Teachers

The World Cup vs. Underwear Models

Amber and Michelle talk teacher tenure, selective high schools, and the stunning upset of Eric Cantor. Dara takes over the Research Minute with a study on whether vouchers "cherry pick" the best students.

Amber's Research Minute

Contexts Matter: Selection in Means-Tested School Voucher Programs,” by Cassandra M. D. Hart, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 26(2), June 2014: 186–206.

Asking whether teacher tenure should be abolished in public schools is like asking whether the Tampa Bay Rays (18 games below .500) should sack their shortstop. Sure, that might be a good start, but that’s not going to be enough to turn things around.

First, the argument for eliminating tenure: As Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court ruled on Tuesday, any benefit that tenure provides to teachers is far outweighed by its costs to children and society by keeping grossly ineffective instructors in the classroom. Defenders often say that tenure is all that limits principals and school boards from terminating teachers for innumerable bogus motives. Yet in the decades since legislatures put tenure laws on the books, legal protections for all employees have grown dramatically, particularly in the public sector. Dismissal under tenure requires a far more onerous due process procedure. But even without it, anyone who believes that he or she has been discriminated against or fired for “arbitrary and capricious” reasons can sue, and will often win. That goes for teachers, too.

Tenure reform is no education game-changer. Tenure is just one part of a dysfunctional approach to human resource management in U.S. schools that needs a complete overhaul. Our public education system is among the only institutions in the land still pretending that professionals will spend their whole careers in a single job. The teacher compensation structure heavily favors lifers, what with its mix of low pay with generous, back-loaded retirement benefits. This is an...

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For this year’s “Diplomas Count,” an annual Education Week special issue, researchers surveyed teachers and administrators for their opinions on student engagement in their schools. The results were unsurprising and straightforward: the educators overwhelmingly agreed on how to identify engaged students (they’re the ones with good attendance, who participate frequently in class, and who get good grades).  Yet just 40 percent believed that the majority of the students in their school were engaged. Perhaps that’s because the educators themselves don’t know how to engage their students; fewer than half reported receiving any pre-service training on the topic, and only 58 percent reported learning about student engagement via in-service training While none of this is particularly shocking, the accompanying commentary by Ed Week’s journalists, informed by the survey results, is thoughtful enough to deserve your engagement.

SOURCE: Education Week, Diplomas Count 2014: Motivation Matters: Engaging Students, Creating Learners (Bethesda, MD: Editorial Projects in Education, June 2014).

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On Tuesday, a California superior court judge tentatively overturned five state laws related to the employment of teachers. The plaintiffs’ attorney called the decision “a victory for students, parents, and teachers across California.” The head of the Los Angeles teachers union said, “This decision today is an attack on teachers.” The court ordered a stay on the decision, pending appeal. Here are ten things worth knowing as the case moves on.

  1. The plaintiffs, a group of students and school districts, argued that several state statutes stood in the way of all students receiving the education guaranteed to them under the California constitution. “Plaintiffs claim that the Challenged Statutes result in grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining permanent employment, and that these teachers are disproportionately situated in schools serving predominantly low-income and minority students. Plaintiffs’ equal protection claims assert that the Challenged Statutes violate their fundamental rights to equality of education by adversely affecting the quality of the education they are afforded by the state.”
  2. The judge agreed. He found “that the Challenged Statutes impose a real and appreciable impact on students’ fundamental right to equality of education and that they impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students.”
  3. This was essentially a civil-rights case, and the court underscored that point, starting its opinion by referencing Brown vs. Board of Education and then quoting the famous passage that education “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”
  4. State courts have, in recent years, frequently
  5. ...
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The Senate and House finally reached a compromise over changes to Ohio’s teacher-evaluation system (OTES), which, in its first year of statewide implementation, has drawn criticism from school leaders arising from what they say is its administrative burden. Some felt that, as a result of its classroom-observation mandates, principals may not have time to properly support any teacher, let alone those who struggle.

This journey began with a Senate bill passed back in December (Senate Bill 229), which continued with the House Education Committee proposing major changes—followed by weeks of debate on the competing versions. (A comparison of the two bills can be found here, and our analysis of the House bill is here.)

The compromise ended up in House Bill 362, which originally dealt with STEM-school matters. It now awaits Governor Kasich’s signature. Major changes include giving districts the option of changing the percentage of an evaluation tied to teacher performance and student growth from 50 percent to 42.5 percent each; providing districts with several different ways to make up the remaining 15 percent, including (but not limited to) student surveys; and allowing districts to be flexible with the observation frequency of top-rated teachers.

