Sixteen Tons: The New NYSED Teacher Assessments


Sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter don’t call me cause I can’t go, I sold my soul to the company store.

Well, Tennessee Ernie Ford may have been singing about coal miners in the classic country song Sixteen Tons, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t describe the situations New York Teachers are in with the new Professional Performance Review system rolled out by legislators, educrats, and the union this past week. The system is set up with nebulous metrics and algorithms, multiple scoring criterion (many of which are beyond teacher control), and unfinished mechanics and mechanisms so skeletal that even the representatives sent to explain the process are defeated by obvious and logical questions, leaving them no resort but to deploy a candid and shockingly honest “I wish I knew” or “I don’t know”.

The system, outlined in over 200 pages, with a six page summary claims to be fair due to it’s use of mathematical “value added” calculations and deployment of “student learning objectives” that are determined by high stakes test scores along with a bastardized and nigh misappropriated deployment of Charlotte Danielson’s professional development rubrics.

Those of you unfamiliar with rubrics should know that a rubric is a criterion based scoring device that denotes quality along a horizontal grid and domain across a vertical grid. For those of you unfamiliar with Danielson’s rubrics, they are arranged along a number of domains pertaining to a teacher’s effectiveness and are arranged by the quality line “Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, Ineffective” or HEDI. Rubrics are employed to allow for a transparency and standardizing of criterion for the gradations of achievement or quality in quantifiable venues such as marking papers or determining effectiveness. I have no issue with rubrics, they are a wonderful tool in executing equality and removing bias when properly utilized. Danielson’s rubrics are, theoretically, equally fair as they are backed up by numerous texts and studies authored by Danielson herself to provide for clarity of expectation on the parts of both the observed and the observer.


  1. The lines quoted at the beginning of the post constitute the chorus of “Sixteen Tons,” and refer to the peculair economic system that prevailed in many coal-mining towns back when the song was written. The miners weren’t paid in cash, but in “scrip.” Scrip was not legal tender, but could only be spent by the miners and their families at company stores — the coal companies operated the general stores in mining towns — or to pay the rent for the company-owned housing where they lived.

  2. Yes Ricky, you are absolutely right. Since te government owns me outright between employment and debt, and since they’ve stacked it so that manyike me will fail I felt it was an appropriate parallel. Tha is for reading!

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