Archive for March, 2011

NEA Takes a Stand

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Talk, talk, talk! What are you saying? We’ve been waiting, and now NEA speaks out.

The National Education Association (NEA) magazine Neatoday, March-April 2011, has finally laid out its positions on evaluation and teacher’s rights. As outlined in an earlier post (1-19-11), in the early 20th century teachers were at the beck and call of their superiors. When 40 hour weeks, health benefits, vacation, due process before termination, and other conditions workers take for granted were wrested from corporations and school district boards by unions, then school teachers could stand up for their rights.

But now in their 21st century hearts, teachers are caught between fear of losing rights that assure stability and security in a profession where teachers suffered unnecessary injustices, and realization that current evaluation procedures are a joke. Don’t lay the blame on collective bargaining. Don’t focus on high-stakes decisions like the tenure bugaboo and the compensation gremlin. Those three issues sidetrack negotiations toward a successful evaluation system.

NEA’s article debunks most current efforts at evaluation plans. Particular variables are not taken into account. For example, unions dislike high-stakes testing as designed in the Elementary and Secondary Achievement Act (ESEA) known as No Child Left Behind. “This enormous, expensive, painful venture has had little or no effect on achievement.” NeaToday, March-April 2011, p. 20.  We read every day how school districts, in a poor budget environment, constantly scramble to find monies to put a basic program in place, much less pay for high-stakes testing.

Scratch “value-added” measurements of test scores over time.  It’s another theory proclaimed to provide an effective tool to separate strong from weak teachers. However, factors to determine those scores throw analysis into confusion. The variables complicate any attempts to determine the effectiveness of a teacher.

Have you heard of the sure-fire tool to improve student achievement? “Pay for Performance?” NEA doesn’t think so! Plenty of studies like the Scholastic Teacher Survey establish the incentives to motivate student achievement-for instance, collaboration, analysis of student success, administrative support.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) report, Getting Teacher Assessment Right by Patricia H. Hinchey, summarizes the valuable qualities of a teacher assessment/evaluation system that state Departments of Education would do well to read before going any further in designing a model.

The finger is pointed at critics who claim the only educational purpose of schools is to produce student academic success for which standardized tests give easily advertised scores to evaluate teachers.

Look the other way–most research laid out in the report’s detailed bibliography shows that the goal is to establish protocols for evaluation based on factors of Teacher Quality (education, experience, beliefs, capacity to learn), Teacher Performance (classroom interaction, collaboration with school community), and Teacher Effectiveness (curriculum implementation, student test scores, student motivation).

Let’s examine some of the participants in NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign. The union tries to keep an eye on the progress of schools in school districts trying to transform from failing to high-performing designation. Go to the article “In Alabama, ‘A Good Attitude is Infectious'” by Greg Johnson. There are ups and downs, but no quitters.

Those who offer a new plan proclaim its wonders. Those that fear change hate all evaluation systems. The outcome, however, depends on implementation as well as the design.

You know what that means, don’t you?

Same school issues, fierce opinions

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

In the media this past week, education news, opinion, and letters to the editor ranged from pieces on kids, parents, and teachers to budgets and unions. Same issues, fierce opinions.

Kids and parents…

On Monday, March 21, KQED, the local San Francisco NPR station, commented on the revised school assignment system from the district’s assignment center. After years of complaints, it now appears that parents are not requesting the neighborhood school as first choice, but the school with the preferred program–especially language immersion; schools with high-achieving scores on state tests; and new K-8 schools. Variety in school programs is wonderful for a diverse population. One hopes money doesn’t disappear as schools open next year.

Close schools or convert…

The Detroit school board, facing governance, academic, and above all, financial problems, is preparing to vote to convert 41 of the 141 public schools to charter schools. The financial manager brought in to straighten out the financial woes for the district feels the numerous low-performing schools must have a strong overhaul to begin to address the academic needs of students. The 73,000 students in the large urban district will attend new charters in September 2011 or find their neighborhood schools closed. District finances are that dire. The pros and cons can be read in 3/21/11 Edweek on-line.

How students do better…

Good health is an effect of good education. One year after the Affordable Care Act of 2010, economist William H. Dow, U.C. Berkeley, asserted the relationship between well-educated Americans and health.  The idea is that adults without a college degree, much less a high school diploma, have poor health habits and can’t get jobs to pay for health insurance. The circle of distress goes round and round.  The conclusion is that the California legislature and U.S. Congress should not be niggling over the cost of education because in the long term health costs will be saved. Sound plausible? See the March 20, 2011, San Francisco Chronicle “Insight” article.