Everyone loves a happy ending. But as a former teacher, this bill leaves me with several lingering questions, as does OTES itself.

First, this has been the first year of OTES implementation for most Ohio districts. End-of-year test results won’t even be published until later this summer. So why were...

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What follows is the text from State Superintendent John White’s opening comments at the 2014 Teacher Leader Summit in New Orleans, Louisiana.

On behalf of the state of Louisiana, on behalf of its 50,000 educators, its 1,400 schools, and its 800,000 school children, welcome to the 2014 Teacher Leaders Summit.

Over the next two days, we will immerse ourselves in a special kind of community, one with great diversity but also a powerful and common bond: belief in the great potential of young people and in the ability of educators to unlock that potential.

This Teacher Leader event is truly led by teachers. Louisiana teachers designed this event. Louisiana teachers created each session. Louisiana teachers will be leading each session. And I’d like to take a minute to thank all of the Louisiana educators who made this day happen. If you are a Teacher Leader Advisor or if you’re leading a session today or tomorrow, would you please stand and be recognized so that we can thank you for your efforts here today.

I come here today invigorated by one simple idea: that our children in Louisiana are as smart and capable as any in America, that God has bestowed on them gifts as great as those of any children on Earth, and that we owe it to them to provide an education that is as challenging and as fulfilling as they would be provided anywhere else.

I come here today inspired by the...

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Six inches of squish

On this week's podcast: A lunch fight, a School Choice Ohio lawsuit, the DOE's My Brother's Keeper initiative, and Amber reviews NCTQ's Roll Call report.

Amber's Research Minute

Roll Call: The Importance of Teacher Attendance by Nithya Joseph, Nancy Waymack, and Daniel Zielaski, (Washington, D.C.: National Council on Teacher Quality, June 2014).

A new Urban Institute series grades America’s public pension plans on three criteria: whether they place employees on a path to retirement security, create proper incentives to retain a productive workforce, and set aside enough funds to finance the future benefits promised to employees. The authors separate out state-administered retirement plans for several occupations, including teachers, awarding thirty-two teacher plans a C, with the remaining split roughly equally among B’s, D’s, and F’s. There are no A’s, and the F’s include Ohio, Kentucky, and Rhode Island, among others. Upon further inspection, the C grade seems to be awarded so frequently because forty-one teacher plans receive A’s for having a suitable “retirement income for long-term employees” (in other words, the plans are plenty generous for veteran teachers). The grades vary much more—and tend to be much lower—for short-term employees. The analysts also include three research papers that dig into various thorny issues relative to public pension systems, including one that demonstrates how traditional plans discourage work at older ages. They find that in 63 percent of traditional state and local pension plans employees hired at the age of twenty-five maximize their lifetime benefits, net of their own contributions, by fifty-seven years old. Looking at teacher plans only, 53 percent of them reach their maximum benefit by fifty-seven, meaning they actually lose money if they keep working thereafter. Analysts close by reminding us that government retirees often work at new jobs while collecting their pensions—after all, older folks are healthier longer. So...

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The F-AIR-Y Conspiracy

After considering whether their support of the Common Core has turned them gay, Mike and Checker get serious, discussing how young teachers are getting the short end of the stick with regard to teacher pensions and why so many low-income students drop out of college. Amber wonders why well-off U.S. students do poorly on internationally benchmarked exams.

Amber's Research Minute

Not just the problem of other people’s children: U.S. student performance in global perspective by Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann, (Program on Education Policy and Governance andEducation Next, May 2014).

There’s been much talk lately about whether college is for everyone. And there’s always much talk about teacher preparation and pay. Let’s combine these issues and look at them through a specific lens: money.

Consider Bob, who just graduated high school and is torn between two career paths. His father is a proud mechanic who wants Bob to learn the skill and join him on the job. His mother is a schoolteacher, and part of him has always wanted to go to college and follow in her footsteps. What should Bob do?

Ignoring all other considerations, let’s see how the financials shake out.

First, let’s clarify our assumptions.[1About half of the country’s 3.8 million teachers hold only a bachelor’s degree, and the policy of providing automatic pay raises for obtaining master’s degrees may be on the way out. Let’s look at the lifetime earnings of public-school teachers with bachelor’s degrees, and let’s compare this figure with that of high school graduates who have never stepped foot inside a college classroom, whom I’ll call “non-college-goers.”

Measures usually define “lifetime earnings” as one’s aggregate earnings between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-four, including pensions. So step one is determining how much people in either situation earn between the start of their working careers and the age of twenty-five. Estimating a median annual salary of...

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