How Americans would cut school budgets

If you had to balance a public school budget, would you lay off teachers, cut pay or raise taxes? Who’d go first if layoffs were essential? How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education reports on a Fordham survey.

If their own school district were facing a serious deficit, 48 percent said the best approach would be “to cut costs by dramatically changing how it does business,” rather than raise taxes or wait out the downturn. How?

Shrink the administration. A broad majority (69 percent) supports “reducing the number of district level administrators to the bare minimum” as a good way to save money because “it means cutting bureaucracy without hurting classrooms.”

Freeze salaries to save jobs. Nearly six in ten (58 percent) say freezing salaries for one year for all district employees is a good way to save money “because the district can avoid laying off people.”

If teachers must be laid off, base it on their effectiveness, not years of service. About three in four (74 percent) say that those with poor performance should be “laid off first and those with excellent performance protected”; only 18 percent would have “newcomers laid off first and veteran teachers protected.”

In addition, there was broad support for closing schools and merging districts, raising class sizes in non-core subjects such as art, music, and physical education and replacing expensive special ed programs.

However, respondents rejected shortening the school year and shrinking the non-teaching staff.

They split on charging fees for after-school sports and extracurricular activities, using blended learning (a mix of Internet and classroom instruction), and “virtual” schools.

Here’s part of the survey.

 

 

Teachers are less satisfied

Teachers are less satisfied with their jobs, but parents are more engaged with their children’s schools, according to the new MetLife Survey of the American Teacher.

Teacher job satisfaction has fallen by 15 percentage points since 2009, the last time the MetLife survey queried teachers on this topic, from 59 percent to 44 percent responding they are very satisfied. This rapid decline in job satisfaction is coupled with a large increase in the number of teachers reporting that they are likely to leave teaching for another occupation (17 percent in 2009 vs. 29 percent today).

 

Not surprisingly, more teachers say their job is not secure. Two-thirds of teachers reported layoffs in their schools; three-quarters said there were budget cuts in the last year. Sixty-three percent said average class size has increased in their school.

Parent involvement has increased since it was first surveyed.  Sixty-four percent of students say they talk about things that happen at school with their parents every day, compared to 40 percent in 1988.

Teach for America grows, but . . .

Teach for America‘s expansion is raising questions, reports AP. With experienced teachers facing layoffs, do high-poverty schools need inexperienced teachers, however bright, who commit for only two years in the classroom?

“There’s no question that they’ve brought a huge number of really talented people in to the education profession,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, which advocates on behalf of low-income and minority children, and a longtime supporter of TFA.

But, she said, “Nobody should teach in a high poverty school without having already demonstrated that they are a fabulous teacher. For poor kids, education has to work every single year.”

High-poverty,  high-minority schools employ nearly twice as many teachers with fewer than three years’ experience, AP reports.

One third of TFA graduates are still teaching, according to the organization. Sixty percent work in education, including administration, starting new schools or developing policy.

In Why I did TFA and you shouldn’t, Gary Rubinstein explains why he no longer recruits for TFA. Twenty years ago, TFA recruits took “jobs that nobody else wanted,” he writes. The alternative to a “barely trained” TFA teacher was “a different substitute every day.”

The 2011 corps is nearly 6,000, twelve times as big as the cohorts from the early ’90s. Unfortunately, the landscape in education has changed a lot in the past twenty years. Instead of facing teacher shortages, we have teacher surpluses. There are regions where experienced teachers are being laid off to make room for incoming TFA corps members because the district has signed a contract with TFA, promising to hire their new people.

TFA has spawned arrogant education reformers who are “assisting in the destruction of public education,” Rubinstein charges.

In a follow-up post, he writes about how he’d fix TFA.

So here’s my plan: TFA becomes a three year program with the first year composed of training, student teaching, substitute teaching, and being paired up as an assistant to a corps member who is in her second year of the program, which is her first (of two) years of teaching.

First-year recruits would train at a university while grading papers, calling parents and subbing for a second-year TFA teacher, he proposes.

You will tutor kids after school. If necessary, you will cook dinner for the teacher you assist. First year teaching is a two-person job and you will be the behind the scenes person who does a lot of the dirty work so that the second year corps member can succeed. You will also be subbing throughout your city. Perhaps you have to sub twice a week. Do that for a year and you will have no trouble facing your actual classes in your second year.

