Teachers

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,...

This national survey of education school professors finds that, even as the U.S. grows more practical and demanding when it comes to K-12 education, most of the professoriate simply isn't there. They see themselves more as philosophers and agents of social change, not as master craftsmen sharing tradecraft. They also resist some promising reforms such as tying teacher pay to student test scores. Still, education professors are reform-minded in some areas, including tougher policies for awarding tenure to teachers and financial incentives for those who teach in tough neighborhoods. Read on to find out more.

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

So where should leaders and policymakers go for examples of how to fix teacher pensions? And what exactly does successful pension reform look like? It turns out that some of the most instructive examples don't involve K-12 education at all, as author Michael B. Lafferty looks to the likes of IBM, the federal government, and the University of Missouri for answers.

The feds lead the way. While 80 percent of state and local workers participate in defined-benefit (DB) retirement plans, the largest government in America shifted away from the DB model a quarter century ago. During the Reagan years, the feds began enrolling all new hires in plans that combined the DB and defined-contribution (DC) models, while allowing existing employees to transfer as well. Not always known for its forward-thinking, the federal government actually offers an early blueprint for public-sector pension reform and a primer on making the most of a bleak fiscal situation to drive needed change.

IBM: Lessons...

When it comes to public-sector pensions, writes lead author Michael B. Lafferty in this report, “A major public-policy (and public-finance) problem has been defined and measured, debated and deliberated, but not yet solved. Except where it has been.” As recounted in Halting a Runaway Train: Reforming Teacher Pensions for the 21st Century, these exceptions turn out to be revealing—and encouraging. As leaders around the country struggle to overhaul America’s controversial and precarious public-sector pensions, this study draws on examples from diverse fields to provide a primer on successful pension reform. Download to find valuable lessons for policymakers, workers, and taxpayers looking for timely solutions to a dire problem.

This is the first in a series of posts that will introduce the Fordham Institute's newest publication, Halting a Runaway Train: Reforming Teacher Pensions for the 21st Century. Today's entry outlines the seriousness of the teacher pension crisis; check back over the coming days for a peek at the examples and lessons the report provides.

Public employee pensions, like those enjoyed by the vast majority public school teachers, are intended as a form of individual financial security: compensation each employee earns through decades of service. Today, however, they represent a grave and deepening threat to the nation's economy.

In 2010, the Pew Center on the States found a $1 trillion gap between the retirement benefits states promised and the funds allocated to pay for them as of 2008. A year later, the financial crisis had pushed the tab up another 26 percent.

The effects of this liability are already popping up: when Standard & Poor dropped New Jersey's credit rating in February, the first explanation given was ?concern regarding the stresses from the state's poorly funded pension system.? Such...

Younger teachers in Illinois, whose pensions were slashed last year by the legislature, should start asking whose benefits they're really paying for. The new Tier 2 pension only costs about 5 percent of salary...yet teachers are paying 9.4% of their salaries into the Teacher Retirement System. This takes the usual shell game of wealth transfers from younger and more mobile teachers to retirees to a whole new level: theft.

My hometown newspaper, the Southern Illinoisan, is running a story that explains who benefits the most richly from the old Tier 1 pension: union functionaries who stopped teaching decades before retirement but still receive a state-funded pension:

Then there is Kenneth Drum. TRS pays Drum more than $160,000 a year, despite Drum only working for 12 years as a teacher.

Drum's large pension comes not from his time in the classroom, but rather because of a 20-year career at IFT. Drum has collected more than $2 million from TRS since retiring in 1994, and is one of 21 former NEA, IEA, IFT or IASB employees who has collected more than $1 million from the TRS since retiring.

Comerford said he couldn't speak for individuals as to

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Today on the Learning Matters blog (an affiliate of PBS) check out a discussion on teacher training programs and teacher quality, featuring New?Leaders for New Schools'?Jon Schnur, Allan Odden, Public Impact's Julie Kowal and Sharon Kebschull Barrett, and yours truly (among many others).

My piece is below in full but be sure to check out the full discussion online and leave your own comments.

?Know it when you see it?? Hardly.

We can't improve the quality of our nation's educators or teacher training programs without a serious dialogue around what good teaching looks like, especially for the most at-risk students for whom excellent teaching is most vital. Further, policies must be structured in ways that tease out the attributes and skills of excellent educators and identify and develop these in less effective teachers.

In Ohio, we frequently hear that it's just not possible to do this fairly. But experiences from other states and districts prove otherwise. We interviewed teachers evaluated under the District of Columbia's IMPACT system ? which measures hallmarks of strong instruction like checking for understanding, engaging students, and delivering content clearly. Overwhelmingly DC teachers believed that it correctly identified high...

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