Teachers’ unions lose unity, clout

“The teachers unions now face an environment in which their traditional enemies are emboldened, their traditional allies are deserting, and some of their most devoted activists are questioning the leadership of their own officers,” writes Mike Antonucci of Education Intelligence Agency on Education Next. But,”even weakened, together the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) constitute the single most powerful force in American education policy.”
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Both unions peaked in 2008 “with a combined membership approaching 4 million and annual revenues at all levels estimated at nearly $2 billion,” he writes.

Since then, NEA member has fallen by more than 9 percent. The AFT has held membership steady by affiliating with non-education unions, not by recruiting new teachers.

Today, a slight majority of teachers are not union members.

In both unions, a radical faction “wants to man the barricades, fight over every inch of territory, and take no prisoners” in the fight against education reform, writes Antonucci.

Union leaders want to appear to be “forward-thinking and innovative” rather than constantly rejecting reform. They need political allies.

While both national unions decry the corporate influence on education, they have partnerships with large corporations on many levels: sponsorships of union events, discount arrangements and credit cards as part of member benefits packages, funding for joint projects, etc.

. . . Union activists often depict the Gates Foundation as the mastermind behind corporate education reform. But in 2009, when the foundation announced it would award $335 million to a number of school districts and charter schools to promote teacher effectiveness, the union response was a far cry from the anticorporate rhetoric it regularly delivers to its internal audience.

. . . The NEA’s own foundation received $550,000 from the Gates Foundation to “improve labor-management collaboration.” The AFT accrued more than $10 million from the Gates Foundation, until internal pressures forced the union to end some of the grants.

The militant wing sees Common Core standards as part of the “corporate education-reform agenda,” while the establishment wing “has been forced to triangulate by defending the standards but attacking the way they have been implemented.”

The NEA and the AFT won’t disappear, concludes Antonucci. “But their days of dominating the education environment are on the wane.”

In an open letter to AFT President Randi Weingarten, Education Post’s Peter Cunningham critiques her Oct. 22 speech calling Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy a “John Wayne” autocrat. Deasy had just resigned.

Wrapped in aspirational language about “collaboration” was a clear signal to your members that organized resistance to reform is the real strategy, and that the AFT supports it. The equally clear signal to reform leaders across the country is that they could be targeted next if they are not sufficiently “collaborative.”

The public is losing confidence in district-run schools and “voting with their feet,” he warns.

Cities collaborate with charters

More than 20 school districts, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, are collaborating with charter schools on teacher training, ways to measure student progress and other issues, writes Richard Whitmire in Education Next.

Districts have signed “compacts” with charters — with funding from the Gates Foundation.

In Denver and in Aldine and Spring Branch, Texas, superintendents have invited high-performing charters to share space in schools. Charter and district principals and teachers interact with each other. Students take some classes together.

District superintendents want to import some of the charter classroom culture they see. At Northbrook Middle School in Spring Branch, students have adopted a new attitude about academic success. Now, “it’s cool to know the answers.”

Charter school leaders need building space, and access to students. Districts have helped charters coordinate services for special education students and by setting common performance metrics for low-performing charters.

Don Shalvey, who’s leading the compact initiative for Gates, is a former school superintendent and founder of the Aspire charter network.

In Denver, teachers from the charter school Highline Academy and the district school Cole Academy of Arts and Science collaborate on curriculum plans and interim assessments. Photo courtesy Denver Public Schools

In Denver, teachers from the charter school Highline Academy and the district school Cole Academy of Arts and Science collaborate on curriculum plans and interim assessments.
Photo courtesy Denver Public Schools

Spring Branch adopted SLANT (sit up, listen, ask and answer questions, nod for understanding and track the speaker) from its charter partner. Now they’re thinking of adopting YES Prep’s math curriculum.

Texas provides no facilities funding for charters, so YES Prep saves millions by co-locating. The district gets to report the charter’s higher test scores as its own.

Aldine plans to adopt YES Prep’s college-prep curriculum, writes Whitmire. Again, the charter gets shared space it would struggle to afford without the partnership.

In San Jose, Franklin-McKinley Superintendent John Porter invited Rocketship and KIPP to open schools in the low-income, heavily immigrant district. To compete for students, a district elementary school developed a science theme in partnership with the city’s Tech Museum.

