What’s covered — or not– in education

Charter schools got lots of coverage in 2012. The cost of teachers’ pensions did not. That’s according to the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education’s five hits and five misses for education coverage in 2012, which was based on analyzing 43 newspapers, magazines, television networks, websites, and more.

In addition to charters, hits included teachers’ unions, special education, pre-kindergarten education and No Child Left Behind.

Pension costs, Common Core academic standards, international comparisons of student achievement, online or digital learning and Louisiana’s education reforms made the “misses” list.

“Unfunded teacher pension costs are education’s own ‘fiscal cliff,’” according to task force chairman Chester E. Finn Jr. “The Common Core may well lead to enormous changes in curriculum, instruction, and testing. What Governor Jindal has accomplished in Louisiana should be a model for the nation. Shame on the press for not giving such issues their due.”

I feel I’ve seen a lot on Common Core, but I’m not a typical news consumers.

In No One Benefits, the National Council on Teacher Quality argues that teacher pension systems are failing both teachers and taxpayers. Pension systems have $390 billion in unfunded liabilities, according to NCTQ. Only 10 states can keep the pension promises already made.

In addition, retirement eligibility rules are “burdensome and unfair.”

In 38 states retirement eligibility rules for teachers are based on years of service, rather than age, which is costly to states and taxpayers as it allows teachers to retire relatively young with full lifetime benefits. The 10 states that no longer allow teachers to begin collecting a defined benefit pension well before traditional retirement age save about $450,000 per teacher, on average.

Since 2008, 40 states have raised employer contribution rates, at an average cost of $1,200 more per teacher each year. Over the same time period, 27 states have raised teacher contributions, costing the average teacher almost $500 more per year. “Small adjustments are no replacement for systemic reform,” concludes the report.

The $1 million good-bye

An Indiana school superintendent received a $1 million retirement package, reports the Indianapolis Star. The Wayne Township School Board agreed to the deal with then-Superintendent Terry Thompson in 2007.  Board members now say they signed without knowing the costs.

Thompson, 64, retired in December after 15 years with the district. He received a year’s base pay at more than $225,000, hundreds of thousands of dollars for unused vacation and sick days, a $35,000 early retirement bonus and a consulting contract as “superintendent emeritus” that has been paying Thompson $1,352 a day to advise his successor.

That amount, over the 150 days laid out in the contract, would pay him more than $200,000 — bringing the total to more than $1 million.

In addition, the contract called for one other perk — a onetime $15,000 stipend for “retirement planning.”

Thompson already has collected about $800,000 but is now “negotiating” to resign the superintendent emeritus job.

Since 2007, Wayne Township schools have cut 127 teaching positions;  teachers did not receive a raise last year or this year. In addition, the district cut funding for elementary sports and math textbooks.

In a recession, teacher pay looks good

Veteran teachers earn more than $100,000 a year in Rochester and many other New York districts, reports the New York Times. A Rochester math teacher with 30 years’ experience pays nothing for health benefits and looks forward to a well-funded retirement. And she’s got great job security.

Of course, only five students qualify for her calculus class — and she can’t actually teach because of the frequent fake fire alarms.

Younger teachers don’t have job security, but the pay is competitive — at least until the economy turns around.

Unionizing charter schools

Teachers at two KIPP schools in New York City have voted to unionize, reports the New York Times. KIPP teachers earn more than district teachers but work longer hours. It’s common for teachers to burn out.

Several teachers at the two schools — KIPP Amp, a middle school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and KIPP Infinity, a middle school in Harlem — said the union organizing drive came about because they wanted a stronger voice on the job and because the demands on them were so rigorous. They also said that they wanted to insure a fair discipline and evaluation system.

A union contract will hurt the schools, said Jeanne Allen, executive director of the pro-charter Center for Education Reform.

“As long as you have nonessential rules that have more to do with job operations than with student achievement,” she said, “you are going to have a hard time with accomplishing your mission.”

Not necessarily a problem, writes Eduwonk. After all, Green Dot charters in Los Angeles are unionized (though not affiliated with the AFT or NEA).  KIPP Bronx, a district school conversion, is unionized.

What matters is what’s in the contract not unionization per se.

Allen responds:

What KIPP schools are experiencing is the equivalent of a takeover, even disguised as a restructuring, where management will no longer be able to set the tone or culture of their schools.

Flypaper’s Mike Petrilli also thinks this is a big deal.

Core Knowledge has lots o’ links.

Collective bargaining agreements are more flexible than reformers think, concludes the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which studied Washington, California, and Ohio.

Counting retirement and health benefits, teachers are well compensated, writes Rishawn Biddle in Golden Apples. But many teacher pension and health plans are abysmally managed and underfunded.