Teachers

It's been over two years since I stood in front of a class of high schoolers, explaining the formula for the area of a triangle and what pacifism looks like in practice (I taught at a pull-out special-education school, and my courseload was more varied than that of my students). It almost feels like another lifetime. But lately, as reports come in of teacher-union supporters threatening individuals and vandalizing their property, or engaging in angry, mob-like protests over states' proposed education bills, memories of my tenure at my small urban high school in Boston come flooding back.

I get that teachers are angry at the potential of losing tenure, losing benefits, losing pensions. And that they feel threatened when, after ten, fifteen, or even twenty years in the classroom, someone is just now thinking about coming along to tell them how good they are at their jobs. (As a novice teacher, I simultaneously yearned for and desperately feared that feedback?the feedback that would both make me a better teacher and remind me that, despite my efforts, the long hours, and the stress, I could be doing better.)

But then I remember how much angrier I got when I had to cover another teacher's Friday class every other week when she systematically called in ?sick.? And how annoyed I was when a veteran teacher retired mid way through October, forcing the district to assign a long-term sub for her Algebra classes for the next eight months). And...

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I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that some teachers--facing layoffs, pay freezes, and the rest--would strike out in violence. But it's inexcusable all the same. See today's story from Idaho:

The night after Idaho's school chief publicly detailed changes to his plan to overhaul the state's K-12 education system, vandals spray-painted his truck and slashed two of its tires as it was parked outside his home.

He was heckled a few hours later at a coffee shop, and he says he filed a police report after an angry teacher showed up at his 71-year-old mother's home over the weekend.

Debate over Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's plans to restructure how Idaho's scarce education dollars are spent have dominated the legislative session this year, and emotions have been running high at legislative hearings and in public.

In the latest incident, Luna said he woke up before dawn Tuesday and found his name painted on the truck with a slash through the letters.

"I'm not pointing any fingers at any individuals or groups, but there's no doubt in my mind" the vandalism involved the reforms, he told The Associated Press. Nampa police are investigating and have not yet determined a motive or identified any suspects, Deputy Chief Craig Kingsbury said.

I worked with Tom at the U.S. Department of Education; he's a sweet man pushing a very mainstream reform agenda. If this can happen in Idaho, what can we look forward to in strong union...

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Okay, everyone hold hands.? Now, repeat after me:

We Will? Love -? Each Other -- And ?Educate ? All ?Kids!? ?

Or, try this: ?

You two shake hands, and don't let me catch you fighting again!?

That's a quick glimpse of schools, now and then ? and school governance, now and then.? Then, it was desks lined up (I?once visited a 19th century?Brooklyn ?school -- still in use -- where you could see the plugged holes from the days when desks were nailed to the floor); now, it's classrooms with pillows and rugs and a jumble of round tables. ??Then, it was ?top down? management, with principals ruling with rulers; now, principals spend much of their day parsing language of Codes of Conduct and labor contracts and writing up referrals and evaluations that can withstand a constititutional challenge.?

These caricatures of American public education governance are fleshed out admirably in Sam Dillon's NYT report this morning on a unique Denver conclave to bring education labor and management leaders together.? It?is being?convened by America's?Principal, Arne Duncan, who continues to work the education reform room with a stick in one hand and carrot in the other.? (I've heard he's teaming up with Doug Lemov on a new book:? Rule like a Champion!? 49 Techniques to Put Educators on the Path to Excellence. Just kidding.)

Let's hope that the two-day confab in the mile-high city is aided by the thin...

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Alex Russo at This Week in Education is calling Teach For America's 20th summit celebration ?premature,? ?unwarranted,? and an ?expensive-seeming birthday part/slick celebration,? among other things. As a TFA alumna one who attended this ?revival? with a ?sense of accomplishment? that Russo calls ?immodest and premature ? reminding [him] of the kid who expects praise for doing his homework for a few days in a row or the football player who starts celebrating before he's reached the end zone? ?I'm inclined to feel defensive.

I'll admit some of his post is funny; I can be as self-deprecating as the next person and point out the quirks and oddities and intensity and weird inflection of TFAers -- the oversized teaching bags, hipness of how they dress, etc. (as one tweeter said, many female teachers can be identified by their ?flats? and ?mustard-colored sweaters?).?

