The Shanker Institute's Matt Di Carlo had a great post last week breaking down a recent study by
economist Brian Jacob on how principals fire (or don't fire) teachers in
Chicago Public Schools. The news that firings correlate with lower
effectiveness is nice to hear. But the headline is that, given more
flexibility, principals still mostly don't fire anybody:

Given more
flexibility, principals still mostly don't fire anybody.
Jacob found that, despite the new policy allowing principals
to dismiss probationary teachers at will, a rather high proportion of them
didn’t do so. During each year between 2004-05 and 2006-07, principals in
around 30-40 percent of Chicago
schools chose not to dismiss a single probationary teacher. Further, this
phenomenon was not at all limited to “high-performing” and/or low-poverty
schools, where one might expect to find a stable, well-trained teaching force.
For instance, in 2005, 35 percent of the “lowest-performing” schools (the
bottom 25 percent) chose not to dismiss any probationary teachers, as compared
with 54 percent of the school with the highest absolute achievement levels (the
proportions were similar when school performance...

Awaiting waivers

While waiting for the ESEA waiver announcement, Mike and Janie get to look at the week’s more entertaining edu-news, from trials for tardiness to a pot problem in the Rockies. Amber talks pensions and Chris wonders if “walking it off” isn’t always the best idea.

Amber's Research Minute

Pension-Induced Rigidites in the Labor Market for School Leaders

Amber's Weekly Poll

Tune in next week to find out the answer!

What's Up With That?

Suit: Boy falls, teacher says crawl back to Skokie school

The bold move by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson in unveiling his “Plan for
Transforming Schools” is a significant step forward for Cleveland, its schools,
and, most importantly, its children. The Jackson Plan has the potential to make
Cleveland one
of the nation’s school reform leaders.

In time, it would help all of Cleveland’s
schools to better provide the high quality education that every child in the
city deserves. By focusing laser-like on school performance, regardless of
school type (district and charter alike), it would reward and encourage the
expansion and replication of great schools while putting much needed pressure
on those schools that don’t (district and charter alike) to improve or get lost.

Sal Khan at Web 2.0 Summit
 Mayor Jackson's plan offers Cleveland a chance to put children's interests first.
Photo by Joshua Rothhaas.

The Jackson Plan’s sense of urgency is well warranted. Despite laudable
school reform efforts in Cleveland
over the years...

Through the din of cheering, back-patting, and high-fiving
from school-choice advocates over their legislative
successes in 2011
, it’s been hard to hear about states’ recent
improvements to teacher policy
. This fifth edition of the National Council
on Teacher Quality’s report on state teacher-quality policies lends a megaphone
to this cause. (And at more than 8,000 pages—150 pages or more per state—it’s quite the
hefty and detailed
megaphone.) It finds that twenty-eight jurisdictions have improved (on NCTQ’s
) over the past two years. Indiana clocked the greatest gains,
followed by Minnesota and Michigan. Of the states that improved, twenty-four
now consider student achievement as part of teacher evals (up from fifteen in
2009). Thirteen states can now dismiss teachers because of classroom
ineffectiveness and twelve states weigh teacher effectiveness—not just
seniority—in rewarding tenure. In 2009, the highest grade issued was a middling
C (to Florida). This report sees NCTQ’s first B-level grades ever issued:
Top-ranking Florida earned a straight B, while Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and
Tennessee each garnered B-minuses. Mostly good news, but there is yet more to
be done. Even...

Michael Podgusrky, Stuart Buck, and Renita Thukral

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, hundreds of public
schools were put out of commission and their staff placed on leave. Many
charters schools expanded to absorb the displaced students, and these charter
schools hired teachers from traditional schools to meet the enrollment demand. A
glitch, fixed by state legislation, was to allow the displaced teachers to
remain in the state teacher pension plan since some of the charter schools did
not participate in the state plan. In
2010 this temporary law expired. Many of these transplanted teachers remain
employed in charter schools and wished to continue to participate in the state
teacher plan. Legislation was passed to allow these transplanted teachers to
remain permanently in the state retirement plan, if—and this is a very big if—the
Treasury Department approved.

Are charter schools sufficiently “governmental” that
they can participate in state and local pension plans?

The Treasury Department held off ruling on the Louisiana case while it
worked on regulations that would provide new guidance on what it meant for a
plan to be a "governmental plan." In November, the Treasury

One of Mike’s failed predictions
for 2011
– that Michelle Rhee would embrace paycheck protection as part of
her ed reform agenda – is still a worthy idea for StudentsFirst and other
education advocacy organizations in 2012. These laws require members of teacher
unions to give their express consent for the union to use their dues to make
political contributions.

