Archive for the ‘American Federation of Teachers’ Category

School board election to test public education

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Non-partisan school board elections have turned highly partisan in the Denver metro area.  The Republican party has gone full forward against two teachers’ associations – the Jefferson County Education Association and Douglas County’s American Federation of Teachers.

What’s interesting is that both districts do well in the state’s academic assessment program.  Douglas County, which rims the south metro area, has a mostly white population, with a 10 percent poverty rate.  Jefferson County, which at one time mirrored Douglas County’s demographic, now is much more diverse with a 30 percent poverty rate.

Jeffco School District is the largest in the state with about 85,000 students.  Its students test well above the state average on the Colorado School Assessment Program (CSAP) tests.  Of the 140+ schools in the district, one is considered non-performing.  The district has numerous schools ranking among the top 10 percent in achievement.  Douglas County Schools are similar in their test results, with no non-performing schools.

Douglas County has also been at the front end of pay for performance reforms.  It is about to release a revised performance pay package.  Jeffco is currently testing pay for performance strategies in a federal pilot program based on a $38 million grant.

Nevertheless, the Republican party is pushing a hard, anti-union agenda, on the premise that unions provide dollars to Democratic candidates. The Jeffco district, with a majority Republican board, advocates, and is trying to implement, a voucher program allowing up to 500 students to attend private schools, including religious schools.

The cry in Jefferson County by Republican candidates is for more “choice,” even though every school in Colorado is a choice school.  Jefferson County has 12 charter schools and has received only one charter application in recent years.

In addition, the Jeffco Republican candidates, along with a current board member, will put pressure on the superintendent to “follow directions.”  It’s likely that the superintendent, elected Colorado Superintendent-of-the-Year by her colleagues in 2010, will leave the district if the Republican candidates, known as the “two dads,” win.

The two dads state that a voucher plan is not their goal.  But Republican candidates for school board in Douglas County said the same thing in the 2009 election, and now that district is fighting for vouchers in the Colorado state court system.

November 1 is Election Day.  Both districts, representing about 17 percent of Colorado kids, face stark choices.  The school boards elected in this election will test how citizens see public education in the future.

Voucher choice as a bad choice

Friday, November 12th, 2010

School districts across the country are sucking eggs with their 2011-2012 budgets.  It’s no different in Colorado.

Largest Colorado District budget down $50million+ by 2012

Jefferson County School District (Jeffco), the largest district in Colorado, will reduce its expenses by about $50 million, offset by about $30 million in reserve reductions.  That leaves about $20 million in actual cuts, which translates to about 196 jobs and various other trims.

By 2012-2013, the District’s expenses will have declined $50 million from the 2008-2009 budget year, the high water mark.  In other words, the 6000 children who entered kindergarten in Jeffco this year will be educated with significantly fewer dollars than the children lucky enough to have entered school five years ago.

Douglas County District down $100 million by 2012

Douglas County School District in the south Denver metro area will also have cut its budget by about $100 million over four years. Douglas County didn’t have the big reserves of Jeffco to help buffer the downturn.

Even so, the Douglas County school board is examining school choice and has resurrected vouchers as an option for kids and their parents.  Douglas County has four private schools located within the district, all Christian schools.  The idea is to give parents 3/4 of the state’s per/pupil funding as a voucher to use at one of these private schools.  Colorado provides $6545 per student, which ranks 48th in state per/pupil funding compared to all other states-worse than California.

Douglas County Schools paid $8165 to Eric Hall, a Colorado Springs lawyer who was instrumental in passing a Colorado school voucher program in 2003 to develop a policy known as the Option Certificate Program.  The 2003 voucher system was tossed by the Colorado Supreme Court as violating the section of the state’s constitution that forbids public money to go to religious schools.  Known as the Blaine Amendment, this section was originally written to keep Catholic parochial schools off the public dime.

According to the Douglas County School Board’s president, Republican John Carson, Attorney Hall assures the district that this voucher program will work.  Count numerous residents of Douglas County dubious.  Elizabeth Celania-Fagan, the recently hired superintendent, sent an email to parents saying the option is a “draft recommendation” and “there have been no decisions made.”  Douglas District would lose $4908 per student, keep $1637.

Taking $4908 per student out of the Douglas County District’s budget would represent a big hit to the district’s public school teachers and a big help to the local private Christian schools.  In general, parents can’t complain about Douglas County school results, as the district is one of the highest performing in the state.  Its teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, has accepted alternative compensation packages and the district as a whole is considered forward-looking.  The union supported SB10-191, a bill to include performance metrics in the teacher and principal evaluation and compensation system.

This school board, however, is only a year old, and all Republican.  These board members swept out the previous mixed board in November 2009 on a school choice platform.  District parents may be getting more choice than they want at a time when any lost dollars will be expensive for district performance. “I don’t like this idea at all,” said Karen Ricker, mother of a first grader.  What’s wrong with the schools now?  Public funds shouldn’t be used for private schools.”

