Teachers

Take a look at this graph from Robert Costrell and Mike Podgursky's new report on pensions for the TIAA-CREF Institute:

?Figure 1, Podgursky and Costrell report for TIAA-CREF Institute

The blue line is pension wealth accumulated by a teacher under Missouri's teacher pension plan who begins work at age 25. Note that the teacher earns essentially nothing until their 12th year of service and only five figures past their 20th year of service. Over the five years after that, the teacher's retirement wealth increases five-fold.

Lest you think this insanity is particular to Missouri, take a look at neighboring Illinois, where a new law revamping teacher pensions was just passed:

New teachers in Illinois can only hope to get their money back (at best) until they've been teaching for 26 years.

As I've mentioned before, this system can't help but attract highly risk-averse workers to the detriment of others. It creates a situation where the handful of teachers who never leave the profession or work outside the area covered by a given retirement system take money out of the pockets of everyone else. Unless you're one of those teachers, you'd be far better off with a higher base salary and a defined-contribution plan where your retirement wealth increases steadily as a function of your salary.

The Atlantic's Megan...

OhioFlypaper

Education in Ohio, as in most of the country, is coming to terms with a challenging ?new normal,? as Arne Duncan calls it?the prolonged period ahead when schools must produce better results with diminished resources. The Buckeye State faces a daunting budget shortfall over the next two years, the resolution of which will powerfully affect K-12 education, which now consumes about 40 percent of the state's money. And Ohio's situation is far from unique.

Yet schools?in Ohio and beyond?can produce better-educated students on leaner rations so long as their leaders are empowered to deploy the available resources in the most effective and efficient ways, unburdened by mandates, regulatory constraints, and dysfunctional contract clauses. That's the message that comes through loudest from a new survey of the state's school superintendents. And again there's no reason to believe that Ohio's situation is unique.

While governors and lawmakers are responsible for balancing state budgets, it is district and school leaders who must make their schools work on tighter resources while still boosting achievement and effectiveness. Over the past year, as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has organized various discussions, conferences, and symposia across Ohio on the big challenge of ?doing more with less? in K-12 education, we've been privy to innumerable comments?usually off the record?by superintendents and school leaders along the lines of, ?We could survive these cuts if we had real control over our budgets.? They called in...

?Teachers wonder, why the heapings of scorn?? is the front page headline over a Trip Gabriel story in today's New York Times. (The web version headline was shorter, better: ?Teachers wonder, Why the scorn??)? And, indeed, teachers have been taking it on the chin of late.? But as Checker notes, later in the story,

They are reaping a bitter harvest that they didn't individually plant but their profession has planted over 50 years, going from a respected profession to a mass work force in which everyone is treated as if they are interchangeable, as in the steel mills of yesteryear.

There is a lot to the bitter harvest.? The interchangeability problem is a deep and profound one --?it flies in the face of the autonomy that many teachers claim they deserve in their classrooms.? It undermines the argument ? rather, calls attention to the contradiction ? that making more teachers better or making better teachers will improve the system since the assembly line can operate no better or faster than its slowest worker.

In my district, it is painful to watch: hardworking, dedicated teachers paying dues to union reps to defend the rights of undedicated and ineffective teachers who defeat the value of their hard work and dedication. It is painful to read the comments to the NYT story.? Teachers feel demonized and victimized, without appreciating the fact that it is their unions which have done them ill ? and it is their unions which reformers...

Though no one expected Andrew Cuomo to be a Chris Christie, the tough-talking Empire State Democrat who promised to take on the unions ? well, he blinked.? As the New York Times reports, his teacher evaluation proposal

would expand the criteria by which teachers are judged, [but] would leave intact a provision in state law that requires layoffs to be carried out in reverse order of seniority, a policy known as ?last in, first out.? And the specifics of the evaluation system would still be subject to negotiations with unions, which could delay putting it into effect.

Though aides to the Governor tried to argue that the new evaluation system would ?supersede? (the Times word) LIFO problems, nobody was fooled, especially Mayor Bloomberg, who said,?

Anything short of [abolishing the seniority system]?will harm our students and jeopardize the progress that we made in the schools....? It simply kicks the can down the road, and it will kick some of our best teachers to the curb.

The Daily News was even?blunter:

How horrible is Gov. Cuomo's purported plan to avert the disaster of seniority-based teacher layoffs?

So horrible that it betrays the best interest of New York's schoolchildren.

So horrible that it is the functional equivalent of a fraud.

Hey. This is New York. Whad'ya expect??

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow...

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...

Today's New York Times carries an op-ed by Samuel Culbert arguing that performance evaluations are "subjective evaluations that measure how 'comfortable' a boss is with an employee, not how much an employee contributes to overall results." If true, one implication is that it would be unwise to let managers--including principals--decide whom to lay off when cuts are unavoidable.

Still, until stronger teacher evaluation systems are in place, it seems that our education system faces two stark choices: make lay-off decisions based on seniority, or trust administrators to pick and choose the teachers to fire. Which option do you think carries greater risks?

This sparked a lot of debate on our Fordham team; let me share some of it here. And please add your two cents in the comments section below.

Kathleen Porter-Magee:

For what it's worth, I think this argument is just a distraction. Decrying evaluations as ?unfair? seems silly to me. (Life's not fair, eh?)

Of course evaluations are, on some level, subjective. Even if we include, for example, student achievement scores in teacher evaluations, there will be?and should be?subjective measures of evaluation. Without them, we're stripping leaders of their ability to set a clear vision and manage to it. I don't expect leaders to have all the answers, but I do expect *them* to be the ones who get to make the final calls on critical, direction-setting decisions.

Of course, we all know that the best leaders often do things that

...
The Education Gadfly

Check out the first ever Education Next Book Club Podcast!

Perhaps the most polarizing person in American education today is Michelle Rhee, the hard-charging former chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools. She's the subject of a new book by Richard Whitmire called The Bee Eater. In this podcast, Mike Petrilli talks with Richard about Michelle's upbringing, the reforms she brought to Washington, her successes, and the racial politics that led to her downfall.

Click here to listen to the podcast on the Ed Next site, or listen to it in the player below.

[powerpress]

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

...

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....

Say you're a top-performing senior majoring in chemistry at Lawrence or Ripon. You're thinking about becoming a high school science teacher. Would you prefer a $35,000 salary with two pensions and health care benefits in retirement, or would you rather have a 25% higher salary and benefits similar to those your friends going into the private sector receive? Odds are you'd prefer the latter ? especially if, like most young grads, you realize the vast majority of people do not have a 30 year career in one profession these days. You'd rather have more cash to pay down students loans and make your own decisions about how to plan for retirement.

Yet most teacher compensation systems look like the first option. According to an oped in today's Wall Street Journal by the University of Arkansas' Bob Costrell, for every dollar Milwaukee teachers receive in salary, the public is spending another 74 cents on gold-plated benefits ? almost three times the cost of benefits in the private sector. The cost of those benefits, which are skewed dramatically in the direction of older teachers close to retirement, lowers starting salaries and takes choices away from workers.

This tradeoff between benefits and salary doesn't come up much in our discussions of teacher quality, but it should. Most young workers are not attracted by low starting salaries and the faint promise of retirement benefits long into the future. The growing mobility of workers argues for more flexible compensation systems.

The...

Pages