California suspends accountability

The shift to Common Core standards has given California’s powerful education unions an opportunity to undo the state’s testing-and-accountability reforms, writes Dan Walters, a Sacramento Bee columnist. The unions never liked testing, comparing schools on the basis of test scores (primarily) and, especially, using test scores to evaluate teachers.

A bill backed by the unions, their perpetual ally, state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson, and Gov. Jerry Brown would suspend almost all academic testing immediately and then, the sponsors say, reinstate it in alignment with Common Core in a couple of years.

. . . everything that stems from testing and that the unions dislike would also be suspended and, it’s widely believed, be quietly killed.

Could California abandon statewide testing for good? Or just kill the Academic Performance Index and teacher evaluation plans?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan threatened to cut off tens of billions of dollars in federal aid in a last-ditch attempt to block the bill. “No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students’ achievement, you need to know how all students are doing,” Duncan wrote.

The bill’s backers shrugged off the threat and passed the bill, which Gov. Brown plans to sign.

Failing to measure and inform parents about how well their child is doing in school for an entire academic year is absolutely the wrong approach,” said Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat on the Education Committee, in a statement.

Jerry Brown to California’s Children: I Don’t Care About Your Futures is RiShawn Biddle’s headline on Dropout Nation.

It seems inevitable that the switch to new standards and new exams will make test data unreliable and disrupt state accountability systems. Wait to evaluate teachers until there’s enough data from Common Core-aligned tests to do it right, recommends a RAND analyst.

Young teachers support evaluation reform

Newer teachers are willing to be evaluated on their students’ academic growth, according to two new surveys, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

In the Teach Plus survey, 71 percent with 10 years or less in the classroom said student academic growth should be part of their evaluations, while just 41 percent of the more experienced group (11+ years) agreed. Education Sector compared teachers with less than five years of experience and those with 20+ years: 56 percent of newer teachers and 50 percent of older ones supported measuring teacher effectiveness using student growth models.

Sixty percent of the newer Teach Plus survey teachers said they were interested in changing “compensation and tenure systems.” Just 20 percent of the older teachers had that view. The Education Sector survey teachers appeared more supportive of moving in that direction: Ninety-one percent of the newer teachers and 75 percent of the older ones supported unions taking a role in simplifying the process of removing ineffective teachers.

The American Federation of Teachers’ proposal to make it harder to enter teaching will raise teacher quality, writes Marc Tucker in his Ed Week blog.

High-status professions “do a lousy job of getting rid of their worst performers,” but make it hard to get into professional school and to pass licensing exams, Tucker writes. “We will get quality teachers not by firing the worst but by recruiting, training and hiring the best.”

Higher standards mean better performance, which meets the interest of the public.  But higher standards also means that fewer people are able to enter the profession, and fewer members curtails supply, which means higher compensation for those who get in.  The professionals get higher compensation and the public gets higher student achievement. Everyone wins.

The National Education Association also has come out for “national standards for the preparation, licensing and certification of educators,”  Tucker writes.

Younger teachers . . . want to work in a truly professional environment where competence and achievement count for more than seniority, where distinctions in responsibility and authority among teachers are made and made on the basis of their demonstrated accomplishments in the classroom.

The U.S. has “prized cheap teachers over good teachers,” lowering standards whenever there’s a shortage, Tucker writes. “A very large fraction” of would-be teachers today will not be able to meet high-quality licensure standards.

Attracting the young people who could pass the new “bar exams” would require us, the public, to be willing to pay teachers more, invest in our teacher training institutions to make their quality comparable to that of the institutions that train our doctors and engineers, improve the quality of school leadership so that schools become attractive professional workplaces and offer teachers the kind of professional autonomy that high status professionals have.
We could pay for it by training fewer teachers and retaining them longer, Tucker argues.

How strong are teachers’ unions?

Hawaii’s teachers’ union is the strongest in the nation, followed by Oregon, Montana and Pennsylvania, according to Fordham’s analysis. Arizona has the weakest teachers’ unions, followed by Florida and South Carolina.

