Teachers

I'm not so sure Mike is right that ?we have a parenting problem, not a poverty problem,? and I'm even less sure that he is right that educators should ?start talking about the problem."

I know this may sound heretical, since anyone who has spent more than a minute in an inner city school or neighborhood (see my Ed Next story on two Chicago charters) knows the intensity of the social dysfunction ? and no school is immune to its effects. But parenting is not a problem that educators are equipped to handle ? they have a hard enough time agreeing on curriculum.? I think of a sixth-grade teacher in our small district who, on meet-the teacher-night, passed out no ?parent contracts? and no? ?student contracts? ? both were then the rage -- and gave no lectures about student behavior and the role of the parent.? He described what he was going to teach that year, what books the kids would be reading and then said to the assembled parents, ?You don't have to worry about a thing; I'll take care of your kids.? And he did.? He had the same kids from the same bad families...

Despite doomsday projections of huge layoffs as a result of the "new normal" of lower or flat education funding, NCTQ found in a recent survey that layoffs in large urban districts were modest ? 2.5 percent on average ? and only affected roughly half of surveyed cities.

The story of how cities avoided layoffs is interesting. More districts cut class time or school days than cut or reduced workers' benefits. Most simply reduced head count through attrition. These data could bolster the case of reformers like Scott Walker who argue that state policy should tackle runaway growth in benefits because school boards and administrators will not. Clearly only a tiny minority of districts were willing to touch these areas of their budget.

Some districts were much harder hit than the average, however, including our hometown of Dayton, OH. No doubt our Ohio team will comment on the particulars of the case there. Overall, however, NCTQ's survey suggests that many cities have found a way around massive layoffs and the Obama administration's dire predictions of huge job losses in education going forward may not be justified.

? Chris Tessone...

In a new AEI/Heritage paper that is sure to create some buzz, Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine say yes, teachers are overpaid relative to similar workers based on several different metrics. The most interesting result in the paper for me was this table, illustrating that teachers take a pay cut of roughly 3% when they leave the profession, while new entrants actually see a raise of almost 9% compared to their previous non-teaching job:

As the authors point out, this result is not consistent with teachers being "desperately underpaid," in Education Secretary Arne Duncan's words.

We need to take the conversation on teacher pay beyond averages, however. As we and others have noted before, younger teachers are under-compensated for the dramatic increases in effectiveness they realize in their first few years of teaching. We also ignore the alternatives certain teachers have in the labor market, paying PE teachers (who have few job options in the private sector) much more than physics and math teachers.

If we want to spend every education dollar effectively, we have to move beyond one-size-fits-all strategies and focus on...

Amber Winkler, Fordham's VP for Research, is currently traveling China as a Senior Fellow with the Global Education Policy Fellowship Program (GEPFP). She'll be passing along her observations on education in the People's Republic with periodic ?Postcards from China.?

Another city (hospitable Xi'an) and another tour guide. These young people are proving to be a valuable source of information. I chat with Florence, our twenty-something guide, after lunch at the Terracotta Warriors Museum (wow!). Florence is planning to become a teacher and appeared to appreciate my interest in her desired profession. I'd read in the course of my research on Chinese education that high school teachers were ranked according to how many of their students were accepted into prestigious universities. True? Absolutely she said. Further, a teacher's standing could be improved if his/her students placed in one of several academic national competitions held in China annually. These accolades can accumulate over time such that some "basic school" teachers can have similar standing as university professors if they choose later to go into higher education. It was unclear if these accolades took the form of numerical published...

California's Jerry Brown is getting ready to propose what the AP calls "sweeping rollbacks" in public-sector pensions, raising the retirement age for non-public safety employees to 67, ending abuses like spiking and "air time," and mandating a hybrid system that has a traditional pension component and an added 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan.

Based on the Sacramento Bee's description of the plan, the change to a hybrid plan is far less radical than it needs to be to improve mobility of benefits for young workers (teachers included). The new system would still provide 2/3 of projected retirement income out of a defined-benefit plan workers would only earn after a full, multi-decade career in public service. It's also hard not to wonder how deeply Gov. Brown believes in this plan, since he pitched a much less serious reform in the spring that failed due to Republican opposition.

It's a better start to the reform process in California than that earlier plan, however. If Brown sticks to his guns against his union backers and gets these reforms through the legislature, it would be a positive first step in fixing the state's broken system of public employee compensation. Our latest report,...

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts introducing Fordham's latest report, Halting a Runaway Train: Reforming Teacher Pensions for the 21st Century.

America's public employee pensions are unsustainable. Left untouched, the spectacularly underfunded existing system may not only deprive workers of their retirement benefits, it could devastate the broader economy as organizations choose between defaulting on their promises or diverting enormous sums from other programs to pay for pensions. Yet while few question the seriousness of the situation, too few organizations have acted to fix it. Halting a Runaway Train: Reforming Teacher Pensions for the 21st Century not only profiles the groups that have led the way towards sustainable reform, its authors offer at least three lessons for workers, policymakers, and taxpayers.

  • ?First, this is messy, complicated work, fraught with challenges. Yet smart organizations can prepare for them.? By presenting the need for reform to employees using hard data and communicating with stakeholders throughout the process, organizations make pension overhauls smoother and more inclusive.

  • ?Second, cost savings from pension reform may be real but not immediate.? In the short-term, shifts away from
  • ...

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts introducing Fordham’s latest report, Halting a Runaway Train: Reforming Teacher Pensions for the 21st Century.

America’s public employee pensions are unsustainable. Left untouched, the spectacularly underfunded existing system may not only deprive workers of their retirement benefits, it could devastate the broader economy as organizations choose between defaulting on their promises or diverting enormous sums from other programs to pay for pensions. Yet while few question the seriousness of the situation, too few organizations have acted to fix it. Halting a Runaway Train: Reforming Teacher Pensions for the 21st Century not only profiles the groups that have led the way towards sustainable reform, its authors offer at least three lessons for workers, policymakers, and taxpayers.

  • “First, this is messy, complicated work, fraught with challenges. Yet smart organizations can prepare for them.” By presenting the need for reform to employees using hard data and communicating with stakeholders throughout the process, organizations make pension overhauls smoother and more inclusive.
  • “Second, cost savings from pension reform may be real but not immediate.” In the short-term, shifts away from defined-benefit (DB) plans mean new employees won’t subsidize the
  • ...

This is the third in a series of blog posts introducing Fordham's latest report, Halting a Runaway Train: Reforming Teacher Pensions for the 21st Century.

The financial crisis brought increased urgency to solving the pension crunch, but few groups in K-12 public education have found relief. As Michael B.Lafferty notes in Halting a Runaway Train,

?while the market crash caused much hand-wringing, it has, to date, brought about little fundamental change in the public-pension sector. A number of states took action to increase contributions to their pension plans, raise the retirement age, and/or fiddle with benefit formulas, but these actions merely nibbled around the edges of a gigantic problem.

But while examples of organizations that manage teacher retirement benefits finding solutions are rare, they are real. In particular, Halting a Runaway Train looks to creative states and charter schools that have made meaningful, if sometimes rocky, transitions away from defined-benefit (DB) retirement plans.

The Last Frontier changes first. While states like Nebraska and Michigan have cut back on DB plans for most public workers, legislatures have proven hesitant to extend those limits to teachers. Alaska, however,...

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