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.

California teachers win layoff protection

California’s newly passed state budget was a big win for teachers, reports the Sacramento Bee. “Lawmakers blocked K-12 districts from laying off teachers for the upcoming fiscal year.” The bill requires districts to maintain last year’s staffing and program levels, even the state could be forced to cut $1.75 billion if optimistic revenue projections aren’t met.

“Districts will be under tremendous pressure to bring people back from layoffs and, if there is a midyear cut, there is no way to lay people off,” said David Gordon, Sacramento County superintendent of schools. “How then do you handle a midyear cut?”

If tax dollars fall short, the budget lets districts cut another seven days from the school year — but only if teachers’ and staff unions agree.

With layoffs off the table, teachers may have more leverage in those discussions to block school-year reductions.

If the rosy scenario doesn’t pan out, and districts can’t lay off teachers or cut pay through shortening the school year, they’ll just have to . . .  Hold up gas stations?

Natomas Unified interim Superintendent Walt Hanline called the measure “the most irresponsible piece of legislation I’ve seen in my 35 years in education.”

The California Teachers Association is expected to help fund Democratic efforts to raise taxes on the November 2012 ballot, the Bee notes.

Without bargaining, teachers earn more

Without collective bargaining, teachers earn more money but also pay more for health benefits, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. He crunched data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality for more than 100 of the largest districts in each of the 50 states.

Maximum pay for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree averages $64,500 in districts without collective bargaining compared to $57,500 for a similar teacher with bargaining rights, Petrilli concluded. (Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia don’t allow collective bargaining.) However, “non-collective bargaining districts drive a harder bargain when it comes to health care: Just one-third of those districts offer free insurance to employees, versus one-half of those with bargaining rights.”

Not waiting for Superpol

Not willing to wait for Superpol, “heartless” Rick Hess is backing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to curtail collective bargaining rights.

Just as I reject school reform built on the pursuit of millions of “superman” teachers, so I don’t trust the notion that everything will be fine if we just elect leaders with spines of steel, hearts of gold, and a deft negotiating hand.

The problem with collective bargaining by public employees is that these unions are unchecked by competition and wield massive influence as they help to elect their bosses. I get why Wisconsin public employees view Walker’s proposal as an assault, but I see a sensible measure to rein in the tendency of pols to serve narrow interests at the expense of the commonweal.

Exhorting politicians to “do the right thing” won’t give them the strength to rein in “exorbitant benefits and undisciplined budgets,” Hess argues. The unions are too strong.

National Journal’s Education Experts are discussing what Wisconsin means for the future of labor-management relations in school districts.

Gov. Walker is out to “destroy public education as we know it,” charges Bob Peterson, a Milwaukee teacher who predicts catastrophe to schools as well as teachers.

Collective bargaining gives teachers a voice, writes Dennis van Roekel, president of the National Education Association.

Chickens come home to roost, writes Sandy Kress, a former Bush education adviser.

The standoff continues in Madison. Police did not enforce a Sunday 4 pm deadline to clear the Capitol building of protesters.

If absent Democratic senators don’t return in 24 hours to vote on the budget, Wisconsin will miss a chance to save $165 million in debt refinancing costs, the governor said today. That will lead to more layoffs of state workers, he said. Walker will propose a new budget tomorrow that cuts $1 billion in state aid to schools and local governments, reorganizes the University of Wisconsin system and makes other changes to deal with a $3.6 billion deficit.

Wisconsin: Who’s to blame?

Who’s to blame for the teachers’ crisis in Wisconsin?  Andrew Rotherham has blame to go around.

The liberals want local control in Wisconsin, while Republican Gov. Scott Walker doesn’t trust local school boards to drive a hard bargain with teachers’ unions, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

Indiana Democrats left the state to block a right-to-work bill. Gov. Mitch Daniels said he won’t ask state police to pursue the missing legislators. He wants his fellow Republicans to postpone the bill.

Teachers’ pensions are unsustainable, writes RiShawn Biddle.

Does the conflict in Madison represent “creative destruction” or plain old destruction?  Government workers are in for a painful transition, writes Walter Russell Mead in The American Interest. But the only alternative to improving productivity is seeing living standards decline for all Americans, he argues.

What we’ve got to do here is to deploy technology and aggressive, creative reform and restructuring to health, education and government.  Much bureaucratic work in government is routine; computers are going to have to replace people wherever possible.  Staffs are going to have to shrink in ways that are simply unimaginable to present day government workers and their union leaders.

The educational system is going to change radically, Mead predicts. Students will be “evaluated and credentialed on the basis of what they know, not on the basis of time served.”  That will end the pressure to earn meaningless degrees.

