context of an economic downturn affecting hard working middle class Floridian families.”

The meeting will be held at 1:30 in Turlington Plaza on the University of Florida campus.

Read more: http://www.abcactionnews.com/dpp/news/state/florida-college-students-rallying-against-rick-scott’s-%22attack-on-higher-education%22#ixzz1f2GN9e4k

Principals against using standardized tests to evaluate teachers

From the New York Times

by Michael Winerip

Through the years there have been many bitter teacher strikes and too many student protests to count. But a principals’ revolt?

“Principals don’t revolt,” said Bernard Kaplan of Great Neck North High School on Long Island, who has been one for 20 years. “Principals want to go along with the system and do what they’re told.”

But President Obama and his signature education program, Race to the Top, along with John B. King Jr., the New York State commissioner of education, deserve credit for spurring what is believed to be the first principals’ revolt in history.

As of last night, 658 principals around the state had signed a letter — 488 of them from Long Island, where the insurrection began — protesting the use of students’ test scores to evaluate teachers’ and principals’ performance.

Their complaints are many: the evaluation system was put together in slapdash fashion, with no pilot program; there are test scores to evaluate only fourth-through-eighth-grade English and math teachers; and New York tests are so unreliable that they had to be rescaled radically last year, with proficiency rates in math and English dropping 25 percentage points overnight.

Mr. Kaplan, who runs one of the highest-achieving schools in the state, has been evaluating teachers since the education commissioner was a teenager. No matter. He is required by Nassau County officials to attend 10 training sessions, as is Carol Burris, the principal of South Side High School here, who was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State.

“It’s education by humiliation,” Mr. Kaplan said. “I’ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.”

The trainers at these sessions, which are paid for by state and federal grants, have explained that they’re figuring out the new evaluation system as they go. To make the point, they’ve been showing a YouTube video with a fictional crew of mechanics who are having the time of their lives building an airplane in midair.

“It was supposed to be funny, but the room went silent,” Ms. Burris said. “These are people’s livelihoods we’re talking about.”

Last year New York was awarded $700 million as one of 11 states, along with the District of Columbia, to win a Race to the Top grant. The application process was chaotic, with Dr. King’s office making the deadline by just a few hours. To win a grant, states had to pledge to follow policy priorities of the Obama administration, like evaluating teachers by student test scores, even though there were no implementation plans yet.

New York committed to an evaluation process that is based 60 percent on principal observations and other subjective measures, and from 20 to 40 percent on state tests, depending on the local district.

In written responses to questions, Dr. King said while there are bugs in the system, “we are confident that as the state law on teacher evaluations phases in over the next couple of years, those educators charged with ensuring its successful implementation will do so professionally.”

Asked if he was surprised by the number of principals who had signed, he wrote, “It’s not at all surprising” that the introduction of a new evaluation system “would produce anxiety.”

Although testing is central to the education reform movement, the word “testing” is considered crude in elite education circles, and in a three-page response to questions, the commissioner never actually used the t-word. However, he did include multiple euphemisms like “data on the growth in student learning.”

“A significant body of research,” he wrote, “demonstrates that an educator’s past impact on student learning is a strong predictor of that educator’s future impact on student learning and a useful component of a fair, transparent, and rigorous multiple measures evaluation system.”

Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents, said that because of the new “scientific, objective” evaluation system, the public would see that teachers were being held to a rigorous standard and would not dislike them so much. “I’m seeing a much more positive focus about teaching, and I like that,” she said.

It is hard to overstate how angry the principals who signed are. Mario Fernandez, principal of Stillwater High School near Saratoga, called the evaluation process a product of “ludicrous, shallow thinking.”

“My gosh, it seems to be slapped together,” he said. “They’re expecting a tornado to go through a junkyard and have a brand new Mercedes pop up.”

Katie Zahedi, principal of Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook in Dutchess County. said the training session she attended was “two days of total nonsense.”

“I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations,” she said. “It takes your breath away it’s so awful.”

She said one good thing about the new evaluation system was that it had united teachers, principals and administrators in their contempt for the state education department.

Several interviewed said the most reliable way to evaluate teachers was to make 5-to-10-minute “walk through” visits to their classes several times a month. “My principal is frequently in my class, and that’s the way it should be,” said Marguerite Izzo, a fifth-grade teacher in Malverne, on Long Island, who was the 2007 state teacher of the year.

Ms. Izzo calls students up to her desk, one by one, every day to discuss their work. “It’s the same for children or teachers: immediate feedback is best, while it’s still fresh in their minds,” she said.

The principals’ letter was drafted last month by Ms. Burris and Sean Feeney of the Wheatley School. “We tried and tried to talk to the state, but they don’t listen to us,” Ms. Burris said.

In his responses, Dr. King wrote, “The principals do raise some legitimate concerns that we are carefully addressing.” But he also wrote, “The structure of the evaluation system — including the use of data on the growth in student learning — is set in state statute.” (Translation: Testing full speed ahead.)

About 300 principals out of 4,500 in the state had signed by early November, when Newsday wrote a front-page story about the letter. There has been steady growth since. Three-fourths of Long Island principals have placed their names on the list.

Outside of Long Island, Westchester County has the most principals on the letter, 31.

Only 18 out of 1,500 from New York City have signed. Ms. Burris is not sure if the principals are not aware, or if they fear retribution from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who is a big supporter of using data to calculate growth in student learning.