Band, orchestra or facial peels?

Buffalo schools spent nearly $1.7 million in 2011-12 to pay for employees’ cosmetic surgery, such as facial peels and microderm abrasion, charges John Licata, a board member. To save school band and orchestra programs, which face drastic cuts, the board voted to deny cosmetic surgery claims from teachers and administrators.

That won’t hold up in court, observes a Buffalo News editorial. Cosmetic surgery benefits are in the contract, due to the folly of a previous school board. They can’t be suspended without negotiating with the union, which will want something in return. Just saving the jobs of music teachers won’t be enough.

Via Instapundit.

Lawsuit attacks teachers’ union dues

A California lawsuit against teachers’ unions could have national implications, reports HechingerEd.

Ten non-union teachers and the Christian Educators Association are suing their local, state and national unions, alleging that the organizations are forcing them to pay to support political activities they do not agree with in violation of their first amendment rights.

The plaintiff’s lawyers are attempting to fast-track the case in the California courts by essentially eliminating the discovery phase and then appealing almost immediately to the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision in their favor could turn every state in the country into a right-to-work state, where public employees can opt out of joining a union.

Since 2010, three states – Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin – have passed laws restricting labor rights.

In 24 states, including California, teachers and other public workers can opt out of unions but must pay “agency fees” to cover the union’s collective bargaining efforts. That eliminates “free riders” who could benefit from the union-negotiated contract without contributing to the cost.

Unions can’t charge non-members for political activity. But what’s political?

In the 2012-2013 school year, for instance, the California Teachers Association reported that a $27,860 “Ethnic Minority Early Identification Development program” and $18,079 “special publications” were related to collective bargaining. Also that year, the union hosted a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Conference to “address issues involving GLBT educators, students and community” and found that nearly 87 percent of its cost – or $65,099 – was eligible to be paid for by agency fees.

. . . “Whatever you think about these programs, they are not related to collective bargaining,” said Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, the right-leaning organization that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Collective bargaining itself is a political activity, the complaint charges. For example, many teachers unions have opposed merit pay in contract negotiations, while individual teachers may support it.

A 2012 opinion by Justice Samuel Alito in Knox vs. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000 questioned agency fees. “Because a public sector union takes many positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences, the compulsory fees constitute a form of compelled speech and association that imposes a significant impingement on First Amendment rights,” Alito wrote for the majority.

 

Teacher: We can help low-income students

Tennessee is offering $7,000 bonuses to high-performing teachers who work for two years in one of the state’s 83 chronically low-performing schools, reports the Commercial Appeal.

“These teachers will not be able to make a substantial difference in these communities, which have economic deprivation, massive poverty and are disconnected from the fiber of society,” says Keith Williams, president of the Memphis Education Association.

It’s difficult to teach students who live in poverty, but teachers can make a difference, writes Casie Jones, who teaches expelled or recently jailed students in an alternative program in Memphis.

My students struggle with poor attendance, behavioral issues, emotional challenges, and below-grade reading levels. Many students enter my classroom with failing grades and apathetic attitudes toward school.

However, I make contact with parents and demonstrate to students that I care about them personally, and this year I have even seen a drastic reduction in discipline referrals in my classroom. I also watched my seniors create four-page research papers after saying they couldn’t do it. Now, many of them are graduating when they thought they’d already missed their last chance.

More than half the class scored proficient or higher. That is a “substantial difference,” she writes.

Students, teachers, and administrators cannot use poverty as an excuse. We have to see through it and teach students how to maneuver around their obstacles. Our optimism becomes their hope.

Teachers who respect their students will earn their students respect, Jones writes. In her classroom, “the economic and racial barriers are down because we chose to take them down.”

Jones’ work was cited by Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman in a Commercial Appeal commentary responding to Williams’ lack of enthusiasm for the bonus program. “Children in poverty can achieve at high levels when we adults give them the opportunities they deserve,” Huffman wrote.

Teachers will lose all but $2,000 of the bonus if their value-added scores fall at a low-performing school, notes Gary Rubinstein in Huffman vs. Straw Man.

Teachers take value-added to court

The courts may decide whether students’ test score gains are a fair way to judge teachers, note the Hechinger Report.

