Teachers

The New York Times is on a roll with its education coverage, today reporting on everything from Obama in Boston to Rick Scott in Florida and rich schools in Bronxville.? And though I got slapped on the wrist yesterday by John Thompson for tweaking the purveyor of ?the best journalism in the world,? it is precisely because they are the best (according to Thompson, of course) that we watch them ? and, occasionally, critique them.

Florida Moves Teacher Bill Forward. It looks like new Sunshine state governor Rick Scott will right the wrong of his predecessor Charlie Crist, who vetoed a pioneering teacher evaluation reform bill last year ? what Andy Smarick called ?the most disappointing education policy decision by a major Republican officeholder in recent memory.?? The revived and revised bill, introduced by Florida legislator Erik Fresen, would link teacher evaluations to student performance, put new teachers on one-year contracts, and institute an evaluation system that would determine raises and firings. ??We are under siege,? the head of one teacher union told the Times. Yup. And it may be time for besieged teacher unions to start thinking of the besieged students who can't read or write.

A Merger in Memphis.? Voters in Memphis decided by a large margin on Tuesday to hand over the reins of their ?103,000-student public school system to their smaller -- ?47,000 students ? suburban neighbor in Shelby County, ?effectively,? as the Times reports, ?putting an end to...

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="307" caption="Photo by Stacy"][/caption]

With so much happening around collective bargaining in states from New Jersey to Wisconsin?and with so much unprecedented possibility for change?it's easy to get wrapped up in the moment. It's easy to get excited about the possibility of dramatically, and permanently, altering the status quo, of fully upending the apple cart. Of course, you should get excited. At best, public-union pensions and collectively bargained benefits are an unsustainable cost for states and districts attempting to live in this ?new normal.? At worst, they're an impediment to attracting strong teachers and realizing a stronger national education system.

But in all of the excitement over watching the ebb of public-sector-union power, over watching the apples roll away from the cart, we're failing to consider where those apples may roll and how we're planning on picking them up. Making changes to collective-bargaining rights, and to pensions and health-care benefits will surely save states and districts money. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker hinted that his proposed changes to the ruesome twosome of pensions and health-care benefits would save districts in the Badger State at least $1 billion over the next two years.

It will also, however, drop the net worth of a teacher's compensation package?dramatically. One analysis of Wisconsin's teacher-compensation structure, done by Robert Costrell, found that, for every dollar paid to Milwaukee public-school teachers and other employees, they receive 74.2 cents in...

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It is encouraging to see the New York Times continue its blanket coverage of education issues and events, even if the nation's putative paper of record sometimes misses the mark (see my Inside the Bubble) and even though it insists on giving reform nemesis Michael Winerip full rein. The last couple of days are a Times education shout-out, mostly about what is now the hottest topic in education: teachers.

Class Size.? Sam Dillon, the current education heavyweight at the Gray Lady, takes on one of the big topics du jour: how many teachers is too many teachers (aka class size). It is perhaps an inevitable issue, given the budget cuts, but Dillon at least puts the subject in a cost-effectiveness context where it has always belonged.? Despite a paucity of evidence of the true value of class size reduction ? a Tennessee study from the 1980s remains one of the few solid research supports for class-size reduction proponents ?? and lots of evidence that?the impacts of our teacher-hiring frenzy have been?small and costly, class size ?will most likely wither as a hot-button?issue in the face of economic realities.?

Grading Teachers. The headline over Michael Winerip's story is intriguing: ?Evaluating New York Teachers, Perhaps the Numbers Do Lie.?? Winerip makes a convincing case for what Mike has dubbed ?Kafkaesque evaluation protocols. Writes Winerip, ?Those 32 variables are plugged into a statistical model that looks like one of those equations that iin `Good Will Hunting' only...

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Take a look at this graph from Robert Costrell and Mike Podgursky's new report on pensions for the TIAA-CREF Institute:

?Figure 1, Podgursky and Costrell report for TIAA-CREF Institute

The blue line is pension wealth accumulated by a teacher under Missouri's teacher pension plan who begins work at age 25. Note that the teacher earns essentially nothing until their 12th year of service and only five figures past their 20th year of service. Over the five years after that, the teacher's retirement wealth increases five-fold.

Lest you think this insanity is particular to Missouri, take a look at neighboring Illinois, where a new law revamping teacher pensions was just passed:

New teachers in Illinois can only hope to get their money back (at best) until they've been teaching for 26 years.

As I've mentioned before, this system can't help but attract highly risk-averse workers to the detriment of others. It creates a situation where the handful of teachers who never leave the profession or work outside the area covered by a given retirement system take money out of the pockets of everyone else. Unless you're one of those teachers, you'd be far better off with a higher base salary and a defined-contribution plan where your retirement wealth increases steadily as a function of your salary.

The Atlantic's Megan...

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OhioFlypaper

Education in Ohio, as in most of the country, is coming to terms with a challenging ?new normal,? as Arne Duncan calls it?the prolonged period ahead when schools must produce better results with diminished resources. The Buckeye State faces a daunting budget shortfall over the next two years, the resolution of which will powerfully affect K-12 education, which now consumes about 40 percent of the state's money. And Ohio's situation is far from unique.

Yet schools?in Ohio and beyond?can produce better-educated students on leaner rations so long as their leaders are empowered to deploy the available resources in the most effective and efficient ways, unburdened by mandates, regulatory constraints, and dysfunctional contract clauses. That's the message that comes through loudest from a new survey of the state's school superintendents. And again there's no reason to believe that Ohio's situation is unique.

