October 2008 Archives

Here's an update on the Philadelphia teacher-contract negotiations: The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the district agreed to extend the current agreement by a year. PFT members will get a 4 percent increase next March. "Both parties have identified a number of areas of common concern that we will be working together to address such as: providing a safe environment in and around schools for students and staff; developing targeted and fiscally responsible approaches to reducing class size; improving teacher quality by recruiting and retaining qualified and effective teachers and improving both evaluation and support of them; insuring that teacher ...


The Institute of Education Sciences has quietly released a study that's almost guaranteed to cause a lot of chatter if not outright controversy in the eduworld. According to the study, the two comprehensive programs studied in their first year—one from the Princeton, N.J.-based ETS and one from the New Teacher Center, in Santa Cruz, Calif.—did not improve student achievement, rates of teacher rentention, or teacher practices. Comprehensive induction programs, unlike the informal, often unfunded "buddy systems" common to districts, provide training for mentors, support "release time" for teachers and mentors to meet on a weekly basis,...


That's a famous line from The Wizard of OZ, and it's basically at the heart of this story in the Washington Post about the D.C. contract negotiations. According to a letter sent by AFT President Randi Weingarten to WTU President George Parker, back in July, Parker had requested that AFT not be involved in the negotiations. But concerns about the then-tight relationship between Parker and D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee, along with complaints from local members about the two-tiered pay proposal has caused the AFT to watch the negotiations quite closely. The national union commissioned a private poll of ...


Yesterday's testy education debate between Barack Obama's education adviser, Linda Darling-Hammond, and John McCain's education aide, Lisa Graham Keegan, got even testier when subjects like teacher performance pay and alternative-preparation routes like Teach For America cropped up. (To watch the whole debate at Teachers' College, register here). On performance pay, the fight came down to which one is better: a career-ladder and peer-evaluation approach that Darling-Hammond touted, or a let's-pay-teachers-who-raise-student-scores approach that Keegan held up. Calling performance pay a "key part" of McCain's education program, Keegan described a plan in which school principals should be the people in charge of ...


Over at Swift & Change Able, Charlie Barone takes on California's focus (or lack thereof ) on teacher-quality initiatives, drawing on the Center on Education Policy's reports on school restructuring and the Renee v.Spellings lawsuit on the "highly qualified" teacher definition. The state has long tussled with federal legislators on teacher quality. Its 1996 class-size program caused big hiring problems for poorer districts, reportedly angering Congressman George Miller, D-Calif., who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee. The state's initial definition of highly qualified was deemed inappropriate by the Education Department. More recently, California districts have been accused of taking underqualified ...


Randi Weingarten has taken issue with my saying in an earlier blog post that the New York City performance-pay plan had been "forced down the throat" of the United Federation of Teachers. In a phone conversation this week, Weingarten emphasized that she was the one who took the initiative to the table. "I negotiated the plan and I believe that the plan actually helped us prove to the school system that collaboration is a key ingredient to school success," said Weingarten, who, as my earlier blog post pointed out, has always spoken very positively about the plan in public. As ...


Portfoliogate has just come up as a big issue in the campaign (see Mike Petrilli here and my colleague Michele McNeil here). It's great to see such a wonky topic outside the field attracting attention. Of course, I want to hear more discussion about the teacher implications. And it seems that like so much else in education, this is a matter of tradeoffs: Portfolio assessments certainly have the potential to give teachers richer information about student achievement than standardized tests alone. But they are also a lot of work for teachers to create and to score. Nebraska, the only state ...


According to this story, Georgia is granting waivers to districts that don't have the money to hire extra teachers to meet its caps of 20 students in kindergarten, 21 in grades 1-3, and 28 in grades 4-8. This means that schools no longer have to hire additional educators if they exceed the caps by just a few students. As I reported earlier this year, Florida, even before the economic crisis reached its current proportions, suspended the final stage of its mandatory class-size reduction program. California districts were also expected to forgo voluntary class-size subsidies. I'm told most districts try to ...


