Teachers

A plan unveiled today in Australia tackles a popular suggestion that's been thrown around in the US: putting "super teachers" (as the Aussies call them) in the worst schools, and compensating them with higher pay, a smaller class load, and the opportunity to mentor other teachers. This attempt to address the issue of teacher quality, long realized to be the number one determinant of student success, with realistic organizational reforms, sounds reasonable. It takes on numerous problems at once: staffing hard to staff schools, staffing hard to staff schools with good teachers, who typically escape to greener suburban pastures as soon as possible, shifting the compensation scale to reward excellence, and providing career advancement without moving quality educators from classrooms to administrative roles.

The one thing missing, at least from what I can find out, is how these "Highly Accomplished Teachers" will be determined and chosen. As we've seen with American forays into determining teacher excellence with government metrics (i.e., the Highly Qualified Teacher provisions of NCLB), it's difficult to measure something so amorphous as teacher quality with the tools available to a huge sprawling bureaucracy. Piloting of the measure will begin this fall.

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It's got to be a good story when the sub-head reads thusly: "Editor's Note: Some of the language in the following story may be offensive."

That's because the words contained therein, those of NEA retiring general counsel Bob Chanin, are peppered with profanity. "Why are those conservative and right-wing bas***ds (read: not nice way of saying fatherless children) picking on NEA and its affiliates?" He gave a farewell speech to the same NEA annual conference that hosted (and booed and hissed) Arne Duncan. Guess Obama's era of postpartisanship is over, at least in that forum.

Read the story and watch a video (from an admittedly very conservative--and obviously offended--website) of Chanin's remarks.

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Alex Klein

Quotable

"When inflexible seniority and rigid tenure rules that we designed put adults ahead of children, then we are not only putting chidren at risk, we're putting the entire education system at risk." --Education Sec. Arne Duncan

EdWeek: Duncan Presses NEA on Merit Pay, Tenure

Notable

200 : The number of schools in Philadelphia, out of 270, that serve universal meals, which are given in schools where at least 75 percent of the student body meets the low-income threshold.

AP: In Philly schools, most students get a free lunch

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The New York Times's Samuel Freedman provides a great introduction to the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program???basically a Teach For America for parochial schools. Never heard of it? You're not alone:????

Teach for America has become a virtual brand name on elite college campuses and a coveted item on graduate-school applications and corporate r??sum??s. Programs like [one at Seton Hall] have received far less public acclaim, and yet they are vital to the almost literally lifesaving role that Catholic schools play as an affordable alternative to chronically failing public schools in many low-income areas.

Big funders, including the NewSchools Venture Fund and the Gates Foundation, are said to be looking at targeting future investments toward ???human capital??? initiatives. May I suggest that expanding ACE be on their list?

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Liam Julian

Britain's largest teachers' union will vote, at its upcoming annual conference, to determine how many students the ideal class should enroll. What bosh! Perhaps I should take an office poll about the appropriate number of employees at an education-policy think tank? One may argue that teachers manage their own classrooms and therefore have a darn good idea about how many students they can adequately teach, but that's at best an unsettled claim. It is settled, however, that taxpayers, not teachers, are footing the bill for public education, and scant are the data showing that pupils in smaller classes learn more.Therefore, it seems a poor investment of the public's money to lower class sizes when little to no educational improvement will result. Furthermore, Checker Finn has written:

Over the past half-century, the number of pupils in U.S. schools grew by about 50 percent while the number of teachers nearly tripled. Spending per student rose threefold, too. If the teaching force had simply kept pace with enrollments, school budgets had risen as they did, and nothing else changed, today's average teacher would earn nearly $100,000, plus generous benefits. We'd have a radically different view of the job and it would attract different sorts of people. Yes, classes would be larger-about what they were when I was in school.

The obsession with lowering class sizes has kept teacher salaries stagnant--not a good thing for teachers but a wonderful thing for their unions, which have rapidly added to their...

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Liam Julian
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Liam Julian

Teachers in Nashua, New Hampshire, have threatened to strike unless they reach a contract settlement by March 31.

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New Yorkers got a dose of d??j?? vu yesterday when New York's new governor, David A. Paterson, and his wife Michelle held a press conference to discuss their marital infidelities.

In more disturbing news, this New York Times story reveals that Governor Paterson's father, Basil A. Paterson, is an adviser to Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

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Ed Week reports on an interesting new study showing the impact of teacher absences on students: "taking into account the effects on student achievement that might be produced by various characteristics of the teachers, students, and schools--including teachers' levels of skill and effort--the researchers found a small but significant negative impact on student math scores attributable to teacher absences alone," such that 10 days off were akin to "the difference for a student of having a first-year teacher as opposed to a second-year teacher." In their sample, teachers averaged 5.3 sick or personal days each per year.

None of this is terribly shocking, but did the unions miss a PR opportunity here? Instead of saying "see, an inexperienced substitute is no substitute for a true professional; teachers really matter," Rob Weil of the AFT urges us to "be careful about overemphasizing these results," in case the authors "are implying something that may not be true: that teachers are taking more days off than they are allowed." And why on earth would anyone get that impression? Perhaps because "teacher sick days occurred on a day adjacent to a weekend or a holiday 52.3 percent of the time, compared with 45.7 percent of the time on the other days, which usually fell midweek," and "conversations with school principals revealed that many teachers viewed such absences as an entitlement that they could use to fit their preferences."

There was no mention of whether teachers' golf handicaps improved after their...

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Liam Julian

An article in Tuesday's New York Times references an experiment in which researchers served icy vodka tonics to some college students and icy tonic water to others. Both drinks tasted the same. After two hours or so, the subjects who received non-alcoholic beverages were just as amorous and unrestrained as those who had been downing the good stuff.

Does this study offer any wisdom for fixing our worst k-12 schools? Perhaps telling awful teachers that they are, in fact, actually doing a fine job will impel them to act just as competent as their truly skillful peers? Probably not, but the alcohol study is nonetheless interesting.

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