‘Accountability’ proposal is anti-choice

The Charter School Accountability Agenda is a “front” for opponents of school choice and reform, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. The authors, Center for Popular Democracy and In the Public Interest, have union backing, he writes.

The agenda includes requiring an “impact analysis” on how new charters would affect district-run schools. It’s “absurd” to let existing schools keep out the competition, Biddle writes. That’s especially true in cities: Urban charters improve achievement — and raise the odds students will earn a diploma and go to college — according to Stanford’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes and Rand studies.

KIPP charter students in Manhattan. Photo: Beth Fertig, WNYC.

KIPP charter students in Manhattan. Photo: Beth Fertig, WNYC.

The agenda would let district schools keep per-pupil funding when students transfer to charters. “Why should any district be entitled to receive dollars for kids they are no longer serving?” asks Biddle.

It also calls for charters to enroll as many special-needs students as traditional schools.

Charters have fewer special-ed students because they’re less likely to put a disability label on students with learning problems, Biddle writes. They focus on teaching struggling students instead of sticking them in a “special ed ghetto.”

The American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed the agenda, ran a very low-performing charter school in New York City, notes Biddle. The school met just one of 38 goals set by its authorizer and was “rated a failure mill” by the city’s education department. The school had little tolerance for special ed students.

UFT Charter meted out-of-school suspensions to 17.8 percent of special ed students in 2011-2012 and in-school suspensions to another 20 percent of them, according to data submitted by the school to the U.S. Department of Education. This is higher than the out-of-school and in-school suspension rates of  1.5 percent and 6.5 percent for kids in regular classrooms.

United Federation of Teachers, the New York City local, will close the K-8 school, but hopes to keep the high school going.

Cuomo sets union-unfriendly agenda

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “has declared war on the public schools,” charges Karen E. Magee, president of the state teachers’ union.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

The Democratic governor thinks too hard to fire underperforming teachers, wants to raise or eliminate the limit on charter schools and backs a tax credit for people and companies donating money to public schools and private school scholarships, reports the New York Times.

Chester Finn calls Gov. Cuomo’s education agenda “awesome (and radically union-unfriendly).”

“Its single boldest and most surprising item is the governor’s endorsement of a tax-credit scholarship program so that more young New Yorkers can afford to attend private schools,” writes Finn. That makes Cuomo “the first Democratic governor ever to propose a program of private-school choice for kids and families in his state.”

Moskowitz outmuscles the unions

In a Reason interview, Eva Moskowitz, founder of New York City’s phenomenally successful Success Academy charter schools, talks about how she built a political coalition to fight union power.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to squash Success Academy’s expansion plans, Moskowitz “bused 11,000 charter school parents and kids to the state capital in Albany to protest.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo backed the charter network, the mayor backed down and “state lawmakers quickly passed a bill to protect charter schools from future interference by the mayor.”

Status quo wins in California

Triumph of the Status Quo is Ben Boychuk’s look at the California superintendent’s race.

. . . reformers had high hopes for Marshall Tuck’s insurgent campaign against State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. The 41-year-old former investment banker and charter school president tried to paint the 65-year-old incumbent, former legislator, and fellow Democrat as a creature of the state’s powerful teachers’ unions. . . . the race did expose a growing fissure between traditional union-aligned Democrats and an emerging faction of pro-business, pro-reform Democrats. But the biggest difference between Torlakson and Tuck—their respective plans for reforming the state’s tenure and dismissal statutes—didn’t galvanize voters.

The California Teachers Association spent $11 million “touting Torlakson and denouncing Tuck,” while the challenger raised nearly $10 million from “well-heeled education reformers, including Los Angeles real estate developer Eli Broad and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg,” writes Boychuk in City Journal.

Tuck attacked Torlakson for supporting the state’s appeal of Vergara v.California, the class-action lawsuit that threw out California’s tenure, seniority, and dismissal rules.

Surveys after the ruling showed strong support for dumping “last hired, first fired” rules, writes Boychuk. But “nearly 60 percent said they didn’t know what the lawsuit was about.”

Tuck also touted his experience as president of the Green Dot chain of charter schools. He voiced his support for California’s landmark parent-trigger law, which lets parents at failing schools petition to force their school district to implement certain reforms, including charter school conversion. Here again, though, voters don’t completely understand charter school reforms.

. . . The teachers’ unions and their surrogates, such as Diane Ravitch, used Tuck’s charter school ties to paint him as a racist, a bigot, and a tool of “the power elite.”

