States roll back teachers’ bargaining rights

Wisconsin’s new law restricting public employees’ collective bargaining rights is on hold to give Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi time to consider a lawsuit charging Republican lawmakers failed to give 24-hour notice of the vote. However, if the judge overturns the law, Republicans could pass it again.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has signed a law phasing out tenure for new teachers and restricting collective bargaining. The Republican governor also signed legislation to introduce teacher merit pay.

Collective-bargaining limits are moving forward in Ohio and Indiana.

In Tennessee, Republicans are debating whether to limit collective bargaining for teachers or ban it entirely. Again, Republicans control the legislature and the statehouse.

Florida will end tenure for new teachers, offer merit pay and limit bargaining rights.

Plain speaking

Edu-agitprop can be unhealthy, Rick Hess wrote last week in considering the season’s education reform movies. As an antidote to simplistic moral crusading, he recommends Fordham’s forthright book on the institute’s efforts to “help launch new schools; to fix broken older schools; to assist needy families to make their way into better education options — and to duke it out with powerful institutional resistances, reform-averse politicians, and adult interests bent on maintaining the status quo.”

Ohio’s Education Reform Challenges: Lessons from the Frontlines by Checker Finn, who runs Fordham, Terry Ryan, the vice president for Ohio, and writer Mike Lafferty concedes that reform is hard. Very hard.

The authors showcased their take in a terrific column for Fordham’s Education Gadfly recently, one in which they unapologetically described Fordham’s adventures in charter school authorizing as “humbling.” They recounted, “One of our sponsored schools imploded in a fashion worthy of a Greek tragedy. Just a few years ago, the W.E.B. Dubois Academy in Cincinnati was visited by the (then) governor [and] lauded in the U.S. Senate (as a praiseworthy example of a school narrowing achievement gaps)… But fast forward a few years and the school’s dynamic founder was pleading guilty to five counts of theft in connection with charges that he misused school funds and services to improve his home. The school he founded was closed–for weak academic performance–just last month.”

One of the book’s lessons is that a charter school “has the opportunity to do things smarter and better,” but inept founders may blow it, Hess writes.

Another is that choice doesn’t guarantee quality. “The education marketplace doesn’t work as well as we thought — or as some of our favorite theories and theorists assert,” the Fordham authors admit.

In practice, the authors note that atrocious schools can roll comfortably along for years, fully enrolled–undermining blind confidence that the mere presence of parental choice will serve to encourage academic excellence and discipline lousy schools.

Finally, “they detail how seemingly zealous reformers can quickly morph into defenders of the new status quo, as charter school operators and others find themselves grasping for dollars, resisting accountability, working to stifle competitors, and generally deciding that there’s no need for further change.”

The book isn’t just for Ohioans, Hess writes. It’s for those who “prefer hard truths to airy rhetoric when it comes to improving schools.”

John Merrow of Learning Matters also has a new book, Below C Level: How American Education Encourages Mediocrity – and What We Can Do about It.

Turnarounds don't come cheap

To turn around a persistently low-performing Los Angeles high school, the Green Dot charter group will spend an extra $15 million over four years’ foundations will provide most of the funds. The New York Times asks if turnarounds are too costly.

As recently as 2008, Locke High School here was one of the nation’s worst failing schools, and drew national attention for its hallway beatings, bathroom rapes and rooftop parties held by gangs. For every student who graduated, four others dropped out.

Now, two years after a charter school group took over, gang violence is sharply down, fewer students are dropping out, and test scores have inched upward. Newly planted olive trees in Locke’s central plaza have helped transform the school’s concrete quadrangle into a place where students congregate and do homework.

Locke’s $15 million turnaround budget is “more than twice the $6 million in federal turnaround money that the Department of Education has set as a cap for any single school,” the Times reports.

Locke’s teachers voted to turn the huge school into a Green Dot charter in 2008.

Green Dot divided Locke into small academies. Several, modeled on the charters it operates elsewhere, opened in fall 2008 with freshman classes of 100 to 150 students and are to reach full enrollment of 500 to 600 students by fall 2011.

Other academies concentrate on remedial classes for older students, including some returning from jail. Another focuses on preparing students for careers in architecture.

Green Dot required Locke’s 120 teachers to reapply for their jobs. It rehired about 40, favoring teachers who showed enthusiasm and a belief that all Locke students could learn. The campus stays open each day until early evening for science tutoring, band and other activities.

