For all of its victories over the last couple of years, including Scott Walker’s on Tuesday night, the school reform movement finds itself in a pickle. To succeed in creating world-class schools and raising student achievement, it needs education’s front line workers—a.k.a. teachers—to feel motivated, empowered, and inspired. And yet, according to the recent MetLife survey and anecdotal reports, many teachers are down in the dumps.

Sure, low morale might simply reflect tough economic times; when (or if) state and local coffers finally recover, higher morale might too. But let’s be honest: The message we reformers are sending isn’t all peace, love, and happiness, and that’s probably having an impact, and not for the better.

The message we reformers are sending isn’t all peace, love, and happiness, and that’s probably having an impact, and not for the better.

We think many teachers are dumb (look at those SAT scores!); greedy (look at those gold-plated healthcare and pension plans!); racist (look at those achievement gaps!); lazy (look at those summers off!); ill-prepared (look at those crappy ed schools!); uncaring (look at all that bullying!); unnecessary (look at what computers can do!); and incompetent (look at those low value-added...

Chicago Teachers Union members began voting yesterday on whether to authorize a walkout, potentially strengthening CTU President Karen Lewis’s hand in contract negotiations with Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Public Schools. Even with an affirmative vote, a strike is not guaranteed, but the union and district remain divided over class size and compensation (pay raises, merit pay, pay for a longer school day) and the conflict grows more complex daily as outside advocacy groups join the fray and hizzoner’s star continues its rise. The timing of the vote is revealing: As the Chicago Tribune pointed out, “taking the vote now will allow 1,500 retiring teachers—most of them union stalwarts—a chance to vote as well.” This not-insignificant cohort of the CTU’s nearly 30,000 members could be counted on to toe the line, so the union did the stretching necessary to ensure that loyalists got to cast their ballots. Regardless of whether the union ends up walking out on students next fall, such maneuvering is telling: As the teaching force greys and its faith in unions dwindles, catering to the whims of veterans who benefit the most from the status quo puts the CTU (and the AFT and...

For more than 20 years, Teach For America (TFA) has taught children in some of America’s toughest schools. In August TFA will have teachers in the Buckeye State for the first time. Last summer Governor John Kasich signed legislation that permitted TFA to place 90 teachers in 14 Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky schools over the next three years. Partner districts and schools include Cincinnati Public Schools, Covington Independent Public in Northern Kentucky, and Dayton-area charter schools (two sponsored by Fordham).

TFA officially launched in Southwest Ohio in late May when over 30 corps members spent the week in Cincinnati and Dayton visiting schools and acclimating themselves to the communities they will be working in. Corps members had the opportunity to meet with parents, teachers, and school leaders from communities in and around Cincinnati and Dayton.

At one orientation event, hosted by Dayton View Academy—a charter which will have two TFA teachers in 2012-13—Dayton community leaders discussed the city’s history, education challenges, and the potential for TFA to be a driving force for educational improvement. Ben Lindy, TFA’s southwest Ohio executive director, led the conversation between the corps members and Daytonians. Community leaders such as Dr. Tom Lasley, former dean...

Teachers have undoubtedly suffered financially in recent years. The pain has largely been borne by early-career teachers in the form of layoffs, pension cuts, and pay freezes. In the D.C. area, where fiscal pressure is starting to ease, raises are coming back—good, but not great news for young teachers.

The good news is that school boards in Montgomery County, Arlington, and other districts are increasing pay instead of cutting class sizes, despite opposition from parents. The cost in Fairfax County was a one-pupil increase in the student-teacher ratio.

Across-the-board raises help experienced teachers much more than others.

Across-the-board raises help experienced teachers much more than others, however. In absolute dollars, a 4 or 5 percent raise on an $85 or 90 thousand salary dwarfs the equivalent increase a first-year teacher sees on $40K. For districts that are among the nation's front-runners in teacher evaluation and the development of meaningful career paths, across the board raises are a disappointing sop to the status quo.

District leaders who are looking for next-generation models to apply in their own schools could do worse than consider Public Impact's recent recommendations. Its recent whitepaper sketches a variety of career paths that would...

Pricing the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost States and Districts?

Pricing the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost States and Districts?

The Common Core is coming, with forty-five states and the District of Columbia challenged to implement these new standards. Yet mystery surrounds how much this will cost states (and districts)—and whether the payoff will justify the price.

On May 30, the Fordham Institute will peek behind that curtain with a lively panel discussion of "Pricing the Common Core." Taking part will be former Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith, Achieve President Mike Cohen, former Department of Education official Ze'ev Wurman, and University of San Francisco professor Patrick J. Murphy, who will present the findings of a new Fordham study that he co-authored. It estimates the dollar cost of the implementation process for each participating state—and shows how the pricetag varies depending on the approach a state selects.

