Archive for the ‘American Federation of Teachers’ Category

Testy Words About Testing

Monday, April 8th, 2013
analyzing data from test results

analyzing data from test results

Them’s fightin’ words! Atlanta schools’ superintendent and a throng of teachers are alleged to have manipulated yearly tests in an effort to improve Atlanta’s public schools’ reputation. The last few months Atlanta’s school superintendent is the center of news attention.

You can bet there’s evidence on both sides of the question. You can put money on the fact that the case will erupt into a huge controversy of pros and cons about testing in the so-called No Child Left Behind legislation (not revised since 2007).

There are advantages to testing as promoted since 2003 by NCLB.

  • State departments of education have been forced to regularize state testing.
  • State departments of education can use data to see which public schools are doing well and which are not, so various remedies can be applied.
  • This tool can be used in plans for evaluation of schools, administrators, and teachers. This idea led to the controversial “value-added” assessments in Los Angeles.
  • Assuming knowledge is cumulative, tests let the analysts know if the test-taker has accrued the learning expected at a certain grade level.

Testing controversy has been addressed regularly by American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, and affiliates. President Obama in 2009 called on Congress to revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the actual name for NCLB. Ultimately the federal Department of Education under the new superintendent set out its own new guidelines which started a rapid change for each state to upgrade its public schools, in spite of the recession. Came further lobbying for charter schools and choice-vouchers. Came Common Core Standards. Came federal waivers as 2014 neared and states complained that they could not reach the absurd goals set by the un-revised  NCLB.

Little federal word came out about testing design or strategy. Hard to believe! The disadvantages of the current testing model enrage all types from Diane Ravitch to Bill Gates, not just AFT and NEA.

  • The current goals set by NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress plan can’t be reached by all students in the country.
  • States were allowed to design their own tests and decide on levels of student proficiency. Results can’t be compared state by state from the outcomes of tests taken.
  • State promoted tests are not required by parochial or private schools. How can those schools be championed to be “best?”
  • Failing schools have received less money or been closed. While the issues of school districts may require some closures, the problem of testing is not helped or discussed in the debates.
  • Preparation for yearly testing has left less time for art, music, physical education in the elementary grades.

What is not addressed? All the difficulties with the current model of testing.

Who takes the test? Is it a criterion-referenced test like authorized in California or a standardized test? (A degree in statistics is needed to understand the difference.) How is each test designed? (Common Core Standards have been developed to make exams comparable.) Why does “proficiency” depend on which state you live in? (Only the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress provides a nation-wide sample of how students are performing in math and language arts and it has many critics.)

Last, but not least, recall that private companies design the tests for public school districts and make a lot of money nation-wide.

Until tests are designed and implemented so schools and teachers can analyze how to help students; until it is recognized that some children are not good test takers but may have other traits to be supported; until a magical test is designed that can evaluate a highly-qualified teacher, arguments will only be arbitrated in the court.

Public schools and students deserve better.

Teacher Evaluation-It’s Happening Cross Country!

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Hidden among the news on Super Storm Sandy and the election are education newswriter’s stories about states across the nation that have developed and are implementing public school teacher-administrator evaluation models.

Good news! After years of indifference about student progress, in 2-3 years a different way of evaluation has suddenly developed. New practice has been called for by the current federal administration. And so, state legislatures have written bills that authorize a new model. Colorado and Massachusetts are examples in the news.

Who is involved? If you look at the articles, good models have asked teachers and teachers unions, administrators, boards of education, and the community to add their outlook in order to devise a plan.

The use of student proficiency on yearly standardized tests, once claimed to be the measure that identifies high-quality versus poor-quality teachers, is now only part of Colorado and Massachusetts evaluation systems. The assertion by some education experts that dismissing poor teachers will of itself improve low-performing schools has been put aside.

Furthermore, no school district will use the model until professional development has been realized. The order for support when receiving poor evaluations has been meticulously detailed and approved by teachers.

Overall, the goal is to devise an evaluation model that improves teaching, rewards good procedures, offers leadership, and, above all, increases student success. See The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Some states have jumped to the “merit pay” issue, called an incentive so teachers agree to a new model of evaluation. In Newark, New Jersey, the American Federation of Teachers’ union agreed to the scheme as long as teachers had say in the development and implementation of the new evaluation model being devised in New Jersey. It will take a long while before teachers can see the value of teaching for money. After all schools are not run like hedge funds. Change in salary plans are a difficult issue to bring up in a poor state budget economy.

This blog asserts that teacher evaluation must be revised first. Salary change debates come next.

However, teachers should realize that the current administration has put education on a front burner and wants to improve the lowest performing schools. Evaluation is a tool to ensure that goal.

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.