Teachers talk about unions, reform

Teachers support their unions, but they’re open to reform ideas, according to a new Education Sector survey, Trending Toward Reform

Teachers think evaluations are improving. In 2011, 78 percent said their most recent evaluation was done carefully and taken seriously by their school administration.

Three out of four teachers—76 percent—say that the criteria used in their evaluation were fair.

Teachers are warming to the idea that assessing student knowledge growth may be a good way to measure teacher effectiveness, with 54 percent of 2011 teachers agreeing. This compares with 49 percent in 2007.

Teachers are still opposed to including student test scores as one component of differentiated pay, with just 35 percent supporting that idea.

Teachers do support differentiated pay for teachers who work in tough neighborhoods with low-performing schools (83 percent support). Teachers also support differentiated pay for teachers who have earned National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification or for those who teach hard-to-fill subjects.

Few teachers want to eliminate tenure – only a third would be willing to trade tenure for a $5,000 bonus – but most agree it shouldn’t protect bad teachers, notes the Hechinger Report.

. . . a growing number of teachers believe that unions should play a role in making it easier to fire ineffective teachers. “Teachers pay the greatest price for incompetent teachers,” one teacher wrote in response to the survey. “Year after year, [other teachers] pick up the slack.”

Forty-three percent of teachers said unions should focus more on improving teacher quality, up from 32 percent in the 2007 survey. Sixty-two percent said unions could be “helpful partners in improving schools.”

Teachers and tenure

The Controversy Behind Teachers Unions & Tenure
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Teacher tenure is still needed, argues Walt Gardner in Ed Week.

Koala dads, creative kids

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World  by Harvard’s Tony Wagner is written for “Waldorf parents, Montessori moms and Koala dads,” according to Education Gadfly.

The premise is that America needs to foster more innovation and grow more entrepreneurs—both the STEM and social varieties—to remain globally competitive. Drawing on 150 interviews (and ten case studies of young innovators), Wagner argues that play, passion, and purpose must dominate one’s growth (through childhood and into college). . . . He exalts disruptive innovation, calls for abolishing “publish or perish” tenure determinations for professors, concedes that content cannot be drowned in an effort to boost process skills, and posits an interesting charter-like reboot of college education.

Living in Silicon Valley, I meet lots of entrepreneurs who are both very well-educated in technical fields and creative risk takers. Many are immigrants drawn to the U.S. by the entrepreneurial culture — or they’re the children of supportive, engaged, educated parents.

Teens have formed an entrepreneurs’ clubat Palo Alto High, my daughter’s alma mater, reports the New York Times.

Like many young entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, Matthew Slipper knows that success does not come easy. His first startup, an online education venture, flopped. His second, a video-sharing app for the iPhone, has sold only 20 copies.

But Slipper is optimistic. He should be. He’s just 18, a founding member of the Paly Entrepreneurs Club, an extracurricular group at the local high school that sprang into existence last September — the brainchild of about a dozen students committed to inventing the future.

. . . Founding a company in high school is “a great opportunity,” said Vincent Gurle, 18. Later in life, “if you fail at business you might have to go live with your parents,” he said. “But we’re already doing that.”

It helps to have parents and neighbors who have started or financed high-tech companies.

Weak teachers fail in New Haven, but not many

New Haven’s unionized teachers gave up job security for better pay and benefits, writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

With a stronger evaluation system, tenure no longer mattered and weak teachers could be pushed out.

Roughly half of a teacher’s evaluation would depend on the performance of his or her students — including on standardized tests and other measures of learning.

Teachers were protected by a transparent process, and by accountability for principals. But if outside evaluators agreed with administrators that a teacher was failing, the teacher would be out at the end of the school year.

Last year, the school district pushed out 34 teachers, about 2 percent of the total in the district. The union not only didn’t object, but acknowledged that many of them didn’t really belong in the classroom.

