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 In Idaho, voters repealed three laws pushed by Superintendent Tom Luna.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.

Dems, Republicans have switched on vouchers

“The Republicans’ talk about giving parents the right to choose is a politically expedient strategy,” writes Jack Jennings, founder of the Center on Education Policy,  in the Huffington Post. “Just beneath the surface of the education rhetoric are political motivations to thwart integration, weaken the Democratic coalition, and cripple the teachers’ unions.”

Know your history, responds Doug Tuthill on redefinED. Both Democrats and Republicans have switched on private school choice over the years.

Democrats George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey both ran for president on platforms supporting tuition tax credits for private schools, and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., was the U.S. Senate’s leading advocate for giving parents public funding to attend private schools. The Democratic Party reversed its support of public funding for private school choice in the late 1970s – as a political payback to the National Education Association for giving Jimmy Carter its first ever presidential endorsement.

Via Greg Forster.

This is’t a right-left issue: Black Democrats in big cities often support vouchers, while suburban Republicans do not.

Education upstarts

“Education policy has long featured two players—the government and teachers unions,” writes Rachel Brown in The Atlantic.  Now Education Upstarts have “stepped up to lobby legislators and drive the conversation.” Among them: 

Graphics by Kiss Me I’m Polish

Stand for Children

Who: Co-founder and CEO Jonah Edelman is the son of the civil-rights leader Marian Wright Edelman.

What: The most grassroots of these groups. Leads efforts to lobby state governments for reforms such as value-added teacher evaluations and more-equitable school funding.

 

Democrats for Education Reform

Who: Bankers, CEOs, and other wealthy Democrats. Adviser Cory Booker lends liberal star power.

What: Offers political cover to Democratic politicians who alienate teachers unions by supporting education reforms such as mayoral control of schools and national curriculum standards. Has helped loosen the unions’ grip on the party.

Michelle Rhee’s Students First “has yet to establish itself as a major player on the policy front,” despite Rhee’s high profile, writes Brown.b

Democrats split on trigger, teachers

Who speaks for Democrats on education? asks Gadfly. Won’t Back Down, Hollywood’s positive take on the parent trigger movement, was shown at a theater near the convention site with the blessing of the White House, despite opposition by teachers’ union leaders.

DNC delegates who attended passed parents and teachers who picketed outside on their way to listening to uber-reformer Michelle Rhee discuss the movie inside.

. . . As Rhee pointed out, “There is no longer sort of this assumed alliance between the Democratic Party and the teachers unions.”

Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief-of-staff, faces a Chicago Teachers Union strike next week.

The alliance between the teachers’ unions and the Democratic Party is “fraying,” opines the LA Times.

Romney to NAACP: I’ll champion ed reform

In his NAACP speech, Mitt Romney promised to “be a champion of real education reform” and a foe of special interests that try to “get in the way.”

When it comes to education reform, candidates cannot have it both ways – talking up education reform, while indulging the same groups that are blocking reform. You can be the voice of disadvantaged public-school students, or you can be the protector of special interests like the teachers unions, but you can’t be both.

. . . I will give the parents of every low-income and special needs student the chance to choose where their child goes to school. For the first time in history, federal education funds will be linked to a student, so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school, or to a private school, where permitted. And I will make that a true choice by ensuring there are good options available to all.

Black children are 17 percent of students nationwide, but 42 percent of students in the worst-performing schools, Romney said.

Our society sends them into mediocre schools and expects them to perform with excellence, and that is not fair. Frederick Douglass observed that, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  Yet, instead of preparing these children for life, too many schools set them up for failure.  Everyone in this room knows that we owe them better than that.

Romney’s education proposals are here.

The NAACP should listen to Romney (and Obama) on school choice, writes RiShawn Biddle, a crusader against “zip-code education.”

Los Angeles shortens school year again

As Chicago lengthens the school day, Los Angeles keeps shortening the school year. A deal with the teachers union would cancel up to five instruction days in the coming school year and reduce teacher pay by 5 percent. “This would bring to 18 the number of school days cut over four years,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

There is, in fact, a strategic advantage for unions in taking furlough days and shortening the school year. The salary cuts that result are temporary; they expire after one year and must be renegotiated every year.

In the process, teachers avoid making permanent concessions on pension or health benefits. L.A. Unified employees still pay no monthly premiums for health insurance for themselves or family members. And teachers still receive raises based on experience or additional education.

Shortening the school year also “could generate the outrage needed to build public support for boosting state funding,” political analysts say.  “You’re not going to mobilize nearly as many people by warning them about the need to renegotiate pension and health benefits,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

“Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento recommended legislation this week that would allow districts to cut up to three weeks off the next two school years — on top of the five days already approved, if voters fail to approve a tax initiative on the November ballot,” reports the Times. They’re going to kill puppies and kittens too.