Teachers

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.

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...

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.

In the era of No Child Left Behind, principals are increasingly held accountable for student performance. But are teacher labor agreements giving them enough flexibility to manage effectively? The Leadership Limbo: Teacher Labor Agreements in America's Fifty Largest School Districts, answers this question and others.

    The main findings:

    • Thirty, or more than half, of the 50 districts have labor agreements that are ambiguous. The collective bargaining agreements and the formal board policies in these districts appear to grant leaders substantial leeway to manage assertively, should they so choose.
    • Fifteen of the 50 districts are home to Restrictive or Highly Restrictive labor agreements. Nearly 10 percent of the nation's African-American K-12 students population attend school in the 15 lowest-scoring districts-making these contracts major barriers to more equal educational opportunity.
    • The study also found that districts with high concentrations of poor and minority students tend to have more restrictive contracts than other districts-another alarming indication of inequity along racial and class lines.
    • The labor agreements of the nation's 50 largest districts are particularly restrictive when it comes to work rules.
    • Most of these agreements are also quite restrictive when it comes to rewarding teachers for service in hard-to-staff subject areas such as math and science, with 31 actually prohibiting districts from doing so.

    Individual District Reports

    Albuquerque Public Schools (NM)
    Anne Arundel County Public Schools (MD)
    ...

    At first glance, the explosive growth of "alternative" teacher certification--which is supposed to allow able individuals to teach in public schools without first passing through a college of education--appears to be one of the great success stories of modern education reform. From negligible numbers twenty years ago, alternatively prepared candidates now account for almost one in five new teachers nationwide. That's a "market share" of nearly 20 percent. As longtime supporters of alternative certification, we should be popping champagne, declaring victory, and plotting our next big win, right? Not so fast. As the old cliché says, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

    "Alternative Certification Isn't Alternative" reveals that alternative certification programs, contrary to their original mission, have not provided a real alternative to traditional education schools. In fact, they represent a significant setback for education reform advocates.

    Here are the report's main points:

    • Entry standards are abysmally low: Two-thirds of the programs surveyed accept half or more of their teacher applicants; one-quarter accept virtually everyone who applies.
    • Rather than providing streamlined and effective coursework, about a third of the programs require at least 30 hours of education school courses-the same amount needed for a Master's degree.
    • Most disturbing, nearly 70 percent of alternative programs studied in the report are run by education schools themselves. Education schools have kept their market monopoly by moving into the alternative certification business.

    In short, policymakers, reform advocates, and philanthropists who think they have "won" the battle in favor of...

    Dating to 1920, Ohio's State Teacher Retirement System (STRS) is the oldest of the Buckeye State's five public pension systems. It now covers close to half a million members--active, inactive, and retired--or one member for every ten Ohio households.

    Despite its long history and prodigious size, all is not well with Ohio's teacher pension system. In this Fordham Institute report, nationally renowned economists Robert Costrell and Mike Podgursky illuminate some of the serious challenges facing STRS.

    Among the report's findings are serious questions about the system's long-term health and sustainability. STRS is becoming increasingly expensive for all contributors. Employees contribute 10 percent of their earnings to the pension fund and employers contribute 14 percent, for a total contribution of 24 percent. This total has drifted up from 10 percent since 1945. Yet this is still insufficient to meet the state's funding goals: the system's unfunded liability is $19.4 billion, which represents a debt of over $4,300 per Ohio household. This liability far exceeds that of the state's other four public pension systems combined, despite the fact that STRS's membership is little more than one-third of those systems.

    A system that is so large and increasingly costly should meet basic public policy requirements of transparency and efficiency. Sadly, the system fails to meet either requirement: it lacks transparency, and its incentives are perverse. As a result, Ohio's pension system almost certainly hinders rather than helps in the recruitment and retention of a highly qualified teaching workforce.

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    Public school principals encounter a sizable gap between the autonomy they believe they need to be effective and the autonomy that they actually have in practice, especially when it comes to hiring, firing, and transferring teachers. That's a key finding of this report from the Fordham Institute and the American Institutes for Research, which is based on a series of interviews with a small sample of district and charter-school principals. Regrettably if understandably, many district principals have also come to accept this "autonomy gap" as a fact of life. They learn to work the system, not change the system.

    Full reports on each state in the study as well as just charter schools across all three states are available only online:

    The nation’s leading teacher educators made a startling admission last year in their tome, Studying Teacher Education, by conceding there’s little evidence that what happens in ed schools helps in the K-12 classroom. But more astonishing, writes Kate Walsh in Fordham’s Teacher Education: Coming Up Empty, is that the professoriate ignores the most pressing education problem of our time, the achievement gap. “Had the panel asserted that teacher education should be the front line in the nation’s war against the achievement gap,” Walsh writes, “it could have made a sound case for justifying the existence of the profession. Instead, it passes on this mandate to help right educational inequities, and thus consigns itself to irrelevance.

    The standards of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Excellence (NCATE) are of critical import for America's future teaching corps and for K-12 education in general and will wield disproportionate influence for decades to come. Over the past fifteen years, 25 states have outsourced the approval of teacher preparation programs to NCATE by adopting or adapting its standards as their own; the other 25 have various "partnerships" with the organization. Which makes it all the more disturbing that central to these standards is the call for teachers to possess certain "dispositions" such as particular attitudes toward "social justice." As Professor William Damon of Stanford University explains in Fordham's latest Fwd: Arresting Insights in Education, NCATE's framing of the "dispositions" issue has given education schools "unbounded power over what candidates may think and do." This is leading to (understandable) charges of ideological arm-twisting and Orwellian mind-control. A must-read for state policy makers and others, who might reconsider whether being accredited by NCATE is evidence of quality or something far more sinister.

    In just more than five years, Mary Anne Stanton has led 13 Catholic schools from high-poverty Washington, D.C. neighborhoods into a consortium that has not only strengthened each school's financial health, but has also greatly improved the academic performance of the children the schools are charged with educating. To get there, she's installed a new standards-based curriculum, shaken up old bureaucratic approaches, and streamlined operations. In its latest Fwd: Arresting Insights in Education, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation presents a compelling story of just how much change can be made by one determined school leader with a vision.

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