Teachers

Joshua Dunn

In “Collective Panic,” Martha Derthick and I argued that teachers’ unions dodged a major blow in Harris v. Quinn (2014) but that they should hold off on popping the champagne.

The court’s decision in Quinn indicated that a prized precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), might soon be overturned. Under Abood, public sector unions could collect “agency fees” from nonmembers, but those funds could not be used for ideological or political purposes. The logic of Abood was that unless public sector unions could collect those funds by compulsion, nonmembers would “free ride” on the collective bargaining efforts of the unions.

Some have always questioned this logic. It’s not free riding if you never wanted the ride. It’s more like being clubbed in the head, tied up, and thrown in the trunk. Regardless, without the ability to punish these potential free riders, union membership would collapse. As Daniel DiSalvo has noted, “In nearly every state that permits agency fees, more than 90 percent of teachers belong to unions. In states that don’t allow agency fees, only 68 percent of teachers are unionized.” Since agency fees cost nearly as much as a full union membership, individuals see little reason not to join the union. Losing Abood would be a “crippling blow” for public sector unions.

In Quinn, Justice Alito argued that Abood created an “anomaly” that at best rested uneasily with First Amendment principles. Because public sector unions are public, all of their bargaining is political. Negotiating with the government means negotiating with taxpayers’ representatives. Thus, it is specious to draw a...

When Governor John Kasich released his proposed budget bill (House Bill 64), it generated immediate buzz in the Ohio education arena. Most of the conversation focused on charter reform and the proposed funding formula. What’s gotten less attention are the policy proposals related to teachers. Here’s a quick look at the most impactful provisions.

Easing requirements for consistently high-performing teachers

HB 64 mandates that by July 2016, the state board must not only define the term “consistently high-performing teacher,” but must also adopt rules to exempt said teachers from completing additional coursework for renewal of their licenses. The provision goes on to also exempt these teachers from any requirements prescribed by professional development committees—committees in local districts that are responsible for determining if coursework and professional development meet state requirements for renewing teacher licenses. This seems like a decent idea for rewarding our best teachers for their talent and hard work, particularly since professional development has a bad reputation and the coursework in education programs is equally questionable. That being said, an inadequate definition from the state board of a consistently high-performing teacher could make this provision troublesome.

Changes to the Ohio Resident Educator Program

As defined by the Ohio Department of Education, the Ohio Resident Educator Program is a four-year induction program that provides ongoing support to Ohio’s newest teachers. The program includes professional development, mentoring, and a performance-based assessment (called RESA) that requires teachers to submit online a portfolio...

Greg Harris

Greg Harris is Ohio state director for StudentsFirst.

Despite fierce efforts to derail the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System midway through its first year of implementation (the 2013–2014 academic year), it survived. Now the results are in, and preliminary analysis suggests that 90 percent of Ohio teachers fared well. More importantly, a cultural shift is underway that is pushing more principals to observe and interact with teachers—and placing far greater emphasis the impact of teachers on kids.

In December 2013, the Ohio Senate unanimously passed SB 229, which sought to exempt teachers rated in the top two categories (“Accomplished” or “Skilled”) from annual evaluations under the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES). Proponents argued that by exempting the best teachers, schools could focus their energies on developing less effective teachers.

While the bill was reasonable on its face, a deeper look showed cause for concern. Historically, the vast majority of Ohio teachers had been rated in those top two tiers and would be exempted from evaluation if trends held. This promised a sharp reduction in annual OTES participation.

Such a reduction in participation would prove especially unfortunate in light of the fact that OTES represented the first time in Ohio history that teacher evaluation has been linked to student outcomes. Thus, a genuine effort to improve teacher quality in Ohio required the full participation of its...

