New Jersey union fights blended learning

New Jersey’s biggest teachers’ union is suing to shut down charter schools that use “blended learning,” a mix of online and group learning, according to the Hechinger Report.

Merit Prep opened this fall in Newark with 80 sixth-grade students, “mostly black, poor and below grade level,” and plans to add one grade level each year. Students spend part of the day working on laptops. They’re able to move forward at their own pace.

The online curriculum feeds each student’s answers into a data center operated by Touchstone Education, the non-profit school management group that runs Merit Prep. The data center then spits out reports that (math teacher Ben) Conant can use to monitor his students’ progress, figure out what one-on-one coaching each student needs and adjust what he will teach when he pulls a few kids aside into glass-enclosed seminar rooms for small-group instruction.

However, the New Jersey Education Association has gone to court to shut down Merit Prep and another charter school that uses blending learning, reports Hechinger. “The union’s lawsuit argues that charter schools can’t emphasize online instruction until the New Jersey state legislature evaluates and approves it.”

“Should we be experimenting with students during their academic experience?” asks Steve Wollmer, the union’s communications director. “They only get one trip through the public schools.”

After all, non-blended learning is a proven success in Newark. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)

‘Trigger’ parents choose charter

Mojave Desert parents chose a nonprofit charter operator partnered with a university to take over their children’s failing elementary school, in the first use of California’s parent trigger law, reports the Fresno Bee.

Desert Trails Elementary School parents voted for LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy, which is partnered with the University of La Verne.

Only parents who signed the petition in favor of the charter voted. Vote tallies were not immediately released, but 53 out of 180 eligible voters cast ballots.

Parent organizer Kathy Duncan complained that the local teachers union sponsored a free, off-campus skate party for kids, who had to be accompanied by their parents, on the same afternoon as the vote.

“Parents selected LaVerne due to their incredibly strong track record” with black and Hispanic students and “their commitment to ongoing parent power,” said Doreen Diaz, a Desert Trails’ parent and lead coordinator for the Desert Trails Parent Union (DTPU).

‘Won’t Back Down’ isn’t true — yet

Hollywood’s Won’t Back Down has “accomplished the impossible,” writes Glenn Garvin in the Miami Herald. It’s made “teachers’ unions demand strict accuracy” in a movie about schools.

For decades, Hollywood has been making movies that show teachers as superhuman caring machines without a peep from the unions. That math teacher played by Edward James Olmos in Stand And Deliver, the one who took over a classroom of kids who couldn’t do simple arithmetic and in nine months had them aceing calculus exams? History does not record a single union official complaining that, in real life, that process took several years.

Won’t Back Down stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a single working-class mom with a dyslexic daughter and Viola Davis as a sympathetic teacher and parent. They join forces to take over a failing elementary school.

It’s “based on true stories,” the movie claims.

“That conveys the message that parents and teachers took over and ran a school somewhere,” wrote Rita Solnet, a founding member of the teacher-union front group Parents Across America, in a widely reprinted blog item. “That never happened.”

Not yet. But soon.

In southern California, Compton parents lost their parent trigger bid on a technicality. Some moved their kids from McKinley Elementary to Celerity Sirius, a new charter school in a nearby church. The new charter’s Academic Performance Index scores were significantly higher than McKinley’s scores after one year.

Mojave Desert parents are on track to take over Desert Trails Elementary in the fall. Friday, a Superior Court judge ordered the school board to comply with the court order authorizing the conversion. The parents union plans to choose a charter operator on Thursday. Two non-profits that run nearby charter schools are in the running, reports Ed Week.

“We wanted to keep it within the community, to keep it local,” said Doreen Diaz, who is helping lead parents seeking to convert the school to a charter. “They’re very different applicants and they speak to our community.”

At the same time, neither of the two finalists, LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy, in the nearby city of Hesperia, and the Lewis Center for Educational Research, a nonprofit group in neighboring Apple Valley, which oversees two charters, has experience turning around an academically low-performing school.

“Anybody who’s looked at this situation has said it will be very rough,” said Rick Piercy, the president of the Lewis Center.

Can the school be improved under new management? This time, we’ll see.

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.

Chicago mayor asks court to end ‘illegal’ teachers strike

Calling the Chicago teachers’ strike “illegal,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked for a court order to force teachers back to work, but a Cook County Circuit Court judge refused to hear the case till Wednesday, reports the Chicago Tribune. Union delegates will meet Tuesday to discuss the proposed deal.

