Teachers

Heal for America? William Healy argues in this weekend's Wall Street Journal that healthcare could benefit from a Teach for America-esque program. HFA corps members would be like an at-home medical force, dealing with smaller medical problems that typically go unattended in poorer families and clog up emergency rooms and simultaneously teaching about hygiene, exercise, proper eating, blood sugar, and a host of other useful items that would improve quality of life and lower health care costs. They could also help teach health classes in schools and help families set up doctor's appointments or call in prescriptions.

This idea seems a bit far-fetched to me, but it's nice to know that successful education reform programs are getting positive attention for folks outside the edu-sphere.

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There's a lot to chew over in yesterday's New York Times article by Sam Dillon, "Schools Aided by Stimulus Money Still Facing Cuts," (including the implications for our home state of Ohio). Any reader would feel empathy for the L.A. high school students now facing average class sizes of 42.5 students; the many teachers who have been laid off; the schools that have cut back on sports, arts, and more. I certainly do.

But of course there's another story between the lines here, which is that districts have often been either unable or unwilling to cut costs sensibly. Tim Daly of The New Teacher Project is quoted describing a common problem, that "Districts tend to make their problems worse by laying off good teachers and keeping bad ones," firing based on seniority (as often required by collective bargaining agreements). Yet it's even deeper than that, for education is an industry that has rarely been forced to grapple with spending cuts; nearly every year this century, education spending per-pupil has grown, in good economic times or bad. It has rarely faced much pressure to really reinvent itself in order to contain costs. For example, Marguerite Roza explains that schools have long suffered from something called "Baumal's disease," in which costs rise for lack of innovation. (Whereas firms in other industries become more efficient by replacing labor with technology, for example.)

Dillon's article implies a day of reckoning is at hand. He writes:

Driving the layoffs was

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Eric Ulas

Education Week features an insightful new study that finds excellent teachers tend to raise the performance of their peers.

We've known for a long time that great teachers matter hugely to student performance but showing a ???spillover effect' of teachers on other teachers has the potential to influence attitudes and practices in several important policy areas; primarily teacher merit pay and mentoring programs.

C. Kirabo Jackson, one of the study's authors noted:

If it's true that teachers are learning from their peers, and the effects are not small, then we want to make sure that any incentive system we put in place is going to be fostering that and not preventing it. If you give the reward at the individual level, all of a sudden my peers are no longer my colleagues-they're my competitors. If you give it at the school level, then you're going to foster feelings of team membership, and that increases the incentive to work together and help each other out.

A team-based performance incentive system is an intriguing idea that critics of individual merit-based pay might see as middle ground.

The results of this study can also be applied to teacher mentoring programs. Recent studies have shown that highly structured teacher mentoring programs have marginal effectiveness. But in seeing evidence that top-notch teachers affect peers, might it be possible that more informal mentoring programs would produce better results?

Having experienced a highly structured mentoring program in an urban...

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The Education Gadfly

The Q&N took a little break but it's back--with a whopper.

Quotable:

"[Arne] Duncan apparently thinks that you can just demand and command improvement. He wants to replace everyone ... except the ones who matter, the children. They are unmotivated and lazy. Yes, there are many incompetent and idiotic and mean administrators who need to go. There are even some bad teachers, but these are really rare. The problem starts with the students. What is Duncan going to do with some so-called students who act like miscreants each day?"--John Trotter, chairman of Atlanta Metro Association of Classroom Educators

AJC: Learning Curve: Necessary roughness?

Notable:

53: Percentage of administrators whose schools received federal stimulus money who??said they were nevertheless unable to avoid cutting core subjects and special education teaching positions, according to an online survey.

Education Week: Administrators Detail Spending From Stimulus (subscription required)

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The Cincinnati Enquirer reported on Friday that Cincinnati Public Schools will be the focus of a study by The New Teacher Project (TNTP). TNTP will analyze teachers' contracts in hopes of proposing policy changes in a report scheduled to come out a few weeks before the district's contract expires with the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.

There are two reasons this is such exciting news. First, TNTP is well known for creating effective partnerships with urban districts and churning out reports that can improve district staffing practices immensely.?? Cincinnati Public Schools could greatly benefit from this. For two of TNTP's very impressive reports that offer recommendations on improving district staffing procedures, see Missed Opportunities and Unintended Consequences.

