Teachers

Over the past decade, Detroit's population has declined by 25 percent. Since its heyday in 1950, the city has contracted by about 40 percent. (It now sits at about 700,000, making it the 18th most populous city in the country.) Coupled with this exodus is a gang of usual social ills (some causes of the flight, others caused, or exacerbated, by it)?emptied buildings lead to urban decay, companies having difficulty attracting talent leave in search of stronger human-capital pipelines, idle and disaffected youth turn to street gangs for income and worth.

And the schools suffer. In Detroit (though this problem isn't unique to Motown), school buildings are only filled to half-capacity. Parents who can have plucked up their children and quickly deposited them in neighboring suburban districts with more resources and better teachers.

Couple these general issues with the particulars that ravage Detroit Public Schools?a long history of corruption among city officials, abysmal student achievement (just look at the latest fourth-grade NAEP results), a steadfast and ridiculously antiquated system (including a hell-bent teacher union)?and you've got the ultimate dog's breakfast.

And things just don't seem to be getting better. Of course, this isn't for a lack of trying. You've got to praise Teach For America, which has recently pushed its way back into Detroit after a union-forced seven year hiatus. Kudos should also go out to the work the Skillman Foundation is doing on the ground in the city, as well as to the...

Laurent Rigal

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Photo by The Mechanical Turk"][/caption]

For six years, Prince George's County Public Schools, a Maryland district just outside our nation's capital, has aggressively recruited foreign teachers (predominantly from the Philippines) to teach in PG County in order to help the district address its desperate need of Highly Qualified teachers (NCLB-style) in difficult-to-staff areas like science, math, and special education. And the recruiting paid off: Hundreds of foreign national teachers answered the call, in a large part because of the opportunity (heavily underlined by PGCPS recruiters) that a H1-B visa (or ?work visa?) could lead in the long term to a permanent resident status (or ?green card?). Put aside for a moment the problem with attracting teachers via the lure of a potential ?green card? (something the district can in no way ensure). The biggest issue with the program?and why it fell under investigation by the Department of Labor?is that it charged would-be teachers thousands of dollars in illegal fees (for visa processing, placement, attorneys fees, etc.). The Department of Labor called the practice a ?violations of willful nature.?

This DOL investigation (which wrapped up yesterday when PGCPS dropped its appeal) found quite the rat's nest at the program's core. To start, the overseas hiring practices of PG County, while well-intentioned, were completely ill-managed. More importantly, though, PGCPS has effectively condemned hundred of teachers to not only lose their jobs but to also lose their...

After the sweetness-and-nice between New York State Education Department (NYSED) and the New York State United Teachers ?(NYSUT) to win $700 million from the federal Race to the Top fund last year (see my Education Next story), NYSUT yesterday sued the state's Board of Regents and NYSED's acting commissioner John King over the decision last May to ratchet up the importance of student test scores in a teacher's annual evaluation.

Rick Karlin of the Albany Times Union, says it's the first time in four decades that NYSUT has sued the Regents, which isn't surprising since NYSUT is used to getting its way (see this 2008 NYSUT victory pronouncement).? According to Karlin, ?NYSUT initially agreed to a plan in which improvement in state-issued tests would count for 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation. But that was later increased to 40 percent, which NYSUT contends came out of the blue.?

The union's precipitous fall from grace was made painfully apparent when even the Democratic Governor, traditionally a NYSUT ally, weighed in on the matter. In fact, Andrew Cuomo helped move the student score needle up, writing in a letter to the Regents just before their May vote, ?This change would ensure that greater balance is struck between using objective teacher evaluation measures?and subjective teacher evaluation measures.?

Ouch.

In a press release from the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, Jason Brooks calls the suit ?an act of desperation?:

The state legislative session has

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Only halfway through 2011, a number of states have reformed their laws governing public sector workers' benefits, a few of them in dramatic fashion. The need to close the yawning gap between promises made to workers and the dollars saved for them on states' balances sheets is evident. According to a recent analysis, the average household will have to pay $1,398 in additional taxes every year for the next 30 years to fund retiree benefits, with New Jersey taxpayers on the hook for $2,475 per year per household before that state's recent reforms.?Even more optimistic commentators recognize that the funding ratios reported by states themselves rely on rosy assumptions about investment returns that are not likely to be borne out in reality.?Consequently, states have begun to adjust contribution rates, close loopholes, and otherwise modify pension and retiree healthcare benefits.

It is worth noting that most of these reforms leave public-sector workers, especially those newly-hired, worse off. In many states, this is a necessary evil, with budgets straining and taxes being ratcheted ever higher. Some states have done better than others in making fundamental reforms to address the sustainability of workers' benefits without soaking new workers or taxpayers, however. Here are our best and worst of the year so far, recognizing that actions in New York and Connecticut are still pending. Thanks to our indefatigable research intern, Josh Pierson, for digging up some of the details on states' reforms.

Best:

  • Arizona: Senate Bill 1614?increases teachers' contributions
  • ...

A legislative conference committee has reported out its version of Ohio's next operating budget.?? The Senate and House are expected to approve the committee's report today and tomorrow, with Governor Kasich signing it into law Thursday.??

Details are still emerging, but at first glance education reformers can declare at least a few victories from this battle, especially when it comes to issues of teacher effectiveness.?? Included in the budget are provisions requiring that:

-?????????????????? By 2013-14 all Ohio school districts must implement a rigorous, multiple-measure teacher evaluation system that is based 50 percent on student performance data;

-?????????????????? Schools participating in Race to the Top must develop a merit-pay system for teachers based in part on that evaluation (this is optional for non-participating districts);

-?????????????????? Seniority is no longer the primary determiner of teacher lay-offs in the Buckeye State and may only be used as a tie-breaker when all other factors are equal.

The conference committee reportedly upheld most of the Senate's smart charter-school provisions, lifted restrictions on the start-up of new charter schools, and expanded eligibility and availability of the EdChoice voucher program.?? The committee also added new education policy language, including a provision giving Cleveland mayor (who has control over that city's school district) the ability to revoke collective bargaining rights of employees in his district's conversion charter schools.

We'll be following the budget developments closely this week. Follow us here on Flypaper or Twitter (@OhioGadfly) for...

Great Britain's largest teacher unions have declared a strike for Thursday over proposed changes to their pensions, and they'll be joined by another 700,000 other workers from the public sector. The strike will likely close a majority of the schools all across the country, even though negotiations with unions over the changes are far from over. A friend of mine who lives outside London reports that although not all of the teachers in her daughter's school are members of the two striking unions, the school will close "for safety reasons."

Commentators in the UK see this as a possible boon for the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition's attempts to reform the delivery of education dramatically. Austerity measures to balance the budget may not have left the public at large with much sympathy for workers whose jobs are largely protected and who receive comparatively lavish pensions. Certainly parents are unlikely to appreciate their kids missing out on a day of instruction.

? Chris Tessone

In this "Ed Short" from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Amanda Olberg and Michael Podgursky examine how public charter schools handle pensions for their teachers. Some states give these schools the freedom to opt out of the traditional teacher-pension system; when given that option, how many charter schools take it? Olberg and Podgursky examine data from six charter-heavy states and find that charter participation rates in traditional pension systems vary greatly—from over 90 percent in California to less than one out of every four charters in Florida. As for what happens when schools choose not to participate in state pension plans, the authors find that they most often provide their teachers with defined-contribution plans (401(k) or 403(b)) with employer matches similar to those for private-sector professionals. But some opt-out charters offer no alternative retirement plans for their teachers (18 percent in Florida, 24 percent in Arizona).

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...

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