Teachers

If you believe the two sides currently duking it out over collective bargaining in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states, contracts with teacher unions are either the only thing saving American education from utter ruin or they're the greatest impediment to reforming the system. What's absent from the discussion is an examination of the role of school and district leadership, which has the power (largely unrealized, alas) to make labor agreements far less influential.

Last week, I attended a great panel at the Yale SOM Education Leadership Conference on teacher contracts, ably moderated by Andy Rotherham. Discussing the district's 2009 contract, New Haven Public Schools assistant superintendent Garth Harries placed a lot of blame for the restrictive nature of labor agreements on the poor state of education management, saying that teachers will routinely go above and beyond the requirements of their contract if they trust management. The AFT's Joan Devlin, speaking to a largely unsympathetic crowd, agreed, pointing out that a good working relationship between the New Haven local and district management allowed everyone to move from haggling over hours to talking about how to reform schools together. The entire panel agreed that bold, visionary leadership with integrity is rare at the district level.

I am not naive about the battles unions fight against reform; they deserve criticism for opposing everything from the firing of absence-prone teachers to charter schools in one place or another. However, as Fordham's 2008 report, The Leadership Limbo, illustrated, district leaders often blame...

One of the reasons Candidate Obama was so appealing was his call for participants in our democracy to "disagree without being disagreeable." Though he hasn't always lived up to that standard, it's a worthy objective?and one we education reformers should keep in mind too.

In that spirit, I strongly encourage you to read Richard Kahlenberg's brilliant 2007 biography of Albert Shanker, Tough Liberal. Or, if you don't have time to tackle its 500 pages, listen to this 45-minute interview with Kahlenberg instead. (It's the third offering of the Education Next Book Club, a new long-form podcast that I'm hosting. Previous editions featured Richard Whitmire on The Bee Eater and Dan Willingham on Why Don't Students Like School?)

What struck me most about the book was the status of the teaching profession before Shanker and his colleagues won the right to collectively bargain in 1960. Teachers made the same wages as car washers; autocratic principals harassed teachers on a daily basis; and teachers could be fired on a whim. I was also fascinated by the story of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville controversy?whereby black leaders demanding "community control" wanted to fire many white, Jewish teachers?and the scars it might leave in terms of teachers' psychology around job protections.

Of course, things are much better for teachers today, what with much higher (if still mediocre) salaries, generous benefits, and over-the-top job security. So I...

If you haven't yet, steer yourself over to the latest "Room for Debate" conversation at the New York Times, entitled ?How to Raise the Status of Teachers.? It features some excellent pieces, including one by Fordham's own Mike Petrilli. (Spoiler alert: Mike reframes the argument. It's not about raising the status of teachers, it's about successfully recruiting high-caliber college graduates to teaching.)

Want to know more? Mike will be on Chicago's WGN radio station today at 12:35 EDT discussing the issue. Listen live online, or to the podcast, at www.wgnradio.com. Tune in!

?Daniela Fairchild

This post appears today on the New York Times' Room for Debate blog. The question: How can the United States raise the status of teachers and teaching?

Raising the ?status? of teaching is like chasing a mirage: It looks great from a distance but it never seems to materialize. Teachers today are one of the most respected members of our society, according to opinion polls. The growing backlash against perceived ?teacher-bashing? in Wisconsin and elsewhere is more testament that Americans like their teachers. So what exactly is the problem the status-boosters are hoping to solve? Raising teachers' self-esteem? [quote]

On the other hand, it's true that teaching today is not among the most attractive careers open to talented young people. Making it more attractive is an objective we can do something about.

Today's teacher compensation system is perfectly designed to repel ambitious individuals. We offer mediocre starting salaries, provide meager raises even after hard-earned skills have been gained on the job and backload the most generous benefits (in terms of pensions) toward the end of 30 years of service. More fundamentally, for decades we've prioritized smaller classes over higher teacher pay. If we had kept class sizes constant over the past 50 years, the average teacher today would be making $100,000.

