More choose two-year colleges, but few graduate

Increasingly, Baltimore’s college-bound students are choosing community colleges, but only 5.8 percent earn a degree in three years. A report advocates encouraging more to start at four-year universities.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Reinventing higher education in California, where most college students enroll in community college. The estimated 18 percent graduation rate looks great compared to Baltimore.

Filipino teachers in Baltimore

The Learning, a film about four Filipino teachers recruited to teach in Baltimore, will run on PBS’s POV tonight. The women “bring idealistic visions of the teacher’s craft and of life in America, which soon collide with Baltimore’s tough realities.”

Getting more brains for the buck

Education productivity — the return on our investment in schools — varies widely from one district to another, concludes a study by the Center for American Progress.

Education spending per student has nearly tripled over the past four decades, after adjusting for inflation, the report notes.  Student achievement has remained about the same.

In more than half of the states included in our study, there was no clear relationship between spending and achievement after adjusting for other variables, such as cost of living and students in poverty.

Some districts spent thousands of dollars more per student to reach the same level of academic achievement. For example, Baltimore spends $2,500 more a year per student than Austin, Texas, after adjusting for the cost of living and student poverty. Yet Baltimore’s students are much less likely to score at or above the proficient level.

. . . after accounting for factors outside of a district’s control, many high-spending districts posted middling productivity results. For example, only 17 percent of Florida’s districts in the top third in spending were also in the top third in achievement.

Not surprisingly, the most productive districts make student achievement a priority. Leaders are willing to make tough choices, such as closing schools with low enrollment. The least productive districts spend more on administration, operations and other non-instructional expenditures.

Only Florida and Texas evaluate school-level productivity, the report finds. Often nobody knows which schools are spending money effectively and which are not.

Among the recommendations are improving data analysis, creating “performance-focused management systems that are flexible on inputs and strict on outcomes” and directing funding to students based on their needs.

Here’s a cool interactive map showing the return on education investment in various districts. In California, I see that San Francisco and San Jose rate fairly high in productivity, while Los Angeles is quite low.

Baltimore teachers reject new contract

Baltimore teachers rejected a new contract that would have changed the traditional salary scale based on seniority and academic credits.

The proposed contract included pay raises and kept health benefits at their current rate. But some were wary of a provision that would have replaced a system where seniority and degrees determined pay with one where they were paid by effectiveness in the classroom and pursuit of professional development.

Some 58 percent of teachers rejected the contract.

The contract had been hailed as a sign that teachers’ unions are open to reform, notes Teacher Beat. Apparently, the leadership of the AFT-affiliated union couldn’t persuade its membership.

Baltimore revamps teachers’ pay

Baltimore teachers will gain higher salaries and input on working conditions in exchange for abandoning the old pay system, reports the Baltimore Sun. Effective teachers could earn up to $100,000.

The new contract, being hailed as the most progressive in the nation, would in part link teachers’ pay to their students’ performance. The structure does away with the old model of “step” increases, or paying teachers based solely on their years of experience and the degrees they have obtained.

By the third year, all schools will let teachers “help set working conditions not outlined in the general contract, such as a longer work day or more planning time.”

Reprieve for a KIPP school

KIPP Ujima Village Academy, one of the highest performing middle schools in Maryland, will be able to stay open for another year, reports the Baltimore Sun. A year is not enough, the Sun editorializes.

The school’s day runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with weekend and summer programs added on.

Teachers at KIPP schools work, on average, about a third more hours each year than those at regular public schools, and they are paid about 20 percent more in salary and benefits.

That, however, is the basis of the union’s complaint. Unlike teachers in many other states, charter school teachers in Maryland must belong to the union and abide by the pay scales in the union contract. Based on the number of hours they work, the union calculated that KIPP teachers should be earning 33 percent more in salary and benefits under the standard contract – even though all the teachers there had volunteered to work for what the school was offering.

This year, KIPP was forced to shorten its school day by an hour, lay off administrative staff and cut art and music programs to meet the union requirement. And officials feared they might have had to cut even deeper next year, raising the question of whether the KIPP model could survive in Baltimore.

Now the union has agreed to let the charter teachers accept a nominal raise in pay, making it possible to restore the longer school day.

To get Ujima Village off the cliff’s edge, the state should let charter teachers decide if they want to join a union or go it alone.

Hidden curriculum

Parents can’t check out Baltimore County Public Schools curriculum, complains BaltoNorth. It’s password protected on an intranet.

All we parents get to see on the website is fluff, peripheral material, and educational mumbo jumbo about “seeds“, “clarifications“, “sample assessments“, “thinking skills“, “Articulated Instruction Modules“, “Core Learning Goals toolkits“, “parent summaries” that don’t exist yet, and so on. And this comes in an Alice-in-Wonderland format that is impossible to skim in an efficient way.

Do other school districts make it hard for parents to access the curriculum?

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.

They also serve who only sit in class

Mandatory volunteerism is now optional in Baltimore public schools, writes Dave Greene at BaltoNorth. He calls it “oxymoron squared.”

If a student at Ridgely Middle School reads his report card carefully, he might well ask, “why do the Service Learning hours on my report card go up every semester even though I haven’t done any community service work yet?”

The answer: Over the past decade or so, Service Learning has slowly become “infused” in the curriculum. Students get community service credits just for going to class! They don’t have to leave the school or do any extra work!

Maryland mandated student service in 1992. It’s taught cynicism, Greene concludes.

Update: Greene responds to comments on this blog.