While governors and lawmakers are responsible for balancing state budgets, it is district and school leaders who must make their schools work on tighter resources while still boosting achievement and effectiveness. Over the past year, as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has organized various discussions, conferences, and symposia across Ohio on the big challenge of ?doing more with less? in K-12 education, we've been privy to innumerable comments?usually off the record?by superintendents and school leaders along the lines of, ?We could survive these cuts if we had real control over our budgets.? They called in...

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?Teachers wonder, why the heapings of scorn?? is the front page headline over a Trip Gabriel story in today's New York Times. (The web version headline was shorter, better: ?Teachers wonder, Why the scorn??)? And, indeed, teachers have been taking it on the chin of late.? But as Checker notes, later in the story,

They are reaping a bitter harvest that they didn't individually plant but their profession has planted over 50 years, going from a respected profession to a mass work force in which everyone is treated as if they are interchangeable, as in the steel mills of yesteryear.

There is a lot to the bitter harvest.? The interchangeability problem is a deep and profound one --?it flies in the face of the autonomy that many teachers claim they deserve in their classrooms.? It undermines the argument ? rather, calls attention to the contradiction ? that making more teachers better or making better teachers will improve the system since the assembly line can operate no better or faster than its slowest worker.

In my district, it is painful to watch: hardworking, dedicated teachers paying dues to union reps to defend the rights of undedicated and ineffective teachers who defeat the value of their hard work and dedication. It is painful to read the comments to the NYT story.? Teachers feel demonized and victimized, without appreciating the fact that it is their unions which have done them ill ? and it is their unions which reformers...

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Though no one expected Andrew Cuomo to be a Chris Christie, the tough-talking Empire State Democrat who promised to take on the unions ? well, he blinked.? As the New York Times reports, his teacher evaluation proposal

would expand the criteria by which teachers are judged, [but] would leave intact a provision in state law that requires layoffs to be carried out in reverse order of seniority, a policy known as ?last in, first out.? And the specifics of the evaluation system would still be subject to negotiations with unions, which could delay putting it into effect.

Though aides to the Governor tried to argue that the new evaluation system would ?supersede? (the Times word) LIFO problems, nobody was fooled, especially Mayor Bloomberg, who said,?

Anything short of [abolishing the seniority system]?will harm our students and jeopardize the progress that we made in the schools....? It simply kicks the can down the road, and it will kick some of our best teachers to the curb.

The Daily News was even?blunter:

How horrible is Gov. Cuomo's purported plan to avert the disaster of seniority-based teacher layoffs?

So horrible that it betrays the best interest of New York's schoolchildren.

So horrible that it is the functional equivalent of a fraud.

Hey. This is New York. Whad'ya expect??

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow...

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The Elusive Search for Stability and Objectivity

My friend E.J. McMahan at the Empire Center in Albany has a great headline for his blog post this morning: ?Volatility, thy name is `income tax.'? ??Though no one in government these days should need reminding of the problem in predicting public revenues, McMahon cites a new study from the Pew Center on the States and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute in Albany which calls incomes taxes ?the biggest culprit? in thwarting government's prognostic powers.?

Quoting from the report:

Traditionally, personal income taxes are a more volatile income stream than the sales tax. That is in large part because many states rely heavily on non-wage income such as dividends from investments, which can rise and fall with the performance of the stock market.

McMahon then notes:

As if on cue, on the same day that the Pew-Rockefeller report was released, [New York State] Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said his 99-member Democratic majority will push for a budget bill that makes New York more dependent on the income tax?.

Also, as if on cue, Silver scuttled a bill -- passed by the Republican-controlled Senate by a vote of 33 to 27 ? that would have allowed districts to lay off teachers based on factors like performance and disciplinary records, rather than seniority. ?Silver, according to the New York Times, said that he wanted to wait until the Education Department, in collaboration with the teachers union, ?creat[ed] an objective...

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Today's New York Times carries an op-ed by Samuel Culbert arguing that performance evaluations are "subjective evaluations that measure how 'comfortable' a boss is with an employee, not how much an employee contributes to overall results." If true, one implication is that it would be unwise to let managers--including principals--decide whom to lay off when cuts are unavoidable.

Still, until stronger teacher evaluation systems are in place, it seems that our education system faces two stark choices: make lay-off decisions based on seniority, or trust administrators to pick and choose the teachers to fire. Which option do you think carries greater risks?

This sparked a lot of debate on our Fordham team; let me share some of it here. And please add your two cents in the comments section below.

Kathleen Porter-Magee:

For what it's worth, I think this argument is just a distraction. Decrying evaluations as ?unfair? seems silly to me. (Life's not fair, eh?)

Of course evaluations are, on some level, subjective. Even if we include, for example, student achievement scores in teacher evaluations, there will be?and should be?subjective measures of evaluation. Without them, we're stripping leaders of their ability to set a clear vision and manage to it. I don't expect leaders to have all the answers, but I do expect *them* to be the ones who get to make the final calls on critical, direction-setting decisions.

Of course, we all know that the best leaders often do things that

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The Education Gadfly

Check out the first ever Education Next Book Club Podcast!

Perhaps the most polarizing person in American education today is Michelle Rhee, the hard-charging former chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools. She's the subject of a new book by Richard Whitmire called The Bee Eater. In this podcast, Mike Petrilli talks with Richard about Michelle's upbringing, the reforms she brought to Washington, her successes, and the racial politics that led to her downfall.

Click here to listen to the podcast on the Ed Next site, or listen to it in the player below.

[powerpress]

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