Rick fades in the fourth quarter

Mike and Rick ponder the future of teacher unions and the College Board while Amber provides the key points from a recent CDC study and wonders if the kids are alright after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2011 by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Total recall

Mike and Janie discuss the fallout from the Wisconsin recall election and teacher unions’ image problem, while Amber explains what we can learn from the best CMOs.

Amber's Research Minute

Managing Talent for School Coherence: Learning from Charter Management Organizations by CRPE & Mathematica DOWNLOAD PDF

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...

Historically, teacher evaluations have been “nothing burgers,” with nearly 100 percent of educators rated “satisfactory” or better (often based on a single classroom observation, if that). These empty-calorie appraisals of educator effectiveness keep the teaching profession plump—but don’t provide the right regimen to ensure its health. Recently, however, some have begun changing their diets. This report from Public Impact, 50CAN, and ConnCAN offers detailed profiles of ten meaty programs: Delaware, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Hillsborough County (Tampa), Houston, New Haven, Pittsburgh, D.C., Achievement First, and Relay Graduate School of Education. (Why CO's Harrison School District 2 wasn’t included, we’re unsure.) It explains how each handles all aspects of teacher assessment, from student-achievement measures and classroom observations to nonacademic measures; data accuracy, validity, and reliability; and evaluation-result reporting. Tennessee, for example, gathered teams of educators in each of the subjects not on state tests (and therefore not available for value-added analyses) to determine growth measures for these courses. And, to handle the sticky situation of team teaching, Rhode Island weights value-added results to reflect the amount of time each teacher spends with a student. Those hungry...

“We’ve got it; let’s spend it!” seemed to be the motto of most state pension program in the 1990s.

“We’ve got it; let’s spend it!” seemed to be the motto of most state pension program in the 1990s. After finding surpluses in these kitties, most states beefed up their pension benefits (called “benefit enhancement”)—as opposed to putting the money in the bank. In Missouri—as this new study by pension guru Michael Podgursky and colleagues explains—these sweeteners included, but were not limited to, upping basic payouts (by tweaking the calculation of final average salaries), raising the cap on the cost-of-living adjustments (twice), and adding a retroactive bonus for career teachers (those with thirty-one-plus year of service). The state, and its current teachers, are now paying dearly for the spending spree. Podgursky and co. examined personnel data from 1995 through 2009 from the Missouri Dept of Ed and the Public Service Retirement system to determine the impact of these policies. They estimate that the net immediate increase in pension benefits for educators was roughly $25,000 per teacher (double that if the promised increases are factored in). However, these benefits were distributed highly unevenly: Teachers on the cusp of retirement saw “large windfall...

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?"