The first meeting on the proposal is today, November 12.  The first public comment will be November 16.  It’s certain that the board meeting will be packed and lively.  All Colorado School Board meetings are taped.  This one will be worth listening to.

Waiting for the Teachers Unions

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

When the Puritans settled on the East coast, in spite of many beliefs people nowadays find, well, puritanical, those men and women did believe in education for all members of the community.  They arose against the idea that only children from wealthy families who could afford tutors and governesses would be educated.

It’s also true that by the 19th century the number of teachers graduating from normal schools and accepting positions in small mid-western towns put up with poor wages and behavior rules we citizens would still find puritanical.

Things weren’t equal for children, of course.  Think of slave children, poor rural children hidden in Appalachian mountain valleys and deep in the French Louisiana bayous, immigrant children who didn’t speak English crowded into urban schools.

No wonder joining together to put pressure on the powers that be to improve conditions became a choice many shared.  For teachers, as well as miners, train conductors, factory and construction workers, the changes came by supporting each other.

Eventually heroic efforts gained job security, improved salaries, safe conditions for school buildings, and health benefits.  Can anyone discount the improvements for teachers and students? The National Education Association (NEA) locals and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) affiliates are proud of solidarity, mutual assistance, and well-established worker’s rights.

Today, however, schools are at another precarious stage and trouble is brewing.  Today the monumental concern is not over salaries or benefits for teachers, but how to improve the curriculum for students so they achieve academically and succeed in the 21st century.  Why are unions still standing on the achievements for teachers’ rights gained 50-60 years ago?

It is hard to grasp why the teachers unions have not taken the upper hand in the current debate.  After all, the overarching purpose of the teachers unions is to set conditions so students succeed.

Teacher evaluation is the highest priority of most states and the bane of teachers unions.  Since the 1980’s numerous proposals have appeared in the education world to evaluate teachers: Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) programs, “value-added” models, point scales of performance to name three.  Why don’t teachers unions with all their resources take on the job of designing a fair evaluation system, including pay?  A change in evaluation procedures will not help every teacher.  Some will have to go and part of the teachers union expertise would be better used to help teachers make the transition.

The Common Core Standards Initiative (CCSI) has already developed and state departments of education have voted on Core Curriculum Standards to help teachers design their curriculum.  Teachers, countrywide, should be happy.  Now texts will actually be organized to help set up pertinent lessons, not be arranged to support purchase by 50 different states with 50 different curriculums.  And one day tests will actually assess what students have learned so teachers can spend their time and effort helping low-performing students achieve.  Unions should be advocates for such testing changes, setting forth guidelines for the tests, offering personnel to help design the tests.  Don’t fight with Education Testing Service (ETS), join them to make sure the tests reflect what teachers want.

Last, as teachers unions represent a professional group, it would seem better for NEA and AFT newsletters to address the best-researched curricula; highest assessment successes; fairest evaluation models; strongest plans for infrastructure; most professional school boards.  No longer write articles and press releases only about how a local has stood up against some stupid school district regulation.  Good to know, but the thrust should be to ensure the schools supported by teachers unions are the best schools that have turned around.


Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

When the days are long and fruit and flowers bloom, an abundance of articles about various school issues pop up in the newspapers and on websites.

USA Today (6/7/10) had a brief synopsis of reports saying that black students have moved to suburban schools in the Dallas, Texas, area.  Hispanic students have filled their places in the Dallas school district.  Another example of families who have become knowledgeable and made decisions to help their children.  Such a demographic move has happened many times all over the country and stands for one reason it is difficult to stick to the same old program forever.

The New York Times (7-3-10 “World Focus Is Gaining Favor in High Schools” by Tamar Lewin) described the International Baccalaureate (IB) program favored in several high schools as an alternative to the more common Advanced Placement (AP) programs.  The IB is a rigorous model to capture the attention of students who may want a balanced curriculum in a small group setting that also impresses college admission officers.  The emphasis is on philosophies worldwide, not separate academic subjects like AP courses.  Interesting that the article did not describe the variety of high schools across the nation that have instituted the IB model for many years, like California’s San Jose High School with many Hispanic students and some Denver schools with an IB program from upper elementary to high school.

The Nation (6-14-10) brought out its education issue “A new vision for school reform” with fact and opinion by a number of well-known education writers.  For this blog writer, the most unsettling conclusion came from Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University, who, in her view of the legislation in the revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) emphasizes “competition and sanctions as the primary drivers of reform rather than capacity building and strategic investments.”

