AFT poll: Teachers unprepared for new standards

Most public school teachers say they’re not prepared to teach math and reading to the new Common Core standards, according to a survey by the American Federation of Teachers. While 75 percent of teachers surveyed by the union support the Common Core, less than one-third said they’d received the training and resources needed to teach to the new standards.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the new standards and many have started implementation.

Two states — Kentucky and New York — have already tested students on the new standards. In New York, teachers, parents and students complained that the tests were poorly designed, covered material that had not been taught and frustrated children to the point of tears. Like many other states, New York intends to use the test results in decisions about student grade promotion, teacher job evaluations and school closings.

AFT President Randi Weingarten has called for a testing moratorium for at least one year. Among teachers surveyed, 83 percent supported the moratorium.

Common Core backlash

Indiana will “pause” implementation of Common Core standards for more state review, if Gov. Mike Pence signs a bill on his desk. It’s not clear how state Superintendent Glenda Ritz will interpret the legislation, writes Scott Elliott in the Indianapolis Star.  The State Board of Education is “deeply committed to Common Core,” but the governor will be appointing new board members this summer.

The backlash against the new standards is a national phenomenon, reports the Washington Post. Some state legislators are worried about the costs, which could add up to $12 billion a year. Others say teachers don’t have the training and resources they need.

Conservatives say “Obamacore” amounts to a national curriculum. Using federal Race to the Top grants to pressure states to adopt Common Core has backfired.

New standards will mean lower test scores — and more testing for many students.

Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers and a strong  Common Core supporter, called for  a “mid-course correction” this week. “The Common Core is in trouble,” she said. “There is a serious backlash in lots of different ways, on the right and on the left.”

AFT’s proposed testing moratorium is a triangulation strategy, writes Dropout Nation.

‘Corporate reformers’ are public school allies

Demonizing “corporate school reform” is a waste of venom, argues Larry Cuban, a former Stanford education professor, superintendent and teacher.

Critics of the contemporary school reform agenda of test-based accountability, evaluating and paying teachers on the basis of test scores, more charter schools, and Common Core Standards point to the stakeholders in the civic, philanthropic, and business led coalition (e.g., Walton, Gates, and Broad foundations, hedge fund managers, mayors who have taken over city schools, testing companies) that have linked education and the economy since the 1980s. These critics argue that this reform agenda seeks to turn schools into market-driven organizations where consumer choice reigns and teaching and learning are commodities to be packaged and delivered.

“My experiences and research see no conspiracies to destroy public schools or bash teachers but differences in political beliefs, values, and language over the direction public schools should take  in an ever-changing global economy, one in which business and government have been and are continually entangled in making decisions,” Cuban concludes.

Is There A “Corporate Education Reform” Movement? asks Leo Casey on Shanker Blog, citing Cuban’s essay. He has doubts too.

Vicki Phillips, director of K-12 programs at the Gates Founation, collaborated with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on a sponsored article on teacher evaluation in The New Republic.

From blog posts to some reader comments section on Diane Ravitch’s blog, what one found were not political analyses or reasoned objections to the particular points where Phillips and Weingarten were in agreement, but tests of moral purity, in which any discussion of common ground with Gates and the Gates Foundation was regarded as the violation of a pollution taboo. One blogger even managed to condemn Weingarten for doing what he himself tells us he did – engage in a dialogue with the Gates Foundation.

Chill, Casey advises. Every progressive reform in the U.S.  has been backed “by a powerful mass movement from below” and “a fraction of the power elite from above,” he writes. “Those of us who care about the survival and health of public education need all (the allies) we can find, even those who are not allies for all things or for all time.”

 

AFT seeks national ‘bar’ exam for teachers

Teachers’ colleges would set higher standards — at least a 3.0 grade point average — and would-be teachers would have to pass the equivalent of a bar exam, proposes the American Federation of Teachers in Raising the Bar. That includes prospective teachers with alternative certification.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards would develop an “exam measuring content, pedagogy, and practice — based on a cohesive set of teaching standards crafted by practitioners,” reports Stephen Sawchuk on Ed Week‘s Teacher Beat. NBPTS might use the performance assessments that are under development, said CEO Ronald Thorpe. “This is not about reinventing the wheel.”