A federal judge has ruled that New York City can prevent teachers from wearing political buttons in schools. The city's powerful teachers' union had filed a lawsuit Oct. 10 claiming that teachers' free speech rights were being violated when the school system asked principals to enforce a district policy banning them from wearing such buttons. Read our previous blog post here. There was a partial victory for the union, however. Judge Lewis Kaplan said teachers may post political content on their union bulletin boards in areas that are closed to students, and that materials about candidates may be put in ...


There were some heartbreaking scenes in Dallas yesterday when 375 teachers were called out of their classrooms and handed pink slips as the cash-strapped district carried through a massive layoff designed to cut costs. Read the news story about the layoff and the personal account of a teacher who lost her job in the Dallas Morning News here and here. Superintendent Michael Hinojosa called it "a day of tremendous sadness" for the school system. Dallas previously fired hundreds of district employees, all part of a plan to avoid a projected $84 million budget shortfall....


Supporters of Chancellor Michelle Rhee's two-tiered pay system are planning a demonstration at the union's headquarters on Oct. 22. They plan to press Washington Teachers Union President George Parker to bring the contract to a vote. And over at D.C. Teacher Chic, there's a link to a petition to the same end. In the past, Parker has said he can't submit the proposal until a tentative contract has been hammered out. Right now, the D.C. contract negotations are at a stalemate. As Ms. Rhee skyrockets to national attention, the contract is increasingly being viewed as a litmus test ...


Over at NCLB: Act II, my colleague David Hoff makes a great point about the new Century Foundation volume on reforming NCLB. With all the focus on accountability, there's not much discussion of the law's teacher-quality provisions, he writes. And they are important: NCLB was the first version of ESEA to set a minimum teacher-qualification standard for poor schools. Here's a list of what will likely be the big teacher issues to be hammered out in the NCLB reauthorization. 1. The "Highly Qualified" Designation: Most teachers are now highly qualified. However, there was a brief controversy in 2006 when the ...


So John McCain wants to cut back on teacher-certification standards. And then he wants to weed out the bad teachers. Here's his quote from last night's debate: "We need to encourage programs such as Teach For America and Troops to Teachers where people, after having served in the military, can go right to teaching and not have to take these examinations which — or have the certification that some are required in some states." At another point he said, "We need to find bad teachers another line of work." So what he's saying is that we admit anyone without checks and...


I went to a roundtable discussion last week on performance-pay programs hosted by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. In attendance were representatives from a variety of programs, including several of the Teacher Incentive Fund grants. The attendees brought up a number of interesting challenges they face as they implement their programs. I've listed several of the key themes below. 1. Transitions. Mark Bounds, the teacher-quality leader for South Carolina, noted that a new pay structure can be hard to swallow for teachers who have put in 20 or 30 years under an old system. The systems must allow for some ...


An Associated Press story this week said the Tucson school district has launched a $550,000 effort to recruit more minority teachers with the hope of diversifying its staff and giving minority students a better chance of seeing themselves as part of the education system. Not surprisingly, the move is spurred by the fact that the district sees a disconnect between the numbers of teachers belonging to racial and ethnic minority groups and students from these groups. Districts have for decades worried about the difficulties of attracting minority teachers, and some have launched aggressive efforts to do so. Many observers ...


A teachers' association that calls itself nonpartisan says it is organizing thousands of teachers to march to the nation's capital this Saturday to protest "teacher abuse" by administrators. Myra Sawyers, who heads the Virginia-based Educators for Progressive Instructional Change, says that teachers are tired of being "not respected and the poor compensation." With the elections around the corner, this appeared to be a good time to draw attention to the topic, she said. "Teachers are being harassed, demeaned, and they are never given serious attention because the powers-that-be shut them down," she said. Now while none of those sound like ...