But here's the thing about TFA teachers or alums. Being compared to kids who expect praise for doing homework isn't that insulting. Anyone who's been a teacher in a poor urban or rural classroom will be the very first to admit that celebrating the small successes, the day-to-day victories ? including cheering on a student for homework completion -- is what keeps you going. It's part of the formula for success. I don't care how arrogant or na?ve or stupid Russo thinks the TFA community looked/acted/came across this weekend. Perhaps to some, celebration ? especially when achievement gaps persist -- seems like a waste.? But...

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As Bianca noted yesterday, legislators in Ohio are pushing major changes to the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions in the state, among them teacher unions. Many of the proposed changes, like eliminating step-and-lane salary increases, would be very positive.

One change struck me as odd among the proposals: a ban on districts paying more than 80% of teachers' health care costs. I get where the proposal is coming from ? when state and local tax coffers are full, politicians (school board members among them) love to win points with unions through huge giveaways to teachers. It's not a response to demands in the labor market, but blatant vote mongering. We see the fruits of these popular but irresponsible moves when tax revenues dry up.

If onerous state mandates like step-and-lane are removed, one hopes some Ohio districts will step up to develop better, more effective human capital policies that drive student achievement and attract high performing teachers. What if the part of the labor market those districts target demands benefits covering 85% of health care costs in exchange for smarter accountability and better instruction? Why tie districts down in new ways while cutting old mandates?

Perhaps the bill's sponsors feel like this is the best tool they have at the state level for reining in exploding benefits costs. I can appreciate that. But in the end, local control in the US needs to be re-examined and re-invented. If school boards exhibit dysfunctional behavior...

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Last night lawmakers in the Ohio House Education Committee heard testimony regarding House Bill 21 ?legislation that would, among other things, grant a professional educator license to Teach For America alums teaching in Ohio. For the second week in a row, the conversation steered into interesting territory about the merits of TFA (last week, Terry and two teachers from Fordham-authorized, high-performing charters testified on the bill's behalf). This week the bill was amended so that the provision would not only let alums get licensed here, but would also open up alternative licensure pathways so that the actual program could take root in Ohio, something which Fordham has been pushing for years. This piece of legislation would finally bring it to fruition.

As an alumna of the program and someone who's lived in other states and cities not only amenable to TFA but actually thrilled about it, these conversations among lawmakers continue to shock me. Many lawmakers admitted that prior to last week's testimony (during which bright alums like Abbey Kinson and Jenna Davis wowed them with stories of their kids achieving stellar academic results), they'd never heard of the program. Others illustrated glaring ? if accidental ? misperceptions about the program.

Ohio's battle to bring TFA here is a long one. Attempts to lock them out are probably not unlike what goes on in other states, though the fact that Ohio is one of just a handful of states without the program exemplifies the...

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Liam's post yesterday about Malcolm Gladwell's critique of U.S. News & World Report's college rankings ? ?one wonders,? wondered Liam, ?why the same education-policy types [who don't like the college rankings] can be so obtuse when it comes to identifying the just-as-glaring weaknesses in other sorts of education-related rankings and comparisons? ? was propitious.???

According to Trip Gabriel* ?in today's New York Times, the one-time third leg of the weekly news magazine industry (after Time and Newsweek) plans to take on schools of education ? with underwriting support from the likes of the Carnegie Corporation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.?

Already under fire from just about every quarter, the nation's teacher training schools are not happy about U.S. News piling on.

Sharon Robinson, president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, told the Times that ?We have serious skepticism that their methodology will produce enough evidence to support the inferences they will make? and advised her Association's 800 member schools not to cooperate.?

Kate Walsh, head of the National Council on Teacher Quality, on whose board Checker Finn sits, calls the methodology complaint a red-herring. ?What they want us to do is hold off until a perfect assessment is in place,? she tells the Times.

The accountability movement marches on. And I hope kids are paying attention to the grading protests from their teachers' teachers.?

?--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

_________________

*Not Sam...

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