But the details are unclear. How will teaching competence be measured? Will one style of teaching — let’s say “guide on the side” — be required? What happens if the failure rate is higher for blacks and Latinos than for whites and Asian-Americans?

Everyone wants to professionalize teaching, writes Andrew Rotherham on Eduwonk. But “what if education isn’t really like law or medicine?”  What if “there isn’t a field-wide core of knowledge or skills all practitioners must have?”  We don’t  know what “makes a great 10th-grade English teacher or 12th grade government teacher,” beyond content knowledge, he writes.

A national exam would “level the playing field,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Maybe all the alternative certified teachers will pass with flying colors. But if only 10 percent of [Teach For America] passed it and 90 percent of the students from Teachers College passed it, that would say something.”

Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina look at how teachers from various preparation programs do in the classroom, responds Rotherham. Teach for America teachers do well.  The quality of other alternatively certified teachers varies. If Weingarten is trying to “reassert control over a rapidly decentralizing field” by freezing out TFA, that’s a waste of time.

Why not find out whether candidates can actually do what they’re being hired to do? Actual live teaching as part of the teacher hiring process remains stunningly rare.  I’d be a lot more excited if the AFT announced it wanted to pursue more of a guild model and see what we can learn from that approach. Even better if the union wanted to do training and put its brand behind the teachers who carry its label (in some cities AFT chapters do solid professional development). Instead, we’re once again trying to develop a test to address a problem everyone is aware of  but few have the political fortitude to take on: Most of our teacher preparation programs just aren’t very good.  We don’t need a test to tell us that, we need serious reform.

It’s a “serious proposal to raise standards for new teachers as part of a broader effort to strengthen the profession,” writes Fordham’s Checker Finn. But, among other things, he’s worried by the vagueness of AFT’s call for “an in-depth test of subject and pedagogical knowledge.”

There is no hint of what in-depth knowledge might mean for a U.S. history teacher versus a geometry teacher versus an art teacher, nor does it address what sort of testing arrangement might gauge whether an individual possesses enough of it. (We know that the current arrangement—with most states relying heavily on the “Praxis II” test—does not do this well. We also know that some states do not take this issue on at all.)

NBPTS, which board certifies veteran teachers, hasn’t shown “much interest in subject-matter knowledge,” Finn writes. “Pedagogy, yes. Even lesson-planning. But not the causes and consequences of the Civil War or the ways that atoms combine to form molecules.”

Update: Putting the teachers’ union in charge of certifying teachers is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast.

Union’s charter school faces closure

To prove a union contract is no barrier to school success, the United Federation of Teachers opened its own UFT Charter School in Brooklyn in 2005, notes Gotham Schools. After seven years of turmoil, the union-run K-9 school may be closed for low performance.

Fewer than a third of students are reading on grade level, and the math proficiency rate among eighth-graders is less than half the city average.

On the school’s most recent progress report, released last week, the Department of Education gave it a D and ranked it even lower than one of its co-located neighbors, J.H.S. 166, which the city tried to close last year and now has shortlisted again for possible closure.

Two years ago, the school received a three-year extension on its charter instead of five years because of performance concerns.

Test scores have plummeted since then, the school has cycled through multiple principals, and enrollment is down to just 70 percent of capacity.

The UFT Charter School performs worse than other schools in the district, despite enrolling fewer special education students and far fewer English Learners, reports Gotham Schools.

The UFT picked “teacher leaders” to run the elementary and middle schools. Turnover has been high.

“We are continuing to see progress and innovation at many teacher-led schools,” American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten told Gotham Schools in an e-mail. She praised Green Dot New York Charter School in the Bronx, a union partner with a “thin contract” that gives teachers some, but not all, their usual rights.

Chicago teachers end strike

After more than a week on picket lines, Chicago teachers’ union delegates have voted to end the strike. Schools will reopen Wednesday.

