AFT seeks national ‘bar’ exam for teachers

Teachers’ colleges would set higher standards — at least a 3.0 grade point average — and would-be teachers would have to pass the equivalent of a bar exam, proposes the American Federation of Teachers in Raising the Bar. That includes prospective teachers with alternative certification.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards would develop an “exam measuring content, pedagogy, and practice — based on a cohesive set of teaching standards crafted by practitioners,” reports Stephen Sawchuk on Ed Week‘s Teacher Beat. NBPTS might use the performance assessments that are under development, said CEO Ronald Thorpe. “This is not about reinventing the wheel.”

But the details are unclear. How will teaching competence be measured? Will one style of teaching — let’s say “guide on the side” — be required? What happens if the failure rate is higher for blacks and Latinos than for whites and Asian-Americans?

Everyone wants to professionalize teaching, writes Andrew Rotherham on Eduwonk. But “what if education isn’t really like law or medicine?”  What if “there isn’t a field-wide core of knowledge or skills all practitioners must have?”  We don’t  know what “makes a great 10th-grade English teacher or 12th grade government teacher,” beyond content knowledge, he writes.

A national exam would “level the playing field,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Maybe all the alternative certified teachers will pass with flying colors. But if only 10 percent of [Teach For America] passed it and 90 percent of the students from Teachers College passed it, that would say something.”

Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina look at how teachers from various preparation programs do in the classroom, responds Rotherham. Teach for America teachers do well.  The quality of other alternatively certified teachers varies. If Weingarten is trying to “reassert control over a rapidly decentralizing field” by freezing out TFA, that’s a waste of time.

Why not find out whether candidates can actually do what they’re being hired to do? Actual live teaching as part of the teacher hiring process remains stunningly rare.  I’d be a lot more excited if the AFT announced it wanted to pursue more of a guild model and see what we can learn from that approach. Even better if the union wanted to do training and put its brand behind the teachers who carry its label (in some cities AFT chapters do solid professional development). Instead, we’re once again trying to develop a test to address a problem everyone is aware of  but few have the political fortitude to take on: Most of our teacher preparation programs just aren’t very good.  We don’t need a test to tell us that, we need serious reform.

It’s a “serious proposal to raise standards for new teachers as part of a broader effort to strengthen the profession,” writes Fordham’s Checker Finn. But, among other things, he’s worried by the vagueness of AFT’s call for “an in-depth test of subject and pedagogical knowledge.”

There is no hint of what in-depth knowledge might mean for a U.S. history teacher versus a geometry teacher versus an art teacher, nor does it address what sort of testing arrangement might gauge whether an individual possesses enough of it. (We know that the current arrangement—with most states relying heavily on the “Praxis II” test—does not do this well. We also know that some states do not take this issue on at all.)

NBPTS, which board certifies veteran teachers, hasn’t shown “much interest in subject-matter knowledge,” Finn writes. “Pedagogy, yes. Even lesson-planning. But not the causes and consequences of the Civil War or the ways that atoms combine to form molecules.”

Update: Putting the teachers’ union in charge of certifying teachers is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast.

Chicago teachers end strike

After more than a week on picket lines, Chicago teachers’ union delegates have voted to end the strike. Schools will reopen Wednesday.

Saying it marked “a new day and a new direction “ for Chicago schools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the contract — with its teacher evaluations, longer school day provision and plans for five new science and technology high schools.

A union statement bragged about stopping “corporate ‘school reform’.”

“Now we have stopped the board from imposing merit pay! We preserved our lanes and steps when the politicians and press predicted they were history. We held the line on health care costs.”

The district will use students’ “growth” scores as only 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, the minimum set by state law. A committee will discuss how to evaluate teachers.

I still think it looks like a victory for the union — and for union chief Karen Lewis, who’s rumored to be thinking about challenging Randi Weingarten for leadership of the American Federation of Teachers. Whether a more militant AFT is good for teachers in the long run is another question.

Rahmbo got rolled by the union, writes Rick Hess.

The cult of success

The new issue of AFT’s American Educator features a cover story by Diana Senechal on The Cult of Success (pdf). “In research studies, newspaper articles, and general education discussions, there is far more talk of achievement than of the actual stuff that gets achieved,” she writes.

In Bipartisan, But Unfounded: The Assault on Teachers’ Unions (pdf), Richard D. Kahlenberg defends unions from attacks on all sides.

The issue also includes Meaningful Work (pdf), by Will Fitzhugh, on how writing history research papers prepares students for college and life.

AFT: College isn’t for ‘cranking out’ workers

Corporate interests are trying to turn community colleges into “job training factories,” charges the American Federation of Teachers, which represents California community college instructors.

Andy Grove, who helped found Intel, and Bernie Marcus, who founded Home Depot, are encouraging young people to pursue vocational training, but it’s hard to fight the college-for-all mentality, Grove complains.

Union boss is 1 percenter

The California Teachers Association is encouraging teachers to back Occupy Wall Street, writes Larry Sand, yet union leaders aren’t exactly have-nots.

With a salary of $543,868, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel is a 1 percenter, writes CalWatchdog, who used the “What percent are you?” calculator.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who earns $493,859, is in the top 2 percent. CTA President David Sanchez at $289,550 is in the top 4 percent.

According to the calculator, the median household income in the U.S. is $43,000. I’d hate to support 2.6 people (median household size) on that.


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.