AFT funds teachers to ‘rewrite’ standards

The American Federation of Teachers will give $4.4 million in grants to teachers to critique or rewrite Common Core standards.

The money to revise the standards will come from the AFT Innovation Fund, which formerly was funded by the Gates Foundation, notes At the Chalkface. The foundation also provided much of the funding to write Common Core standards.

Gates: Don’t use Core scores for 2 years

Common Core-aligned tests shouldn’t be used for  teacher evaluations and student promotions for two years, writes Vicki Phillips for the Gates Foundation. “The standards need time to work.”

Teachers need time to develop lessons, receive more training, get used to the new tests, and offer their feedback.

. . . A rushed effort to apply the assessments could punish teachers as they’re trying new things, and any hiccups in the assessments could be seen as flaws in the standards.

That makes sense. But it comes a few days after a Washington Post story on the foundation’s support for the development and promotion of Common Core Standards — and its extensive links with the Obama administration.

The foundation backed off on high-stakes testing after “calls for congressional investigations” into the foundation and its administration allies, writes Susan Berry on Breitbart.

How Bill Gates sold the Common Core


Bill Gates put $200 million into Common Core standards.

Common Core State Standards were the brainchild of Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, reports Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post. The godfather was Bill Gates, who put more than $200 million into developing the Core and building support for it.

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

President Obama’s Education Department, “populated by former Gates Foundation staffers and associates”  used $4.3 billion in “stimulus funds to reward states that accepted the standards.” Forty-six states and the District of Columbia signed on, though some have jumped ship.

Even Catholic schools have adopted the standards, if only because it’s hard to find classroom materials or training that’s not aligned to the Common Core.

The speed of adoption by the states was staggering by normal standards. A process that typically can take five years was collapsed into a matter of months.

“You had dozens of states adopting before the standards even existed, with little or no discussion, coverage or controversy,” said Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, which has received $4 million from the Gates Foundation since 2007 to study education policy, including the Common Core. “States saw a chance to have a crack at a couple of million bucks if they made some promises.”

The Gates Foundation has put $3.4 billion into trying to improve K-12 education, reports the Post. (My other blog, Community College Spotlight is funded by the Hechinger Institute, which receives Gates Foundation grants.) It has enormous influence.

“Really rich guys can come up with ideas that they think are great, but there is a danger that everyone will tell them they’re great, even if they’re not,” said Jay Greene, who heads the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform.

Gates “sees himself as a technocrat” funding research in “new tools” to improve education. “Medicine — they spend a lot of money finding new tools. Software is a very R and D-oriented industry. The funding, in general, of what works in education . . . is tiny. It’s the lowest in this field than any field of human endeavor. Yet you could argue it should be the highest.”

Diane Ravitch wants Congress to investigate Gates’ role in the creation and marketing of Common Core standards.

The idea of “common national standards and tests goes back a long long way before Gates,” points out Alexander Russo. If the idea hadn’t already had broad appeal, Gates’ millions wouldn’t have been effective.

Most education philanthropy supports the status quo, adds Eduwonk. “In education there is very little change absent an infusion of marginal dollars and outside pressure.”

Personally, I think it’s crazy to suggest that Bill Gates has given $3.4 billion to education causes — and billions more to public health — because he wants to make more money. His policy ideas may be wrong. His motives are good.

Waltons fund — surprise! — charter schools

The Walmart heirs have put a lot of their donations into charter schools for low-income students, reports the New York Times. The foundation also supports Teach for America.

It’s not exactly hot news. The Gates Foundation spends much more, focuses on changing education policy and is very, very influential.

The Times signals its left-wing bias, notes Ira Stoll on Reason. The Walton Foundation has “many tentacles” and funds “divisive” ideas, reports the Times. 

“Walton’s Mr. Sternberg, who started his career in Teach for America and founded the Bronx Lab School, a public school in New York City, does not apologize for Walton’s commitment to charter schools and vouchers.”

“Why would he apologize?” asks Stoll. He’s “helping to make schools better.”

