Colleges balk at plan to grade teacher ed

The U.S. Education Department wants to grade ed schools and teacher training programs on performance, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. Do graduates find and keep jobs? Do they do well on evaluations? And — most controversial — do their students’ test scores show academic progress? Would-be teachers in low-scoring training programs would lose eligibility for federal student aid, known as TEACH grants.

Meg Honey teaches AP U.S. History class at Northgate High in Walnut Creek and also teaches instructors at Saint Mary's College. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Meg Honey teaches AP U.S. History class at Northgate High in Walnut Creek and also teaches instructors at Saint Mary’s College. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

The proposal was announced in December and could be finalized by mid-year. Education schools hate it.

“Value-added” measures of student growth are unreliable, argues Deborah Stipek, dean of Stanford education school.

Regulations would penalize programs that prepare teachers for inner-city schools, said Kathy Schultz, dean of the Mills College School of Education in Oakland. Mills teachers often work in Oakland.

“The State Board of Education, California State University and others in the state education establishment” claim the regulations would cost California $233 million to develop new tests and about half a billion dollars a year to enforce, writes Noguchi.

But critics have trouble coming up with alternative ways to ensure new teachers are well prepared, writes Noguchi. “Schools of education have resisted measuring and releasing data about themselves.”

 “The inability of California to name what an effective teacher is creates the conditions where we go round and round,” said Tony Smith, former superintendent in Oakland, Emeryville and San Francisco and a regulation backer. “One of the key components of effectiveness is that a child makes a year’s growth in a year’s time.”

“Teaching is one of the most difficult and demanding jobs there is,” says Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teaching Quality. “Yet for reasons that are hard to fathom, it appears to be one of the easiest majors both to get into and then to complete.”

A new education law — or more waivers?

No Child Left Behind (aka the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) expired in 2007, but Congress hasn’t come up with a rewrite. House Republican leaders have postponed a vote on their version, the Student Success Act, because some conservatives think it doesn’t go far enough to curb federal mandates.

“My district doesn’t like it. They just feel that we’re moderating No Child Left Behind. They hate No Child Left Behind,” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said.

In the Senate, Republican leaders hope to work with Democrats on a bipartisan bill.

Conservatives should back the Student Success Act, argues Rick Hess.

The Student Success Act (SSA) jettisons NCLB’s invasive system of federally mandated accountability and gives states the freedom to gauge school performance and decide what to do about poor-performing schools. It also puts an end to NCLB’s remarkable requirement that, as of 2014, 100 percent (!) of the nation’s students would be “proficient” in reading and math.

The SSA repeals the “highly qualified teacher” mandate, a bureaucratic paper chase whose most significant accomplishment was lending fuel to lawsuits attacking Teach For America (litigants had some success in California’s courts by arguing that TFA teachers failed to meet the “highly qualified” standard). It eliminates or consolidates 65 programs. It includes expansive new language intended to finally stop federal officials from pushing states to adopt Common Core (or any other particular set of academic standards).

The bill also boosts funding for charter schools, though it doesn’t authorize school vouchers.

Conservatives don’t like the requirement for annual testing, but “shorn of NCLB’s pie-in-the-sky accountability mandates, once-a-year tests will no longer distort schooling and infuriate parents in the way they have in recent years,” Hess argues.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill. Education Secretary Arne Duncan attacked the provision letting federal dollars follow low-income students if they move from high-poverty to low-poverty schools. Urban school districts could lose millions of dollars, he said.

With NCLB in limbo, Duncan has used waivers to get states to adopt his education policies, notes the Washington Post.

If a Republican wins the White House in 2016, the Democrats could regret opening the door to rule by waiver, Hess writes. He imagines President-elect Rick Perry nominating Michele Bachmann as secretary of education.

Chris Wallace: Are you worried you’ll be unable to make the legislative changes that you and the President think necessary?