Their attacks worked, concludes Boychuk.

Unions lose big — except for California

Reformer Marshall Tuck failed to unseat California’s union-backed state superintendent, Tom Torlakson. The final vote in the expensive race was 52 to 48 percent.

However, that was one of the few bright spots for teachers’ unions and anti-reformers in yesterday’s election.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for the unions, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

Governors “who aggressively undertake systemic reform (and smartly challenge NEA and AFT affiliates)” were big winners, he writes.

“Younger, reform-minded teachers who make up the majority of rank-and-file members” are less loyal to the unions, Biddle argues. “This has been made clear in Wisconsin, where the NEA and AFT affiliates are merging after losing, respectively, one-third and 63 percent of membership after Walker successfully ended compulsory dues collections.”

Republican governors’ victories portend “good things for charter schools, possible new efforts to launch or expand voucher programs, and challenging times ahead for teacher unions,” writes Rick Hess.

Governors Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Rick Snyder claimed surprisingly comfortable victories in the industrial Midwest. Meanwhile, “reform-minded” Republicans claimed the governorships in deep-blue Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois.

. . . Rhode Island Democrat Gina Raimondo, who’d infuriated the unions by pushing for pension reform as state treasurer, claimed the governor’s mansion. And Thom Tillis, who’d earned bitter union enmity for his role in the North Carolina legislature, eked past Kay Hagan to win a Senate seat.

Conservatives policy wonks will have a chance to influence federal higher education policy, Hess adds.

Most of the education action is in the states, points out Eduwonk. In addition to winning or holding statehouses, Republicans gained seats in state legislatures.

Democratic pension reformers and charter school supporters won in Rhode Island. Coupled with the Massachusetts governor’s race things could get interesting on charters in the northeast. But both those races involved issues beyond education.

Pre-k went down in Hawaii and Nevadans rejected an education tax ballot initiative. A Washington state initiative to cut class sizes — at a cost of $1 billion a year — remains too close to call. 

Real Clear Education has more.

Teachers’ unions lose unity, clout

“The teachers unions now face an environment in which their traditional enemies are emboldened, their traditional allies are deserting, and some of their most devoted activists are questioning the leadership of their own officers,” writes Mike Antonucci of Education Intelligence Agency on Education Next. But,”even weakened, together the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) constitute the single most powerful force in American education policy.”
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Both unions peaked in 2008 “with a combined membership approaching 4 million and annual revenues at all levels estimated at nearly $2 billion,” he writes.

Since then, NEA member has fallen by more than 9 percent. The AFT has held membership steady by affiliating with non-education unions, not by recruiting new teachers.

Today, a slight majority of teachers are not union members.

In both unions, a radical faction “wants to man the barricades, fight over every inch of territory, and take no prisoners” in the fight against education reform, writes Antonucci.

Union leaders want to appear to be “forward-thinking and innovative” rather than constantly rejecting reform. They need political allies.

While both national unions decry the corporate influence on education, they have partnerships with large corporations on many levels: sponsorships of union events, discount arrangements and credit cards as part of member benefits packages, funding for joint projects, etc.

. . . Union activists often depict the Gates Foundation as the mastermind behind corporate education reform. But in 2009, when the foundation announced it would award $335 million to a number of school districts and charter schools to promote teacher effectiveness, the union response was a far cry from the anticorporate rhetoric it regularly delivers to its internal audience.

. . . The NEA’s own foundation received $550,000 from the Gates Foundation to “improve labor-management collaboration.” The AFT accrued more than $10 million from the Gates Foundation, until internal pressures forced the union to end some of the grants.

The militant wing sees Common Core standards as part of the “corporate education-reform agenda,” while the establishment wing “has been forced to triangulate by defending the standards but attacking the way they have been implemented.”

The NEA and the AFT won’t disappear, concludes Antonucci. “But their days of dominating the education environment are on the wane.”

In an open letter to AFT President Randi Weingarten, Education Post’s Peter Cunningham critiques her Oct. 22 speech calling Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy a “John Wayne” autocrat. Deasy had just resigned.

Wrapped in aspirational language about “collaboration” was a clear signal to your members that organized resistance to reform is the real strategy, and that the AFT supports it. The equally clear signal to reform leaders across the country is that they could be targeted next if they are not sufficiently “collaborative.”

The public is losing confidence in district-run schools and “voting with their feet,” he warns.

Have unions flipped on Common Core?