Fifty more teachers out of 1,800 in the district have been warned their teaching must improve or they’ll be fired.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. of New Haven says that the breakthrough isn’t so much that poor teachers are being eased out, but that feedback is making everyone perform better — principals included. “Most everybody picked up their game in the district,” he said.

Two percent of teachers were fired. That doesn’t sound like a very tough system. Maybe over time it will make a difference. Am I too bloodthirsty?

Update: Kristof fell for the latest edu-fad, writes Rick Hess, who’s seen many miracles turn out to be not so miraculous after all.

More states link teacher evaluation to test scores

Most states have strengthened oversight of teachers in the last two years and nearly half now tie teacher evaluations to student performance, according to a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality.

“We’ve seen a major policy shift away from [teacher] evaluations that tell us little about whether kids in a particular teacher’s classroom are learning, to evaluations designed to actually identify our most outstanding teachers and those who consistently underperform,” said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the council, which advocates judging teachers based on performance.

The administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition awarded grants to states that linked teacher evaluations to student test scores. “This year, Republican governors in Idaho, Indiana, Nevada and Michigan ushered in overhauls to teacher rating, compensation, bargaining rights and tenure,” adds the Wall Street Journal.

In Florida, tenure was eliminated. In Colorado, teachers now must get three positive ratings to earn tenure and can lose it after two bad ones. Several states, including Indiana and Michigan, did away with “last in, first out” union rules that resulted in districts laying off effective new teachers instead of ineffective tenured ones. Indiana and Tennessee passed merit-pay laws that base teacher pay primarily on classroom performance.

However, teachers’ unions are fighting the new policies, the report said.

States and school districts are contracting with both non-profit and for-profit groups to “design evaluations, train teachers and principals in how to use them, and set up online platforms to help sort all of the new data that schools will be collecting,” notes the Hechinger Report. Foundation money and the Obama administration’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top initiative is funding millions of dollars in contracts.


Ex-union head will run charter schools

After fighting charter schools in Los Angeles as head of the teachers’ union, A.J. Duffy plans to start charter schools that will make it harder for teachers to earn tenure, reports the Los Angeles Times.

And if a tenured teacher becomes ineffective, he wants to streamline dismissals. The process now in place can stretch out for several years, even with substantial evidence of gross misconduct. Some union leaders, notably Duffy, have defended this “due process” as a necessary protection against administrative abuses.

“I would make it 10 days if I could,” Duffy now says of the length of the dismissal process.

Duffy, 67, will be executive director of Apple Academy Charter Public Schools, which hopes to open one or more schools in south Los Angeles by the fall of 2012.

Caprice Young, who ran the California Charter Schools Association, will serve on Duffy’s board.  Young was president of the Los Angeles Unified school board till United Teachers of Los Angeles mounted a successful campaign to oust her in 2003.

A.J. Duffy and Caprice Young are collaborating on charter schools? Repent of your sins.

While opposing charter schools, Duffy tried to unionize them.

. . . he argued for charter school-like freedoms at traditional schools, running up against the L.A. Unified bureaucracy and, frequently, his own union’s reluctance to risk weakening contract protections.

Duffy’s Apple schools will be unionized, though UTLA will have to agree to his new systems for granting tenure and firing teachers.

Under his tenure model, teachers would undergo a three-year probationary period, with a review by the principal and an experienced mentor or “master teacher” after two years that would enable them to continue on to the third year or be let go.

After the third year, they would earn tenure for two years, after which they would have to be recertified. After each tenure period, they would earn an additional year of tenure before undergoing the next recertification.

Teacher dismissal would be decided by binding arbitration within a 10 to 20-day period after the principal and master teacher agree the teacher should be fired. Under the current system, firing a teacher can take years.

In a large, bureaucracy such as Los Angeles Unified, “it continues to be necessary for teachers to be overly protected, but I have always said that UTLA would be willing to give up certain traditional protections if they got in return academic autonomy,” Duffy told AP.

He hopes to hire union teachers from the Crescendo network, which lost its charter this spring after a cheating scandal.

