If you can’t fire a child molester …

California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that was supposed to make it easier to fire teachers charged with molesting students. It would “create new problems,” Brown said in his veto message.

The union-backed bill made it easier for abusive teachers to stall the dismissal process and force districts to settle, charges Larry Sand City Journal. A retired teacher, Sand is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.

Mark Berndt, a Los Angeles teacher charged with 23 counts of  ”lewd acts” against first-graders, was paid to resign.

Last year, district officials agreed to pay him more than $40,000 to resign in lieu of exercising his “due process rights,” which could have dragged out his termination for months or possibly years—while he continued to collect a salary and accrue pension benefits—through a series of contractually mandated hearings and appeals. This past March, the district announced that it would pay $30 million to the parents of 61 of Berndt’s former students.

In response to the Berndt case, a bill was proposed to let districts suspend teachers credibly charged with abusing students. The state teachers’ unions blocked it.

“The influence of the California Teachers Association was rarely more apparent—or more sickening, editorialized the San Francisco Chronicle. “The union showed its willingness to defend an expensive and cumbersome process for firing bad teachers at almost any cost – even if that means school districts must continue to spend exorbitant sums of time and money to dismiss teachers in cases involving sex, drugs or violence with students.”

Williams: ‘Corrupt’ leaders ignore bad schools

“Corrupted” by teachers union money, black leaders who spoke at Saturday’s March on Washington failed to speak out against bad schools, charged Fox News contributor Juan Williams on “The O’Reilly Factor.” The march commemorated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

King would “stand up and act against bad schools that are condemning these kids to useless lives because they never have an opportunity to climb that ladder of upward mobility,” Williams said. “And the civil rights challenge of this generation is education, and Dr. King would never allow anybody to buy his silence, to buy him off, to sell out the kids and that’s what’s happening right now.”

Teachers’ unions have given tens of thousands of dollars to Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and NAACP because “they don’t want those civil rights leaders to ever stand up and say yes to charter schools, yes to vouchers, yes to school reform,” Williams charged.

Civil rights leaders are “selling out,” Williams said. “And that is corruption and it’s corruption of a great movement.”

Teachers unions aren’t to blame

Once hostile to teachers’ unions, Education Realist now thinks unions are blamed unfairly for many education problems. She starts with teachers’ cognitive ability.

. . .  high school teachers have always been pretty smart, and drawn from the top half of the college grad pool. . . .  testing and knowledge standards for elementary teachers was once low, is now much higher and more than reasonable since the states dramatically increased the credentialing test difficulty as part of their adherence to NCLB.

However, “this dramatic increase did not result in either improved outcomes or evidence that new teachers who qualified with tougher tests were superior to teachers who didn’t,” she writes. “The research at best shows that smarter teachers give a teeny tiny boost to outcomes.”

States — not unions — set knowledge requirements for teacher credentialing, she writes. They struggle with disparate impact. “Set credentialing standards high, and you lose your black and Hispanic teachers.”

Reformers “unions promote pay scales that give all teachers the same raise, regardless of quality” and oppose performance pay.

Okay. So the very notion of a union is antithetical to getting competitive, performance-driven people who want rewards for their hard work.

But “there’s no point to performance pay if the objectives are delusions, she argues. If competitive, high-performance people became teachers, they’d be unable to raise outcomes and they’d quit.

The “big Kahuna of teacher union beefs” is that it’s hard to fire bad teachers.

If government unions ceased to exist tomorrow, teachers would still have Loudermill, the relatively recent Supreme Court decision that says that employment is a property right, and states can’t deprive their employees of property rights without due process. And most states have tenure written into their laws, independent of union contracts. So the changes necessary to undo teacher rights are far more than just dumping unions.

Oregon dropped tenure in favor of renewable two-year teaching contracts, but nothing changed. Oregon is below average in teacher dismissal rates, reports the Center for American Progress. While some states without tenure laws have high dismissal rates (Alabama, Alaska), others have low ones (Mississippi, Texas). The “bulk of the apparently onerous dismissal laws are encoded in state law, not in union contracts.

Teacher unions to blame for big pensions and “a compensation structure that repels competitive, performance-driven workers,” Education Realist concedes. However, “many of the teacher protections and all of the standards lie at the state level, entirely out of the union’s purview.”

Of course, teachers’ unions have a great deal of influence on state law.

Ravitch launches anti-reform group

Education historian Diane Ravitch has launched the Network for Public Education to back political candidates who oppose education reforms such as high-stakes testing, school closures and “privatizing” public schools, reports Ed Week.