Green Dot is spending on security and busing for students who live in dangerous neighborhoods. It’s also adding classroom space because attendance is up and fewer students are dropping out.

Dividing Locke into academies required adding more staff.  Green Dot also hired two psychologists and two social workers.

Locke’s turnaround will cost $1,250 per student, writes Alexander Russo, who’s writing a book on the school. Some of that replaces lost state funding and some is required by the school’s huge size and very dangerous neighborhood.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sided with local charter schools hoping to take over low-performing schools, reports the LA Times. In the first round of school takeovers, teacher groups were given control of most schools.

California’s 188 lowest-performing schools will get $416 million in federal turnaround money over three years, reports Educated Guess.

But districts won’t learn until late next month how much they’ll be entitled to, leaving virtually no time to prepare teachers and parents for the massive changes the schools will be forced to undergo this fall.

Ohio is giving $31 million in turnaround funding to 11 district-run schools that would be closed for low performance under the rules governing charter schools, notes Flypaper. Ten of the 11 schools will adopt the least rigorous turnaround model; all will have three years to show results.

Order in the school

Columbus Collegiate Academy, the highest-performing middle school in Columbus, Ohio, won a national award for improving students’ achievement.  Nearly all students are low-income and black.  What’s the secret? This Examiner story cites excellent teachers, a curriculum designed to teach what’s in the state standards and a “laser-like focus on academics.” I was struck by the emphasis on order.

(In each classroom), identical signs illustrate the hand signals students should use for common requests like tissues, pencils, or questions, and where teachers give out individual and class merits and demerits for good or bad behavior. The school’s culture is one of personal and group restraint, with all available energy and attention trained on the urgent task of getting each student prepared, ultimately, for college. Social studies, science, and history teacher Kathryn Anstaett explains that “an aura of professionalism” pervades the school. She and Ben Pacht both agree that the school’s established structure—its clear guidelines for student behavior, instructional practices, and discipline—frees the kids and grownups alike to focus on learning.

Co-director John Dues ends lunch by counting “one, two, three, ” signaling students to stand, push in the chair, discard trash and get in line.  “The cafeteria spotless, the students soundless, Dues directed the children back to their classrooms.”

The Fordham-sponsored charter has a longer day and year — the equivalent of an extra 64 days — and tries to use every second.

Update: James Lileks remembers his junior high school vice principal. Mr. Lear wasn’t anyone’s friend.

Mr. Lear’s preferred method of getting a kid to behave was to lift him up by the short hairs on the nape of his neck, which are directly connected to the portions of the brain that handle pain, fear, humiliation, and resentment. What earned this? Horseplay. Tomfoolery. And, of course, hijinx. But if you said a bad word you walked on tiptoe to his office, held aloft by your neck hairs.

There were never any fights at school, and no one swore out loud.

When a local mother visited the high school Lileks’ daughter might attend, a student called her “bitch,” for no apparent reason, “and all the other kids giggled and whooped.”

Rethinking seniority, tenure

Principals in Providence will be able to hire teachers based on their qualifications, instead of letting senior teachers “bump” those with less time on the job.

Education Commissioner Peter McWalters, who ordered the change, says he has the power to intervene in a chronically under-performing school district.  He wants to build a common school culture by giving principals the ”authority to select teachers who not only agree with the school’s mission but are best suited to the needs of those particular students.”

The teachers’ union hasn’t decided whether to fight the order.

Several states are considering delaying tenure for teachers, reports Teacher Beat.

In Ohio, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland wants to grant teachers tenure after nine years, rather than the current three. . . . It would also allow tenured teachers to be dismissed for “just cause.” Currently, teachers can only be dismissed for “gross immorality” or “inefficiency.”

. . . In Florida, Republican legislators are preparing to submit legislation to give teachers annual contracts for their first 10 years in the classroom and then contracts of no more than five years after that. Essentially, that plan would make teachers at-will employees for their first 10 years.

. . . And, of course, there’s D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s proposal to push tenure-granting back from two to four years and require current teachers to forgo it for a year in exchange for the opportunity to win bonuses.

No Child Left Behind should provide incentives to keep competent teachers and dump the non-performers, reasons Teacher Beat. But is that really happening?

Teacher Beat also reports on a New Teacher Project study of how teachers are hired and evaluated in San Francisco: From 2005-2007, only five of 1,804 teachers were rated “unsatisfactory,” while  86 percent received one of the top two ratings.