Chicago teachers’ union targets mayor

Angry about school closings, the Chicago Teachers Union will seek to unseat Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other officials, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Asked at a news conference if she would consider a run for mayor, CTU President Karen Lewis quickly and loudly said, “No. Thank you.” But then she added, “Not yet.”

Union officials plan to register voters and recruit candidates for the city council and state legislature.

The Board of Education is expected to vote May 22 on the plan to close 53 elementary schools and one high school program.

“There is no democracy here,” Lewis said on Monday. “So, if the mayor and his hand-picked corporate school board will not listen to us, we must find those who will.”

Professor may lose job for Obama vote pledge

A math professor who told students to sign pledges to vote for President Obama’s re-election should be fired, President James Richey advised the Brevard Community College Board of Trustees.

Sharon Sweet, an associate professor of mathematics with tenure at the Florida college, is “guilty of electioneering, harassment, and incompetence,” concluded a report based on a three-month investigation.

Talking ’bout education — or not

ED in ’08, which tried to get presidential candidates to discuss education issues was a “successful failure,” argues Alexander Russo. (Most people consider it a plain old failure.) Advocates learned what works — and doesn’t work — in the political arena, Russo writes.

I don’t think K-12 education will be a key issue in this campaign. Obama is focusing on subsidized college loans to appeal to middle-class voters. Romney’s going to focus on jobs, jobs, jobs.

Obama’s willingness to fund vouchers in Washington, D.C. — a deal has been struck with the Republicans — is interesting. Urban blacks, who are less enthusiastic about Obama this time around, support school choice.

The Education Department denied Iowa’s request for a No Child Left Behind waiver because the state hasn’t approved a statewide system for evaluating teachers.  Iowa is a battleground state. That’s politically gutsy, writes Mike Petrilli. Or foolish.

Los Angeles shortens school year again

As Chicago lengthens the school day, Los Angeles keeps shortening the school year. A deal with the teachers union would cancel up to five instruction days in the coming school year and reduce teacher pay by 5 percent. “This would bring to 18 the number of school days cut over four years,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

There is, in fact, a strategic advantage for unions in taking furlough days and shortening the school year. The salary cuts that result are temporary; they expire after one year and must be renegotiated every year.

In the process, teachers avoid making permanent concessions on pension or health benefits. L.A. Unified employees still pay no monthly premiums for health insurance for themselves or family members. And teachers still receive raises based on experience or additional education.

Shortening the school year also “could generate the outrage needed to build public support for boosting state funding,” political analysts say.  “You’re not going to mobilize nearly as many people by warning them about the need to renegotiate pension and health benefits,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

“Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento recommended legislation this week that would allow districts to cut up to three weeks off the next two school years — on top of the five days already approved, if voters fail to approve a tax initiative on the November ballot,” reports the Times. They’re going to kill puppies and kittens too.

Teacher assigns ‘oppo’ research for Obama

Eighth graders at a Virginia public school were told to research the weaknesses of Republican presidential candidates, write a paper on how to exploit the weaknesses and identify who to send the paper to in the Obama campaign.

“This assignment was just creepy beyond belief — like something out of East Germany during the Cold War,” one frustrated father, who asked for his family to remain anonymous, told The Daily Caller.

Michael Denman divided his honors civics class into four groups, all assigned to do “oppo” research on Republicans. After parents complained, the principal told the teacher he should have let students research a candidate from either party, a Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman said.

Duh.

Allegedly, the teacher never told students to send their research to the Obama campaign, but why assign two students in each group to figure out the name of the right “oppo” person?

 

Hess: Top 10 edu-stories of 2012

Why wait for 2012, when Rick Hess has the top Ten Edu-Stories We’ll Be Reading in the new year?

Among his headlines of the future: “GOP presidential nominee abandons primary season attacks on Department of Education; talks up education reform in push for moderates.” Meanwhile, Republicans will feud over Common Core standards, he predicts.

Despite doubts about Race to the Top’s implementation, “Obama campaign makes Race to the Top, push on college affordability a centerpiece in effort to woo suburban swing voters.”

Hess also foresees a backlash against aggressive anti-bullying campaigns after elementary school boys are suspended for tussling and name-calling. (Think zero tolerance.)

Rewriting No Child Left Behind will be left till 2013, he predicts.

Finally: “Mixed results for the Khan Academy‘s ‘flipped’ classroom lead some educators and policymakers to worry that the model doesn’t work for kids who don’t do the requisite work at home. One expert notes, ‘The kids who didn’t do their reading or homework before are the same kids who aren’t viewing their lessons and lectures now.'”

Occupy in the classroom

Occupy Oakland wants teachers to teach about the movement, plus “the role of strikes in movement history,” “the systems and issues this movement is protesting against,” “the possibilities for change this movement is part of envisioning” and “what students need to know about how to stay safe during protests.”

For (very sketchy) lesson plans, teachers can turn to Occupy’s site or the New York Times Learning Blog.

Kristen Burzynski, who teaches eighth-grade science at Community Day School, spent a day on Occupy’s message, reports KQED’s Mind/Shift.

. . . she began her lesson by asking students to think about three slogans of the movement: “We are the 99 percent,” “Human need not corporate greed,” and “Save the American dream.”

Her students had heard these phrases before and recognized the images of the Occupy Oakland camp. Burzynski asked her students, “What do the protesters want?” Responses included money, fairness, and jobs. She answered, “You know, Occupy Wall Street has been criticized for NOT having a distinct goal – a lot of people are saying, What are they asking for? I think it’s cool that you guys are able to hit a lot of things they’re asking for without being told about it.”