Women on the children’s side…

Friday, March 18, 2011, Gloria Taylor, co-president of the California American Association of University Women, wrote a letter to the editor for the state’s 1,000 women members. The association, on behalf of women and children, supports the tax revenue extension proposition on the June 2011 ballot to bring the California budget into balance. Who will a balanced budget help? Students for sure.

Unions and the judge…

On Friday, March 18, 2011, efforts in Wisconsin to wipe out public sector collective bargaining rights were stalled when Judge Maryann Sumi of the Dane County Circuit Court in Madison, Wisconsin, ordered a temporary restraining order to block the law from taking effect. After a month of raucous marching and devious legislative maneuvering, both sides of the conflict are waiting for legal moves. Public sector employees hope for the best. Teachers know that collective bargaining is one tool for revising fraught evaluation procedures, the huge and necessary need for teacher stability.

The Season of Pink Slips and School Budgets

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Spring approaches. Here in California, the cherry trees in the valley of orchards have already blossomed and died back, ready to set the fruit. My fourth grade class is moving onto the Spring curricular areas: rocks and minerals, local California Indian tribes, and study of the personal narrative composition.

The personal narrative, memoir of a specific event, is enjoyed by most of my students, as much as the difficult task of composing can be. Why not? Even at nine years old, they have plenty of memories of ‘the first time’, a fearful moment, and happy events. During the daily ‘teacher reads a good book out loud after lunch’, I’m reading passages from Fireflies, a great book to introduce the style of a good narrative.

As for me, my latest personal narrative doesn’t yet have an ending. On Monday we had a Cupertino Education Association union meeting. Of course, we wore red to stand by fellow union members in the infamous Wisconsin. Members signed up for a night of phone banking to get local voters to pass the extension of the local expiring parcel tax. It is one of the few ways to keep the schools from falling victim to the state’s school budget cutbacks necessary to balance the state budget.

Remember passage of parcel taxes still depends on 2/3 of the voters saying yes, and I shouldn’t say the district won’t fall victim even if the parcel tax extension passes. One hundred seventeen (117) district staff and teachers have received March 15 letters, notifying them that they are on the list of layoffs at the end of the school year.

The CEA lawyer has said to be sure to request a hearing about your position on the list, i.e., seniority. Some personnel are set aside on a separate layoff list, e.g., speech therapists and those with a single subject math credential. Layoffs depend on the service category each teacher belongs to. There may be an error.

All decisions depend on the passage of a state budget. The legislature still has not agreed on spending cuts, much less a special election in June to extend several taxes before they sunset.  Unlike some other states, notably Wisconsin, it is agreed by all that both spending cuts and tax extensions are in the mix.  How much is debated daily.

In Tuesday’s San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 2011, the battle seems to focus on the five GOP state senators who have sat in on the governor’s ongoing talks to forge a budget deal. The five senators are pushing for spending cuts– regulation reforms, a cap on state spending, and changes to public employee pensions. They can’t get past blaming public employee unions for all problems, and that means me.

So, you see, my personal narrative about ‘times of anxiety’ has repeated every year for the past four years. I listen to arguments on the car radio that are far away from helping me help students learn; spend time on the phone urging for parcel taxes to save the district’s budget because the state’s legislators can’t resolve a budget deal; and at the same time keep on track in the classroom, making sure the curriculum is covered and standards are met. I received a pink slip.

Reduce Deficits, Eliminate NWP?

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

In the fervor to reduce the United States deficit solely by spending cuts, Congress and state legislature members are, from a teacher’s point of view, kicking every dime down the drain, come what may.

What will come is a further downturn in education opportunity for public school children. For instance, vouchers take money from public schools to fund private schools-under the morally righteous statement that the legislation, as in Indiana, will provide a chance for low-performing students to improve their achievement by attending a private school. There are many ways to turn around the success of students in urban settings. The most obvious is for legislators to insist on reform in the public school, not buy off desperate parents and students.

Such an argument for good reform rather than reckless spending cuts was offered earlier this week at BostonTech, a school visited by President Obama and Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation.

To reform low-performing schools, the legislation to cut national funding support for educational programs that actually work doesn’t make sense. Caroline Griswold writing a Letter to the Editor in the San Francisco Chronicle of March 5, 2011, noted the most egregious assault: cutting all support to the National Writing Project, a teacher designed and implemented program to improve instruction for the most difficult of all language arts subjects-written composition. All students, whether interested in science, math, English, history, or vocational arts, do better with written language skills.