18 states changed tenure laws in 2011

Eighteen states changed teacher tenure laws in 2011, reports the Education Commission of the StatesIdaho abolished tenure for new teachers and other states have restricted tenure or tied it to performance.

“More state legislatures are beginning to embed teacher performance evaluation in decisions to grant tenure or to explicitly state the terms of contracts,” ECS states.


Public, teachers’ views split on reform

Teachers’ views on education issues have diverged from public opinion in the last year, concludes a Harvard survey. Take the survey here.

The public splits on whether teachers’ unions have a positive or negative influence; teachers defend their unions more strongly.

Public opposition to teacher tenure edged upward; teachers support tenure more than ever. Public support for basing tenure on student academic progress increased from 49 percent to 55 percent, but only 30 percent of teachers agreed.

The public supports merit pay by a 47 to 27 percent margin. Only 18 percent of teachers favor merit pay and 72 percent oppose it.

The public agrees with teachers on one issue: 55 percent of the public and 82 percent of teachers favor higher pay. Only 7 percent of the public would cut teacher pay.

However, public support for higher teacher pay falls to 42 percent when those surveyed are told how much the average teacher in their state is currently paid.

Given a choice between increasing teacher salaries and reducing class sizes, the public opted for smaller classes. Told that “reducing average class sizes by three students would cost roughly the same amount as increasing teacher salaries by $10,000,” 44 percent chose class-size reduction and 28 percent selected increasing teacher salaries.

Teachers split on whether to opt for higher pay or smaller classes.

By a strong margin, the public favored teachers paying a percentage of their benefit costs, while teachers overwhelmingly reject this cost-cutting measure.

Public support for vouchers increased: 47 percent backed “a proposal to give families with children in public schools a wider choice, by allowing them to enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition.”

Forty-three percent of the public — and 45 percent of teachers — supported charter schools; a minority are anti-charter and many are undecided.

Newark’s failing schools swap teachers

The $5 million turnaround plan for three low-performing Newark high schools required replacing half the teachers. Instead of letting principals hire new teachers, the schools swapped teachers. Some 68 teachers were shuffled among Malcom X Shabazz High, Central High School and Barringer High School, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.

Shabazz, which employs 90 teachers, sent 21 to Barringer, which sent 21 over to Shabazz. Central teachers also ended up at Shabazz and Barringer, though the school didn’t take as many transfers.

“Federal money may have unintentionally funded the infamous ‘dance of the lemons’ that has been a harmful practice in districts for decades,” said Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit group that helps school districts recruit teachers.

“If these teachers truly were not good enough for one struggling school, we have to ask whether it is a good idea to put them in another one,” he said.

Cami Anderson, who became superintendent in May, vows to stop the swaps, but it will cost money to pay the salaries of unwanted teachers. New Jersey law requires the district to pay tenured teachers, even if no principal will hire them.

Test scores are up significantly at Central High — let’s hope they’re not cheating — but have remained the same or lower at Barringer and Shabazz.


NYC tenures only 58% of eligible teachers

New York City has made it much harder for teachers to get tenure after three years of experience. Only 58 percent of eligible teachers received tenure this year, 39 percent were given another year to qualify and 3 percent were rejected.

Five years ago, roughly 99 percent of eligible teachers received tenure, reports the New York Times.

“We’ve turned what had been a joke interpretation of the state law to make it something that you have to work hard, earn, and show that you are better than the average bear” to get, said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a news conference.

Under the city’s new standards, teachers are rated on a four-point scale as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective, based on students’ tests scores, classroom observations, feedback from parents, and other factors. (Previously, they were simply rated satisfactory or not.) Principals, who make recommendations on tenure, and supervisors, who make the decisions, were allowed to give tenure only to teachers who were rated effective or better for two consecutive years.

Some teachers complained that evaluation standards are unclear.

Teachers can remain on probationary status indefinitely, “although last year, one-third of those whose probation had been extended were dismissed,” reports the Times.