Teachers

There continues to be a lot of discussion around the idea of creating a ?common? curriculum to supplement the Common Core State Standards. Robert Pondiscio over at Core Knowledge applauds the move, arguing that, while the CCSS are ?praiseworthy,? they are ?not a curriculum?and are unlikely to amount to much?in the absence of a shared curriculum.? ?Tom Vander Ark cautions that moving to adopt a traditional curriculum is a mistake and that we should be thinking not about common curriculum, but rather about ?uncommon? delivery system that provides ?fully customized engaging learning sequences for every student.? (If you haven't already, it's also worth reading Pondiscio's scathing take-down of Vander Ark's idea.)

Unfortunately, I still think that these debates are missing the point, and potentially distracting states from allocating their now very scarce resources towards policies that have the potential to much more dramatically impact student achievement.

It's worth noting that, as a former curriculum director, I am a strong believer in the transformative power of curriculum. It is essential.

But, I sincerely believe that making curricular decisions at the state or?even worse?national level is a mistake. States would do better to create or adopt rigorous assessments and a strong state accountability system, and then to devolve ownership over student achievement results?and that includes curricular decisions?as closely as possible to the classroom.

Heading up the curriculum and professional development team at Achievement First, one of our early missteps was to focus on mandating?or...

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...

[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...

I know it's an article of faith in the school-reform community that we should "differentiate" among teachers and pay them "differentially" too. Highly effective teachers should get paid more than mediocre ones; individuals willing to work in poor schools should get bigger paychecks than those serving the well-to-do; those in high-demand fields (like math and science) should get more than their peers. I get all of that, and generally agree.

I also understand that the "single-salary schedule" is seen as the nemesis to smart teacher policy. And that's also true. But what makes the single schedule so pernicious isn't just its uniformity; it's its growth curve. Twenty-five years veterans are paid a lot more than five-year veterans even though, on average, they are equally effective. Changing that curve is at least as important as introducing more differentiation in pay.

This isn't my idea, or a new idea. Two years ago, Duke economist Jacob Vigdor published an excellent article in Education Next, "Scrap the Sacrosanct Salary Schedule." His analysis can be summed up in the graphic below.

In all professions, new hires get paid significantly less at the start. But in fields like medicine and law, pay rises rapidly--as soon as employees boost their effectiveness and productivity from on-the-job experience. In education, on the other hand, pay rises slowly, even though teachers' effectiveness plateaus after as little as two (and no more than five) years...

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...

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...

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...

?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...

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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