After the sweetness-and-nice between New York State Education Department (NYSED) and the New York State United Teachers ?(NYSUT) to win $700 million from the federal Race to the Top fund last year (see my Education Next story), NYSUT yesterday sued the state's Board of Regents and NYSED's acting commissioner John King over the decision last May to ratchet up the importance of student test scores in a teacher's annual evaluation.

Rick Karlin of the Albany Times Union, says it's the first time in four decades that NYSUT has sued the Regents, which isn't surprising since NYSUT is used to getting its way (see this 2008 NYSUT victory pronouncement).? According to Karlin, ?NYSUT initially agreed to a plan in which improvement in state-issued tests would count for 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation. But that was later increased to 40 percent, which NYSUT contends came out of the blue.?

The union's precipitous fall from grace was made painfully apparent when even the Democratic Governor, traditionally a NYSUT ally, weighed in on the matter. In fact, Andrew Cuomo helped move the student score needle up, writing in a letter to the Regents just before their...

Only halfway through 2011, a number of states have reformed their laws governing public sector workers' benefits, a few of them in dramatic fashion. The need to close the yawning gap between promises made to workers and the dollars saved for them on states' balances sheets is evident. According to a recent analysis, the average household will have to pay $1,398 in additional taxes every year for the next 30 years to fund retiree benefits, with New Jersey taxpayers on the hook for $2,475 per year per household before that state's recent reforms.?Even more optimistic commentators recognize that the funding ratios reported by states themselves rely on rosy assumptions about investment returns that are not likely to be borne out in reality.?Consequently, states have begun to adjust contribution rates, close loopholes, and otherwise modify pension and retiree healthcare benefits.

It is worth noting that most of these reforms leave public-sector workers, especially those newly-hired, worse off. In many states, this is a necessary evil, with budgets straining and taxes being ratcheted ever higher. Some states have done better than others in making fundamental reforms to address the sustainability of workers' benefits without soaking new workers or taxpayers,...

A legislative conference committee has reported out its version of Ohio's next operating budget.?? The Senate and House are expected to approve the committee's report today and tomorrow, with Governor Kasich signing it into law Thursday.??

Details are still emerging, but at first glance education reformers can declare at least a few victories from this battle, especially when it comes to issues of teacher effectiveness.?? Included in the budget are provisions requiring that:

-?????????????????? By 2013-14 all Ohio school districts must implement a rigorous, multiple-measure teacher evaluation system that is based 50 percent on student performance data;

-?????????????????? Schools participating in Race to the Top must develop a merit-pay system for teachers based in part on that evaluation (this is optional for non-participating districts);

-?????????????????? Seniority is no longer the primary determiner of teacher lay-offs in the Buckeye State and may only be used as a tie-breaker when all other factors are equal.

The conference committee reportedly upheld most of the Senate's smart charter-school provisions, lifted restrictions on the start-up of new charter schools, and expanded eligibility and availability of the EdChoice voucher program.?? The committee also added new education policy language,...

Great Britain's largest teacher unions have declared a strike for Thursday over proposed changes to their pensions, and they'll be joined by another 700,000 other workers from the public sector. The strike will likely close a majority of the schools all across the country, even though negotiations with unions over the changes are far from over. A friend of mine who lives outside London reports that although not all of the teachers in her daughter's school are members of the two striking unions, the school will close "for safety reasons."

Commentators in the UK see this as a possible boon for the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition's attempts to reform the delivery of education dramatically. Austerity measures to balance the budget may not have left the public at large with much sympathy for workers whose jobs are largely protected and who receive comparatively lavish pensions. Certainly parents are unlikely to appreciate their kids missing out on a day of instruction.

? Chris Tessone

In this "Ed Short" from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Amanda Olberg and Michael Podgursky examine how public charter schools handle pensions for their teachers. Some states give these schools the freedom to opt out of the traditional teacher-pension system; when given that option, how many charter schools take it? Olberg and Podgursky examine data from six charter-heavy states and find that charter participation rates in traditional pension systems vary greatly—from over 90 percent in California to less than one out of every four charters in Florida. As for what happens when schools choose not to participate in state pension plans, the authors find that they most often provide their teachers with defined-contribution plans (401(k) or 403(b)) with employer matches similar to those for private-sector professionals. But some opt-out charters offer no alternative retirement plans for their teachers (18 percent in Florida, 24 percent in Arizona).

Guest Blogger

Today, Fordham released our latest, "Charting a New Course to Retirement: How Charter Schools Handle Teacher Pensions." Authors Amanda Olberg and Michael Podgursky explain the report's findings here.

In the wake of the economic downturn, American public schools face serious, long-term fiscal challenges. Of them, rising pension costs are a particular concern. Yet school districts have no mechanisms for reining in these costs; almost all districts are tethered by statute to state pension systems (or, sometimes, their own local pension systems). It turns out, though, that some states allow their public charter schools to opt out of those systems. How they handle this opportunity bears scrutiny?and may suggest some lessons for the larger public-education system.

Nationally, teacher compensation comprises 55 percent of current expenditures in K-12 education. (That figure rises to 81 percent when all school staff are included.) A large and growing share of these costs goes to help fund retirement benefits. Between 2004 and 2010, for example, district pension costs (not counting retiree health insurance) increased from 12 percent to over 15 percent of salaries....

Potentially drastic changes to teacher personnel policy in Ohio have been at the heart of heated debates for the last five or six months, precipitated by provisions in controversial SB 5, Ohio's collective bargaining law, as well as about-to-be-passed state biennial budget HB 153. Either set of provisions would change the way teachers are evaluated, rewarded, retained, dismissed, developed, and placed (though Fordham strongly prefers the language in HB 153).?

Among the myriad ways these policies would change the face of teaching and learning, however, ?merit pay? seems to be the maelstrom?toward which the majority of coverage and attention has been pulled. (For a quick experiment, google ?merit pay and Ohio? and ?teacher evaluations and Ohio? and see how many more recent hits the former returns.)

The House's teacher provisions (fingers crossed that that it will get re-inserted during conference committee) would get rid of seniority-based layoffs, develop a rigorous and sophisticated rating system for teachers, undo forced placement of ineffective teachers, use student test scores in evaluations, and effectively get rid of tenure (among other things). And yet the media seems to have a fixation on ?merit pay,? dwindling the entire teacher policy debate...

There are two stories in today's New York Times that merit some consideration. One is an essay about a sperm donor and the other is a pop history quiz (sorry, test-haters, it's multiple choice). ?What the two have in common is 12th-grade.? The essay writer, one Colton Wooten, we are told, ?graduated from Leesville Road High School* this month.?? And the Times test is taken from the infamous National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) history exam that got so much press this past week (see here and here).

Start with the test. As the headline asks, ?Are You as Smart as a 12th Grader??? Well, my guess is that the average adult American is probably as smart as the average 12th-grader, considering that only 12 percent of the NAEP sample of seniors were proficient in the history test.? But the questions are not easy ? everyone remember what the Ordinance of Nullification was? ? and the test, however golden a standard,? is probably a better measure of the nation's curriculum anarchy than of student knowledge.? (See my post on the national obsession with putting the assessment cart before the curriculum horse.)

Mr. Wooten's...