Not waiting for Superpol

Not willing to wait for Superpol, “heartless” Rick Hess is backing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to curtail collective bargaining rights.

Just as I reject school reform built on the pursuit of millions of “superman” teachers, so I don’t trust the notion that everything will be fine if we just elect leaders with spines of steel, hearts of gold, and a deft negotiating hand.

The problem with collective bargaining by public employees is that these unions are unchecked by competition and wield massive influence as they help to elect their bosses. I get why Wisconsin public employees view Walker’s proposal as an assault, but I see a sensible measure to rein in the tendency of pols to serve narrow interests at the expense of the commonweal.

Exhorting politicians to “do the right thing” won’t give them the strength to rein in “exorbitant benefits and undisciplined budgets,” Hess argues. The unions are too strong.

National Journal’s Education Experts are discussing what Wisconsin means for the future of labor-management relations in school districts.

Gov. Walker is out to “destroy public education as we know it,” charges Bob Peterson, a Milwaukee teacher who predicts catastrophe to schools as well as teachers.

Collective bargaining gives teachers a voice, writes Dennis van Roekel, president of the National Education Association.

Chickens come home to roost, writes Sandy Kress, a former Bush education adviser.

The standoff continues in Madison. Police did not enforce a Sunday 4 pm deadline to clear the Capitol building of protesters.

If absent Democratic senators don’t return in 24 hours to vote on the budget, Wisconsin will miss a chance to save $165 million in debt refinancing costs, the governor said today. That will lead to more layoffs of state workers, he said. Walker will propose a new budget tomorrow that cuts $1 billion in state aid to schools and local governments, reorganizes the University of Wisconsin system and makes other changes to deal with a $3.6 billion deficit.

A national curriculum?

Common Core math and English Language Arts standards aren’t rigorous enough to prepare students for college work, writes Sandra Stotsky on Jay Greene’s blog. Yet wording in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would force all states to use tests based on the new standards.

States should be able to pick “internationally benchmarked, research-based” tests that satisfy their high school diploma requirements, argues Stotsky, who headed the writing of Massachusetts’ standards. “They may prefer objective end-of-course tests in algebra I, geometry, algebra II, U.S. history, chemistry, physics, and biology instead of ‘performance-based’ subjective tests.”

The two federally funded consortia developing tests for Common Core are creating what amounts to a national curriculum, writes Rick Hess. That will push all schools to teach the same material at the same time to give students a chance to pass the new exams.

The American Federation of Teachers wants a “common, sequential curriculum” to match Common Core standards so teachers “are not making it up every day,” reports Ed Week’s Curriculum Matters, quoting Randi Weingarten, the union president. (More here on what the test-writing consortia are working on.)

Congress banned the use of federal funds to write a national curriculum in 1979, but the consortia argue they’re just writing “curriculum frameworks, model instructional units and such” or a “clearinghouse of curriculum resources,” not a curriculum.

New ways to build skills, careers

On Community College Spotlight: Rethinking career education.

Also, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis are in Philadelphia today for the first regional community college summit.

And NBC News will feature advanced manufacturing training at Gateway Community and Technical College in Northern Kentucky on tonight’s newscast. There are jobs for skilled manufacturing workers in the area.

‘I don’t want to be a teacher any more’

In her 35th year in the classroom, an Oregon elementary teacher discovers to her surprise: I Don’t Want to be a Teacher Any More.

Starting in the ’90s, class sizes began growing. Teachers were given janitorial and clerical duties to perform, such as cleaning their own classrooms.

Worried about test scores, her district required all teachers to use the same instructional materials.

At the same time, class sizes and special needs were growing. The behavior classroom was closed and its students were mainstreamed into the regular classroom. I tried to become an expert on dealing with anger issues. I tried to learn how to help fifth graders with severe disabilities, limited mobility, and cognitive levels of very young children, all in my regular classroom now filled with 30-35 students.

One day, she realize she’d had enough.

Maybe it was the severely autistic boy who showed up at my door the first day with no notice, but I don’t really think so.  Maybe it was the rigid schedule the principal passed out for everybody to be doing the same subject at the same time of day, or the new basal reader we have to use that we aren’t allowed to call a basal reader. Maybe it’s the look in my student’s eyes when we’re reading the newly required dry textbook when I’m used to wild and crazy discussions about amazing novels.