With a year of preparation — and an assistant — the first year of teaching wouldn’t be so traumatic, he writes. Perhaps more people would want to remain as teachers, building on their first two years of experience.

 

Oakland loses students, schools to charters

Twenty-one percent of students in Oakland, California, a mostly low-income, minority district, now attend charter schools and now two successful schools are converting to charter status, writes Lisa Snell on Reason.

Last week the Oakland Unified school district voted to close five elementary schools as part of a restructuring plan as the district grapples with a huge budget deficit caused in part by too many schools and not enough students. In the past six years student achievement in Oakland Unified has improved faster than any urban district in California. The district has operated through a charter-like school-choice process called “Options” where a student can enroll in any school in the district and the “money follows the child” to that school. 

 Despite the flexibility, teachers and principals at two elementaries, ASCEND and Learning Without Limits, have voted for charter status, saying charters “have far more control over who they hire, what they teach and how, and how they spend their money,” reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Those interviewed from the two schools, including Mari Rose Taruc, a parent-leader from ASCEND, say families overwhelmingly support the charter proposal.

The two schools hired teachers dedicated to the mission when they opened in 2001 (ASCEND) and 2007 (Learning Without Limits). But, this March, the district issued seniority-based layoff notices to 60 percent of the older school’s teachers and nearly all of the newer school’s teachers. While most of the layoff notices were rescinded, the two schools decided that charter conversion was the best way to protect the schools’ character.

 

Only 2.5% of teachers were laid off

Despite predictions of massive teacher lay-offs, only 2.5 percent of teachers were laid off in 74 urban districts that responded to a National Council on Teacher Quality survey.  Three California districts — Long Beach, Sacramento and San Diego — laid off 20 percent of teachers. Excluding these outliers, 1.5 percent of teachers lost their jobs for financial reasons. About half of the districts reported no layoffs.

Last spring, districts projected laying off 160,000 teachers, about 5 percent of the total. More than 200,000 “educator” jobs have disappeared, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Districts report not replacing some teachers who retired or resigned and laying off central-office employees. Aides and other support staffers lost their jobs in New York City.

Few districts avoided teacher layoffs by reducing the school year or cutting teacher benefits, the survey found.

Laying off the least effective teachers

Seniority determines teacner layoffs in most school districts. Laying off the least-effective teachers, instead of the newest hires, would let districts retain more and better teachers for the same budgetary savings, write University of Washington researchers Dan Goldhaber and Roddy Theobald  in Education Next.

 Only 16 percent of Washington state teachers who received lay-off notices were in the least-effective category, the study concluded, comparing teachers for whom value-added scores could be generated.  Because the least-effective teachers are more senior and therefore earn higher pay, laying off 132 would save as much money as laying off 145 junior teachers.   

Furthermore, the least-effective group was 20 percent of a standard deviation lower in students’ math and reading achieve­ment then the least-senior group.

The magnitude of the difference is strik­ing, roughly equivalent to having a teacher who is at the 16th percentile of effectiveness rather than at the 50th percentile. This difference corresponds to roughly 2.5 to 3.5 months of student learning.

Black students are far more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers who are the first to be laid off, the study found.  Effectiveness-based layoffs spread the disruption more evenly.

Some districts protect teachers in high-need specialties: Math and science teachers are less vulnerable to layoffs than P.E. and health teachers, for example. But in 70 percent of the nation’ s largest school districts, seniority alone determines the order of layoffs, the study concluded.

 That’s just crazy.

California teachers win layoff protection

California’s newly passed state budget was a big win for teachers, reports the Sacramento Bee. “Lawmakers blocked K-12 districts from laying off teachers for the upcoming fiscal year.” The bill requires districts to maintain last year’s staffing and program levels, even the state could be forced to cut $1.75 billion if optimistic revenue projections aren’t met.

“Districts will be under tremendous pressure to bring people back from layoffs and, if there is a midyear cut, there is no way to lay people off,” said David Gordon, Sacramento County superintendent of schools. “How then do you handle a midyear cut?”

If tax dollars fall short, the budget lets districts cut another seven days from the school year — but only if teachers’ and staff unions agree.

With layoffs off the table, teachers may have more leverage in those discussions to block school-year reductions.

If the rosy scenario doesn’t pan out, and districts can’t lay off teachers or cut pay through shortening the school year, they’ll just have to . . .  Hold up gas stations?

Natomas Unified interim Superintendent Walt Hanline called the measure “the most irresponsible piece of legislation I’ve seen in my 35 years in education.”