“State law expressly prohibits the CTU from striking over non-economic issues, such as layoff and recall policies, teacher evaluations, class sizes and the length of the school day and year,” the Chicago Public Schools motion states. “The CTU’s repeated statements and recent advertising campaign have made clear that these are exactly the subjects over which the CTU is striking.”

In addition, the strike is “a clear and present danger to public health and safety,” the motion states.

Rick Hess analyzes the politics of the strike in week two. Chicago Teachers Union leader Karen Lewis “is becoming the anti-Michelle Rhee for teachers who’ve yearned for a fire-breathing anti-evaluation, pro-LIFO champion,” he writes. While she looks strong, Emanuel is “losing traction.”

In the fight against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Democratic reformers had argued “you could get dramatic reforms without changing the rules around collective bargaining.”

If even Rahmbo can’t follow through on tough-minded school reforms, while offering more pay in a tough economy, it’ll raise questions about the seriousness of less combative Dems.

In the long run, it’s bad for the unions if Democrats “decide they have to choose between teacher quality and working with unions,” Hess concludes.

 

Compromise in Chicago: Strike may be over

Chicago teachers have reached a tentative deal with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to end the weeklong strike. While details aren’t yet clear, it appears the mayor has compromised on a plan to tie 40 percent of teacher evaluations to growth in student test scores. Student performance will account for a smaller percentage of a teacher’s rating.

. . . the union won assurances that if a teacher is laid off because of a school closing, that teacher gets preference in hiring decisions in other schools as long as he or she has positive teacher evaluations.

It’s also believed teachers who receive poor evaluations will have more protections before being fired.

Teachers will vote on the deal over the weekend. It’s likely schools will reopen on Monday.

“Some Chicago teachers seem to think that they shouldn’t be held accountable until poverty is solved,” writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Instead of asking for higher pay to attract better teachers, “the Chicago union seems to be using its political capital primarily to protect weak performers,” he writes. “There’s now solid evidence that there are huge differences in the effectiveness of teachers, even within high-poverty schools.”

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.

Chicago teachers go on strike

Chicago teachers are on strike,reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago Public Schools administrators are staffing some elementary schools to offer half-day child care; some churches and community centers also are open to children.

The city’s charter schools are open as usual. About one third have room for more students.

Key disputed issues in the talks were teacher cost of living raises, additional pay for experience, job security in the face of annual school closures and staff shakeups, and a new teacher evaluation process that ties teacher ratings in part to student test score growth.

. . . CTU officials contend that CPS’ offer of raises over the next four years does not fairly compensate them for the 4 percent raise they lost this past school year and the longer and “harder” school year they will face this school year, with the introduction of a tougher new curriculum.

The union also wants “smaller class sizes, more libraries, air-conditioned schools, and more social workers and counselors to address the increasing needs of students surrounded by violence,” reports the Sun-Times. Chicago has been hit by a wave of homicides this year. Many of the victims are children, teens and young adults.

CPS officials say teachers average $76,000 a year and would earn 16 percent more over four years in the proposed contract. The district could face a $1 billion deficit by the end of the school year.

Pay isn’t the big issue, argues a Reuters analysis. The teachers’ union is fighting education reforms that make it easier to fire teachers and close schools if test scores don’t improve.

In Chicago, last-minute contract talks broke down not over pay, but over the reform agenda, both sides said Sunday. The union would not agree to (Mayor Rahm) Emanuel’s proposal that teacher evaluations be based in large measure on student test scores.

Nor would the union accept his push to give principals more autonomy over hiring, weakening the seniority system that has long protected veteran teachers.

“This is fight for the soul of public education,” said Brandon Johnson, an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union.

Did both sides want a strike? asks Alexander Russo.

“It’s a strike of choice,” says Emanuel.

Union blocks bill on firing ‘predator’ teachers

Awaiting trial for sexual abusing fifth-grade students, a Los Angeles teacher was paid $40,000 to take early retirement. A bill to make it easier and faster to fire teachers for crimes involving sex, drugs or violence stalled after the teachers’ union came out against it. Assembly Democrats receiving heavy teachers’ union contributions abstained in a committee vote, the equivalent of  ”no” without the accountability, reports Anderson Cooper.

Here’s the Los Angeles Times on teachers’ union clout in California.