Teachers

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.

Does it matter where public-school teachers send their own children to school? If so, how and why? What can we learn from them?

What we are grappling with here is the question of connoisseurship. Stock analysts, for example, watch carefully when corporate directors buy or sell the stock of companies on whose boards they serve.

Similarly, we can assume that no one knows the condition and quality of public schools better than teachers who work in them every day. If these teachers are more likely than the general public (which may not have nearly as much information or expertise in these matters) to send their own daughters and sons to the public schools in which they teach, it is a strong vote of confidence in those schools. If they do not, then we might reasonably conclude that those in the best position to know are signaling a strong "sell" about public education in their communities.

This report, published jointly by the Fordham Institute and The Broad Foundation, contends that American public education faces a "crisis in leadership" that cannot be alleviated from traditional sources of school principals and superintendents. Its signers do not believe this crisis can be fixed by conventional strategies for preparing, certifying and employing education leaders. Instead, they urge that first-rate leaders be sought outside the education field, earn salaries on par with their peers in other professions, and gain new authority over school staffing, operations and budgets.

Will the sanctions for failing schools laid out in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) succeed in turning those schools around? This report draws on the results of previous?efforts to overhaul failing schools to provide a glimpse at what may be expected from NCLB-style interventions. The results:?no intervention strategy has a success rate greater than 50%, so policymakers are urged to consider additional options for children trapped in failing schools.

When schools are held accountable for results and freed from red tape governing personnel decisions, they take advantage of their freedom by adopting innovative strategies for hiring and rewarding teachers, according to this new report by economists Michael Podgursky and Dale Ballou. This study is based on a survey administered to a random sample of 132 public charter schools that have been operating for at least three years.

Why does our system of teacher certification emphasize training in pedagogy rather than subject-matter knowledge? The answer can be found in this report, which traces the emergence of state control over teacher certification. The focus is on efforts by the teacher education establishment to gain monopoly control over the licensing of teachers.

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