Is APPR a Public Health Hazard?

Is APPR a Public Health Hazard?

Even on a good day, our APPR system is heavily flawed. During a pandemic, it’s frankly a public health hazard. 

As all teachers who have worked in an NYC school anytime in the last decade knows well, lectures are out, and groupwork is in. Though we can debate the merits of forcing teachers to impose jarring ‘collaborative structures’ on their students (especially older students) on a daily basis, some amount of  student-student interaction is undoubtedly a good thing. But groupwork as envisioned by many of the APs writing our observations is almost impossible to do at a safe distance during an airborne pandemic. 

During the 2020-2021 school year, this problem presented itself, but with 6 feet of distance required between students, competent administrators had no choice but to be somewhat flexible with scoring. Enter the 2021-22 school year: New Action has received reports of teachers being mandated or ‘strongly encouraged’ to seat students facing each other in adjoined groups of four. Even with the DOE’s dubiously ‘generous’ interpretation of the CDC’s suspiciously halved ‘3 feet rule’, this sort of seating arrangement is a disaster waiting to happen. As teachers well know, students aren’t stationary. And groupwork in close quarters pushes students to get closer to each other for interaction.  Moreover, given that the DOE mandates students be facing away from each other when masks are off during meals, you’d think administrators wouldn’t de facto encourage the reverse. But with limited mask compliance, and with eating/drinking occurring throughout the day in most classrooms, this means that–realistically–some administrators are asking for precisely that.

Many students, a large fraction of whom are unvaccinated, are terrified of COVID. They don’t want to be put at further risk than they have to be. But, even when given this argument, administrators have reportedly doubled down on the packed group seating expectation. At least one school we know of that was pushing groupwork is currently under investigation to potentially close due to growing COVID-rates. An astute observer might think there’s a connection. Some New Action chapter leaders have pushed to get groupwork mandates thrown out. But the fact remains that our APPR system is written for a pre-pandemic era. Thus, even in schools with good union representation, teachers–especially probationary teachers–feel the carrot of higher scores on their observations and a better chance at tenure. Seat your students in densely packed groups and watch your MOTP scores soar from 1 or 2 to 3 or 4. 

Our current APPR system, at least as executed by some administrators, has therefore become a public health issue. Teachers shouldn’t have to choose between their observation scores and their students’ health. In districts like Los Angeles, where the union is strong, teachers don’t have to make that choice this year. Teachers in New York deserve the same. As part of its platform, United For Change–the coalition of caucuses (including New Action) running against Unity this year–supports dramatic reforms to both our observation system and our safety protocols. Remember to vote United for Change on your ballot in the next UFT election.

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