New frontiers for charters in 2013

Innovation is the theme of the 2013 Hopes, Fears & Reality report by the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education. Are charter leads fully using their autonomy to experiment with new ways to teach? asks Robin Lake.

It includes:

Charters Branch Out: Do Moves Into Affluent Areas Signal an Important Trend? Jeffrey Henig of Columbia University explores the issues around the growth of charter schools in suburban and affluent neighborhoods.

Incubate For America? Ethan Gray of the CEE-Trust examines a new breed of organizations—charter school incubators—emerging in cities across the U.S., bringing some private-sector strategies to the charter school start-up scene.

Tech-Based Learning: The New Frontier for Charters? Michael Horn of the Christensen Institute writes about charter schools in California that have innovated through technology and asks what it will take for more to follow nationwide.

To Survive, Charters Cannot Ignore the Bottom Line.Marguerite Roza of Georgetown University urges the charter sector to get innovative about designing a more sustainable cost structure.

Evaluating the principal

At the head of every successful school is a strong, savvy principal who hires, supports and retains good teachers. But the system for evaluating principals’ effectiveness is weak, writes Andrew Rotherham in Time.

Principal-evaluation methods vary widely — from observations to more formal assessments involving input from teachers — but are frequently not meaningful in terms of consequences. In fact, although less attention is focused on principals’ unions than on teachers’ unions, in many places labor agreements make it as difficult to fire low-performing principals as it is to remove teachers.

. . . And if that’s not disheartening enough, consider the report released last month by New Leaders for New Schools, a national non-profit that trains principals to work in challenging schools, which concluded that “most principal evaluation systems tend to focus too much on the wrong things, lack clear performance standards, and lack rigor in both their design and attention to implementation.”

Principals’ powers are limited. Often, seniority rights prevent the principal from hiring the teachers he thinks will be most effective. Despite multi-million-dollar school budgets, the principal may control as little as $60,000, earmarked for supplies, field trips and such, concludes Paul Hill, who leads the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

(Good principals) skirt or subvert personnel rules, figure out how to circumvent budget rules or raise additional funds and look the other way while teachers do things that are technically against various policies but in the best interest of students. Hill argues, however, that these kinds of deft, evasive maneuvers make it all the more difficult to assess their productivity — in terms of dollars spent compared to gains in student performance — relative to others.

The New Leaders report recommends basing principal evaluations primarily on student outcomes and holding central-office administrators accountable for principals’ effectiveness.

If accountability is good for teachers, it’s good for principals. But it’s not easy to figure out how to measure effectiveness and how to attract principals who are leaders, not just paper-pushers.

Master's pay bump is waste of money

Paying teachers more for a master’s degree wastes money, conclude researchers Marguerite Roza and Raegen Miller in Separation of Degrees by the Center on Reinventing Public Education and the Center for American Progress.

On average, master’s degrees in education bear no relation to student achievement. Master’s degrees in math and science have been linked to improved student achievement in those subjects, but 90 percent of teachers’ master’s degrees are in education programs — a notoriously unfocused and process-dominated course of study.

In New York, 78 percent of teachers hold master’s degrees, costing an extra $416 per student or $1.12 billion a year.

Teacher pay should be aligned to their ability to boost student achievement, Roza and Miller conclude.

On City Journal, Sol Stern has “seven achievable reforms” in the New York City teachers’ union contract.

. . . (Mayor) Bloomberg’s six-year school-spending binge . . .  fattened the education budget from $12.7 billion in 2003 to $21 billion this year — probably the greatest increase by a school district in the history of American education. The UFT was complicit in the spending, since it reaped a 43 percent across-the-board pay raise for teachers, an identical hike for the union’s executives and managers, and a commensurate increase in union dues.

One suggestion is to tear up the “irrational salary schedule” and replace it with “a formula that plausibly links pay raises to real academic accomplishment and classroom skills.”

Unionizing charter schools

Teachers at two KIPP schools in New York City have voted to unionize, reports the New York Times. KIPP teachers earn more than district teachers but work longer hours. It’s common for teachers to burn out.

Several teachers at the two schools — KIPP Amp, a middle school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and KIPP Infinity, a middle school in Harlem — said the union organizing drive came about because they wanted a stronger voice on the job and because the demands on them were so rigorous. They also said that they wanted to insure a fair discipline and evaluation system.

A union contract will hurt the schools, said Jeanne Allen, executive director of the pro-charter Center for Education Reform.

“As long as you have nonessential rules that have more to do with job operations than with student achievement,” she said, “you are going to have a hard time with accomplishing your mission.”

Not necessarily a problem, writes Eduwonk. After all, Green Dot charters in Los Angeles are unionized (though not affiliated with the AFT or NEA).  KIPP Bronx, a district school conversion, is unionized.

What matters is what’s in the contract not unionization per se.

Allen responds:

What KIPP schools are experiencing is the equivalent of a takeover, even disguised as a restructuring, where management will no longer be able to set the tone or culture of their schools.

Flypaper’s Mike Petrilli also thinks this is a big deal.

Core Knowledge has lots o’ links.

Collective bargaining agreements are more flexible than reformers think, concludes the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which studied Washington, California, and Ohio.

Counting retirement and health benefits, teachers are well compensated, writes Rishawn Biddle in Golden Apples. But many teacher pension and health plans are abysmally managed and underfunded.