How strong are teachers’ unions?

Hawaii’s teachers’ union is the strongest in the nation, followed by Oregon, Montana and Pennsylvania, according to Fordham’s analysis. Arizona has the weakest teachers’ unions, followed by Florida and South Carolina.

‘Race’ states go off reform track

Race to the Top winners are veering off the reform track, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The Obama administration is stepping up pressure on states to make good on their commitments under its Race to the Top competition, after all 12 winners either scaled down plans or pushed back timelines to overhaul their public-education systems.

Hawaii, which has delayed almost every part of its reform plan, could lose its $75 million grant, the Education Department warns.  The state has been unable to reach a deal with the teachers’ union.

The Education Department has approved scores of waiver requests, including allowances for Massachusetts to delay plans to develop online courses for teacher mentors and for Rhode Island to push back plans to open more charter schools. Some states, including Florida, got sidetracked by overly optimistic target dates to hire contractors for developing student data systems or to create mathematical formulas for linking teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Tennessee is pushing ahead with a plan to link teacher evaluations to value-added data on their students’ progress, despite complaints that the system makes no sense for teachers in untested subjects and grades. A few “tweaks” will fix the problems, says Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

Hawaii adopts dual diploma tracks

Hawaiia is raising graduation requirements, starting with the class of 2018, but also creating a dual-track system:  Students will be able to opt for a less demanding diploma, the state board of education has decided. (The whole state is one school district.)

The “college and career ready” diploma will require students to complete two lab sciences, algebra 2 or an equivalent math course and a senior project.

Another track is designed for students who may not be interested in higher-level math or lab science, and so requires fewer math courses but still mandates that students take algebra 1 and biology to graduate.

Hawaii’s public schools are not very good, notes the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.  The state superintendent pledges to start working in elementary school to prepare students for higher graduation standards.

Gaga over history on YouTube

Music videos by history teachers are hits on YouTube, reports the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Hawaii residents Amy Burvall and Herb Mahelona have won rave reviews for “The French Revolution,” set to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”  Dressed in period costumes and wigs, Burvall sings lines like, “La la liberte,” and “Walk, walk scaffold baby.” The video has topped 166,000 views.

Mahelona and Burvall produce their music videos in their free time, mostly on weekends, and from start to finish the process takes about three months. So far, they have posted 49 on YouTube, including “Black Death” set to Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” “Martin Luther” set to “Manic Monday” by the Bangles, and “Henry VIII” set to ABBA’s “Money, Money, Money.”

Napoleon will be next.

“The kids just eat it up,” said Mahelona. “And then they take the exam and just from singing the songs, they would remember everything.”

School time is money — and learning

Time is money. To save money on salaries, Hawaiii announced “furlough Fridays” to cut the school year to 163 days. (Gov. Linda Lingle has proposed using teacher planning days to restore the missing days in 2010.)  Los Angeles hopes to save save $60 million by closing school for four days. Restoring the time will require a 12 percent cut in teachers’ pay, says Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

Unfortunately, less school time means less learning, conclude Dave Marcotte and Benjamin Hansen in Education Next.  A number of researchers have found that  adding instructional time improves student learning, especially in math. Losing time lowers scores.

The effect of additional instructional days is quite similar to that of increasing teacher quality and reducing class size. The impact of grade retention is comparable, too, though that intervention is pertinent only for low-achieving students.

The problem goes back to money. Increasing teaching days from 175 to 200 days a year would cost close to $1,000 per student, according to a Minnesota study.