Teachers

Esther Quintero, a research associate at the Albert Shanker Institute, blogs today that focusing on teacher quality and accountability is un-American, because it "views students exclusively as passive recipients of their own learning." She goes on to criticize school reformers for portraying students as "devoid of agency."

That's a false dichotomy. Reformers believe that good teachers are capable of transforming the lives of their students, leveling the playing field for poor kids and providing every child with the opportunity to live up to their full potential. But it's not that home life and background play no role ? it's that hard work by students doesn't amount to much without good teaching. The a priori assumption that all under-performing students must be duds is offensive.

I don't say this abstractly. I come from a working class family living in an economically-depressed rural area in the middle of the country. Three generations of my family worked as coal miners, sheet metal workers, and firefighters after coming to the US from Italy (which my grandparents still called "the Old Country" when I was a kid). My brother and I succeeded and found middle-class careers in small part because of our hard work ? but in larger part because of the hard work of teachers who didn't believe our free/reduced lunch status determined our ability to learn.

Why do people like Dr. Quintero, who profess to be pro-teacher, argue that teachers are irrelevant or interchangeable? Why do they fight so...

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This article originally appeared in the April 21 edition of The Education Gadfly newsletter. You can sign up for The Education Gadfly or read an overview of the latest newsletter.

Along with paralysis over the budget (and so much else), there's enduring paralysis on Capitol Hill?over federal education policy. While 2011 has brought a flurry of promising reform activity at the state level, we detect barely a heartbeat in Washington when it comes to updating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently NCLB), even though an overhaul is at least four years overdue and just about everyone agrees that it's not working very well.

A year ago, the Obama Administration offered a decent ?blueprint? for reauthorization; but in Congress there are major fissures within each party?and little evidence of desire to cooperate across the aisle. Most commentators agree?and staffers privately admit?that chances are slim for an update before the 2012 elections. Sadly, they are probably right. It's a major abdication of responsibility by our nation's lawmakers.

Click to read our ESEA briefing book

And what makes it especially painful is that there's a pretty obvious path forward, not too different from the Administration's proposal. We sketch it out in a new ESEA reform proposal released this week. It capitalizes on some key realities:

First, NCLB has done a pretty good job of sensitizing the country to the...

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Ohioans are waiting to see if Senate Bill 5, which would greatly reduce public sector collective bargaining in Ohio, can be repealed at the ballot box in November. Meanwhile, teachers unions and local school districts are working fast to avoid the legislation's consequences, at least anytime soon.

Changes to state law cannot trump existing collective bargaining agreements. So until a teacher union contract expires, teachers and districts won't have to comply with the bill's provisions. Those include (among other things): prohibiting strikes; removing decisions about leave policies, class sizes, and employee assignment from the scope of collective bargaining; prohibiting salaries from increasing solely due to time on the job; removing seniority as the prime determinant of layoffs; allowing districts to pay no more than 85 percent of employees' health care premiums; and prohibiting districts from paying any portion of employees' pension contribution.

We've seen a rash of one- or two-year contracts agreed to recently as a result of SB 5, including in Columbus, the state's largest district. A few locals have negotiated longer agreements, like Bexley, outside Columbus, where teachers and the district agreed to a four-year contract in quick fashion (a single day!). That agreement ends in July 2015, by which time Ohioans may well have ousted the current governor and Republican House majority and replaced them with Democrats who will have overturned the work of the previous administration.

What's missing from many of these agreements are attempts to deal with...

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This morning, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released our ESEA Briefing Book. The report serves two purposes: First, to provide helpful background for reporters, analysts, and even hill staffers following the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka, No Child Left Behind). Hence, we identify 10 of the key issues that Congress must resolve to get a bill across the finish line, and offer the major options on the table (and their pros and cons) for each one.

The second purpose is to offer our own recommendations, in line with what we've been calling "Reform Realism" for two years now. Reform Realism--a pro-school-reform orientation that is also realistic about what the federal government can (and cannot) do well in K-12 education--entails three main principles:

?Tight-loose? ? Greater national clarity about our goals and expectations for students (i.e., standards linked to real-world demands of college and career), but much greater flexibility around how states, communities, and schools actually get their students there.