In what may be among the first of many lawsuits over the new evaluations—which have been adopted by multiple states—the Florida teachers union is challenging the state’s use of test scores in decisions about which teachers are fired and which receive pay raises. The Florida Education Association argues the system violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses.

Everyone agrees that value-added measures, which compare students’ performance with a teacher to their past performance, aren’t entirely reliable. But are they good enough?

About one-quarter of effective teachers may be misidentified as ineffective, concludes a paper by Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington-Bothell, and Susanna Loeb, of Stanford. “The error rates,” they write, “appear to be quite high.”

And, yet, traditional methods of evaluating teachers, such as “cursory classroom observations, pass rates on licensure tests and degrees earned” are even less reliable.

“Flawed as they are, value-added measures appear to be better predictors of student achievement than the teacher characteristics that we currently use,” the researchers write.

“Ultimately, employment decisions need only be based on evaluation systems that are sufficiently valid, not perfect,” they conclude.

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.”

California Dems censure school reformers

Delegates at the California Democratic Party convention overwhelmingly passed a resolution blasting Democrats who support school reform as fronts for Republicans and corporate interests, reports the Los Angeles Times.

“People can call themselves Democrats for Education Reform — it’s a free country — but if your agenda is to shut teachers and school employees out of the political process and not lift a finger to prevent cuts in education, in my book you’re not a reformer, you’re not helping education, and you’re sure not much of a Democrat,” said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a registered Democrat whose office is nonpartisan.

California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel said reformers are working to eliminate workers’ rights and “hellbent on turning students into test-taking machines.”

“I’ll tell you right now, they want to do that, they have to come through us,” Vogel said.

“Let’s be perfectly clear,” he added. “These organizations are backed by moneyed interests, Republican operatives and out-of-state Wall Street billionaires dedicated to school privatization and trampling on teacher and worker rights.”

Gloria Romero, a former Democratic majority leader in the state Senate who leads the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, called the Sunday resolution “stupid.”

“They drank some Kool-Aid that has been fresh squeezed for them by the most powerful political interest in California, the California Teachers Assn.,” she said, adding that improving schools for minorities and the poor should be a priority for the party.

“They beat their chest,” she continued, “they get some money into their campaign coffers, but they walk away having abandoned the call for quality education for children of color.”

Reformers have the momentum, argues Walter Russell Mead. “The Democratic politicians and donors pushing for such reforms seem to have weighed the costs to unionized teachers and decided that they are worth the benefits to students.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa fielded a reform slate in the recent school board elections with mixed results.

Ed reform needs ‘happy’ rebranding

Education reform should be the “happy” movement, reports Education Gladfly in its April Fool’s Day edition. “Closing sh***y, no good schools” is seen as mean and divisive. After rebranding, “This school evokes a World War II bomb shelter” can become “We must transform education for the twenty-first century.”

Rather than “This teacher’s grasp of pedagogy is on par with that of a Barbie doll, her classroom presence wouldn’t fog a mirror, and her content knowledge is surpassed by my dog,” say, “We must open up new, twenty-first-century career opportunities for our struggling education professionals.”

The April Fool’s ‘Fly also reports on “tough times” for Chicago union leader Karen Lewis, who’s under attack from members for being too soft.

Dissidents’ demands:

Classes no bigger than eight kids
Tenure after one year of teaching (rounding up any partial years)
Rahm Emanuel’s head on a plate
Rahm Emanuel’s hide as a coat
Rahm Emanuel’s ears on a cat
Ten-year moratorium on standardized testing
Free ponies for all

Chicago “Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced (from his ski chateau) his decision to close all Chicago public schools.” He recommended home schooling.

Union plans to ‘stress’ board members

The teachers union in Framingham, Massachusetts has asked members to provide personal information on school board members and their spouses so they will “feel the same stresses that we have,” reports the Boston Globe.

In a memo to teachers, Framingham Teachers’ Association president Sam Miskin directed them to an online survey containing pages dedicated to each of the seven members of the Framingham School Committee.

Below each name were blank boxes for the members’ personal contact information, employer information, length of time on the committee, membership to other groups within and outside the town, gym membership, names of their spouse or partner, and their work information.