Ed policy opponents aren’t evil

Whether you support or oppose education reforms, your policy adversaries aren’t evil, writes Daniel Willingham. Furthermore, you probably don’t know what they’re thinking — especially if you think they “don’t care about kids.”

Despite his opposition to education reformers and his “history of defending teachers and their unions,” Pedro Noguera was labeled anti-teacher (by Bridging Differences colleague Deborah Meier and others) for writing that teachers’ “unions must be clearer about what needs to change,” he complains. That’s bad strategy, Noguera writes.

If we also take the position that anyone who suggests that teachers’ unions are not doing enough to push for change in the way schools operate we will lose critical supporters, and not just me. There is widespread failure in urban schools (and many suburban and rural schools as well). Change is indeed necessary.

Some of the comments suggest that everyone who supports education reforms must be in league with right-wing knuckle-scrapers, if not Satan himself.

Why ‘Won’t Back Down’ matters

Won’t Back Down is a predictable movie that resemble an after-school special, writes Andrew Rotherham in Time. It’s no Citizen Kane. But a Hollywood movie on the parent trigger matters a great deal. The education debate will not be the same.

Despite its sugary Hallmark quality, Won’t Back Down is a serious film about a grim reality — parents and teachers stuck in a system that puts kids last. (Maggie) Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Fitzpatrick, a mom struggling to help her daughter while juggling all the other balls a single mom must keep in the air — work, life, flickering hope of romance. Her daughter’s dysfunctional school is a roadblock to a better future for her, and Fitzpatrick is determined to fix that. She enlists the help of a frustrated teacher (Viola Davis) to try to force the school board to improve the school under a district rule giving parents the ability to force action.

The film also has some nuance, unlike the blunt force trauma that tends to dominate education debates. A Teach For America teacher is portrayed not as a caricature of a noble savior or unwitting dupe but rather as a serious young person struggling to make sense of the conflicting values he encounters in a screwed-up urban school system. Played by Oscar Isaac, this teacher tries to reconcile his belief in unions as a tool of social justice with the jobs-and-adults-first reality he finds in his school district.

In the face of union opposition, the movie’s stars aren’t backing down, Rotherham writes.

On Monday’s Today Show, Oscar nominee Viola Davis made clear that she understands firsthand how important education is in breaking the cycle of poverty. She grew up poor and seems to have little patience for those resisting efforts to improve public school. “It’s a system that’s broken and needs to be fixed,” she said on the show.

The movie’s opponents — “teachers unions carping that the movie is unfair and activists claiming that giving parents more power is akin to privatization” — have turned Won’t Back Down “into a national conversation piece,” Rotherham writes. Even those who don’t believe parents can run schools are talking about what can be done when children are trapped in low-performing schools.

Independents lean right on education

Just one-third of independents report that President Obama has done an “excellent” or “good” job of handling education issues, reports the new EdNext-PEPG survey. On the role of teachers unions and support for school spending, “the views of independents hew closer to those of Republicans than of Democrats.”

Moreover, independents are more supportive than members of either party of expanding private school choice for disadvantaged students, the centerpiece of Governor Romney’s proposals for K–12 education reform.

Overall, however, 52 percent of independents say they lean Democratic, while just 40 percent lean Republican.

Seventy-one percent of Republicans report that the teachers unions have a generally negative effect on schools, as compared to just 29 percent of Democrats. Though independents come down in between, a majority of them (56 percent) agree with Republicans that unions have a negative effect.

Hispanics are more likely than whites or blacks to give high grades to public schools, the survey found.

While annual per-pupil expenditures run around $12,500, Hispanics, on average, estimate their cost at less than $5,000. Whites and African Americans estimate the costs to be more than $7,000.

The same goes for teacher salaries, which average about $56,000 a year. On average, Hispanics think teachers are paid little more than $25,000 a year; blacks, on average, think they are paid around $30,000 a year; and whites estimate salaries at $35,000.

