Board's Eye View

NPR's Morning Edition had a couple of good stories this morning: one included an interview with Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, a Democrat, defending his decision to give all the city's teachers layoff notices. It's worth listening to; he doesn't hate teachers, he's trying to save his financially strapped city some money.? It surely makes Randi Weingarten's ?stop the insanity? speech on the City Hall steps sound ? well, insane.

The story from Detroit is simply heartbreaking. This is a city that doesn't seem to need a hurricane to destroy it (see Time magazine's yearlong series on the place).? The Motor City public school district* faces a $327 million deficit ? take that Rochester, which only has an $82 million budget gap ? and the district's Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bob, is proposing closing half the ?district's schools, which could put up to 60 kids in a classroom.

Will Randi Weingarten denounce the insanity?

But listen to the voice of Lorena Craighhead, a Detroit?teacher, who says the school system has failed the children ?on so many levels.?? Her voice is hauntingly sad:

We continue to get thrown these leaders who don't show that they care, battle with our unions who are supposed to be on our side, and have to kind of motivate and invigorate parents who've gotten apathetic, teachers who feel beaten down and kids who hear all these things being said about them as if they don't matter.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard...

The Elusive Search for Stability and Objectivity

My friend E.J. McMahan at the Empire Center in Albany has a great headline for his blog post this morning: ?Volatility, thy name is `income tax.'? ??Though no one in government these days should need reminding of the problem in predicting public revenues, McMahon cites a new study from the Pew Center on the States and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute in Albany which calls incomes taxes ?the biggest culprit? in thwarting government's prognostic powers.?

Quoting from the report:

Traditionally, personal income taxes are a more volatile income stream than the sales tax. That is in large part because many states rely heavily on non-wage income such as dividends from investments, which can rise and fall with the performance of the stock market.

McMahon then notes:

As if on cue, on the same day that the Pew-Rockefeller report was released, [New York State] Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said his 99-member Democratic majority will push for a budget bill that makes New York more dependent on the income tax?.

Also, as if on cue, Silver scuttled a bill -- passed by the Republican-controlled Senate by a vote of 33 to 27 ? that would have allowed districts to lay off teachers based on factors like performance and disciplinary records, rather than seniority. ?Silver, according to the New York Times, said that he wanted to wait until the Education Department, in collaboration with the teachers union, ?creat[ed] an objective...

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My ?`Great Teacher' Trap? (GTT) post from last week elicited some comments from teachers that I think warrant some more discussion.? The GTT was my take on the Carnegie Corporation's ?talent strategy? initiative and the Education Writers Assocation conference about it.? I have links to some teacher blogs in my post, but here are some comments from teachers that are worth highlighting

John Thompson:

You don't hear much from teachers about policy disputes, but you get an earful on them from union reps. Of course, most teachers don't pay much attention to policy. That's one reason to pay union dues to people who do. How is that surprising? How is that a criticism of union leaders?? I think my union leaders have conceded too much on seniority, and test-driven ?reform.? But I know that they are the experts in the nitty gritty of making deals. I'm paid to teach, and they are paid to keep the wheels from coming off school systems.

This makes sense.? Teachers are supposed to teach. We shouldn't expect them to be policy wonks.

Stephen Lazar:

In terms of teachers' relationships with labor in terms of having our voices heard on policy issues, I imagine this is much more of an issue of journalists going to the union for responses as opposed to teachers. Most teachers I know with more than a few years of experience are well versed in all major policy issues, and would be very happy to

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For those of you following the public union fights in the Midwest, I recommend Steven Greenhouse's story in today's New York Times.? According to Governor Mitch Daniels and other Hoosier state government managers Greenhouse spoke to, Daniels' 2005 executive order eliminating collective bargaining by state employees has saved millions of dollars while streamlining services.? Not everyone is happy, of course, but when you hear that because of union rules in Wisconsin a county executive can't close a juvenile detention center that houses just one child, the logic of public sector collective bargaining seems hard to support.? And it is a logical impasse that has so many teacher union representatives tongue-tied.? Here's Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, which represents 98,000 public school employees in the Badger state, worrying to Greenhouse about the abolition of collective bargaining:? ?Layoffs may not be based on merit or effectiveness, but on anything management wants it to be.??

Uh?? This would seem to presume that the union is for merit and effectiveness layoffs.? I guess she has forgotten?about?the Last In First Out union rule.

?--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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For better or worse, the current public employee union battles are forcing many educators to confront some deep (shall we say existential?) questions.? As Mike pointed out yesterday, DFERS especially, ?are struggling to figure out what to say about Wisconsin.?

The news out of Providence, where mayor Angel Taveras sent termination notices to all the town's 1,926 teachers, is bound to shake more rafters in the reform arena.? What looked like another union-bashing gambit by another power-adled Tea Party politico turns out to be the act of a Democrat following the law -- a law that, most likely, ?was passed at the behest of teacher unions: teachers have to be notified of possible layoff or termination by March 1.????

According to Abby Goodnough's Times report the mayor's spokeswoman said the decision was the fiscally prudent one.? Layoffs are?more costly than terminations since you have to keep laid off teachers in a substitute pool and maintain other contractually mandated benefits.?? ?

The move seems to have left the local teachers union president, who did return calls from Goodnough, speechless.? But not Randi Weingarten, who told?the reporter?that ?What's going on here? is somebody has an idea about wanting to arbitrarily and capriciously choose who they want teaching in schools next year.?