SecEd Nominee Bachmann: Once upon a time, that might’ve been a concern. Happily, the Obama administration provided a path for driving educational change even when you don’t have the votes. That’s why we’ve promised that, come inauguration day, we’ll be ditching the Obama administration’s requirements for waivers from No Child Left Behind and substituting our own. They’ll be drawn from the President’s plan that we’ve been calling the Freedom Blueprint.

If states want a waiver, says Bachmann, they’ll need “to institute a moment of silence in all “turnaround” schools, adopt a statewide school voucher plan for low-income students and those in failing schools, require abstinence education, restrict collective bargaining to wages and prohibit bargaining over benefits or policy, and ask states to revise their charter laws to ensure that for-profit operators are no longer discriminated against on the basis of tax status.”

It’s not looking good for reauthorization, concludes Hess.

Alyson Klein reports on the politics. “In the end, House Republicans are going to have to decide whether they want to pass a bill that — while maybe not perfect — is clearly an improvement to NCLB from their point of view; or they can do nothing and let the President and Federal government have unchecked control over education policy for the remainder of his term,” says Vic Klatt, a former aide to Republicans on the House education committee.

Duncan: Drop NCLB, but keep testing

Education Arne Duncan spoke yesterday at Seaton Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

No Child Left Behind is “tired” and “prescriptive,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a speech yesterday. However, federal education law should include annual tests, Duncan said at a Washington, D.C. elementary school.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind) is up for reauthorization, notes NPR. Duncan said he’d like to start over with a new bill, but retain annual testing.

In his speech, Duncan invoked famous phrases used by both President Obama and former President George W. Bush, the latter of whom introduced No Child Left Behind more than 13 years ago.

“This country can’t afford to replace ‘the fierce urgency of now’ with the soft bigotry of, ‘It’s optional,’ ” he said.

Duncan came out against “redundant” and “unnecessary” tests.

Brookings makes The Case for Annual Testing that tracks growth in student achievement, while eliminating most NCLB standards and accountability provisions.

Hill Republicans will decide what happens, writes Rick Hess in his ESEA predictions on Pundicity.  They see Duncan as “obdurate, unwilling to listen, and remarkably disinterested in what the federal government shouldn’t do or what it can’t do well.” So Sen. Lamar Alexander will work with Democratic senators, but Duncan could be out of the negotiations.

Shakira will tweet on early ed

As part of the White House Summit on Early Education, Shakira and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be tweeting on early education this morning, starting at 10 am EST. Shakira, a native of Colombia, is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. The hashtag is #ShakiraEdChat.

Here’s Shakira performing one of her hits, She Wolf.

Shakira’s Barefoot Foundation — started when she was 18 — has built and funded schools in Colombia, Haiti and South Africa to help poor children and their parents, reports CBS News.

The singing star has more credibility on early childhood ed than Duncan, writes Cato’s Neal McCluskey. The White House PR on preschool’s effectiveness “is deceptive, or just plain wrong, as largely documented in David Armor’s recent Policy Analysis The Evidence on Universal Preschool.”

Obama: (Great) preschool for all

“Sometimes, someone, usually Mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result,” said President Obama in an Oct. 31 speech. “That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”

Obama called for subsidizing high-quality preschool, so working mothers don’t have to choose between affordable, not-so-great programs or leaving the workforce temporarily. It was taken as a hit at stay-at-home mothers.

In another push for preschool, Education Secretary Arne Duncan added to the perception that the administration wants every parent to choose preschool.

With Hispanic parents, “sometimes you have a cultural piece where people are scared to put their kids in more formal care and they prefer, you know, to do the grandmother, the neighbor, whatever,” he said at a Washington, D.C. event. Work is needed on “how we challenge some of the cultural hesitation” of Hispanic parents, Duncan said.

Obama’s remarks were “a rare allusion to the fact that the intersex pay gap — women earn approximately 77 cents on a man’s dollar — reflects different lifestyle choices the sexes make, responded Selwyn Duke in The New American.