Teachers do not speak with one voice on
political issues, even when it comes to K-12 policy. The “new normal” of tough
budgets exposes how the incentives of newer teachers differ from more
experienced ones, and new organizations like Educators 4 Excellence (which just
opened an LA
) fight for a political voice for them that is independent of the
union establishment. Last election, the Ohio Education Association actually attacked
the husband
of one its members in vicious television ads, using the
teacher’s own dues to finance them.

Teacher unions are among the most
powerful political actors in America on a wide range of issues (just ask Terry Moe,
, or Mike...

As the tide of education accountability ebbs from federal
shores and rolls back out to state seas, states are in a position to reboot,
retool, and reimagine their current accountability models. This Education
Sector paper from independent analyst Craig Jerald offers a novel suggestion:
Model new accountability systems after the Brits’s long-running
school-inspection program. The specifics of the program have been tinkered with
since its inception, but its tenets remain the same. School ratings (given on a
five-point scale) are based upon site-visit reports by trained professionals
using a multi-dimensional metric. (Next year, those measures will be: student
achievement, quality of teaching, students’ behavior and health, and leadership
and management of the school.) Schools are told—explicitly—what they’re doing
right and wrong, and are given tangible recommendations for improvement. And
transparency is key—with all school evaluations made public online within
fifteen days of site visit. Jerald is right to call for a more robust, and
accessible, accountability system. And this British model (implemented in a
union-friendly nation) is worth states’ consideration. But there’s still one

The Education Gadfly
  • NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg showed
    some serious moxie
    in last week’s State of the City address, taking on
    the United Federation of Teachers directly by proposing an ambitious
    merit-pay system and drastic personnel changes at failing schools. The UFT’s
    president said Bloomberg was living in a “fantasy education world”; here’s
    hoping dreams can come true.
  • Apple
    managed to get both the education and tech worlds buzzing this week with cryptic hints about a big
    education announcement in NYC today. The suspense
    is over
    : creative new products include iBooks 2, interactive textbook
    for the iPad, and iBooks Author, an app that allows anyone to create their
    own interactive textbooks.
  • After
    weeks of refusing to rescue the broke—and broken?—Chester-Upland School
    District from fiscal mismanagement, Pennsylvania caved this week and will bail out the suburban Philadelphia district with $3.2
    million in state funds. Still and
  • ...

It was a bit like watching tag-team wrestling. The governor of
the nation’s third-largest state public education system and the mayor of the
nation’s largest single school district taking turns body-slamming teacher
unions; governance at its rawest.

First, on January 4 Governor Andrew Cuomo, in a bold State
of the State address
, promised to be the state’s lobbyist for students and “wage
a campaign to put students first and to remind us that the purpose of public
education is to help children grow, not to grow the public education bureaucracy.” 

Then, the next week, Michael Bloomberg delivered an equally
hard-hitting State
of the City address
, his penultimate as mayor of New York City, most of it devoted to
education. He proved, as Crain’s
Business Review
put it, that he was “not resigned to the malaise of a
lame-duck term or the limitations of a constrained budget” and “made clear his
frustrations with the city's teachers' union, which has long resisted reform.”

Indeed, the Bloomberg speech made it clear that Gotham’s three-term mayor was intent on making the
remaking of the city’s...

The first
set of preliminary findings
from the Gates-funded Measures of Effective
Teaching (MET) project generated much conversation—and some
. This latest report, also preliminary, is not much different.
(Remember that this $45 million project seeks to ferret out, or design, an
optimal teacher-evaluation system through the analysis of student test scores,
surveys, and thousands of hours of classroom observations.) While the first
iteration compared student scores with survey responses, this one analyzes the
predictive strength of five frameworks for classroom observations (think D.C.’s
IMPACT program
for an idea of what they look like). The study finds that,
while each method is positively correlated to pupil achievement (on both state
tests and independent tests), the reliability of observations pales in comparison
to value-added measures (VAM): The reliability of VAM is about double that of a
single observation—from any of the tested measurement systems. Predictive
abilities increase significantly when VAM and student-survey data are combined
with classroom observations—leading the authors to recommend use of multiple
measures when evaluating teachers. In response, Jay
has again sounded the battle cry. And...