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.

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.

Governors, mayors target teacher tenure

Republican governors in Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada and New Jersey are trying to dismantle teachers’ tenure protections, reports the New York Times. Democratic mayors, such as Cory A. Booker in Newark and Antonio R. Villaraigosa in Los Angeles, also want to make it easier to fire ineffective teachers.

Michelle Rhee‘s new advocacy group, Students First, is campaigning against tenure. Even the teachers’ unions claim they’re open to reform, reports the Times.”The American Federation of Teachers endorsed a sweeping law in Colorado last year that lets administrators remove even tenured teachers who are consistently rated as ineffective.”

Not the NFL

Education should emulate football teams’ zeal to improve, says American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten in her joint interview with Bill Gates in Newsweek.

Football teams . . . look at the tape after every game. Sometimes they do it during the game. They’re constantly deconstructing what is working and what isn’t working. And they’re jettisoning what isn’t working and building up on what is working, and doing it in a teamlike approach.

The NFL is ruthlessly meritocratic, responds Eduwonk. Performance is everything.

Four NFL coaches have already been fired this year, fairly or not, and you didn’t hear a lot from them about how their players were the problem. 

. . . As to the players, it’s hard to find an institution more at odds with how schools are generally operated than the NFL – and the players are unionized.  The union rules cover basic protections but don’t guarantee players more than minimum salaries.  If, for instance, the NFL operated the way school districts generally do it would have been difficult for Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan to bench quarterback Donovan McNabb as he did a few weeks ago.  And, even if he succeeded, McNabb presumably could have “forced transfered” his way into another offense somewhere where he had more seniority than the existing quarterback.

NFL pay is based on performance: Stars make much more than journeymen players.

Teachers take charge

Across the country, teachers are taking charge of school turnarounds, reports Associated Press. Some charter schools have been run by teachers for years now; what’s new is that districts are letting teacher committees take over schools, usually schools in trouble.

Four years ago, Francis Parkman Middle School was spiraling downward with plummeting enrollment, abysmal test scores and notoriety for unruliness. Then teachers stepped out of the classroom and took charge of the school.

Today, the rechristened Woodland Hills Academy, named for the school’s suburban location north of Los Angeles, is run by a teacher-controlled committee where the principal carries the same weight as a teacher and the district has minimal say in operations.

Test scores are up 18 percent and enrollment has spiked more than 30 percent. The model works, teachers say, because everyone from the principal to the janitor is vested in the outcome.

Student achievement has been mixed in teacher-run schools, concludes a study by Charles Kerchner, a Claremont education professor. Only seven of 13 teacher-led schools in Minnesota achieved progress goals, the study found. In Milwaukee, teacher-led schools scored several points below the district average in reading and 12 points below in math.

Leadership by consensus often leads to slower decision-making, especially with people inexperienced in the substantial administrative work operating a school entails.

Still, the American Federation of Teachers and unions in Boston, Denver, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Los Angeles are backing teacher-led schools, reports AP.

In Los Angeles, union-backed teacher groups beat charters to win control of 30 out of 37 schools in the district’s first “public school choice” round last year. Most follow or build on the Woodland Hills blueprint.

Parkman Middle School was losing students to two nearby charter schools. Four teachers applied to turn Parkman into a teacher-led charter. To keep the school from going charter, district officials “allowed a 16-member leadership council, comprising eight elected teachers, the principal, and representatives of non-teaching staff and parents, to autonomously run the school,” which became Woodland Hills Academy.

The council tackled the building and grounds with fresh landscaping, fencing, and paint. It designed a schedule with 95-minute periods, rotating them so teachers see students at different times of the day. The curriculum now includes art, music, and electives such as cooking, photography and journalism, plus field trips.

Teachers decide their own professional development track and set the school’s goals for test scores and English as a second language placement. Parents and students are given satisfaction surveys.

Administrators and teachers who didn’t like the new set-up eventually left for other jobs.  The council hired replacements who believed in the school’s mission.

AFT: Don’t publish teachers’ names

Parents have a right to know how their children’s teachers are rated on employee evaulations, Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Los Angeles Times. However, she asked the Los Angeles Times not to go forward with plans to publish the names of more than 6,000 elementary school teachers ranked by their record of improving students’ reading and math scores over a seven-year period.

Teachers “look at this as a hammer, a sledgehammer, and they’re scared about it,” she said. “They’re schoolteachers; they’re private individuals…. They’re not public figures.”

More than 1,100 teachers have requested and received copies of their value-added rankings, the Times reports. “More than 100 have submitted comments on their rankings that will be published as part of the database.”

