NEA tells Duncan to resign

Arne Duncan should resign, said National Education Association delegates at the teachers’ union’s annual convention.

A tipping point for some members was Duncan’s statement last month in support of a California judge’s ruling that struck down tenure and other job protections for the state’s public school teachers. In harsh wording, the judge said such laws harm particularly low-income students by saddling them with bad teachers who are almost impossible to fire.

Even before that, teachers’ unions have clashed with the administration over other issues ranging from its support of charter schools to its push to use student test scores as part of evaluating teachers.

“I always try to stay out of local union politics,” responded Duncan. “I think most teachers do too.”

Exam schools pushed on admissions

New York City’s elite high schools admit students who excel on a 2 1/2-hour exam. A majority are Asian-American. Only 12 percent are Hispanic or black. The teachers union and a group of Democratic legislators want to use multiple measures, including grade point averages, attendance and state tests in addition to the current admissions exam.

Advocates of the bill say using one test favors students whose parents can afford tutoring to prepare for the test.

However, at six of the schools, at least 45 percent of the students come from low-income families, according to the city.

Many of the high-scoring Asian-American students come from immigrant families.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Simcha Felder, hopes to add subjective criteria such as essays, community service, interviews and extracurricular activities.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, also backed a holistic review. “If it’s good enough for Harvard and Yale it should be good enough for the students of New York City,” he said.

Political support is weak, reports the New York Times.

Mayor de Blasio, whose son, Dante, attends Brooklyn Tech, said last year that the test should not be the only way to qualify for the elite schools. But he hasn’t come out for the bill yet.

Alumni groups are opposed.

While expressing support for increasing minority enrollment, in ways like providing them with more test preparation, Larry Cary, president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation, said that the existing system was simple and had “a number of benefits,” including “no favoritism, no bias, whether intentional or subconscious, no politics.”

There may be political support to revive the “Discovery” program, which gave intensive summer help to students who just missed the score cutoff to help them qualify by September. The program lost funding due to budget cuts.

Teacher suspended for kids’ science projects

A Los Angeles teacher was suspended because two students’ science fair projects shot dealt with shooting projectiles, reports the LA Times.

Students and parents have rallied around Greg Schiller after his suspension, with pay, from the Cortines School of Visual & Performing Arts, a very expensive new high school in downtown LA.

One project used compressed air to propel a small object but it was not connected to a source of air pressure, so it could not have been fired. (In 2012, President Obama tried out a more powerful air-pressure device at a White House Science Fair that could launch a marshmallow 175 feet.)

Another project used the power from an AA battery to charge a tube surrounded by a coil. When the ninth-grader proposed it, Schiller told him to be more scientific, to construct and test different coils and to draw graphs and conduct additional analysis, said his parents, who also are Los Angeles teachers.

Administrators told Schiller that he was removed from his classroom for “supervising the building, research and development of imitation weapons,” according to teachers union representative Roger Scott.

“As far as we can tell, he’s being punished for teaching science,” said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

This may not have been zero tolerance gone wild, the Times suggests. As the union rep on campus, Schiller had been negotiating with administrators over updating the employment agreement. 

My first husband submitted a design for an atomic bomb for his fifth-grade science fair and nobody said boo.

From Teacher of the Year to NEA president

Twenty-five years after she was named Utah’s Teacher of the Year, Lily Eskelsen García is president-in-waiting of the National Education Association (NEA), reports Richard Lee Colvin. Eskelsen García, 58, left full-time teaching a year after winning the honor to fight for higher salaries and smaller class sizes. (Utah ranks 50th in both categories.)
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Now an NEA vice president, she’s running unopposed to replace Dennis Van Roekel.

Born Lilia Laura Pace in Texas in 1955, Eskelsen García did not plan to go to college. Her father worked for the U.S. Army. Her Panamanian mother had left school after 8th grade. 

She married Ruel Eskelsen right after graduating from high school. He enlisted in the Army.  She got a job in a school cafeteria. A kindergarten teacher “noticed how well she connected with the students and urged her to go to college to become a teacher,” writes Colvin.

“After her husband got out of the Army, they both enrolled at the University of Utah, supporting themselves with help from the GI Bill, loans, financial aid, and money they earned singing, accompanied by Eskelsen García on the guitar.”

She was graduated magna cum laude with a degree in elementary education and later earned a master’s degree in instructional technology. She began teaching at Orchard Elementary School outside of Salt Lake City in 1980.

Teachers worked as a team, sharing ideas and taking on additional duties to allow a colleague to spend more time with a group of kids producing a play or exploring a topic such as the civil rights movement in greater depth. Her love of music found its way into many of her lessons— she taught her students to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution by singing it, for example.

Eskelsen García supports Common Core standards, saying the authors heeded input from expert teachers.

“Every time I turned the page I thought, my God, this is how I teach, it really was,” she says. “Critical thinking skills, collaborate on problem solving, create, design, give me evidence of, give me your opinion and tell me why I should believe you, and organize a project.”

But she fears that standardized tests will not include those skills and that they’ll be eliminated from the curriculum.

. . . “If you see that there is no change in high-stakes testing; no change in obsessive test prep; no change in labeling students, teachers, and schools by that standardized test score, you’ll know that they don’t really care about higher-level, critical thinking skills, and that it was all just a PR ploy.”

Tests should be used to guide instruction rather than to judge performance, she tells Colvin.

She’s campaigned against “GERM,” which she says stands for “global education reform movement.”

Union leaders go cold on Common Core

Teachers’ union leaders have turned against Common Core standards, writes Tim Daly on the TNTP Blog.

National Education Association (NEA) president Dennis Van Roekel is demanding “course corrections” to keep NEA backing. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also is criticizing Common Core implementation.