Stay-at-home mothers understand the trade-offs, writes Mollie Hemingway on The Federalist. “When I had my first child, I traded the money of my newspaper job for the far-greater value (for me) of time spent with my totally awesome daughter.” It was a choice.

Men tend to work more and earn more when they become fathers, she adds. Intact families often see a “marriage premium —  more money brought home,” even though mothers tend to prioritize child-raising.

I worked part-time — about 25 hours a week — till my daughter was eight years old. It was great for both of us and my career didn’t suffer, though I knew I was taking a risk that it would.


Connected to the future

Senior Gerardo Lopez talks to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at San Francisco's Burton High School.

Senior Gerardo Lopez talks to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at San Francisco’s Burton High School.

Most students like Gerardo Lopez — Latinos and blacks from low-income and working-class families — enroll in community college, take a few remedial courses and drop out. They’ve been told they should go to college, but nobody’s told them what level of academic skills are necessary to pass college-level courses.

Many think any major will qualify them for a good job. They don’t know how the system works.

“Gerardo Lopez is preparing to turn his dreams into reality,” I write on Open Standard.

“Hands-on” learning opportunities drew Lopez, a Honduran immigrant, to the engineering academy at Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High School in San Francisco. “As a kid, I loved to make little cars, bringing parts together to make something come alive,” he says.

But he didn’t know engineering was a possible career. His father is a hotel janitor; his mother is a housewife.

Now a senior, he spends two days a week as an “extern” at an architectural firm. Lopez hopes to major in mechanical engineering – or perhaps architecture – at a University of California campus or Stanford. If he hadn’t signed up for the engineering academy, “I wouldn’t have known what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.

Burton offers “career academies” in engineering, health sciences and information technology, all high-demand fields. Students take college-prep and career-prep courses together, visit workplaces, do job shadows and compete for summer internships.

“Employers say they can’t find the skilled workers they need,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told business and education leaders at Burton High last week. But CEOs aren’t talking to superintendents. “There’s a total disconnect.

Thirty-five percent of Burton High graduates enroll in four-year universities, said Principal Bill Kappenhagen. Another 43 percent go to community college and 22 percent go straight to the workforce.  The six-year graduation rate is high – 90 percent – for the four-year students, he said. But only 10 percent of those who go to City College of San Francisco graduate in six years.

What’s going wrong for the community college contingent? Some get bogged down in remedial courses or overwhelmed by work and job responsibilities. I’d guess many more would succeed if they aimed for a technical certificate or two-year vocational degree rather than taking general education courses.

Getting started

Education Post hopes to create “a new conversation” about improving education, writes Peter Cunningham, who worked for Arne Duncan in the Education Department and Chicago Public Schools.

With the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation, we are launching a new organization called Education Post to provide a strong voice for those who believe the current education system needs to get better.

Education Post will give voice to parents, teachers and students who are often drowned out in the current debate and amplify the voices of a diverse group of leaders who have dedicated their lives to bringing opportunity to communities that need it most. Those leaders include Democrats like former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, Republicans like former Louisiana Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek, and educators like Montgomery County school teacher and 2006 National Teacher of the Year Kim Oliver-Burnim.

Here’s the first day of school at a Montessori charter in Chicago.

Once a lunch lady, García will run NEA

Lily Eskelsen García will become president of the National Education Association. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Her first job after high school was “salad girl” in a school cafeteria. She worked her way through college playing the guitar in coffeehouses and became Utah’s teacher of the year. On Sept. 1, Lily Eskelsen García, 59, will take over as head of the National Education Association, reports the Washington Post.

The NEA is the nation’s largest labor union, representing one in 100 Americans. But it’s been losing membership and political support.

She is already fighting back with blunt talk, urging teachers nationwide to revolt against “stupid” education reforms and telling politicians to leave teaching to the professionals.

