Teachers

Articles of the week from the Education Gadfly

Whither the NEA?
Chester E. Finn, Jr. | July 9, 2014 | Flypaper

On school discipline, let’s not repeat all our old mistakes
Michael Petrilli, @MichaelPetrilli | July 8, 2014 | Flypaper

Teachers, the Common Core, and the freedom to teach
Jessica Poiner, @jpoiner17 | July 7, 2014 | Ohio Gadfly Daily

Vergara, Harris, and the fate of the teacher unions
Andy Smarick, @smarick | July 7, 2014 | Flypaper

Fordham in the news

Public schools like KIPP are most powerful as a “direct retort to people who say we must first end poverty before we can do anything to improve education.”
Chester E. Finn, Jr. | New York Post | July 9, 2014

"Our research suggests, however, that better hiring practices alone are only part of the solution. Districts must also re-imagine the principal’s role."
Lacking Leaders report | StateImpact Ohio | July 7, 2014

Sweet Tweets

I’ve...

Balanced literacy is off balance

NEA saber rattling, a teacher-quality decree from the White House, and balanced literacy crawls from the grave yet again in NYC. Amber spills about TFA spillover effects.

Amber's Research Minute

Examining Spillover Effects from Teach For AmericaCorps Members in Miami-Dade County Public Schools by Michael Hansen, Ben Backes, Victoria Brady, and Zeyu Xu (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, June 2014).

I’ve never been to the annual conference of the National Education Association and I’ve never regretted it, but it would have been fun to be a fly on the chandelier at last week’s shindig in Denver.

For starters, the delegates voted to ask Education Secretary Arne Duncan to resign. Similar resolutions had been introduced at previous NEA conferences but never passed. Media coverage indicates that it was Duncan’s (muted, even ambivalent) response to the Vergara court decision in California that “broke the camel’s back.” Education Week’s ace journalists note that Duncan has for some time served as flak catcher for the NEA’s mounting unease with various Obama administration policies, enabling the union to “shoot the messenger” rather than denouncing a President that it ardently supported in both 2008 and 2012. (Duncan scoffed at the resolution.)

Then Dennis Van Roekel, outgoing from the NEA’s presidency after six long, slow, boring years, gave a long, rambling valedictory speech. It wasn’t surprising that he attacked Michelle Rhee—but the other “corporate reformers” whose “onslaught” he described include Democrats for Education Reform!

Do you share my sense that perhaps the historic coupling of the NEA and the Democratic Party is ...

Teach For America (TFA) is one of the nation’s largest alternative routes into the teaching profession. In the 2013–14 school year, there were 11,000 corps members reaching more than 750,000 students in high-need classrooms all around the country, including nearly 150 TFA members in the Cleveland and Cincinnati-Dayton areas. Yet even with TFA’s growing scale, its teachers are a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to the country’s teaching force of approximately 3 million. This raises the question of how best to allocate these young, enthusiastic teachers. Should corps members be dispersed widely across a district’s schools, or should they be “clustered” into targeted schools? Would having a high density of TFA members in a few, high-need schools provide positive learning benefits even for students with non-TFA teachers (“spillover” effects)? This new study analyzes the impact of clustering TFA members in Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS), using district level data from 2008–09 to 2012–13. TFA altered its placement strategy in M-DCPS in 2009–10 and began to cluster members in a smaller number of turnaround schools. For example, among middle schools with a TFA member, 18 percent of the school’s teaching staff was, on average, TFA in 2012–13,...

The most interesting story coming out of the landmark Vergara and Harris decisions is the coming irresistible-force-immovable-object collision of reformers’ aggressive new litigation strategy and teachers unions’ stout-defense approach to leadership.

These cases provide the nation’s unions an opportunity to produce next-generation leaders who strengthen labor’s long-term position through new rhetoric and priorities. But the unions’ recent bearing—elevating aggressive individuals wedded to longstanding ways—may be a path to their political marginalization or worse.

Most observers interpreted the Vergara-Harris tandem as an anti-union one-two combination. The Vergara decision was the uppercut, a jarring repudiation of California’s policies on tenure and seniority. Harris was the enervating body blow setting up the denouement. It chipped away at unions’ ability to extract dues from nonmembers in the name of preventing “freeriders” ; the Court emphasized the right of individuals to refuse to financially support organizations with which they disagree, which could have major implications for mandatory-dues policies.

Said simply, Vergara struck down union-supported policies, and Harris may eventually serve to turn off a stream of income upon which unions depend for their negotiating and advocacy activities.