The New York Times Company and its foundation support P.S. 111, the Adolph S. Ochs School in Manhattan, named after the family patriarch, reports Stoll. The school earned a grade of “D” for its school environment. A quality review observes “the principal acknowledges that teachers have not received written feedback this year.” Only 19 percent of the school’s sixth graders pass the state English test and only 24 percent of the school’s fifth graders pass the state math test.

InBloom doomed by privacy concerns

Privacy and security concerns doomed the InBloom Student Data Repository, reports the New York Times. The Gates-funded non-profit, which offered to manage student records, will close.

The system was meant to extract student data from disparate school grading and attendance databases, store it in the cloud and funnel it to dashboards where teachers might more effectively track the progress of individual students.

But inBloom was set to collect more than academic data, notes the Times.

An inBloom video offered a vision (using fictional students) of new uses for data in education.An inBloom video offered a vision (using fictional students) of new uses for data in education.

The inBloom database included more than 400 different data fields that school administrators could fill in.

. . . some of the details seemed so intimate — including family relationships (“foster parent” or “father’s significant other”) and reasons for enrollment changes (“withdrawn due to illness” or “leaving school as a victim of a serious violent incident”) — that parents objected, saying that they did not want that kind of information about their children transferred to a third-party vendor.

Parents in Louisiana were upset to learn their children’s Social Security numbers had been uploaded to inBloom. 

With states and school districts bailing, inBloom wilted.

 

AFT says ‘no’ to Gates funding

The American Federation of Teachers won’t take any more Gates Foundation money for its Innovation Fund, reports Politico. President Randi Weingarten said union members don’t trust the foundation’s approach to education reform.

The Innovation Fund has received up to $1 million a year in Gates grants for the last five years, primarily to help teachers implement the Common Core standards.

The AFT receives millions more in other Gates grants. The union’s executive council hasn’t voted to reject Gates funding for other projects, but Weingarten said it’s unlikely the AFT will take any money from Gates.She plans to ask union members for a dues increase to replace the lost funding.

Gates put $472 million into college completion

The Gates Foundation has spent $472 million on higher education reforms since 2006 with most of it going to help low-income people complete college credentials. Gates-funded research has spurred state lawmakers to limit remedial coursework and link higher ed funding to graduation rates and other success measures. Is there pushback? Yes indeed.

Wealthy philanthropists are transforming public — but not private — higher education, warns a professor who thinks the economic elite are too powerful.

Videotaping helps teachers improve

At a low-performing Indianapolis high school, instructional coaches use classroom videotapes to help teachers improve their lessons and learn from colleagues, reports Scott Elliott in the Indianapolis Star. The Star is following the turnaround (it’s hoped) of Arlington High, which was taken over by the state after six years of very low test scores. EdPower, which took over the school a year ago, installed a camera in every classroom.

As a video played showing first-year high school English teacher Katie Bonfiglio at work, Spanish teacher Patrice Patton watched in awe.

“Wow, I’ve never seen those kids behave like that in my class,” Patton gushed, as she watched a room of typically restless ninth-grade boys fully engaged in a discussion of literature.

That’s just the reaction Paul Chin, Arlington High School’sassistant principal, was hoping for when he asked Bonfiglio if he could show her recorded lesson to about 15 of her colleagues.

.  . . (Bonfiglio) found the discussion with her peers so eye-opening she made changes to some of her other teaching routines.

As a teacher at a high-performing, high-poverty charter school in Newark run by Uncommon Schools, Chin recorded himself teaching so he could analyze his lessons and discuss the video with the principal. He shows Arlington teachers videos of teachers at his old school teaching effectively and helps them analyze their own lessons.

Video recording of teachers also can be used to evaluate teacher performance, which means it’s controversial. Indiana is requiring public schools to create teacher evaluation and rating systems.

Harvard researcher Thomas Kane analyzed 7,500 lessons taught by 1,300 teachers in six school districts for the  Methods of Effective Teaching Study, which was funded by the Gates Foundation.

“Digital video may be more valuable than an observer’s notes for allowing a teacher to “see,” literally, the strengths and weaknesses in their practice,” Kane said. “Someone cannot remember what they did not notice in the first place.”

Kane believes all teachers should record themselves teaching and submit “lessons they are proud of” for their performance reviews. “We would then train principals on how to use the video for evaluating and providing productive feedback to teachers.”