Her school missed AYP because two few English Language Developing students passed reading.

I thought of the little boy I had with an IQ of 87 who could barely read.  I thought of the little girl in a wheelchair who’d had 23 operations on tumors on her body in her 11 years, and the girl who moved from Mexico straight into my class and learned to speak English before my eyes, but couldn’t pass the state test.

Last year, she was offered $20,000 to retire, but turned it down. At 55, she wasn’t ready to quit working. This year . . .

Ricochet, who teaches high school, is fed up too.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Raising Real Men is hosting this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling. Liberty is the theme.

Merit pay is ‘blocked, diluted, co-opted’

Merit pay plans are blocked, diluated and co-opted, according to an Education Next study by Jay Greene and Stuart Buck of the University of Arkansas.  Even “symbolic” plans are rare. Only 3.5 percent of districts have some form of merit pay, including token plans.

To be truly effective, pay for performance must mean in education what it does in other industries—salary increases for the successful, and salary reductions, even dismissals, for poor performers. State laws governing teacher tenure in most states make implementation of such plans unlikely.

Many plans reward teachers “mostly or entirely for inputs (e.g., professional development, graduate degrees, national certification) rather than for outputs (test scores, graduation rates, or even supervisor assessments).”

Arizona’s Classroom Site Fund (CSF) required districts to allocate 40 percent of the money to “teacher compensation increases based on performance and employment related expenses.” Only 29 of 222 districts created “strong performance pay plans” that linked teacher pay to student achievement, according to a 2010 report from the Arizona Auditor General.  One example:

One district awarded performance pay to eligible employees if freshman students’ algebra test scores increased by at least 10 percent between a pre- and post-test. The actual increase in test scores was almost 90 percent. Since the pre-test is given to freshman students who have never been exposed to algebra and the post-test is given to them after receiving a full year of algebra instruction, it should be expected that scores would increase significantly more than 10 percent.

Denver’s much-hyped ProComp program rewards earning a degree more generously than improving student learning.

The largest monetary award is for earning a graduate degree: a $3,300 permanent salary increase plus a tuition or student loan subsidy of $1,000 per year for up to four years. By comparison, teachers receive a one-time award, not a bump up in base salary, of up to $2,403.26 if their students exceed “district expectations” for student growth.

Moreover, as Paul Teske, a principal evaluator of the ProComp program, noted in the Christian Science Monitor, bad teachers face no penalty under the ProComp or similar merit-pay programs: “I guess your salary stays low, and maybe that sends the message that you should look at another career. But ProComp doesn’t directly address that.”

Many districts turn merit pay into a small across-the-board pay boost, write Green and Buck. In Houston, 88 percent of teachers qualified for a small “merit” bonus. That’s nothing compared to Minnesota, where 22 school districts gave Q Comp bonuses to more than 99 percent of teachers.

Schools that don’t need to compete for students have no incentive to design pay schemes that attract the best teachers, Greene and Buck write.  In the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, only 6 percent of traditional public school administrators said they used salaries to reward “excellence.” By contrast, 36 percent of charter administrators and 22 percent of private school heads offer performance pay.

AFT: Reform teacher evaluation, firing

It’s time to change how teachers are evaluated and dismissed, says Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. The union chief’s plan would give    tenured teachers who are rated unsatisfactory by their principals a maximum of one school year to improve, reports the New York Times.

Weingarten proposed evaluating teachers based on classroom visits, appraisal of lesson plans and student improvement on tests.

Teachers rated unsatisfactory would be given a detailed “improvement plan” jointly devised by school administrators and experienced master teachers.

Some improvement plans — like maintaining better classroom order — could last a month. Others would take a full school year. The results would be considered separately by administrators and the peer experts, whose judgments would be sent to a neutral arbitrator.

The arbitrator would be required to decide within 100 days whether to keep or fire the teacher.

Compared to the current system, this is lightning fast, though Fordham’s Michael Petrilli isn’t impressed. “In any other field, this would be considered completely nuts that a manager would not have rights and responsibilities to evaluate their employees and take action,”  he told the Times.

