Teachers

Guest Blogger

Today, Fordham released our latest, "Charting a New Course to Retirement: How Charter Schools Handle Teacher Pensions." Authors Amanda Olberg and Michael Podgursky explain the report's findings here.

In the wake of the economic downturn, American public schools face serious, long-term fiscal challenges. Of them, rising pension costs are a particular concern. Yet school districts have no mechanisms for reining in these costs; almost all districts are tethered by statute to state pension systems (or, sometimes, their own local pension systems). It turns out, though, that some states allow their public charter schools to opt out of those systems. How they handle this opportunity bears scrutiny?and may suggest some lessons for the larger public-education system.

Nationally, teacher compensation comprises 55 percent of current expenditures in K-12 education. (That figure rises to 81 percent when all school staff are included.) A large and growing share of these costs goes to help fund retirement benefits. Between 2004 and 2010, for example, district pension costs (not counting retiree health insurance) increased from 12 percent to over 15 percent of salaries. A recent report from the Pew Center on the States estimated that unfunded public employee pension liabilities in the U.S. grew to $1.26 trillion during the 2009 fiscal year; other studies estimate that the true liability is even higher. Even as states attempt to pay down this liability, pension...

Potentially drastic changes to teacher personnel policy in Ohio have been at the heart of heated debates for the last five or six months, precipitated by provisions in controversial SB 5, Ohio's collective bargaining law, as well as about-to-be-passed state biennial budget HB 153. Either set of provisions would change the way teachers are evaluated, rewarded, retained, dismissed, developed, and placed (though Fordham strongly prefers the language in HB 153).?

Among the myriad ways these policies would change the face of teaching and learning, however, ?merit pay? seems to be the maelstrom?toward which the majority of coverage and attention has been pulled. (For a quick experiment, google ?merit pay and Ohio? and ?teacher evaluations and Ohio? and see how many more recent hits the former returns.)

The House's teacher provisions (fingers crossed that that it will get re-inserted during conference committee) would get rid of seniority-based layoffs, develop a rigorous and sophisticated rating system for teachers, undo forced placement of ineffective teachers, use student test scores in evaluations, and effectively get rid of tenure (among other things). And yet the media seems to have a fixation on ?merit pay,? dwindling the entire teacher policy debate down to this one issue, or conflating ?merit pay? with other ? arguably more critical ? teacher policy reforms.

Even worse is that those who oppose merit pay can drum up legitimate points against it ? the research showing that merit pay improves student achievement is weak; Ohio...

There are two stories in today's New York Times that merit some consideration. One is an essay about a sperm donor and the other is a pop history quiz (sorry, test-haters, it's multiple choice). ?What the two have in common is 12th-grade.? The essay writer, one Colton Wooten, we are told, ?graduated from Leesville Road High School* this month.?? And the Times test is taken from the infamous National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) history exam that got so much press this past week (see here and here).

Start with the test. As the headline asks, ?Are You as Smart as a 12th Grader??? Well, my guess is that the average adult American is probably as smart as the average 12th-grader, considering that only 12 percent of the NAEP sample of seniors were proficient in the history test.? But the questions are not easy ? everyone remember what the Ordinance of Nullification was? ? and the test, however golden a standard,? is probably a better measure of the nation's curriculum anarchy than of student knowledge.? (See my post on the national obsession with putting the assessment cart before the curriculum horse.)

Mr. Wooten's essay illustrates a different set of challenges for our schools; most specifically, how do you teach writing?? The young man's op-ed essay is wonderfully constructed and shows a mastery of the topic and of the writing craft that is far more mature than the standard 12th-grade fare I've read.

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Like many states, Ohio is struggling with how best to evaluate teachers and how to use those evaluations to inform personnel decisions (like remuneration, tenure, professional development, and ? when district budgets or enrollment levels leave no other choice ?layoffs). (Read today's Ohio Education Gadfly for more background on the Buckeye State's current legislative battle over teacher evaluations.)

Last week we released a video, What Ohio can learn from DC's teacher evaluations, featuring interviews with teachers evaluated under the DC IMPACT system. The teachers we interviewed ? which include science teachers, an elementary math coach, a fourth-grade teacher (of all subjects), a special ed middle school teacher, an art teacher, and a master educator (who conducts the observations on behalf of DCPS) ? shared what it's like to be evaluated via five observations each year and have part of their performance linked to student test scores.?

Today we released two more videos, wherein teachers evaluated under DC's IMPACT system address common fears and myths about rigorous evaluations.

Part 1

Part 2

Even prior to Ohio's legislative battle over teacher evaluations, myths and fears expressed by educators and policymakers about teacher evaluations have been rampant here. Opponents of overhauling teacher evaluation systems argue they're inherently unfair, arbitrary, prone...

Guest Blogger

The following blog post was written by Penelope Placide, a ninth grader who works for Fordham one day a week through her school's Corporate Work Study Program. Not only is Penelope a wonderful asset on a daily basis, she possesses invaluable insider knowledge as a current student immersed in the everyday realities of American schooling. With her bubbly personality (which is certainly reflected in this blog post), Penelope consistently shared stories of the many positive experiences she has had with teachers throughout her educational experience. In light of the current teacher-quality debates, Penelope realized her potential, as someone who is best able to speak to what really matters to students. What started out as a casual discussion about the creation of a blog post that would express her point of view quickly evolved into the development of a mini-survey of Penelope's classmates. As she describes in her blog post below, Penelope was not satisfied with simply reiterating her own beliefs about the qualities that a good teacher possesses; she wanted to explore a sample of student perspectives on the topic and share them with the education policy realm. Penelope's hard work and initiative allowed her to produce this compelling blog post.

Introduction

Hi! I am a 9th grade student who has worked at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute since September 2010. Recently, I was given one of the coolest research projects ever! I was asked my...

The Ohio Senate just released its version of the state's biennial budget. The Senate deserves much credit for the plethora of charter school provisions it deleted from the Houses' version (which as you probably know by now, Fordham and many others across the state opposed).

But even the removal of provisions that would have dramatically weakened charter quality and accountability can't make up for the fact that the Senate removed all of the excellent teacher personnel language in HB 153.

Fordham's Terry Ryan testified yesterday afternoon to the Ohio Senate Finance Committee to express our collective disappointment and implore lawmakers to prioritize policies to improve teacher effectiveness. ?

He described what's at stake by removing this language:

For as long as anyone can remember, in Ohio as in the rest of America, a public-school teacher's effectiveness and performance in the classroom have had little to no impact on decisions about whether she is retained by her district or laid off, how she is compensated or assigned to a district's schools, or how her professional development is crafted. Instead, all of these critical decisions are made on the basis of quality-blind state policies, like the notorious ?last-in, first-out? mandate governing lay-offs, and tenure rules that allow teachers to have job protection for life and ?bump? less senior teachers when jockeying for positions. Effective teachers are forced to go simply because they have not taught as long as others, regardless of how successful

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