The second reason to be excited is simply that Ohio needs more partnerships with groups like TNTP, whose consultants can offer a great deal of insight on how?? to improve?? teacher hiring, firing, recruitment and retention procedures (much needed in a place like Cincinnati). TNTP also can circulate innovative ideas - all the more important in a state like Ohio, which isn't keen on brands such as Teach For America, or robust alternative teacher/principal programs that spur entrepreneurialism in districts that need it.

Admittedly, there is no guarantee that Cincinnati Public Schools will take TNTP's recommendations to heart, or that the district's staffing practices will improve enough to have a tangible impact on student achievement. But it's like getting excited when a new restaurant comes to town,...

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How will stimulus dollars affect union contracts? It's a question remaining to be answered and at the heart of??this New Yorker piece on the Big Apple's Rubber Rooms. Therein, Steven Brill weaves a tale that will make you laugh--or cry--about a few colorful characters who currently sit in teacher detention on charges of misconduct and/or incompetence. He also raises some interesting questions, like how seniority and tenure will hold back a system like New York's from getting some of Arne Duncan's Race to the Top kitty. But whether you're looking for a piquant narrative or a more serious discussion of the consequences of a calicified system, this article is a good read.

For past??Gadfly coverage of the famed Rubber Rooms, see??here and??here.

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Laura Pohl

Students at Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) , one of the six charter schools Fordham authorizes in Ohio, file out of school on Monday. Like so many other charters around the United States, CCA holds classes in an unconventional building: the Seventh Avenue Community Baptist Church. Watch Flypaper this week for more photographs and multimedia from CCA.

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Thomas Friedman wrote of golfer Tom Watson's run at this year's British Open, "Watson makes us feel like 59 is the new 30." I read this inspiring piece about Watson's near victory over the world's greatest golfers, many of whom are half his age, while travelling back from a truly depressing - but incredibly important - conference innocuously titled "Educator Staffing, Quality, and Teacher Retirement Benefit Systems." The conference, the brainchild of economists Mike Podgursky and Bob Costrell , was sponsored by the Southwest Regional Education Laboratory Regional Education Laboratory - Southwest and examined how teacher retirement systems might be used to improve educator retention and recruitment.

Costrell captured the perverse incentives facing teacher pension systems with his slide that showed:

  • Pension "spike" "pulls" some teachers to stay on the job into their 50s, to receive enhanced benefits (an incentive to "put in your time").
  • Pension "valley" (or "cliff") "pushes" some teachers out, by mid to late 50s (Tom Watson's age) to begin first draw (losing pension payments by staying on the job).

Tom Carroll , President of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, took this issue further, noting that 53 percent of teachers in America are baby boomers and we face a "tsunami of teacher retirements" in the next five years. It is damaging to America's students and age discriminatory, he argues, that states are encouraging waves of relatively...

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Alex Klein

Quotable

"Am I optimistic that they can avoid it? I am not." --Ray Graves, a retired bankruptcy judge who has been advising Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools' emergency financial manager

WSJ: Detroit Schools on the Brink

Notable

1554 : The number of New York City public school teachers given the rating of "unsatisfactory" this year. The 2005-2006 school year saw 981 get that rating. Overall, about 2 percent of the teachers, both tenured and not tenured, received a "U" rating this year.

GothamSchools: More than 500 extra teachers rated "unsatisfactory" this year

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Ohio's legislature agreed this week to a $50.5 billion biennial state budget and Governor Strickland is expected to sign the bill by week's end.???? When it comes to education policy, there is a lot to dislike about this bill, from the adoption of an "evidence-based" model of school funding to the mucking up of the state's academic content standards with so-called 21st Century skills.???? But when it comes to teacher tenure and retention policies, the Buckeye State's leaders got something right.

The bill moves teacher tenure decisions from the third year of teaching to the seventh.???? According to the National Council on Teacher Quality's TR3 database, when this bill becomes law Ohio will have the longest time before tenure of any tenure-granting state. ????The budget also raises the bar for dismissing teachers to bring it in-line with that of other public employees. Currently, tenured teachers can only be let go for "gross immorality or inefficiency," a hard thing to prove that results in either costly, drawn-out litigation or teachers remaining in the classroom who just shouldn't be there. The budget bill will allow districts to fire teachers for "just cause," the same as their fellow unionized public employees.

As I said before, these changes alone aren't going to rid Ohio's classrooms of bad teachers, but they are smart and fair improvements that should enhance educator quality in Ohio....

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