Transparency instead of Accountability ? Results-based accountability in education is vital, but it can't successfully be imposed from Washington. Instead, Uncle Sam should ensure that our education system's results?and finances?are transparent to the public, to parents, to local and state officials (and voters), and, of course, to educators.

Incentives over Mandates ?When Uncle Sam seeks to promote specific reforms in education, he should do so through carrots rather than sticks?and...

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Unlike Fat Tuesday or St. Patrick's Day, April 19th may not strike you as an unofficial drinking holiday. But then you haven't been reading Jay Greene lately, who has created a nifty little drinking game to accompany Fordham's ESEA reauthorization proposal to be released tomorrow.

Here's a sneak peek; in our "Briefing Book" we lay out 10 of the key questions that we believe Congress needs to answer in order to get a new ESEA across the finish line, identify the major options for each one, and present the pros and cons. Our recommendations will wait till the morning, but see if you think we got the issues right.

The 10 big issues

  1. College and career readiness - Should states be required to adopt academic standards tied to college and career readiness (such as the Common Core)?
  2. Cut scores - What requirements, if any, should be placed upon states with respect to achievement standards (i.e., "cut scores")?
  3. Growth measures - Should states be required to develop assessments that enable measures of individual student growth?
  4. Science and History - Must states develop standards and assessments in additional subjects beyond English/language arts and math?
  5. School ratings - Should Adequate Yearly Progress be maintained, revised, or scrapped?
  6. Interventions - What requirements, if any, should be placed on states in terms of regarding and sanctioning schools and turning around the lowest performers?
  7. Teacher effectiveness - Should Congress regulate teacher credentials (as with the current "highly qualified teachers" mandate) and/or
  8. ...
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In a post on Tuesday, I quarreled with Kevin Carey's argument, in The New Republic, that Republican lawmakers are wrong to embrace federalism when it comes to education--and that this marks a "radical" shift that's driven by fear of the Tea Party. Left unmentioned was his bizarre description of state GOP leaders' "war on teachers":

For years, teachers' unions have claimed that education reformers are mounting a ?war on teachers.? Now, in the Midwest and Republican-dominated states across the country, we are witnessing what a war on teachers really looks like. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's nuclear assault on public employees' collective bargaining and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's overheated claims that teacher pensions are bankrupting the state reveal a Republican Party bent on using its current electoral advantage to permanently cripple unions nationwide.

Maybe it's unfair to pick on Kevin; progressive reformers of all stripes have been saying similar things (especially about Wisconsin) ever since Governor Walker's collective bargaining bill gained national attention. But consider this: about half the states don't require that districts bargain collectively with their teachers, and five ban the practice outright (Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas). Wisconsin's (and Ohio's) laws don't go that far--yet I don't recall progressives calling North Carolina's Jim Hunt, or Virginia's Tim Kaine or Mark Warner teacher-bashers because they didn't fight to allow collective bargaining in their states when they served as governor.

And is anyone who raises questions about the sustainability of teacher pensions...

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Georgia is on the road to eliminating seniority-based layoffs throughout the state. The big news is that they're replacing it with a flexible, sensible option for performance evaluation to be determined by local school and district managers.

GA's Senate Bill 184 sets three basic policies. First, local school boards cannot use length of tenure as the "primary or sole determining factor" in deciding whom to lay off during reductions in force. Second, performance should be the primary determining factor in making these layoffs. The bill states clearly that "one measure of [teacher performance] may be student academic performance." That is, local districts are free to decide how much to weight to assign to test scores and the like, and for which teachers they're relevant. Third, the bill establishes a commission of teachers, ed school profs, school managers, and others to identify effective professional development opportunities by 2015 to help all teachers improve their craft. It looks likely that the governor will sign the bill into law.

Some teachers and union folks say we can't evaluate teachers until we have a universally-valid evaluation system. Some reformers cling to a magical 50% weight for student test scores (or value-added) for performance evaluations, as if that's applicable to every locale and circumstance. Both approaches are wrong-headed. This bill moves in the right direction of setting a broad framework for reductions in force while empowering districts to work out the details locally.

? Chris Tessone...

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