Elimination of funding “jeopardizes a nationwide network of 70,000 teachers who deliver localized, high-quality professional development to other educators across the country in all states, across subjects and grades,” states NWP executive director Sharon J. Washington.  All told, 200 sites established at universities and colleges in fifty states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and international locations provide workshops using a model developed at the University of California at Berkeley in 1973 by high school English teacher extraordinaire, Jim Gray.

In addition, the National Writing Project is accountable for its results. In fact, nine research studies in five states have confirmed significant gains for students whose teachers have participated in NWP programs.

A model designed by teachers to teach teachers that holds itself accountable is the goal that will help improve public and private school education. Legislators should be slapping high fives over its success. Where’s the logic in stripping NWP of funding?

Same goes for Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) that offers books and models for parents to improve literacy for students. National funding is being dumped, in spite of the statistic that nearly two-thirds of low-income families in the U.S. own no books.

Fortunately, RIF is supported by corporations, foundations, community organizations, and thousands of individuals. The only hope for RIF is continued generosity. With dismal education budgets, Congress’ desire to cut NWP funds overwhelms its proven quality. Maybe the Gates Foundation will take up the cause.

Why slash funds from programs that work, all to satisfy citizens who think they are paying too much tax, but want to reduce the deficit? What’s the problem for the one-thousandth of citizens who have most of the money in this country and do not pay anywhere near the tax rate levied on the rest of us?

Moderation in the Education World

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Ever hear Aristotle’s phrase “Moderation in all things?” Talk in the education world is anything but moderate right now. No consideration given to the mean or to compromise. Who thought that collective bargaining would bring down the curtain?

administrator and teacher analyze data

administrator and teacher analyze data

Teachers have been concerned about ‘pink slips’-already-in February. The reasonable thought is that lay-offs by ‘pink slip’ should be the worry.

Is the ruckus in Wisconsin and other Midwest states going to save teachers from unemployment-and more important, leave enough faculty to actually teach students, the purpose of education, remember?

It is clear that money matters are important to allow for the education of students. And so, even in California, pension reform dominates the news. In the San Francisco Chronicle article, Sunday, February 27, 2011, Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, Orange County, California legislator and former deputy sheriff, has submitted a bill, AB 961, to thwart collective bargaining negotiations over pensions, closing his arguments with the statement that taxpayers are being hurt. Wait! Are not public sector workers also taxpayers?

Tuesday’s news is that the latest New York Times/CBS News poll (February 24-27, 2011) contradicts conservative Wisconsin and other state legislators. American taxpayers by 60% to 33% oppose weakening collective bargaining rights.

So far, fortunately for teachers in California, the State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS)-the teachers’ pension fund–hasn’t been challenged. However, the California legislature is inching forward to the day when a vote must be taken on the budget. As John Diaz of the San Francisco Chronicle stated, the Republicans may as well have gone to Reno. They are refusing to provide any collaboration to decide on spending cuts and revenue, instead arguing about the exact amount of dollars. Everyone knows the exact dollars can’t be assured; one has to rely on the probable amounts. Taxpayers are waiting for a moderate solution.

It is surprising California teachers haven’t started marching around the Sacramento Capitol every weekend and furlough day-easy enough to do because to balance school district budgets over the past several years, everyone gets pay cuts through furlough days.

Once in a while a newspaper article comes out to congratulate student achievement. For instance, Advanced Placement (AP) exam scores in California went through the roof. That won’t last if there is no one to teach those classes. Shawnee High School in Louisville, Kentucky, formerly a failing school, has scores to show impressive achievement. One hopes the staff remains.

Lone Star Elementary in Sanger Unified School district near Fresno, California, has dramatically improved student achievement since the district finally realized that professional learning communities collaborating on instruction and analyzing data would be the key. At Lone Star the models used to equip the school for improvement were Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI)-a model available for almost ten years-and Response to Intervention (RTI). The improvements are described in “Calif. District Uses RTI to Boost Achievement for All” by Christina Samuels in Education Week, 3/2/2011. Keep it up!

However, good news is sure to come to a halt by March 15 when thousands upon thousands of pink slips are sent out country-wide because school district budgets have no stable source of funds.

Thirteen days are left while states continue to fight about pension plans and health benefits and think all problems can be solved by wiping out union collective bargaining rather than addressing all reform with moderation.