Have the teachers’ unions joined the anti-Core pushback? asks Alexander Russo. The “unions’ rhetoric and tone have changed,” he writes. But it’s not clear that it matters in “concrete substantive ways.”

Before Core-aligned tests were developed, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association were strongly pro-Core. Then the Education Department pushed states to use test scores to evaluate teachers in order to get No Child Left Behind waivers. And it was clear scores on the new tests would be low, at least at first.

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“They’re trying to walk a fine line in which they still support the standards but don’t like the way they’ve been implemented,” says Bob Rothman, a Common Core supporter at the Alliance for Excellent Education. “But they haven’t reversed themselves.”

“If the standards go down the tubes because of fear-mongering and misinformation, the NEA is going to look really bad,” one union official explained to Education Week. “Why would anyone take us seriously if we had a seat at the table, and then we turned our backs on the standards?”

But core-haters in the rank and file aren’t satisfied with the union’s stand, writes Russo.

No testing isn’t the cure for overtesting

Too much testing is a real problem, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee, the new superintendent of a network of six urban Catholic schools But the solution isn’t no testing at all. “Standards-aligned, summative tests are really, really important to providing students — especially our most disadvantaged students — with the education they deserve.”

Capitalizing on anti-Common Core sentiment, the National Education Association launched a campaign against “toxic testing,” writes Porter-Magee. The union’s new president, Lily Eskelsen García, charged Core-aligned tests are “corrupting the Common Core”.

When she got her six schools’ results on New York state exams, it was “tough,” Porter-Magee writes. But she was reminded “of the power of hard facts.”

Because our school culture is strong, because our teachers and principals are so hard working, and because there are so many adults genuinely working to serve the needs of the children in our care, it would be easy to assume that our students are just fine. These data provide an important reminder that we need to do more . . . or rather, we need to do different.

The reality is that there is no replacement for external, impartial, evaluative achievement data.

At her six schools, the test results “are helping to refocus and shift the conversation,” she writes. “It’s hard to imagine it happening if we relied only on norm-referenced tests and/or classroom-level assessment data.”

A Smarter Charter

image from tcf.org

Empowered teachers and integrated enrollments make for A Smarter Charter, argue Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter of The Century Foundation. That’s the original vision of teacher union leader Al Shanker, they write.

“The charter model still offers an exciting opportunity to “build new schools from scratch,” the authors write in a New York Times commentary. “A small but growing number are using their flexibility in governance and enrollment to increase the influence of teachers and to integrate their student bodies.”

Some charter teachers have unionized with “thin” collective bargaining agreements that provide flexibility.

Others asks teachers to share administrative responsibilities.

Kahlenberg and Potter praise charter schools that serve a racial, ethnic and socioeconomic mix of students. For example, San Diego’s High Tech High “employs a lottery weighted by ZIP code that capitalizes on the unfortunate reality of residential segregation” to achieve diversity.

“Different families want different things for their children,” writes Neerav Kingsland in response to the op-ed. “While socioeconomic diversity is a noble goal, it may not be the number one priority for all families.”

In addition, Kahlenberg and Potter dismiss “strong evidence of the benefits of charter schools for African-American students,” writes Kingsland. CREDO’s 27-state charter study found that African-American students in poverty who attended charter schools achieved nearly two months of extra learning per year. As yet, there’s “little rigorous research” backing the educational benefits of socioeconomically diverse schools.

Can teachers hold teachers accountable?

Test-based accountability is “doing untold damage to the profession of teaching,” Marc S. Tucker argues in Fixing Our National Accountability System. And it’s not improving student performance, Tucker tells New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Instead, we need to do what works in high-performing countries:  Treat teachers as professionals.

That means that teachers are as well paid as other professionals, that they have a career ladder, that they go to elite schools where they learn their craft, and that they are among the top quartile of college graduates instead of the bottom quartile.

In  high-performing countries,  tests are used to hold the students accountable, rather than the teachers, says Tucker.

Meanwhile, he writes, “in most of these countries, the primary form of accountability for the school and its staff is high-profile publication of the average scores for the exams for each school, often front-page news.”

When a school falls short, instead of looking to fire teachers, the high-performing countries “use the data to decide which schools will receive visits from teams of expert school inspectors. These inspectors are highly regarded educators.”

Tucker envisions teachers “holding each other accountable for the quality of their work, as professionals everywhere do.” Teachers would help colleagues improve and get rid of those who didn’t cut the mustard.

And the teacher’s unions? I keep looking for flying pigs.