Fancy that. Someone other than a union boss might hire a teacher....

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That's the title of my new story in Education Next, about an experiment to take a successful religious school education model to the public sector. The subtitle of the story sums it up nicely:? ?How the Christian Brothers came to start two charter schools in Chicago.?

Let the walls come tumbling down!

Not so fast.? I have been writing about Catholic schools for a while ? see my 2007 Ed Next story Can Catholic Schools Be Saved?, Fordham's 2008 report, Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools??,?and in Flypaper?-- and had not encountered anything quite like what these education reformers were attempting in the Windy City. These are not Catholic schools -- well, not in the traditional sense.

It started almost ten years ago when Arne Duncan, then the head of Chicago Public Schools, asked the famed, 320-year-old Catholic order, which operates thousands of schools in 80 different countries, including dozens in the U.S., to start a charter school.? Duncan had visited the Brothers' two San Miguel middle schools, which the?order?operated on the city's poor Westside, and said, ?We can do this.??

How they did it is a fascinating tale of grit and determination,?about a committed group of Catholics who gave up their icons, statues, prayers, and catechism, ran a gauntlet of church/state hurdles, partnered with a Baptist congregation in one location and weathered an angry black community in another location ? and are now educating hundreds of Chicago's poorest public school...

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In an essay about the fracas in Wisconsin Jonah Goldberg argues in the L.A. Times that ?Public unions have been a 50-year mistake?.

A crucial distinction has been lost in the debate over [Gov. Scott] Walker's proposals: Government unions are not the same thing as private sector unions.

It is a point well-worth making.? While private sector unions came from the ?bloody adversarial relationship? between management and labor, says Goldberg, public unions are ?rankly political? animals. They deliver money to legislators who, not surprisingly, vote them nice salaries and benefits. Public sector unions are simply ?the party of government.?? It's like bargaining with yourself.?

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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Just when I thought we were making progress in devising a national core curriculum, everyone is already talking about tests based on the Common Core, which is still in its infancy.?

In New York State, the Regents recently entertained a proposal to replace their Regents Exams with tests developed by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).? Those are the folks representing 26 states which educate 60 percent of our K--12 students.?

Rick Hess weighed in last week with an essay wondering whether the common core was ?running off the rails already.?? Hess's worries derive from a recent symposium on ?through-course assessment? that was attended by ?a slew of heavy-hitters from the world of assessment and test development,??including PARCC.

What surprised Hess, as he writes, was ?a seeming disregard for the policy or practical impact of this whole enterprise.?? One problem is that there are laws prohibiting?the use of?federal funds to develop curricula.? Then there's the money problem: who's going to pay for the new assessments?? As mentioned before (here), Rick also has questions about how a national curriculum will impact the experimentation values of the charter school movement.

All of this suggests?a larger problem:? while we? inch toward a common curriculum, we are getting bogged down?in a distracting?debate on state autonomy while?the standards and testing industry is zooming ahead, already writing tests based on standards -- and no curriculum. ???????

As Catherine Gewertz at Education...

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The theme of the recent Education Writers Association (EWA) event at the Carnegie Corporation (which I mentioned in my post on Saturday) was ?the promise and pitfalls of improving the teaching profession.?? The event coincides with Carnegie's new initiative, called ?the Talent Strategy,? which is, as Carnegie's Michele Cahill and Talia Milgrom-Elcott put it,? about ?making sure that every student has a great teacher.??

Who would object?

In fact, as the two Carnegie researchers noted in?a Boston Globe essay about the initiative, if there is a consensus on anything in education these days it is the importance of teachers to the educational enterprise. ?So,? they ask,?why haven't we done it yet??? Meaning, why haven't we fixed the system that is producing so many mediocre teachers?

Cahill and Milgrom-Elcott, who have impressive credentials, including stints with the Bloomberg education reform administration (Cahill masterminded the city's small schools program), argue?that the reason we still have so many mediocre teachers in too many of our classrooms is not money.??They artfully stay away from the role of the unions, which some would argue is the elephant in the teacher quality room, and rightly focus their attentions ? i.e. the talent strategy ? on substance: ramping up the quality of teacher training, giving prospective teachers more ?hands-on experience,? and holding schools of education ?accountable for proving that the students their graduates teach are actually learning.?? Another big part of the strategy is getting school systems to tighten up their applicant...

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All right, so the mayhem in Madison (shut down those public-employee unions!) was all over the nightly news as well as this morning's headlines?and no doubt will continue to be America's answer to Tahrir Square, at least for today.

More importantly, perhaps, than the fighting in Madison is the hand-holding in Denver.?And, as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said yesterday, at a press conference concluding ED's two-day Advancing Student Achievement through Labor Management Collaboration conference, he foresees ?a movement? of cooperation between unions and management that will transform education. Many people called the conclave, which brought together representatives from 150 school districts, including management and labor, historic. (See my report here.)

It was quite a confab, one which highlighted the success of collaborations in places like Helena and New Haven as well as the pioneering?union-friendly work of?Green Dot, the?charter-management organization. The sponsors of the Denver conference?included the National School Boards Association, the Council of the Great City Schools, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the American Association of School Administrators, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Ford Foundation and their representatives. At the concluding press conference several of the leaders of those groups complimented participants for their ?courage,? but it was grand diplomacy that was most on display.

The first questioner asked Secretary Duncan to be more specific about ?seniority-based layoffs,? one of the hottest topics in education, and here was the Hyde Park mediator at his best:...

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