Employees will demonstrate their competence to employers by passing exams in different job-relevant subjects that test real skills; the training for these tests will be provided by entrepreneurial organizations that are likely to rapidly replace many of the inefficient and expensive post-secondary educational institutions around today, once appropriate systems to regulate their practices and monitor their performance can be developed.  (Traditional liberal arts education needs to survive, and it will, but education and training are very different things that require very different approaches.  To promote economic growth and social mobility, and to help individuals continually retool their skills in a changing economy, we need to separate training from education and make training as widely available, cheap and convenient as possible.)

I was a union (Newspaper Guild) member for many years when I worked for a Knight Ridder newspaper.  Knight Ridder, once the second largest newspaper chain in the U.S., no longer exists. My former colleagues have taken wage cuts, unpaid furloughs, “give backs” on benefits and still seen two thirds of the editorial staff laid off.  If your employer’s business model becomes obsolete, workers have to adapt, which means working harder and smarter to replace your laid-off colleagues, finding a new job and learning to live on less money.  “Creative destruction” is a bitch, but it beats destruction.

Democrats vs. Obama's ed plan

The House vote to cut funding for Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund and charter schools  is a direct attack on President Obama’s education reform agenda, which he considers one of his “proudest achievements,” writes Jonathan Alter in Newsweek.  The headline: How Congress Keeps Screwing Up Education.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wisconsin, is carrying water for the teachers’ union, which has rejected the reforms, Alter writes.

Last year, Congress funded $95 billion to prevent layoffs and only $5 billion for reforms. Now House Democrats want to take money already allocated to reform and transfer it to another effort to protect the status quo. In a Wednesday phone interview with Alter, Obey called Race to the Top a “slush fund,” the union’s phrase.

Obey said his edujobs amendment has little chance to pass in the Senate because it will get no Republican support. Edujobs would have a chance if the money for teachers was tied to reform of the seniority system, Alter writes. But Obama isn’t willing to make that fight.

Rigid “last hired, first fired” rules are a disaster for schoolchildren. They mean that across the country, teachers of the year will be pink-slipped simply because they are young. Yep—some of our very best teachers will be driven out of the profession. Meanwhile, older, incompetent teachers will be kept on. That’s unconscionable. We now know that having a bad teacher two or three years in a row in the early grades all but dooms disadvantaged children.

With a little imagination, there’s a grand compromise available: money to prevent layoffs in exchange for a requirement that seniority no longer be the only factor in determining layoffs (it could continue to be one of four or five factors).

. . . The stranglehold of the teachers’ unions on the Democratic Party, loosened a bit with Race to the Top, is back in place, asphyxiating the careers of the terrific young teachers who the country needs most.

Obey’s mini-coup shows why reform is so hard, writes Eric Hanushek on Ed Next.

In the provinces, seniority layoffs are under attack and some Democrats are leading the charge.

In California, a bill that modifies seniority layoffs passed an education committee on a 6-2 vote, despite strong opposition from the California Teachers Association.

“It’s about civil rights,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat,  said. Under the bill, lay-offs at low-performing schools couldn’t exceed the district average for layoffs. It’s a response to a civil-rights lawsuit charging that laying off less-experienced teachers disrupts low-performing, high-poverty and high-minority schools, which tend to have young teaching staffs.

Chicago has decided to lay off the lowest-performing teachers, regardless of seniority.

Delaware, Tennessee win Race to Top

Delaware and Tennessee have won Race To The Top funding in the first round.

Both had stakeholder buy-in (from the unions and school boards), the Education Department says. Politics K-12 points out another factor:

. . . Tennessee and Delaware just happen to be the home states of two powerful, Republican lawmakers the Obama administration is trying to court in its bipartisan push to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del. Both chair the subcommittees in their respective chambers dealing with K-12 policy, and both are considered leading moderate voices on education who have worked well with Democrats in the past.

Also noticing the Alexander and Castle factor, Flypaper’s Andy Smarick credits the Department for choosing only two winners, but says Delaware and Tennessee had plans that were good but not great.

The story here is just how important “stakeholder support” turned out to be. Florida, Louisiana, and Rhode Island had very good plans, but their unions didn’t buy in, especially in RI and FL.  So those states lost.

Two other finalists, North Carolina and Kentucky, had weak plans but high stakeholder support. They lost too.

. . . Florida, Louisiana, and Rhode Island now have to wonder, “What reforms do we give up in order to get our stakeholders to support the plan? Do we lighten up on teacher evaluations? Do we give up performance pay? Do we take it easier on failing schools.”

The need for stakeholder support could give unions and local school districts a “veto” over their state’s proposals, Smarick writes.