The California Teachers Association is expected to help fund Democratic efforts to raise taxes on the November 2012 ballot, the Bee notes.

Benefits vs. jobs

Wisconsin’s controversial law limiting public employees’ bargaining power will enable a district to hire more teachers to cut class sizes, reports the Appleton Post Crescent.

As changes to collective bargaining powers for public workers take effect today, the Kaukauna Area School District is poised to swing from a projected $400,000 budget shortfall next year to a $1.5 million surplus due to health care and retirement savings.

The Kaukauna School Board approved changes Monday to its employee handbook that require staff to cover 12.6 percent of their health insurance and to contribute 5.8 percent of their wages to the state’s pension system, in accordance with the new collective bargaining law, commonly known as Act 10.

Increased staffing also will make it possible to “identify and support students needing individual assistance through individual and small group experiences,” said the school board president.

Teachers will have less take-home pay, but more teachers will have jobs.

Via Ann Althouse.

Milwaukee Public Schools is laying off 354 teachers. In all, 519 staffers will be laid off and 500 vacancies will not be filled. Class sizes will increase and old textbooks won’t be replaced. If the union agrees to contribute 5.8 percent of wages to retirement benefits, the district can save 198 teachers’ jobs.

The life story of “LIFO”

According to Dana Goldstein, the acronym LIFO did not come up in education discussions until May 19, 2010. In 2009, officials referred to “last in, first out” rules, but they did not use the acronym. Goldstein did some detective work to determine how and when the acronym entered education discussion. (The term “last in, first out” came up in education discussion in 2009, but people used the phrase, not the acronym.)

From what I can tell, the first American use of the LIFO acronym to refer to teacher seniority protections came on May 19, 2010 in an Education Week op-ed by Eric Hanushek, a prominent Stanford University education researcher and fellow at the free-market Hoover Institution. Hanushek introduced readers to the acronym and argued that ending LIFO would be a good way for cash-strapped states to cut costs during a recession.

I emailed Hanushek to ask him how he got the idea to apply “LIFO” to education. “I just know [the term LIFO] from accounting — and my use just picked up on the standard accounting jargon, which seemed to characterize the [teacher seniority] rules perfectly,” he wrote back. Now that teacher layoffs are a reality because of the recession, Hanushek wrote, people are paying more attention to the problem of good, young teachers losing their jobs because of seniority rules.

The New York Post used the acronym on January 25, 2011; according to Goldstein, over 300 news reports have used it since then.

Does the use of the acronym affect the discussion? It probably does. I don’t see a conspiracy in the use of the term–but, as Goldstein points out; “the acronym powerfully recalls one of the most potent critiques of teachers’ unions, that they provide incompetents with job protections for life.” It is hard not to hear “life” in “LIFO.”

In any case, it’s interesting that the acronym has such a short history in education discussion. And it’s generally good to know where terms come from, or at least to ask.

The grand sacrifice of teaching

Is teaching supposed to be a great virtuous sacrifice for the sake of the poor? One might think so from reading Fernanda Santos’s article in today’s New York Times.

Samantha Sherwood had lofty aspirations when she settled on a family-studies major at the University of Connecticut, like redrawing welfare rules or weaving together a sturdier safety net for people in need. She figured that she could change the world in big, broad strokes, and that she might pick up a fancy title and ample salary along the way.

Instead, Ms. Sherwood, 25, joined up with Teach for America, the program that puts top college graduates into the nation’s most poverty-stricken schools, deciding that the best way to make a difference would be, as she put it on Monday, “to be there, where the rubber meets the road.”

I am not passing judgment on Ms. Sherwood; I don’t know her or her teaching. She sounds very dedicated. It’s the article that seems a bit strange. Santos mentions that Sherwood earns $45,000–presumably much less than she would or could have earned as a high-profile social worker.

Is it really that great a sacrifice to go into teaching? I would hope not; I’d hope that those who do it enjoy it enough that they don’t perceive it as a sacrifice. Yes, it’s tough, but it can be immensely rewarding too. Is a salary of $45,000 so bad? Well, it isn’t much money in NYC, but one can live on it, especially if one is 25 and doesn’t have major financial obligations.

The layoffs–which were really the point of the article–will hurt veteran and new teachers alike. They will hurt the classrooms. No layoff system will mitigate that. But one of the weakest arguments on behalf of the younger teachers is that they gave up possible fame and fortune for the sake of the kids.