Teachers

A new study by Bellwether Education Partners examines the changes to teacher pension systems over the last thirty years. The report uses an historical data set from the Wisconsin Retirement Research Committee (RRC) and the state legislature that includes data from public employee pension plans in eighty-seven retirement systems across all fifty states. The data span from 1982 to 2012 and are based on annual reports, employee handbooks, statutes, and actuarial reports. Analysts examine defined benefit plans only—and, to facilitate comparisons, only the plans offered to hypothetical newly hired, twenty-five-year-old teachers who remain in those plans in each state. Analysts note several trends that have developed over the last thirty years, including:

  1. The median state offers a much lower vesting period compared to several decades ago, dropping from ten years to five years.
  2. States began lowering the normal retirement age in the 1990s and continued into the 2000s. But in recent years, states have increased the retirement age, which decreases retirement benefits and results in fewer years collecting a pension. In 2012 alone, nineteen plans increased their normal retirement age for new teachers, pushing the average retirement from age fifty-five to fifty-eight.
  3. Average employee contribution rates remained relatively constant throughout
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  • You know how the old ditty goes: Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, Chris Christie gotta churlishly analogize all political conflict to a bar fight. In an interview this week, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked the New Jersey governor which political adversary he’d most like to “punch in the face”; without reframing the question, he launched into one of his trademark diatribes against teachers’ unions. Everyone knows that Christie’s a combative politician who has struggled mightily to get his state’s public employee pension system under control. And Fordham yields to no one in our antipathy for union excess and overreach. But viable leaders can’t allow themselves to be baited into silly threats against political constituencies that aren’t going away. Teachers’ unions are to be curbed, cajoled, prodded, persuaded, and challenged. Not cold-cocked.
  • We’re not sure if it has anything to do with those infamous cooling towers, but something strange must be behind a wave of uncomfortable honesty overtaking New York City. First, a recent graduate of Queens’s William Cullen Bryant High School wrote a letter to the New York Post claiming that she hadn’t actually earned the credits counting toward her diploma. The eighteen-year-old skipped class,
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A new study by Dan Goldhaber and colleagues provides loads of descriptive data that document the extent and depth of the teacher quality gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Dan and many others have produced research that repeatedly shows that disadvantaged kids get the short end of the stick when it comes to high-quality teachers. But the bottom line of this latest study is that this inequitable distribution of teachers plays out no matter how you define teacher quality (experience, teacher licensure exam score, or value-added estimates) and no matter how you define student disadvantage (free-and-reduced-priced lunch status, underrepresented minority status, or low prior academic performance).

The analysts use grades 3–10 data from Washington State for the 2011–12 school year. They target fourth-grade classrooms in particular, then replicate their analysis for the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Here’s a summary of their findings: The distribution of prior-year value-added estimates for teachers of students on free and reduced-price lunch is routinely lower than the distribution for fourth graders who aren’t eligible for the lunch program. Low-income fourth graders are also more likely to have teachers who earned lower scores on the teacher licensure exam. Worse, the distribution of low-quality 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 the Partnership for Inner-City Education 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...

  • 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...

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