It seemed inevitable that these tough economic times would eventually affect teachers in cash-strapped school districts. Now comes news that the Dallas school district, facing an $84 million shortfall this fiscal year, has decided to lay off nearly 1,100 employees, including about 550 teachers. More than 400 of the lost jobs, according to the Associated Press, include teachers in the core-subject areas of mathematics, science, social studies, and English. An additional 500 employees—such as teacher aides, hall monitors, and clerks—will also be cut. Superintendent Michael Hinojosa has promised a "deliberate and thoughtful" process in determining which teachers ...


New York City teachers have taken to federal court their fight against a school district policy that bans teachers from wearing campaign pins in schools, saying it violates their rights to free speech and political expression. The United Federation of Teachers today filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Manhattan seeking a temporary restraining order against the policy, which, according to the UFT, has been on the books but has not been followed for decades. But on Oct. 1, city schools Chancellor Joel Klein asked principals in an e-mail to enforce it. UFT President Randi Weingarten told reporters ...


American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is not too happy about a recent New York Times article on D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee's proposed performance-pay plan for teachers, which she says falls way short of a merit-pay plan Weingarten signed off on in New York City earlier this year. In a letter to the newspaper that appeared this morning, Weingarten, who also heads the United Federation of Teachers in New York, says the plan "that you applaud is one that Chancellor Rhee intends to impose upon teachers, not one that she hopes to develop with teachers." Rhee's plan, she ...


Eduwonkette has an interesting post up about the dismissal of a popular Wilson High School teacher. She suggests that this situation shows the weakness in D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's strategy to permit principals more say over the hiring, firing, and remediation of teachers. If principals can't be trusted to make evaluative decisions about teachers, or if those decisions are too subjective, then what should these evaluations be based on? Teachers have some real concerns with supposedly objective measures of their performance, too. For good reason: Researchers are still trying to figure out the best methodologies for using standardized ...


It's a frequent complaint by Washington policy types: Too little is known about local collective bargaining processes and local media don't pay enough attention to negotations until contracts are finalized. In Philadelphia, students are protesting in an attempt to bring attention to the contract's effects on teacher distribution, according to this story. The students say the district and union are not paying enough attention to equitably distributing "highly qualified," experienced teachers across the district. "I've seen students cut class and come to my classroom to avoid bad teachers," the Philadelphia Inquirer article quotes one student as saying. "The system of ...


Like sands through the hourglass, so continues the soap opera of the D.C. teacher-contract negotiations. The contract hinges on a "red"/"green" tier proposal that would give green-tier teachers the opportunity to earn $20,000 annually in performance bonuses, contingent on their forgoing tenure for a year. The red tier resembles the traditional system of salary boosts. The contract also would formally dismantle seniority for teacher hiring and transfers. DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee, evidently tired of the stalemate between her district and the Washington Teachers Union, announced this morning her plans to move forward with an alternate "Plan B" ...


New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to try for a third term in office. American Federation of Teachers/United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten responds: "Personally, I have always been opposed to term limits, as has this union. I am also, as are so many people, very concerned about the economy, and I am grateful the mayor is willing to step up. That said, I am very concerned, given that New Yorkers have twice spoken about this issue in referendums, and because of that, I think the most democratic way to change term limits is to go ...


The McCain-Obama war has made it into the classroom. Teachers at a California high school will no longer wear "Educators for Obama" buttons after a parent who supports John McCain complained. John Hadley says the teachers at his 16-year-old daughter's school in Soquel, Calif., were attempting to politically influence students. In California, educators can wear political buttons at work except during classroom instruction, unless the matter has a direct bearing on an education issue, such as a proposed school bond or contract matter. But the state also allows districts to set limits on the political activities of teachers during the ...


I recently did a story on two states, Idaho and Georgia, that are moving to standardize their teacher-evaluation processes through the use of performance-based frameworks. These frameworks spell out what good teaching should look like and what types of evidence evaluators should consider in making determinations about teacher performance. One of the subtexts that I didn't get to explore fully in this story concerns whether student- achievement data should be part of these evaluations. It's a tough question that runs parallel to the debate over the place of test scores in performance-pay programs. One of the teacher-evaluation experts I spoke ...


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