All groups — but especially Hispanics — strongly support “proposals to condition teacher tenure on their students’ making adequate progress on state tests.”  Overall, the public backs using principals’ observations and students’ test-score improvement to evaluate teachers. 

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
Brought to you by: BestCollegesOnline.com

Teacher tenure is still needed, argues Walt Gardner in Ed Week.

The school reform deniers

Steven Brill, author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools), takes on “school reform deniers” on Reuters.  Those who argue that schools are doing fine — or would be with more money — ignore the facts, he asserts.

I thought his take on compensating teachers was interesting. We could afford to pay teachers $65,000 to $165,000 a year, instead of $30,000 to $110,000, by rewriting the standard union contract, he argues.

 Among the ways to do that: 1) substitute standard 401 (k) pension plans for the costly back-loaded pensions that benefit the senior teachers who are most likely to vote in the low-turnout teachers’ union elections (and that now costs major urban school systems $10,000-$20,000 per teacher); 2) allow for slightly larger class size (which would free up $7,000-$20,000 per teacher across the country); eliminate the 10-15 sick or personal days in a 34-38 week work year prevalent across the country (and stop allowing teachers to cash in the days they don’t use); 3) stop paying automatic salary increases (now amounting to $5 billion a year nationally) just because a teacher gets some advanced degree, when all the research now shows zero correlation between those degrees and teacher effectiveness; 4) stop paying automatic seniority-based increases above what would now be the higher starting salaries and use that money to pay the top third or top quarter of performers the highest salaries; 5) stop paying teachers for doing union work or for the two or three years that they remain idle pending tenure-required disciplinary or removal hearings; and 6) allow for distance learning that allows more students to take advanced courses and implement other technology-enabled efficiencies that the unions have resisted.

With the saving generated from this “grand bargain” to revitalize public school teaching – in essence by swapping performance for protection — we could give teachers the kind of status, career paths and compensation that countries with the best public education results offer.

Brill doesn’t want to abolish teachers’ unions, he writes. He wants to persuade or force them to engage in real reforms.  He sees American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten as a potential “Nixon to China” figure.

Brill calls the New York Times review of his book “thoughtful” and Michael Winerip’s hostile column  “near-venemous.”

The book is a “surprise page-turner,” writes Liam Julian.

But Rick Hess calls the book readable, reliable and incomplete, but faults Brill for “with-us-or-agin’-us” dogmatism, which “encourages hubris, overreach, and the enthusiastic embrace of silver bullets (whether charter schooling, value-added, or merit pay).”

Never embrace a bullet, even if it’s silver.

Public trusts teachers, but not their unions

Americans trust teachers, but not their unions, concludes the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll.

More than 70 percent of respondents have confidence in public school teachers; 69 percent give local teachers an A or B. However, nearly half say teachers’ unions hurt public education.

Three out of four said they’d encourage a bright student to become a teacher; 67 percent would like their own child to choose a public-school teaching career.

Americans increasingly support school choice, but only one of three favors vouchers, the poll reported.

Consistent with past findings, Americans believe teacher salaries should be based on multiple factors, including advanced degrees, experience, and the principal’s evaluations of the teacher. Students’ scores on standardized tests were rated as least important. Similarly, Americans believe that school districts should use multiple factors to determine which teachers should be laid off first, rather than basing it primarily on seniority (last hired, first fired).

College prepares graduates for the workforce, respondents said, but not all believe a college degree is sufficient for readiness.

Even more so than in the past, Americans give high marks to local schools, low marks to the nation’s schools, notes Rick Hess.

I’ll start by noting that I’m not a huge fan of the American public right now. After all, we’re the twits who demand lots of services but don’t want to pay for them. And then we get angry when our leaders can’t square this circle. We insist that they take painful steps to rein in spending, and then complain when they try to do it. In short, we’ve shown all the character and discipline of an irate preschooler.

While Americans strongly prefer small classes, 80 percent “believe that high school classes with more students and a better teacher would result in higher student achievement than would smaller classes with less effective teachers,” Hess notes.