Reform doesn’t require dumping collective bargaining, writes Andrew Rotherham in Time. But some things have to change, including: restrictions on teacher evaluations; “last in, first out” lay-offs; forced transfers and “bumping” by senior teachers; tenure and due-process rules, and inflexible salary schedules that reward teachers only for length of service and academic credits.

8 minutes, wrong answer

In this video, a very determined third-grade girl attempts to add large numbers using an Investigations Math strategy. It takes eight minutes to get the wrong answer. In one minute, she finds the right answer by using the traditional “stacking” method she learned at home. (It’s not allowed in school.)  Investigations is supposed to teach conceptual understanding. The girl says it’s “confusing.”

Also on Out in Left Field, Barry Garelick wonders how teachers can be evaluated if they’re forced to use ineffective curricula. Check out the lively debate in the comments.

Teaching skills without content

“Emma Bryant” (a pseudonym) teaches at a New Tech public high school — one of 62 in 14 states — devoted to “21st-century skills.” Knowledge? Not so much, she writes on the Common Core blog.

We practice project based learning, utilize the latest technology, and hold to a mission of helping our students acquire “21st century skills.”

Innovation, collaboration and critical thinking are stressed, leaving little time for literature, history, poetry, music or theater.  The theory is that “most content, after all, can be Googled.”

Roughly once a month we present students with a new project which must result in a “product.” According to our model the more “real world” the product, the better. Real world, meaning the product mirrors what could reasonably be demanded in a corporate setting — from a redesigned company logo and slogan to a promotional video or a press release.

Students work in small teams to complete projects, with each team member receiving the same grade at the end. After all, it’s not about what individual students learn but the final product. Students are assessed on a handful of learning outcomes — collaboration, communication, innovation, work ethic, technological literacy, information literacy and content. Content usually makes up between 15 and 30 percent of a student’s grade.

In a 21st century classroom, “content is a shopping list of rubric indicators to be applied to the product.”

For example, students might work a quote from a short story into a reworded company slogan. Or perhaps they might work with Photoshop to create a company logo depicting an event from European history. They might write a press release in the style of a founding American document or create a user’s manual for a product using a particular rhetorical device mentioned in our state’s English Language Arts standards.

Teachers don’t teach content directly. Students are supposed to learn in teams or on their own with little or no direction from the teacher.

Dialogue, questions, critical thinking, and debate surrounding content are low on the list of things you will see in a 21st century classroom. And so students end up with convoluted ideas about history, a cursory understanding of and appreciation for literature, and a shaky foundation in math and science.

Also see Critical Thinking: More Than Words? in Ed Week’s Leader Talk.

Mastery ‘restarts’ Philly schools

Taking over a failing school is too challenging for most charter school operators, who prefer to start their own schools from scratch. But Philadelphia’s Mastery Charter Schools is taking the “restart” challenge, according to Benjamin Herold in the Hechinger Report.

Last year, parents were trying to flee Smedley Elementary. The district asked Mastery to take charge. This year, families are asking for the K-5 school to add another grade.

Under the “restart” model, a district outsources management of an existing public school to an outside provider, often a charter-school operator like Mastery. The new management is then expected to overhaul school staff, renovate often-woeful facilities, revamp a dysfunctional school culture, win over disillusioned parents, and dramatically improve student test scores — all while ostensibly serving the same kids as the year before.

Restarts are also controversial and politically sensitive, in part because they involve the use of public money to support privately managed schools. Unionized staff may be supplanted by non-union replacements, just like at charter schools.

Mastery, which uses a “no excuses” model, took over three low-performing  Philadelphia middle schools in 2005.  Scores improved dramatically.

At Pickett Middle School, for example, just 14 percent of students scored proficient in math before Mastery arrived in 2007. After Mastery brought in new teachers and pushed them to work together, almost 70 percent of students scored proficient in math last year—a gain of 500 percent in just three years.

The U.S. Education Department has specified four change models for chronically low-performing schools: So far 454 are trying “transformation,” the least disruptive model, while 135 are trying “turnaround,” 31 “restart” and 18 have closed.

Ed Week looks at restart efforts around the country, including “a Latino advocacy organization, several small charter operators, a nonprofit started by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a private company co-founded by former New York City Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew, and the American subsidiary of a British-based consulting company,” plus Edison Learning and Pearson Education.