NPE promises to “give voice to the millions of parents, educators, and other citizens who are fed up with corporate-style reform.”

“Wealthy individuals are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into state and local school board races,” a press release charges. Ravitch told Ed Week her group will endorse candidates and urge others to donate, but won’t raise money itself to give to candidates.

“What we want to do is be the kind of glue and use the social media to create a powerful national movement.”

And while there are powerful teachers’ unions that have a similar agenda and a lot of money and influence, she said the Network for Public Education will also be a home for those who don’t belong to unions—including parents and teachers in nonunion states.

Two California school board races in Los Angeles and West Sacramento – drew large donations as reformers and anti-reformers fought it out.

Union asks teachers to evaluate principals

Scranton teachers are evaluating their principals at two elementary schools, reports the Times-Tribune. The Scranton Federation of Teachers, which voted “no confidence” in district administrators in November, plans to expand the effort to all principals and administrators, up to the superintendent.

The evaluation forms include a ranking scale with questions ranging from the visibility of a principal to whether the principal collaborates with teachers. Comments can also be made, and the surveys are anonymous.

If this is not just a gotcha, it could prove useful.

Pennsylvania plans to implement a principal evaluation system in the 2014-15 school year.

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 lessons of 2012 for ed reformers

Education reformers learned some painful lessons in 2012, writes Mike Petrilli. Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett, the “darling of the national education reform movement,” lost his job to a union-backed opponent. In Idaho, voters repealed three laws pushed by Superintendent Tom Luna.

To build a winning political coalition, reformers need to “stop angering suburban parents and teachers by subjecting their schools to changes they don’t want or need,” Petrilli writes.

It’s not that suburban schools are perfect — their performance lags behind that of our international competitors, too. But the policies required for these schools to go from good to great are different from those needed to get urban schools from dismal to decent. In nations with the best schools, local leaders have the power to make day-to-day decisions and aren’t micromanaged from on high.

Second, reformers must “show respect for teachers,” Petrilli writes.

 We need to stress that bad teachers are rare but devastating and that efforts to weed them out will lift the entire profession. Any rhetoric that implies that most or even many teachers are incompetent or uncommitted to children needs to be scrapped.

Finally, reformers need to match “an army of determined educators … with a larger army of equally determined parents.”

Don’t let the suburbs slide, responds RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

. . . reformers can’t afford to ignore or placate suburbia. This is because suburban districts face many of the same challenges that bedevil big-city counterparts — and have been less-willing to embrace systemic change.

Suburban districts are increasingly more diverse, thanks to poor and first-generation middle class black, Latino, and Asian families who are seeking better educational opportunities for their kids (and often mistakenly think that suburban schools can provide them).

The Obama administration is handing out No Child Left Behind waivers that will ease the pressure on suburban districts.

 

The education election

The status quo was a big winner, writes Rick Hess in his election wrap-up.

Those edu-advocates who’ve been telling themselves that an Obama win would mean a big infusion of dollars are going to be disappointed– the size of the deficit, the GOP majority in the House, the need to deal with Pell, the impending costs of the Affordable Care Act, and the rest mean that there won’t be big new dollars for education initiatives, no matter how often the President says nice things about edu-investment and workforce initiatives.

. . . The next few years may be something of a slog for folks at ED, as they have to do the tedious work of trying to monitor Race to the Top and waiver commitments, while figuring out how to be impactful when they don’t have much new money to spend . . .

It will be interesting to see who quits the Education Department, Hess writes.

If Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett’s re-election campaign was “a referendum on reform,”  as Fordham’s Mike Petrilli put it, reform lost. Bennett, a Republican who championed tougher teacher evaluations and school accountability, was upset by teacher Glenda Ritz, a Democrat.

Bennett was a reform “stud,” writes Hess. Teachers’ union opposition wouldn’t have been enough to defeat Bennett in “deep red” Indiana. He also faced opposition from Tea Party conservatives over his support for Common Core State Standards, which they call “Obamacore.”

Intentionally or not, the Obama administration has politicized the Common Core and, in so doing, is making it dangerous for elected Republicans in red states to support it. And, trust me, a lot of GOP state school board members, education committee members, and state chiefs are aware of what happened to Bennett.

Ed Week looks at Arne Duncan’s five big challenges in the next term. “Duncan will have to walk a fine line between supporting states as they implement common standards and tests, and, in the words of Checker Finn, not ”loving them to death.”

The Obama-Duncan education reforms are at risk, writes Rishawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. No ChIld Left Behind waivers are letting traditionalists and suburban districts gut accountability. He hopes Obama and Duncan will work with congressional leaders on both sides to revise No Child and expand accountability. But he’s not holding his breath.