. . . “Having as much information as possible about their lives, activities, and daily routines is crucial to design actions that will truly impact them.”

In a statement Thursday evening, Mishkin denied threatening school committee members’ families. “We are not out to hurt anyone — and we are certainly not going to involve children. EVER.”

Miskin said the point of gathering information was to determine if School Committee members traveled in the same social circles as union members, so the two sides could exchange views outside the atmosphere of a negotiating session.

Right. A teacher, who didn’t want to be named, told the Globe that the union had gone “way too far” and sullied teachers’ reputations.

Young teachers demand a voice

More than half of teachers now have fewer than 10 years of experience. Led by this new generation, the “teacher voice movement” is Taking Back Teaching, writes Richard Lee Colvin, former director of Education Sector, in Education Next.

Several new groups work to amplify the voices of top classroom teachers as they weigh in on controversial policy issues, as with the evaluations in Los Angeles. The Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellows, the New Millennium Initiative, and the Viva Project, a digital platform for crowdsourcing teachers’ ideas, all fall into this category.

The aim of another set of programs is to keep successful teachers in the profession by giving them opportunities to assume leadership roles, as with Teach Plus and its T3 project. A fellowship program launched in 2008 by Leading Educators, which began in New Orleans and is now expanding to Kansas City and Detroit, for example, provides a select group of teachers with training in education issues, management, leadership, and problem solving.

A third front in the so-called “teacher voice” movement pushes local unions to become more democratic. . . . NewTLA in Los Angeles, operates as a caucus within the union there.

Regardless of the approach, all of the groups unabashedly acknowledge that some teachers are more effective than others and that even the best teachers want to keep improving their practice. Rather than seeing themselves as adversaries to either unions or school districts, teachers who get involved in these groups tend to think of themselves as problem solvers. As a result, many district, state, and national education policymakers view them as more authentic classroom voices than union activists.

Teachers’ unions often see the advocacy groups as a threat, Colvin writes. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called Educatiors 4 Excellence, which influenced New York’s policy on appeals of low performance ratings,  “a wedge against the union.”

E4E members (were called) “anti-union scum” and “union-busting plants” in online forums. One comment on a GothamSchools blog post complained that “in the past all young teachers paid their dues, and didn’t complain about being low man on the totem pole” in the union. (Co-founder Sydney) Morris said E4E is not anti-union. “We’re trying to strengthen the union in the long run by having it become more representative of its members,” Morris said.

Critics say the new groups represent the foundations that provide their funding, not grassroots teachers.

Funders include the Ford Foundation, the Joyce, Stuart, Arnold and Hewlett foundations and Mayor Mike’s Bloomberg Philanthropies, writes Colvin. “The largest source of funding is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which currently has $13.5 million invested in nine teacher-advocacy groups, including $975,000 over two years going to E4E. But the foundation has also given $4 million to the AFT and $500,000 to the NEA to fund similar projects.”

No ‘parent trigger’ fight in Los Angeles

California’s first two parent trigger campaigns were bitter fights, but Los Angeles parents seeking to transform 24th Street Elementary have found a “willing partner” in the school district, reports EdSource Today.

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy met them and promised “to work side by side with you so every student – todos los niños – gets an outstanding education.” United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher showed up unexpectedly at their press conference and vowed to collaborate with them, too.

The school’s parents union say 68 percent of parents signed the trigger petition, far more than the 50 percent needed.

Los Angeles Unified already has identified 24th Street Elementary as one of the worst performing in the district.

. . . before the parents handed in their petition, Deasy returned the school’s transformation plan, written by the principal and a team of teachers in consultation with a half-dozen parents and Parent Revolution organizers, as insufficient.

It was, however, candid in explaining the need for change: “We have continued to operate in the same manner for years and have consequently yielded the same ineffective results,” it said. “Rather than learn from our operational miscues and poor communication and look to our past for guidance, we have allowed the accretion of our failures to weigh us down.”

The 24th Street Elementary School Parents Union has set deadlines for converting the school to a charter by next fall, but parents could agree to an in-district school transformation plan, says Ben Austin of Parent Revolution.