To explain the 99 percent wealth disparity, Burzynski asked all her students to try a math problem. She told students to imagine that there were one hundred people and one hundred dollars. One person has 40 dollars. The other 99 people have to split the other 60 dollars. How much would each of the 99 people get? Students mulled over this long division problem, before throwing out guesses, “A penny!” “A quarter!”

Perhaps they need more time on math. Or, since it’s a science class, they could study science: What are the health risks of living without running water or toilets?

Teachers who joined Occupy’s strike cost Oakland Unified about $60,000 to cover the cost of substitute teachers, according to the Bay Citizen. That’s tough on the district, which is laying off staff and closing schools.

Inside angle on K-12 politics

What do the insiders think about education politics in the next two years?

Ed Week’s Politics K-12 has the juicy stuff from a subscription-only report by Andrew Rotherham (Bellwether Education Partners and Eduwonk) and John Bailey, a Bush education aide.

Nearly 70 percent think the Republican surge will slow President Obama’s education agenda. Two thirds think the federal role in education will be scaled back.

One person surveyed said: “Next Congress is going to be about cutting spending, repealing Obamacare, and setting the stage for 2012. Noises will be made about how wonderfully bipartisan education can be and Congress will even attempt to make progress, but Harkin [Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate education committee] is incapable of making the right deals to get the Senate Republicans on board, and the House won’t move forward on anything other than piecemeal bills.”

Eighty-three percent expect bipartisan consensus favoring charter schools and 61 percent predict agreement on teacher effectiveness.

. . .  just 9 percent see the possibility of agreement around extending the Race to the Top (a key Obama priority), and absolutely no one expects agreement on increasing K-12 funding or regulation of for-profit colleges (a higher education issue that many in the GOP say has poisoned the bipartisan well for agreement on K-12).

Insiders predict Republicans will revive debate over the end of vouchers in Washington, D.C.  Some think the Republican wave could slow the push for Common Core Standards. Most think states that made reforms to get Race to the Top money will stay the course, even with Republican governors.

A caste rises through education, trade

Southern India’s lower-caste Nadars, once only a step above untouchables, are now well-educated business leaders, reports the New York Times.

. . .  southern India has rocketed far ahead of much of the rest of the country on virtually every score — people here earn more money, are better educated, live longer lives and have fewer children.

Why? Southern India’s lower castes concentrated on education and business, while northern India’s castes worked for “political power and its spoils.”

Charismatic leaders in the north from lower castes have used caste identity as a way to mobilize voters, winning control over several large north Indian states.

Lower castes in southern India began fighting upper-caste domination a century ago, before independence from the British. Gaining political power wasn’t an option, so the Nadars focused on “dignity, education and self-reliance.”

Nadars created business associations to provide entrepreneurs with credit they could not get from banks. They started charities to pay for education for poor children. They built their own temples and marriage halls to avoid upper caste discrimination.

“Our community focused on education, not politics,” said R. Chandramogan, a Nadar entrepreneur who built India’s largest privately owned dairy company. “We knew that with education, we could accomplish anything.”

What happened to the teacher bloggers?

What Happened to All the Teacher Bloggers? asks Anthony Rebora on Ed Week’s Teaching Now.  He thinks fewer teachers are blogging regularly, except for ed-tech bloggers.

Are would-be teacher bloggers (a la Epiphany in Baltimore) just too frustrated or burnt out to write? Do they fear professional repercussions? Or has recreational blogging lost some of its cache with the rise of Facebook and Twitter?

Teacher bloggers often start strong, have their say and then decide to devote their energies to teaching rather than blogging. Are fewer newbies starting blogs? That could be.

In the Philadelphia suburbs, a Catholic school teacher was fired after she criticized a student’s anti-Obama speech for its tone and viewpoint on her blog, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Elizabeth Collins, an English teacher, writer, artist and “activist,” admitted her “annoyance” at the girl’s politics and posted her own model speech, which defended Obama’s policies. She encouraged students to move “beyond knee-jerk joining of their parents’ political party, and not become one-issue voters, to open their minds and consider the ramifications of their votes.”

The student’s parents, James J. White IV and Megan White, read the post and asked: “If this had been an overly liberal paper, would our daughter have been the subject of your blog?” When the Whites pressed their complaints, Collins used her blog to complain about provincial, intolerant, ultra-conservative parents. Eventually Academy of Notre Dame de Naumur fired Collins.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association says on its website that teachers should not blog about their “job duties, colleagues, supervisors, or students,” notes the Inquirer.

Mandy L. Fleisher, a PSEA staffer who gives workshops about blogging, said, “We recommend that people be safe rather than sorry.”

Others don’t go that far, but Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia and a blogger, said he liked guidelines set down by a fellow education blogger, which include: “If you wouldn’t say it in a faculty meeting or yell it down the hallway during a passing period, perhaps you need to rethink posting it.”

Collins’ unprofessional conduct is the issue, writes Christine Flowers, a former English teacher, in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Collins had every right to have a blog, although it might have been better to keep a private journal instead of presuming that anyone cared about the minutiae of her job. What she didn’t have a right to do is drag into public view something that was a private matter between teacher and student. If she felt the student’s work was mediocre, she should have given her a C. And if she disagreed with its viewpoint, she should’ve sucked it up. It’s not for a teacher to shill for a specific political or social philosophy.

Teachers have to separate professional duties from personal prejudice, Flowers writes.