Whatever unions leaders say, this is not about “botched” implementation or the standards themselves, argues Daly.

“The unions routinely complain that states are moving too fast in transitioning to the new standards, but the truth is that educators have already had years to prepare. In New York, for instance, the standards were adopted in 2010—four years ago. . . If four years is not sufficient, how long is? Eight years?

“Politics and job protection” are the real issues, Daly writes.

Unions hoped that the occasion of Common Core (and their support for it) might present an opportunity to roll back or dilute teachers’ accountability for results. (Never mind that, even when students begin to be measured against tougher, Common Core-aligned tests, there’s little evidence to suggest a drop in scores will put teachers at any real risk.)

As it has become clearer that no such accountability holiday is forthcoming—and that educators, in addition to schools, will be on the hook for advancing students toward the standards—the union withdrawal has been a foregone conclusion.

“Unions were already fighting accountability measures associated with Common Core at the state and district level,”  he writes. Now the strained alliance with the Obama administration is over. “The unions are now taking aim at the administration’s central education policies.”

Emanuel tries to turn Chicago schools

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has fought fiercely for education reform in Chicago, writes Alexander Russo in Ed Next.  When he took office in 2011, Emanuel pledged “to do bold, concrete things—enact a longer school day and year, implement principal performance bonuses, expand International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, and revamp teacher evaluations—and get them done as quickly and visibly as possible.” After three years, results are mixed.

Test scores have risen in the Windy City, but lag far behind the Illinois average.

Emanuel faced a $1 billion budget deficit and massive and unfunded pension liabilities. Enrollment was declining leaving schools half empty. The mayor rescinded teachers’ 4 percent salary increase to balance the budget.

The “newly energized” Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), led by Karen Lewis, went on strike for seven school days at the start of the 2012-13 school year. The new contract blocked merit pay and gave teachers 2 to 3 percent raises. 

Yet Emanuel was able to extend the school day and year and introduce a new teacher evaluation program.

Despite some progress, Chicago schools face budget problems, bitter fights over school closures and $19 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

Emanuel and Lewis have not been able to work together on funding or pension issues.

Emanuel was pushing for a delay in addressing pension liabilities. “I’m going to turn this battleship around,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times, but “I’m not going to reverse 30 years of bad practices in just three years.”

NYC’s teachers’ union enemy #1

Eva Moskowitz, who runs New York City’s largest charter network, is teachers’ union enemy number one, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, an old-school liberal Democrat, campaigned against Moskowitz:

 In May at a forum hosted by the United Federation of Teachers, or UFT, the potent government-employee local: “It’s time for Eva Moskowitz to stop having the run of the place. . . . She has to stop being tolerated, enabled, supported.” In July, on his plans to charge charters—which are independently run public schools—for sharing space with city-run public schools: “There’s no way in hell Eva Moskowitz should get free rent, O.K.?”

As mayor, he’s cut funding for charter construction, announced a moratorium on co-location and threatened to “roll back” co-locations already approved. 

“A progressive Democrat should be embracing charters, not rejecting them,”says Moskowitz, who’s also a Democrat. “It’s just wacky.”

As she reminds every audience, the 6,700 students at her 22 Success Academy Charter Schools are overwhelmingly from poor, minority families and scored in the top 1% in math and top 7% in English on the most recent state test. Four in five charters in the city outperformed comparable schools.

If Success Academy can’t find space to expand, “most at-risk children would be sent back to failing schools,” says Moskowitz.

She’s backing charter-friendly Gov. Andrew Cuomo, another Democrat, reports the Journal.

Common Core opposition is hardening

George Will’s column condemning Common Core is a very bad sign for the standards’ advocates, writes Andy Smarick in Flypaper. “Principled opposition” to Common Core is “hardening.”

Will sees federal overreach in the Obama administration’s use of Race to the Top and ESEA waivers to push states to adopt national standards.

Second, “centralization and uniformity” have costs, writes Will.

“Even satisfactory national standards must extinguish federalism’s creativity: At any time, it is more likely there will be half a dozen innovative governors than one creative federal education bureaucracy. And the mistakes made by top-down federal reforms are continental mistakes.”

Third, some Common Core defenders aren’t willing to debate the issues, writes Will. “Proponents seem to deem it beneath their dignity to engage opponents’ arguments, preferring to caricature opponents as political primitives and to dismiss them with flippancies.”

Lots of parents and other voters “are skeptical of big promises and big government,” writes Smarick.

They are skeptical of centralized solutions. And they are skeptical of enlightened national leaders who pat them on their heads.

Common Core advocates should keep all of this in mind as they glibly extol the virtues of embracing common standards, of setting a national bar for excellence, of following an exquisitely crafted set of learning goals fashioned by experts. They should keep it all in mind as they respond to criticism with answers amounting to “there’s nothing to worry about, we have this under control,” or—in moments of weakness—something more condescending.

Smarick wants Common Core standards to succeed.

Common Core opponents come from many political directions. New York teachers’ union voted to withdraw support for the new standards.

It wants more time for teachers to review the Common Core lessons the state has been promoting, and it’s demanding more input on whether they are grade-appropriate. Parents and teachers have complained that the standards push the youngest kids too fast, demanding so much work from kindergarteners that there’s little time for the play that’s deemed essential for young children’s development. On the other end of the scale, they have complained that the high-school math trajectory laid out by the Common Core leaves out key math concepts and does not push top students to take calculus.

Teachers also want a chance to “teach to the test,” reports Politico. “The union is also demanding that all questions on the new Common Core exams be released so teachers can review them and use them to shape instruction.”

States are getting cold feet about Common Core testing, reports USA Today.

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.