Saying it marked “a new day and a new direction “ for Chicago schools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the contract — with its teacher evaluations, longer school day provision and plans for five new science and technology high schools.

A union statement bragged about stopping “corporate ‘school reform’.”

“Now we have stopped the board from imposing merit pay! We preserved our lanes and steps when the politicians and press predicted they were history. We held the line on health care costs.”

The district will use students’ “growth” scores as only 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, the minimum set by state law. A committee will discuss how to evaluate teachers.

I still think it looks like a victory for the union — and for union chief Karen Lewis, who’s rumored to be thinking about challenging Randi Weingarten for leadership of the American Federation of Teachers. Whether a more militant AFT is good for teachers in the long run is another question.

Rahmbo got rolled by the union, writes Rick Hess.

Politics and the Chicago teachers’ strike

Teacher evaluation — what percentage of a teacher’s rating should be based on students’ improvement on tests? — is at the heart of the Chicago strike, writes Marc Tucker, looking at the politics. The city wants a higher number than the one set by state law. And why did Illinois require the use of student test scores in evaluating teachers? It wanted to please Arne Duncan to get Race to the Top money.

The very policy that the teachers are most furiously opposed to is not just Rahm Emanuel’s policy.  It is core Obama administration policy.  The mayor is carrying the water for the Obama administration’s education reform strategy, and, in doing so, may be undermining the very reelection effort to which the mayor is personally very committed.

. . .  The administration has ardently and successfully advocated a reform agenda that teachers and their unions see as anti-teacher.  They have been successful in this advocacy because a tough-minded stance on teacher evaluations is one of only a tiny handful of issues on which the administration can find common ground with Republicans around the country.

President Obama has taken no position on the strike, notes Stephen Sawchuk on Teacher Beat.

“The president has said what’s appropriate to be said, that this is a local issue,” (American Federation of Teachers president Randi) Weingarten said.

. . .  I overheard the president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers telling the striking teachers that he’d removed his “Reelect Obama” lapel pin.

After vehemently endorsing the Wisconsin teachers’ union’s fight with Gov. Scott Walker, Weingarten “has been careful to not embrace her Chicago chapter too closely,” writes Rick Hess in a New York Daily News op-ed. There’s been no fiery rhetoric this time.

What’s different is that this is a bad fight for the teacher unions – most of the public, seeing the facts, will not be on their side – it comes at an awful time, and an ugly defeat could be a crushing blow.

The district is opening more “Children First” centers to provide games, arts and crafts and recreation for children and expanding to normal school hours, reports Sawchuk.

It’s about power, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. “The unions are feeling whipsawed by tectonic shifts that have occured within the Democratic Party in recent years.”

There’s talk the strike could be settled soon — perhaps soon enough to start classes on Monday. Striking teachers are planning what to tell their students, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Christopher Barker, who teaches math and humanities at an elementary school, said he’ll ask students. “Is there anywhere that you go in life when you do have to speak up for yourself when there’s a perceived injustice?”

Donielle Lawson, who teaches special education at an alternative high school at Cook County Jail, also plans to discuss the strike. ”They’re all too familiar with bullying and societal injustices, so it would be a very easy conversation with them,” Lawson said.

Without suspension, what’s the solution?

The Dignity in Schools Campaign is calling for Solutions Not Suspensions, a moratorium on out-of-school suspensions. The coalition charges black, Latino and disabled students are being pushed out of school and denied an education. Instead of suspension and expulsion, the coalition proposes a Model Code on Education and Dignity which calls for “positive discipline,” “restorative justice” and lots of counseling and support services.

Our punitive mindset blinds us to effective discipline, argues Julia Steiny.

“Children cannot learn if they are not in the classroom,” said  AFT President Randi Weingarten in a statement supporting the need for discussion. She added, “Nor can they or their peers learn, or teachers teach, in a school environment that is not safe, stable and engaging.”

The facts are disturbing. According to a Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles report, 17 percent of African-American students and 13 percent of students with disabilities have been suspended. And school districts continue to eliminate school counselors, mentors and other services that are crucial to helping students succeed inside and outside the classroom.

