Teachers

Editor's note: This post is the second in a series reflecting on the author's first year as superintendent at the Partnership Schools, a nonprofit school management organization that (thanks to an historic agreement with the Archdiocese of New York) was granted broad authority to manage and operate six pre-K–8 urban Catholic schools.

Last week, Eliza Shapiro published an article at Capitol New York that explored the “charter-like” approach Partnership is bringing to its Catholic schools. In many ways, that characterization is true. We are, after all, partnering with some pioneers from the charter world. And we’re implementing many of the best practices that so many of us have learned from the most successful CMOs.

At the same time, though, there is a lot that it misses. We are much more than “charter-like schools”; we’re Catholic schools. And our rich history is the foundation of what we do. Some of the differences are obvious: We can wear our faith on our sleeve and teach values unequivocally. We teach religion. We prepare students for the sacraments. We operate on shoestring budgets.

But there are other differences that have a more subtle—but perhaps more profound—impact on the work that Catholic schools have had on their...

  • Teachers at “no-excuses” charter schools are widely thought to fit in a single, aggrieved category: twenty-two years old, working twenty-two hours a day, and earning $22,000 per year. It’s assumed that the exhausting daily schedule and prolonged school year, so crucial to the mission of lifting disadvantaged kids out of poverty, also ends up churning many depleted young educators out of the profession. But according to a new analysis from Education Week, that phenomenon may be overstated. The item, which builds on a more in-depth look published in the same outlet last month, points to Education Department data showing that charter teacher turnover dropped by 5.3 percent between the 2008–09 and 2012–13 school years—even while it ticked up slightly in traditional district schools. Imperfect collection methods and the sector’s rapid recent expansion make the signs hard to read, but this development certainly doesn’t qualify as bad news.
  • And it’s not the only upbeat story this week. In an American nerd triumph worthy of the great Rick Moranis, Team American took gold in last week’s International Mathematical Olympiad for the first time since 1994. The scrappy team of adolescents who will someday employ us all edged out
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Scott Walker announced today that he’s running for president. The governor of Wisconsin is the fifteenth Republican candidate and the twentieth overall. He’s also the latest subject of our Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Walker has been involved in state politics for over twenty-two years. He was a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from 1993 to 2002, when he was elected executive of Milwaukee County. After serving in that office for eight years, he took the helm as governor in 2011. During his tenure, Walker has focused heavily on education reform—and hasn’t shied away from controversial decisions. Here’s a sampling of his stances:

1. Teacher tenure and pay: “In 2011, we changed that broken system in Wisconsin. Today, the requirements for seniority and tenure are gone. Schools can hire based on merit and pay based on performance. That means they can keep the best and the brightest in the classroom.” June 2015.

2. School choice: “[W]e increased the number of quality education choices all over Wisconsin. Over the past four years, we expanded the number of charter schools, lifted the limits on virtual schools, and provided more help for families choosing to...

The Ohio Education Research Center (OERC) recently reported the teacher evaluation results from 2013–14, the first year of widespread implementation of the state’s new evaluation policy. The report should serve as an early warning sign while also raising a host of thorny questions about how those evaluations are being conducted in the field.

The study’s main finding is that the overwhelming majority of Ohio teachers received high ratings. In fact, a remarkable 90 percent of teachers were rated “skilled” or “accomplished”—the two highest ratings. By contrast, a mere 1 percent of Buckeye teachers were rated “ineffective”—the lowest of the four possible ratings. These results are implausible; teaching is like other occupations, and worker productivity should vary widely. Yet Ohio’s teacher evaluation system shows little variation between teachers. It’s also evident that the evaluation is quite lenient on teacher performance. But there’s more. Let’s take a look at a few other data points reported by OERC that merit discussion.

1.   Most teachers are not part of the value-added system

Given the controversy around value added in teacher evaluation, it may surprise you that most Buckeye teachers don’t receive an evaluation based on value-added results. (Value added refers...

  • The long-awaited reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has taken another cautious step forward this week, advancing to the Senate floor for consideration after passing unanimously through committee in April. The legislative process certainly holds the potential for fruitful debate—how best to right-size the federal role in education without endangering accountability, how to address parents’ reasonable concerns about testing, etc.—but it’s critical that the mission of passing a workable law isn’t sidetracked by the usual congressional shenanigans. When President Bush first signed No Child Left Behind, Nickelback had the number-one song in the country. Nickelback, people. Let’s not kill our best shot at helping a new generation of students.
  • Speaking of overdue policy action: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, besieged by the city’s extraordinary teacher pension costs, has publicly called for a sweeping overhaul. The system’s evaporating solvency has led to some absolutely staggering figures: In order to offset the hit from a looming $634 million pension payment, Chicago Public Schools announced some $200 million in budget cuts, generated in part by 1,400 layoffs. Those firings will reportedly be focused on administrative and support positions rather than the classroom, but it’s a grim reality
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As you’ve probably heard by now, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Friedrichs vs. California case next year, giving it a chance to strike down union “agency fees” as unconstitutional abridgements of teachers’ First Amendment rights. (Read up on the case with some great posts from Joshua DunnMike AntonucciStephen Sawchuk, and Andy Rotherham.)