NCTQ has been tracking the health of the nation’s teacher pension systems annually since 2008. It was a bad year to start—the Great Recession was heading for its nadir—but surely in 2014 things are starting to look up, right? Not so much, say the authors of the latest edition of Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions. In 2014, the overall debt load of teacher pension funds in the fifty states and the District of Columbia reached $499 billion (an increase of more than $100 billion in just the last two years). An average of seventy cents of every dollar contributed to the systems goes toward paying off the accumulated debt rather than paying into upcoming benefit needs. The folks at NCTQ, while not above some “sky-is-falling” rhetoric, report on the status of seven reforms that they believe would help to avert the pension disaster that has been looming for years, including full portability of plans, reasonable contribution rates for employers and teachers, and fair eligibility rules. The overall average state grade for teacher pension policy in 2014 is a lowly C-. Mountains of debt, overly long vesting periods, backloaded benefits, and lack of portability were the main sticking points this year. One state received an F (Mississippi); one an A (Alaska). The latter squarely hits five of the seven reforms, making a sustained effort to pay down its accrued pension debt after shutting down its previously mired defined benefit plan. The news in Ohio is mostly good. The...

Luke Kohlmoos

Recent research has shown that it may be more difficult for teachers of students with certain background characteristics (i.e., low achieving, poor, minority) to score highly on teacher observations. However, Whitehurst, Chingos, and Lindquist’s conclusion in Education Next that we adjust teachers’ observation scores is a disservice to students and teachers alike.

Introducing a score adjustment explicitly lowers the expectations for low-income, minority children. The adjustment Whitehurst describes is based on demographic information which correlates with achievement but does not determine achievement. This is the opposite of what we aspire to as an education system, which is to achieve a system in which the questions of who your parents are, which zip code you were born in, and the color of your skin do not determine how well you perform and how you are treated. What is being communicated is that black and brown children can't have classrooms like white children. If we not only believe that but actually systematize that belief into how we observe classrooms, there is no reason to believe teachers and students will do anything other than meet those lower expectations.

We must ensure that the standards we hold for all students and teachers remain consistently high. This means using the same rubrics, being scored on the same scale, with the same level of transparency.

We know students of all backgrounds are capable of growing quickly, but it is not always easy for observers to recognize that growth comes in different packages. Making sure that observers...

Editor's note: These remarks were delivered as an introduction to Doug Lemov's February 10 panel discussion at the Fordham Institute.

It is a genuine honor and pleasure to be here with you today and to have the opportunity to introduce Doug Lemov. Doug is a man whose humility knows no bounds—indeed, he attributes his own success with Teach Like a Champion to his own limitations as a teacher. I’ve heard him more than once explain—earnestly and sincerely—that the reason he started filming and analyzing videos of great teachers in action was because he was such an “average” teacher, and he wanted to learn the magic of the champion teachers around him.

And that humility courses through all of his work, including his writing.

Yet his achievements are remarkable. He and his colleagues at Uncommon Schools consistently achieve at the highest levels on state tests. And Doug’s work identifying what “champion” teachers do that drives their results has been nothing short of transformational.

You might even say the work Doug and his team does is magic.

And so I thought it was fitting, before we launched into the weeds of how to improve teacher practice—a subject that is near and dear to my heart—to talk about the secrets of great magicians.

A few years ago, Teller—the silent partner of the famed Penn and Teller duo—wrote a piece for Smithsonian magazine in which he revealed his secrets. In it, Teller shares three lessons that I think are worth repeating.

The first lesson is that technology, no...

Over the course of 2014, a series of reports from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) spotlighted some serious issues with education schools in Ohio. The Buckeye State boasts performance reports that analyze teacher preparation programs, but these reports merely show how little is expected of candidates prior to their acceptance into a teacher preparation program. Furthermore, Ohio doesn’t have minimum standards or clear consequences for poor programs. NCTQ is right that our teacher preparation programs need to get better in two key ways: improving candidate selection and strengthening teacher training. Here’s how.

Candidate selection

Right now, Ohio sets a low bar for admission into ed schools. Countries with the highest scores on PISA[1]—like Singapore and Finland—restrict admissions into teacher preparation programs to only their best students. In fact, in Finland, becoming a teacher is such a competitive process that only about one in every ten applicants will be accepted to study to become a primary school teacher. This is similar to what Teach For America does: In 2014, more than 50,000 people applied to join TFA, and only 5,300 were admitted—an 11 percent acceptance rate.