School choice lost in Florida, where voters rejected a measure that would have let parents use school vouchers at religious schools.

However, Georgia approved a special commission to authorize new charters.

After turning down charter schools three times, voters in Washington state narrowly passed a charter school measure which will let 40 charters open statewide in the next five years. A majority of parents or teachers could “trigger” the conversion of a traditional public school into a charter.

In Idaho, where Romney won in a landslide, voters repealed the “Students Come First” laws, agreeing with teachers’ unions. It was “a stunning rebuke” to Republican Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent Tom Luna, writes the Idaho Statesman.

– 57 percent opposed to restrictions on teachers unions in Prop 1.

– 58 percent voted no on Prop 2, which paid teacher bonuses based on student test scores and other measures.

– 67 percent rejected a mandate for laptops and online credits for every Idaho high school student.

In red-hot South Dakota, two-thirds of voters rejected Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s plan to “give bonuses to top teachers, phase out tenure and recruit candidates for critical teaching jobs,” reports KSFY-ABC.

Michigan voters rejected a union-sponsored measure protecting collective-bargaining rights.

Maryland voters approved in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

To my surprise, California voters approved a tax increase billed as the only way to keep schools open. A political contributions initiative aimed at unions failed.

In Arizona, a sales tax extension to fund schools went down to defeat.

Homeschoolers: The last radicals

Homeschooling is the only “authentically radical social movement of any real significance in the United States,” writes Kevin D. Williamson in National Review.

Homeschoolers . . . pose an intellectual, moral, and political challenge to the government-monopoly schools, which are one of our most fundamental institutions and one of our most dysfunctional. Like all radical movements, homeschoolers drive the establishment bats.

The modern homeschooling movement has its roots in 1960s countercultural tendencies, Williamson writes. Summerhill was the Bible of early homeschoolers, not the Bible.

These days, conservative Christian homeschoolers have been joined by  ”a growing number of secular, progressive, organic-quinoa-consuming homeschool families, ” Williamson writes. Most homeschooling parents are well-off and suburban. Their children typically score “well above the public school average” on achievement exams. In addition,  ”multiple studies by various researchers have found the home educated to be doing well in terms of their social, emotional, and psychological development.”

However, progressives don’t think parents have the right to put their children’s wellbeing ahead of the collective good, he writes. For example, Dana Goldstein, writing in Slate, urged parents to send their high-achieving children to public school so they could raise the achievement of their less-advantaged classmates.

Nine-tenths of American children attend government schools, and most of the remaining tenth attend government-approved private schools. The political class wants as many of that remaining tenth in government schools as possible; teachers’ unions have money on the line, and ideologues do not want any young skull beyond their curricular reach. A political class that does not trust people with a Big Gulp is not going to trust them with the minds of children.

Homeschooling represents a libertarian impulse, Williamson argues.

Homeschoolers may have many different and incompatible political beliefs, but they all implicitly share an opinion about the bureaucrats: They don’t need them — not always, not as much as the bureaucrats think. That’s what makes them radical and, to those with a certain view of the world, terrifying.

Homeschooling’s enemies have given up trying to outlaw home education, but they’re trying to control it, Williamson concludes.

Merit mandate = $1 bonus for top teachers

Some Michigan school districts think their best teachers are worth $1 more than their worst, reports Michigan Capitol Confidential.

That’s the amount the Davison Community Schools in Genessee County, and the Stephenson Area Public Schools in Menominee County, pay to be in compliance with the state’s merit pay law, which was put in place when Jennifer Granholm was governor. The Gladstone Area Public Schools in Delta County pays its top-notch teachers $3 more than the worst.

Job performance must be “a significant factor in determining compensation,” according to state law. In Davison and Stephenson schools, that means a $1 bonus for  ”highly effective” teachers. Gladstone pays a $3 bonus to “highly effective” teachers, $2 to those rated “effective” and an extra $1 to any teacher who “meets goals.”

Eighty percent of Michigan districts are ignoring the merit pay law, estimates the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.  Teachers are paid based on years of experience and credits earned past a bachelor’s degree. There’s no monetary reward for teaching well.

. . .in the Troy School District in Oakland County, seven gym teachers made more money in 2011 than a biology teacher who was selected as a national teacher of the year.

A measure on the November ballot, Proposal 2, would end the merit pay mandate by letting government union contracts  overrule state laws.

A few districts have replaced the old salary scales with performance pay without spending more overall on salaries, says Michael Van Beek, education policy director at Mackinac.