In a nutshell, teachers already have the right not to join their local unions, even in non-“right-to-work” states like California and New York. But in such states, even if teachers are not union members (and therefore do not pay union dues), the local union can automatically deduct “agency fees” from their paychecks. The fees, which are often substantial, are supposed to support non-political activities, including the costs of collective bargaining. The unions levy these fees to avoid the free-rider problem; without them, teachers could get all sorts of benefits from the unions without paying for them.
 
Legally, agency fees from public employee unions cannot be used to financially support “matters of public concern” (a.k.a. political activities) because non-members can’t be coerced to support political speech with which they disagree. The fees can only be used for “representational activities” such as collective bargaining, arbitration of...

Bobby Jindal recently announced that he’s running for president. The two-term governor of Louisiana is one of fourteen hopefuls in the increasingly crowded race for the GOP primary. He’s also the subject of the eighteenth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

A lifelong Louisianian, Jindal has been involved in politics since the mid-nineties, when he worked for Governor Murphy Foster. He went on to represent the Bayou State’s First Congressional District for two terms in the House of Representatives, after which he returned to state politics to take Louisiana’s helm. In his long career, he’s had a lot to say about education. Here’s a sampling:

1. Common Core: “We want out of Common Core....We won't let the federal government take over Louisiana's education standards. We're very alarmed about choice and local control of curriculum being taken away from our parents and educators....Common Core's become a one-size-fits-all model that simply doesn't make sense for our state.” June 2014.

2. High Standards: “High standards for our students? Count me in. My dad was not happy with straight As. If my brother or I got a 95 percent, he wanted to know what happened on...

Last week, Chris Christie announced his candidacy for president. The current governor of New Jersey in one of fourteen Republicans running for the White House—a group that vastly outnumbers the five Democrats in the race. He’s also the subject of the seventeenth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Christie has been at New Jersey’s helm since 2010. A lawyer by trade, he’s been a lobbyist, practiced law in private firms, and served as the U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey from 2002 to 2008. In his five years leading the Garden State, he’s made a number of changes to the state’s education system, including expanding charter schools and reforming teacher tenure and evaluation. Here are some of his recent stances on education:

1. Common Core: “It's now been five years since Common Core was adopted, and the truth is that it's simply not working....It has brought only confusion and frustration to our parents and has brought distance between our teachers and the communities where they work....Instead of solving problems in our classrooms, it is creating new ones.” May 2015.

2. School choice: “Students in struggling districts should have...

  • Defined benefit pension packages: Love ‘em if they’re sending you a check each month, hate ‘em if you have to think too hard about their consequences. That’s probably the reason we just don’t give them much consideration (well, part of the reason; they’re also slightly less gripping than you may have been led to believe). Good thing the National Council on Teacher Quality put together an informative, concise fact sheet on the realities of our teacher retirement processes. The short version isn’t pretty—backloaded plans with lengthy vesting periods typically penalize teachers who leave the profession early, enter it late, or move to a different state mid-profession. Their escalating costs are also threatening to overwhelm cash-strapped districts. Painful though it may be, we may have to start dedicating more thought to the subject.
  • The Foundation for Excellence in Education has released a fantastic tool that accomplishes two purposes: explaining what we actually mean when we talk about student “proficiency” and clarifying which jurisdictions actually measure anything close to it. Users can see how students are performing in their states, and whether those states’ reporting practices give a picture that resembles reality—or just an illusion.
  • It wasn't
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In the last four years, thirty states have transformed their teacher evaluation systems to improve student outcomes—and fourteen more are expected to follow suit by 2017. Too often, however, states focus more on the design of the systems than on how schools will and should implement them. This report from Education First argues that this is a mistake. We ought to also provide teachers the feedback and support they need to succeed. The report identifies five districts (Aldine, Texas; Greene County, Tennessee; Salem-Keizer, Oregon; Fulton County, Georgia; and St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana) that seem to be doing this right—a collection that’s diverse enough in location, racial makeup, and student body size to be applicable to myriad locales across the country.

The authors pinpoint a handful of essential teacher evaluation practices that hold the promise to improve student outcomes. First, schools need to make feedback and support a top priority and treat it as an ongoing process, including regular conversations centered on teachers’ professional development goals. Educators must be an integral part of the process, which creates an environment in which feedback is an expected and positive aspect of the job rather than a punitive one. For example, teachers and evaluators...

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