The intense screening process is designed to select only the candidates who are most likely to succeed. In Finland, for example, teacher candidates are chosen based on exam results, their high school diploma, and their out-of-school activities. They then complete a written exam on assigned pedagogy books, participate in an observed clinical activity...

James R. Delisle took aim at differentiated instruction (DI) in his commentary in the latest issue of Education Week, noting the challenge of making this nice-sounding idea work with the reality of many of today’s classrooms.

As our own Mike Petrilli wrote in 2011: “[T]he enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom” is the greatest challenge facing America’s schools. The implication is that those teachers seeing success with differentiated instruction—however few they may be—simply have less variation in learning levels among their students and, therefore, have less differentiation to do. (Oh, and that they have the right training, full understanding, endless diligence, and loads of time.)

So what’s the answer? Delisle wants to bring back ability grouping to fully replace DI. It is hard to deny  that America’s classrooms have changed greatly over the last few decades, so perhaps it’s time to toss out “one or the other” thinking and go for something new—a hybrid of sorts.

How about curriculum-based mastery instead? A content sequence with multiple check points along the way (yes, that’s testing). Master it, move on. Don’t master it, remediate until you do. In such a case, you can get the advantages of both DI and ability grouping. Students at both the high and low ability levels start at the same point in a new content area. Groups of students with similar achievement move forward together; those needing similar remediation work do so together. All with the...

Debate begins today on H.R. 30, a bill to tweak Obamacare so that large employers need not provide insurance for their staff unless they work forty hours per week, versus thirty hours under current law. The rationale is clear: The thirty-hour rule appears to be encouraging employers to cut workers’ hours, which is driving down income at a time when many part-timers are already struggling to make ends meet.

It got me thinking: How many school districts would be required to provide health insurance to their teachers under the proposed standard? Of course, virtually everywhere, such benefits are already baked into state law and/or local contracts for teachers, so this is just a thought exercise. And yes, most teachers work longer than is contractually required—both on site and at home. But so do professionals in other fields. The current debate made me curious about the mandatory workweek of the nation’s teachers.

To find out, I tapped the National Council on Teacher Quality’s fantastic Teacher Contract Database, which pulls information from collective-bargaining agreements (or their equivalents in non-union states) from more than one hundred districts nationwide. (Most of the data are current as of the 2013–14 school year.)

What did I learn? Most of the districts in the database don’t require a forty-hour workweek, and several don’t even come close. Let’s be honest, some of these workweeks are shockingly short. Sacramento’s barely hits the current Obamacare threshold!

Take a look for yourself at the range from the shortest to longest...

The 2014 version of the State Teacher Policy Yearbook from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) focuses heavily on the “critical issue” of teacher preparation. And in the glare of that spotlight, NCTQ finds that, while the average state grade for teacher preparation policies has improved from a D in 2011 to a C in 2014, there is still far more work to be done to ensure that new teachers are prepared to help students meet the demands of college and career-ready standards. Three states—Florida, Indiana, and Rhode Island—are ahead of the pack and earned grades of B+. Two states (Alaska and Montana) earned dismal F grades. Ohio falls into the middle of the pack with a grade of C, but this “average” grade hides several troubling truths about Ohio’s teacher preparation practices. For example, in Ohio, only fourth- and fifth-grade elementary teachers are required to pass adequately rigorous content tests. In fact, the Buckeye State is one of only four states in the nation that doesn’t require all elementary teachers to pass a content test prior to licensure. Ohio’s middle school teacher preparation policy is better, since teachers must pass an appropriate content test in every core subject they are licensed to teach. The same is true at the high school level, but the tests have significant loopholes for science and social studies teacher candidates. These candidates, who often specialize in certain disciplines (think chemistry vs. biology; American history vs. world history), are permitted to take content tests...

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