A doughty response from labor was...

One often hears anecdotes of teachers feeling undervalued and, at times, isolated in their profession. The most recent OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey—a study that homes in on the working conditions of teachers and learning environments of schools, focusing on lower secondary education—confirms the narrative. The survey, which queried approximately 100,000 lower secondary school teachers and 6,500 lead teachers in thirty-four OECD countries, found that less than one-third of all teachers felt that teaching is a valued profession in their society. (However, there was significant variation: In France and Sweden, for example, just 5 percent of teachers felt that society valued their work. Meanwhile, 83.8 percent of Malaysian teachers felt valued, with South Korea, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi also scoring well.) Additionally, four in ten teachers reported that they never taught jointly or observed other teachers’ classes to provide feedback, even though a plethora of studies have argued that well-structured cooperative practices help educators improve their classroom practice. Overall, though, teacher job satisfaction was high: roughly 90 percent of those surveyed felt positively about their work, and 80 percent said that if given the option to restart their career, they would choose teaching again.

SOURCE: Organisation for Economic Cooperation...

This very timely new study out of CALDER examines whether a tenure-reform policy initiated in New York City in 2009–10 impacted the rate at which tenure was awarded and the composition of the teaching force. The study tracked the tenure review process for all probationary teachers in NYC public schools between 2007–08 and 2012–13. (In New York state, teachers are eligible for tenure after completing their third year in the classroom.) The gist of the reform was this: starting in 2009, principals had to provide a rationale of why they were recommending or denying tenure for a probationary teacher if the evidence ran counter to the principal’s recommendation. Such evidence included value-added data, student and teacher work products, classroom-observation data, colleagues’ feedback, etc. Further, principals received “guidance” from the district that suggested under which conditions a teacher’s tenure approval might be in jeopardy, including having an unsatisfactory annual rating or persistently low value-added scores. What happened as a result? Three things: First, the rate of tenure approval dropped from 94 percent in the two years prior to the policy’s introduction to 56 percent three years after it was implemented. Yet nearly all of the decrease was because teachers’ tenure decisions...

In which Mike offers/threatens to kiss Joel Klein

Mike and Brickman talk poor-quality math instruction and the ramifications of this week’s Supreme Court decision on union dues. Mike pitches a new bumper sticker: “Keep NCES boring.” And Amber is psyched about New York’s tenure reforms.

Amber's Research Minute

Performance Screens for School Improvement: The Case of Teacher Tenure Reform in New York City,” by Susanna Loeb, Luke C. Miller, and James Wyckoff, Working Paper 115 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, June 2014).

Last Friday, I laid out policy scenarios that might result from the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Harris v. Quinn. To recap, the case involved plaintiff Pam Harris and other Illinois home-healthcare workers whom public-employee unions had successfully organized (with the help of their allies in the Democratic political establishment). The problem was that Harris and others didn’t want to subsidize the union, didn’t think they were even public employees, and simply wanted to go back to providing healthcare services to their patients, who were often sick family members.

I theorized that the Court would either (a) side with the unions and tell healthcare providers to take it up with the state legislature, (b) side with the healthcare providers but limit the decision to them alone, or (c) extend the decision broadly to say that all public employees needn’t pay union dues or “fair share” payments if they did not want to subsidize the union’s activities. Option “c” is a doomsday scenario for public unions (the unions’ “gravest threat” in the eyes of one commentator) and would effectively prohibit “fair share” payments for workers nationwide.

Why this would cripple the unions isn’t hard to figure out. Last...

“Nobody expects new surgeons to be any good. It wasn’t until my fortieth or fiftieth bypass surgery that I started feel like I knew what I was doing.”

 “I wish I could go back and retry those cases from my first year. If I knew then what I know now, they’d never have been convicted.”

“Look, every rookie shoots an innocent bystander by mistake or arrests the wrong guy. That doesn’t make you a bad cop. Your first year on the job is all about learning from your mistakes.”

Odds are pretty good that you’ve never heard anything like the three statements above. Hopefully you never will. But ask a teacher about his or her first year in the classroom and you’ll hear, either with a smile or a shudder, how “nothing prepared me for my first year as a teacher.”

Funny thing, if you think about it. Other fields rarely send unprepared recruits off to their first jobs. In education, we not only expect it, but we seem proud of it. You haven’t earned your stripes as a teacher until you’ve earned your scars. I’ve...

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