The AFT wants “viable alternatives” before supporting a ban on suspensions, Weingarten writes.

In New York City public schools, students will not be suspended for talking back to teachers, cursing or other “low-level”  misbehavior. unless they’re habitual offenders, reports the New York Times. K-3 students can be suspended for five days, but not 10, for offenses such as shoving or tagging school property. The revised discipline code tells teachers to “intervene quickly with misbehaving students and to try counseling before moving to punishment.”

Misbehaving students can be sent to the principal’s office or denied  extracurricular activities. Severely disruptive students may be moved to a school that specializes in students with disciplinary problems. Expulsion is almost never used.

Teachers, is out-of-school suspension a necessary tool to deal with disruptive but non-violent students? What are the alternatives?

Teachers’ unions go on the defensive

Teachers’ unions are on the defensive, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Hollywood’s upcoming Won’t Back Down – heroic mother teams with idealistic teacher to take over a low-performing school – shows how negatively teachers unions are viewed, he writes.

“When did Norma Rae get to be the bad guy?” asks a union leader (Holly Hunter) in the movie. I don’t know, but that’s indeed the state of play when it comes to teachers’ unions, and it’s a dangerous one.

The parents Bruni knows are draining their bank accounts to pay private school tuition, but most families can’t afford it. Ninety percent of children attend public schools.

The teachers’ unions are unhappy with President Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, writes Bruni. They don’t like the policies promoted by Race to the Top. At the local level, top Democrats are bucking the unions.

In Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and other cities, Democratic mayors have feuded bitterly with teachers’ unions and at times come to see them as enemies. And at a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors in June, Democratic mayors joined Republican ones in a unanimous endorsement of so-called parent trigger legislation, about which unions have serious reservations. These laws, recently passed in only a few states but being considered in more, abet parent takeovers of underperforming schools, which may then be replaced with charter schools run by private entities.

Teachers’ unions have hurt their reputations by defending teachers’ tenure and seniority rights without regard to the welfare of their students, writes Bruni. “We were focused — as unions are — on fairness and not as much on quality,” American Federation of Teachers chief  Randi Weingarten conceded in a phone interview.

 The unions have also run afoul of the grim economic times. “In the private sector, nobody’s got any security about anything,” said Charles Taylor Kerchner, a professor of education at Claremont Graduate University. So the unions’ fights over pay raises and pensions, he said, made previously routine negotiations “look like pigs at the trough.”

When Hollywood steps in, it means the intellectual debate is over, writes Jay Greene.

. . .  the teacher unions are finally being treated as the special interest group they are rather than as credible players in the discussion over the merits of various education policies. When Campbell Brown takes on the unions the game is over.

The unions are still quite powerful and policy battles will continue to rage, Greene writes. But a big political and cultural shift has occurred.

Norma Rae is the bad guy.

When reform touches teachers

When reform touches teachers features a civil discussion — no talk of crypto-fascists clubbing baby harp seals — between Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Frederick M. Hess, education policy director at the American Enterprise Institute. Fordham’s Michael Petrilli moderates.

Yesterday’s discussion was earth-shaking, writes Hess in Ed Week.

We agreed on the failure of principals to do their job when it comes to teacher evaluation, the need to overhaul today’s industrial era model of schooling, the limits of trying to drive evaluation primarily off of today’s crude value-added scores on state reading and math assessments, and the value of engaging teachers in decisions regarding instruction and content (though Randi thinks it’d be a good idea to do that via collective bargaining and I couldn’t disagree more).

Randi argued teachers feel like they’re under attack. As I argued in the New York Times this spring, it’s perfectly reasonable for teachers to feel angry that policymakers are looking to dial back their pensions and health care entitlements. But that doesn’t amount to disrespect or an “attack.”

GOP leaders who’ve “pushed to dial back benefits and collective bargaining” have used “respectful language,” Hess writes. Union advocates “have compared them to Nazis.” Gov. Scott Walker was equated with Hitler and Mubarak.