The Price of the Common Core

The Price of the Common Core

The Common Core State Standards will soon be driving instruction in forty-five states and the District of Columbia.

While the standards are high quality, getting their implementation right is a real challenge—and it won't be free, a serious concern given the tight budgets of many districts and states.
But while critics have warned of a hefty price tag, the reality is more complicated.

Yes, some states may end up spending a lot of money. But there are also opportunities for significant savings if states, districts and schools use this occasion to rethink their approach to test administration, instructional materials and training for teachers. The key is that states have options, and implementation doesn't need to look (or cost) the same everywhere.

States could approach implementation in myriad ways. Here are three:

• One, stick to "Business as usual" and use traditional tools like textbooks, paper tests, and in-person training. These tools are very familiar in today's education system, but they can come with reasonably high price tags.
• Two, go with only the "bare bones" of what's necessary: Experiment with open-source materials, computerized assessments, and online professional development in ways that provide the bare bones of more traditional, in-person approaches. This could save major coin, but could require more technology investment and capacity for some states.
• Or, three, find a middle ground through "balanced implementation" of both strategies, which offers some of the benefits—and downsides—of each model.

But how much money are we talking? Take Florida: 

If Florida sticks to business as usual, it could spend $780 million implementing the Common Core. Under the bare bones approach, the tab could be only $183 million. A blend of the two? $318 million.

But that's the total cost; don't forget states are already spending billions of dollars each year on textbooks, tests, curricula, and other expenses. Look at it that way and the sticker shock wears off: The estimated net cost of putting the Common Core in place in the Sunshine State, for example, ranges from $530 million to roughly $67 million less than what we estimate that they are spending now. 

Each implementation approach has its merits—and drawbacks—but states and districts do have options for smartly adopting the Common Core without breaking the bank. Further, they could use this opportunity to create efficiencies via cross-state collaborations and other innovations.

To learn more, download "Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost?"

Amercia the Beautiful

Mike and Rick break down the flaws in the latest Race to the Top and explain why Obama and Duncan really aren’t twins when it comes to ed policy. In her Research Minute, Amber analyzes Podgursky’s latest insights on pensions.

Amber's Research Minute

Who Benefits from Pension Enhancements? by Cory Koedel, Shawn Ni, Michael Podgursky

Collecting student-level data is a necessity for schools and districts looking to track and improve achievement. But it is not sufficient. To realize the transformative power of data, teachers must know how to analyze and utilize this information to inform instruction. Yet teacher-preparation programs provide woefully inadequate training on this front, according to this National Council on Teacher Quality report. The authors evaluated 455 courses in 180 undergraduate and graduate teacher-prep programs along three needed “areas of knowledge”: assessment literacy (whether the course teaches how to measure student performance), analytical skills (whether it teaches how to analyze data), and instructional decision-making (whether it informs the use of data to plan instruction). The upshot: Teacher-preparation programs are doing a lousy job on all of these fronts. NCTQ offers recommendations to rectify this situation. For example, the federal government should invest in research, states should tighten the accountability screws on these programs, and foundations should develop institutional datasets on which prospective teachers can practice during the course of their prep programs. Most interesting is the recommendation that districts leverage their hiring power to influence the syllabi and course-offerings of...

The race is on!

Mike and Education Sector’s John Chubb analyze Mitt Romney’s brand-new education plan and what RTTT will look like for districts. Amber considers whether competition among schools really spurs improvement.

Amber's Research Minute

Heterogeneous Competitive Effects of Charter Schools in Milwaukee

The New Teacher Project's (TNTP) Greenhouse Schools considers the link between a school’s instructional culture and both teacher retention and student achievement. TNTP surveyed 4,800 teachers in 250 schools nationwide (including charter schools) to determine what it calls “greenhouse schools”, or schools that nurture a great learning environment. These schools prioritize quality educators above all else, in attempts to foster the best learning environment possible. TNTP found that “greenhouse schools” keep more top teachers and get better results for students compared to schools with weaker instructional culture. The report then looks at what those schools are doing differently.

Based on its study, TNTP suggests that these are the principles for improving schools, using strong instructional culture as a foundation:

  • Teachers desire strong instructional culture. It helps to retain quality teachers and fosters a better learning environment where educators share the same vision and goals.
  • Schools with better instructional cultures help students learn more efficiently. The report found that greenhouse schools had a 21 percentage point higher math score and a 14 percentage points higher score in reading, compared to schools with weaker instructional culture.
  • Schools leaders who hire early and selectively tend to attract the highest quality teachers. Investing
  • ...