When done properly, value-added analysis could be a valuable part of assessing teacher performance, Weingarten said.

“There’s a right way to do evaluation, and we have to keep everybody’s feet to the fire,” she said.

She added that the system of teacher evaluations had been “broken for years,” and needed drastic reform. She said a good system of teacher evaluations would ensure that struggling teachers receive the help they need to improve, but would also make it easier to fire teachers who were unable to change.

Third Street Elementary teacher Karen Caruso, who was named in the Times’ story as ranking among the bottom 10% of elementary teachers in the value-added analysis, is   “the most beloved teacher in the school,” Weingarten said.

(Caruso) is known for helping her students become more critical thinkers and better problem solvers — skills, she implied, that wouldn’t necessarily be reflected in standardized test scores.

United Teachers of Los Angeles strongly opposes efforts to consider student test scores in teacher evaluations. The union has called on teachers to boycott the Times.

On California Watch, Louis Freedberg looks at the ethics of “outing teachers” and questions the validity of value-added analysis; a Times reporter responds.

Messing with success

Baltimore’s highest scoring middle school, KIPP Ujima Village, will have to cut its hours and drop Saturday classes to meet union demands for time-and-a-half pay for teachers, reports Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. With a nine-hour school day and Saturday classes, the all-black school has been the best in the city three years running; reading and math scores beat the state average in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

Brad Nornhold, 31, a math teacher at Ujima Village, told Mathews the union never contacted the teachers before making the pay demand.

“This is a school of choice for teachers, too. I knew what I was getting into.” Ujima Village teachers were already the highest-paid in Baltimore for their experience level, and the union’s demands seem to overlook the appeal of what Nornhold called “the freedom to teach the way I want to teach.” The union ignores the lure of a school that supports teachers and structures their day so they can raise student achievement to levels rarely seen in their city. “To teach in a school that works, that’s nice,” Nornhold said.

A union leader responds. “Effective teachers can get the same results in a seven-hour-and-five-minute day.”

KIPP has been paying teachers an extra 18 percent to work longer hours. The Baltimore union said that wasn’t enough. In New York City, Mathews points out, the American Federation of Teachers contract with Green Dot accepts 14 percent more for a longer school day and year.

Union takes charter boosters' money

Mice don’t like cats, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.  And teachers’ unions don’t like charter schools.  But the American Federation of Teachers is taking $2.8 million from charter-funding foundations for an AFT Innovation Fund that will support “bold education innovations,” said president Randi Weingarten. Why?

The Broad Foundation and the Gates Foundation are supplying most of the money.  Both have funded charter schools. Both support controversial D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, whose pay-for-performance proposal has riled the union faithful. Mathews writes:

When I asked why she was dealing with foundations whose support for charters is so unpopular with her members, she replied, “The ties that bind us are so much greater than the squabbles that divide us.”

Mathews hopes for a truce.

Younger teachers going into regular and charter schools, and into the AFT, appear more willing than older teachers to give up tenure for more pay and more impact on student achievement. Their friends working for Google and McKinsey and Goldman Sachs don’t have tenure. Why should they? Teachers in the most successful charters are working longer hours but being paid more and having the satisfaction of seeing great improvement in their students. What’s wrong with that?

He speculates that Weingarten “wants to stay ahead of the generational shift.”

Teachers’ unions have tried to embrace reform before without much to show for it, writes EIA Intercepts.

Unions kill vouchers, go after charters

Teachers’ unions have declared war on charter schools, writes Jay P. Greene in the Wall Street Journal. The unions are fighting on two fronts:  While seeking to deny charter funding, they’re also trying to unionize charter teachers.

Studies have shown students who win charter school lotteries do better than those who seek a charter education, lose the lottery to get in and have to attend district-run schools, Greene writes.  A study by Harvard economist Tom Kane also looked at Boston’s district-run, unionized charters, known as “pilot schools.”

. . . students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit.

When charter schools unionize, they become identical to traditional public schools in performance. Unions may say they support charter schools, but they only support charters after they have stripped them of everything that makes charters different from district schools.

“Vouchers made the world safe for charters by drawing union fire,” Greene writes. Now that the unions have beaten back vouchers — pressuring congressional Democrats to defund the successful and popular voucher program in Washington, D.C. –  they can unionize, regulate and starve the charter schools.

The American Federation of Teachers is working hard to unionize three Chicago charter schools run by a non-profit, notes This Week in Education.

Marcus Winters writes on KIPP vs. the Teachers’ Unions on City Journal.