Her first priority: Putting the brakes on standardized testing, an issue she says she believes will resonate not only with her members but also with parents — important potential allies for the political clashes she sees ahead. García says that the country is in the grip of testing mania, the quest for high scores killing joy, narrowing curriculums and perverting the learning process.

“I’ll be damned if I will sit quietly and play nice and say diplomatic things about something that has corrupted the profession I love,” García said.

The union has clashed with the Obama administration on testing and teacher evaluations, notes the Post. In July, the NEA demanded Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s resignation.

Duncan and Rep. George Miller, a liberal Democrat, “shocked teachers in June when they applauded a Los Angeles judge’s ruling that California’s teacher tenure laws were unconstitutional,” reports the Post.

The movement to weaken teachers’ job protections has gone national.

García, an elementary teacher, got into union politics after being chosen “teacher of the year.” At a union conference, she played her guitar and sang an original composition: “I’m-a-Teacher-and-I-Got-To-Work-In-Utah Blues.”

The daughter of a Panamanian immigrant, Garcia was the first in her family to go to college.

Her husband of 38 years committed suicide three years ago after struggling with depression for years.

“Both her sons have struggled with drug addiction,” reports the Post. The younger son, has spent time in prison for theft and burglary. García, who adopted Jared when he was 4, rescuing him from an early childhood of abuse, said, “I thought: ‘I’m a great teacher. I’ve got all this love.’ But that’s not how it works.”

NEA tells Duncan to resign

Arne Duncan should resign, said National Education Association delegates at the teachers’ union’s annual convention.

A tipping point for some members was Duncan’s statement last month in support of a California judge’s ruling that struck down tenure and other job protections for the state’s public school teachers. In harsh wording, the judge said such laws harm particularly low-income students by saddling them with bad teachers who are almost impossible to fire.

Even before that, teachers’ unions have clashed with the administration over other issues ranging from its support of charter schools to its push to use student test scores as part of evaluating teachers.

“I always try to stay out of local union politics,” responded Duncan. “I think most teachers do too.”

California judge strikes down tenure, layoff laws

Beatriz Vergara testifies in Vergara v. California

California’s laws on teacher tenure, layoffs and dismissal are unconstitutional, a Los Angeles trial judge has ruled. Low-income and minority students don’t have equal access to competent teachers argued Students Matter, which sued on behalf of nine schoolchildren.

The evidence “shocks the conscience,” wrote Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu in the Vergara v. California decision. “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.”

Enforced will be delayed pending an appeal by the lawsuit’s defendants, the state and California’s two major teachers unions.

Plaintiffs alleged that schools serving poor students have more teachers with less seniority, and therefore are more likely to lose teachers during seniority-based layoffs. As a result, those schools suffer from higher turnover and more inexperienced and ineffective teachers.

The suit also challenged the state requirement that school districts make decisions on tenure after a teacher has had about 18 months on the job — thus denying districts adequate time to determine a teacher’s competence.

Moreover, because of cumbersome dismissal procedures, Students Matter said, in 10 years only 91 of California’s teachers, who now number 285,000, have been fired, most for inappropriate conduct. And, the group noted that only 19 were dismissed for unsatisfactory performance.

The unions called the lawsuit a threat to due process, such as the right to a pre-dismissal hearing, and to protections from arbitrary or unfair administrators.

Union spokesman Fred Glass said, “The millionaires behind this case have successfully diverted attention from the real problems of public education.” That’s a reference to Dave Welch, co-founder of a telecom company, who’s the primary founder of Students Matter.

Education Trust hailed the decision. “The decision will force California to address the reality that our most vulnerable students are less likely to have access to effective teachers.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the decision a mandate for change.

For students in California and every other state, equal opportunities for learning must include the equal opportunity to be taught by a great teacher. The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students.

He hopes for a “collaborative process” — a deal, not an appeal — to write new laws that “protect students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve.”

Vergara equals victory for kids, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.