Thankfully, reformers are trying to flip this equation. Here's the game plan: raise starting pay, accelerate salary bumps to keep up with a young teacher's rapid improvement in effectiveness, offer ways for teachers...

Liam Julian

At a KIPP charter school in Jacksonville today, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed SB 726, a bill that will set up a teacher evaluation system that judges educators based, in large part, on student test scores, institute merit pay, and end tenure for new teachers (current teachers will still be paid based on their previously negotiated contracts, but if they receive poor evaluations for several years, they can be dismissed). Florida's former governor, Charlie Crist, vetoed a similar bill last year.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

A brilliant report from Mike Antonucci at?the Education Intelligence Agency (EIA) paints a dark picture of what the recent public union defeats in Wisconsin and elsewhere mean to the National Education Association.? ?There should be no mistake about it,? he writes, ?NEA sees them as a threat to its very existence.?

Antonucci makes a compelling argument to buttress his case that the NEA has reason to go to war in the face of the recent existential skirmishes.? After several decades of membership increases (making it the largest union in America) and ?a virtually non-stop expansion of the scope of public sector collective bargaining,? he reports,?NEA numbers are down in 43 states. And, he says, ?the union faces a $14 million budget shortfall?? ??

Here's the battle cry, according to Antonucci:

`We are at war,' incoming NEA executive director John Stocks told the union's board of directors last month, outlining a plan to keep NEA from joining the private sector industrial unions in a slow, steady decline into irrelevancy to anyone outside the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. And like any good war plan for an army under siege, it allows for a defense-in-depth while preparing for a decisive counterattack.

Antonucci is by no means draping any coffins here. The NEA ??is still a political powerhouse, and will not be content with lying against the ropes, being pummeled by Republicans,? he reports. ?And ?despite its budget shortfall and freeze on executive pay, the national union is...

Today marks history for the Buckeye State, its low-income children, and its failing schools, as well as for the dozens if not hundreds of education reform advocates who've been pushing for the last decade for Teach For America - Ohio.

Today legislation passed in both the Ohio House (HB 21) and Senate (SB 81) that paves the way for a Teach For America site (specifically, allowing TFA to place teachers across grades and not just in shortage areas) and also makes it easier for alums of the program to get certified here to teach.

The Ohio House passed HB 21 by a 64-32 vote margin, with five Democrats crossing the aisle to support it. Kudos to Reps. Celeste, Patmon, Sykes, Budish, and Salozzi for joining Democrats across the country ? including President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ? in supporting the program.

In the Senate, the bill was amended slightly so as to require Teach For America to partner with a local university (which is required in many other TFA states but which adds undo requirements to the program). It passed by a margin of 25-8. Kudos to Sen. Turner, Wilson, and Kearney to cross the aisle in support of the bill.

I, along with four other alumnas of the program now living in Ohio, sat in the House gallery on pins and needles this morning as we listened to lawmakers debate the merits of a program that would place talented and effective teachers...

Randi Weingarten is talented at making crazy ideas sound sensible. Today she claims in a Huffington Post op-ed that "you can't make a thorough and objective decision about a teacher's qualifications without a valid evaluation system." (That is, a national one endorsed by the AFT.) She supports this assertion with a vague reference to school administrators' "arbitrary and subjective judgment."

Of course, in the rest of the professional world managers strive to make thorough and objective decisions about their workers without a universal evaluation system. Marketers, engineers, and event planners do not need national "frameworks" and "continuous improvement models" in order to be evaluated by their managers (much less to be fired for malfeasance). It doesn't work perfectly, but it works. Why, in Weingarten's eyes, are teachers so different?

Her op-ed employs the clever trick of arguing that common ground is not that far away, if only those stubborn reformers would be willing to give up and agree with the unions. I'd call that a tautology ? if you'd only agree with my position, we wouldn't be fighting!

This is nearly as insidious as Rick Hess's favorite "it's for the kids" line. Weingarten lays out a fundamental difference between the AFT and reformers like Joel Klein, then papers over it with a call for collaboration that looks strikingly like the "highly effective until proven otherwise" status quo in teacher evaluation. There's nothing transformative about that.

? Chris Tessone...

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