Giving a veto to the status quo’s defenders will make RTTT “meaningless,” writes Jay Greene. “If people know that union opposition scuttles a state’s chances, then no state will apply in the future unless they have union support.  This means that the unions will dictate what reforms will be pursued, which means that there will be virtually no reform.”

Rick Hess calls the results the Race To Consensus.

Looking at Delaware and Tennessee leaves me thinking that all the talk about bold reform was window dressing. The states that explicitly set out to blow past conventions, and devil take the hindmost, fell by the wayside. Florida and Louisiana’s bold, action-backed plans — which reflected a belief that they could push forward if they did so only with the eager and willing — lost out to states that obtained laughable levels of buy-in from school districts, school boards, and local teachers’ unions.

Tennessee’s plan is bold, writes J.E. Stone.

Mike Petrilli is better at handicapping RTTT winners than college basketball teams. His short list included: Delaware, Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana and Massachusetts. Union support made a big difference, he writes.

Lifted from Russo, a cartoon by my old friend Signe Wilkinson, the mother of two blogging teachers, one in Philadelphia and one in Taiwan.

Download (13)

Bipartisan bastards for education reform

We’re All Right-Wing Bastards Now, writes teacher Larry Sand of the anti-union California Teachers Empowerment Network in City Journal.  Sand is responding to a speech by Bob Chanin, the outgoing general counsel of the National Education Association, who called critics of the union “conservative and right-wing bastards” who oppose public education.

People of all political stripes—not just right-wing “bastards”—are starting to realize that the single biggest impediment to education reform is the NEA itself.

. . . Just two days before Chanin’s speech, the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights released a report, National Teachers’ Unions and the Struggle Over School Reform, maintaining that the teachers’ unions consistently blocked meaningful education reform and accusing the NEA of trying to end enforcement of the No Child Left Behind act. The unions “almost uniformly call for the spending of more money and the creation of more teaching positions which, of course, result in an increase in union membership, union income and union power,” wrote one of the authors, David Kilpatrick. . . . Kilpatrick spent 12 years as a top union officer, while the study’s other authors include former senators Bill Bradley and Birch Bayh, D.C. congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and civil rights leader Roger Wilkins—all liberals.

“People of goodwill across the political spectrum” are fighting for “real education reform,” Sand writes. I think that’s right.

Obama's school policies called 'Bush III'

In a speech on reauthorizing No Child Left Behind, Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave the law “credit for exposing achievement gaps, and for requiring that we measure our efforts to improve education by looking at outcomes, rather than inputs.” Duncan called for developing better tests to monitor progress and more focus on student growth.

But the biggest problem with NCLB is that it doesn’t encourage high learning standards. In fact, it inadvertently encourages states to lower them. The net effect is that we are lying to children and parents by telling kids they are succeeding when they are not.

It’s one reason our schools produce millions of young people who aren’t completing college. They are simply not ready for college-level work when they leave high school.

. . . In my view, we should be tight on the goals – with clear standards set by states that truly prepare young people for college and careers – but we should be loose on the means for meeting those goals.

We don’t believe that local educators need a prescription for success. But they do need a common definition of success — focused on student achievement, high school graduation and college.

Duncan’s speech was a “pretty pep talk,” writes Ken DeRosa on D-Ed Reckoning. He predicts a “hodgepodge of reforms” doomed to failure.

. . . we have a system in which consumers of education get almost no choices and consolidating power at the Federal level on common standards will only reduce the few choices we have. That’s the main advantage of a competitive market — consumers get choices and everyone gets a chance to see if their crackpot theories work the way they think they will.

. . . The problem with the current education system is that the self-interest of the adults running the system is not aligned with the interests of the children being educated.

Teachers’ unions aren’t happy with the administration’s push for testing, accountability, performance pay and charter schools, reports the Washington Post.  Obama’s policies are “Bush III,” said Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers.

Resistance (to reform) is futile

Resistance to education reform is futile, says Democrats for Education Reform.

Those who resist the school reform movement are going to find they are on the wrong side of history. They may affect the pace of reform, but not its inexorable direction. They must decide whether they will participate, or continue to be further marginalized.

Via This Week in Education.

School choice is gaining ground, argues Greg Forster on Pajamas Media.

The bottom line is that the D.C. and Milwaukee programs are in trouble because they’re legacy programs; they’re the old model of school choice, designed as charity programs that only serve the most disadvantaged. As a result, it’s hard to mobilize political support for them. The constituencies that benefit most are the least powerful.

Georgia, with its more broad-based programs, is pointing the way forward. School choice that serves all students, not just some, is where the movement is headed — precisely because it’s the only model where the political math adds up.

The unions are getting desperate, Forster writes.