Perhaps the despair of the teachers unions, both AFT and NEA, is the outcome of the quote above.  At their recent combined convention in New Orleans both union presidents seemed vexed about charter schools, teacher evaluation, and anti-union comment mainly made by conservative legislators.  The vote in the House of Representatives to commit $10 billion more dollars to reduce teacher lay-offs and other delays in school budgets, but the US Department of Education’s unhappiness in taking money from Race to the Top funds to pay for it, infuriated the unions.  See The New York Times “New Tension in Obama’s Ties to Teachers” by Sam Dillon, 7-5-10.

Closer to home, San Francisco is in the process of closing a middle school and overhauling 9 other schools, all hit by California’s determination to transform its low-performing schools-the good thing about the federal reform effort.  If only the school transformations will emphasize Darling-Hammond’s “capacity building and strategic investments.”  See San Francisco Chronicle “S.F. to shut school, overhaul 9 others” by Jill Tucker (7-3-10).

Now what about the litigation sent to court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Los Angeles in February and by the California School Boards Association et al (CSBA) in May, also known as Robles-Wang vs. California?  The ACLU suit was to hold off Los Angeles teacher lay-offs in low-performing schools, and the CSBA suit was written to force the California legislature to restructure school funding to finance the requirements of education legislation.

Nothing has happened since the May 13, 2010, injunction in Los Angeles (see 6-2-10 post).  The California Assembly is proposing a California Jobs Budget which will stave off shortages in school funding for a year and still make up the $19 billion state budget shortfall.  We’ll see how long it takes to pass this year.

Take on a New View

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Teachers spend a lot of time thinking about the children they teach, in fact, all the time that they are not actually imparting a lesson on igneous rocks, say, or quadratic equations or the history of civil rights in the 1960’s when Martin Luther King, Jr. held Lyndon Johnson to the promise of legislation.

Who, though, is thinking about the legislation just passed in California and many other states so that real in-school change in education practice takes place?

Let’s start with one issue that brings a frown to every teacher in the country: teacher evaluation.  The federal Department of Education, ready to revise the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA), is thinking about this aspect of school reform.

Whether you like the bill or not, the 8 year old NCLB legislation calling for highly-qualified teachers has shown the disparities from state to state in teacher preparation, professional development, and evaluation procedures.  If you look carefully at the new priorities, evaluation is for everyone involved in the education of public school students, not only the teacher in the classroom.

Even California has passed legislation to conform with new priorities, in spite of the teacher’s union (CTA) long-standing argument about unintended consequences of using student testing scores to evaluate teachers.  AFT’s current president gave a recent speech advocating for basic professional teacher standards, defining what a highly-qualified teacher should know and be able to do; and for serious analysis of well-designed tests to determine yearly growth that shows where to improve the program.

The old view.

Albert Shanker, the long-time AFT president, once noted schools have been seen as factories with teachers on the assembly line popping students out after 13 years.  In fact, many school reform solutions have elaborated on business models that increase productivity, thus cutting personnel, revising pay, adjusting the day, and so on, all to save money.  Teacher evaluation?  To be blunt, it was “pay for play.”

Now, in the effort to “make teaching the revered profession it should be,” (Arne Duncan, “Elevating the Teaching Profession” neatoday), money must be provided, this blog’s often-used comment.  However, in a poor economy, budget deficits, and legislator’s recalcitrance, it is difficult to see any dollar signs at the end of the tunnel.

So what’s new?

If you had looked at an economic model devised in the 1960’s by William J. Baumol and William G. Bowen from New York University, you would find that some institution’s costs can only be refined down.  They will still rise, but not recklessly.  Teacher evaluation in a public school is one such institution.

Here are examples.

Highly-qualified teachers should have access to technology to save costs.  For instance, some schools use a computer-generated test to determine reading improvement.  Many students can use the same equipment, the computer spits out the score and the tested items, saving time, so teachers can analyze for the next teaching steps.  Still a teacher must boot up the program, supervise students, and keep the equipment, not cheap, in shape.  Outcomes are improved, a teacher evaluation goal, but independent of cost.

In addition, professional development is essential to support excellent teachers and there are good technologically sound training DVD’s, for example, that can be used on-site, over and over, with large groups or small, therefore an efficient and effective staff development tool.*  Still, teachers need to be paid, the computers must be maintained–all costs that remain the same, though the benefits rise.

Many schools, to insure student and program improvement, use a business model called “cycle of inquiry” to set goals, examine how the plan is working, make adjustments, decide on next steps, all an efficient, effective, analytical way to assess progress.  Of course, labor costs aren’t saved by using this procedure in the school, even though good teachers will use these decisions for the student’s benefit.

The point is that schools must find ways to improve the infrastructure, the pay schedule, the way time is spent in schools, teacher evaluation, but the costs won’t go down.  Over time, they will rise less rapidly, but there are a fairly consistent number of students and highly-qualified teachers needed to teach them in a safe facility which will need money.

Think about it.  When calculating costs and benefits of their teachers,  state legislatures would do well to look at this view of the education world.

(*Take Care! is an example, found on the website for this blog.)