February 2009 Archives

Teacher Provisions in the FY 2010 Budget

President Obama's budget request for FY 2010 contains a couple of interesting tidbits relating to teachers. The administration says it wants to : --Strengthen and increase transparency around teacher and principal preparation programs; --Implement systems that reward teacher performance, help less-effective teachers improve or, if they don't improve, exit the classroom; --Support community-based education through the creation of Promise Neighborhoods similar to the Harlem Children's Zone, which combined rigorous education standards with wraparound support services for students. There aren't any figures or line items, so we don't yet know if these are new programs or tweaks to existing programs. For example, ...


Improving Alternative Certification

Today, the Center for American Progress released a paper about how states could work to improve alternative certification programs, and it explores the fundamental tension that such programs face: Ensuring that these programs both fit the needs of people who want to enter teaching (i.e., with flexible hours and a faster pathway to teaching), but also appropriately prepare candidates for success in classrooms. It builds on a 2007 report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, which found that many alternative-certification programs are alternative in name only. Such programs, that report found, have similar coursework loads, don't necessarily provide ...


Philly's Ackerman Seeks Power to Transfer Teachers

Philadelphia superintendent Arlene Ackerman recently unveiled her Imagine 2014 initiative. Part of this education-reform plan includes closing and restructuring a number of low-performing schools around instructional models with "proven track records" for success. These schools will be deemed Renaissance Schools. One thing you might not have picked up on from local reports on this, however, is that some of these Renaissance schools will be converted to charters. As such, they'll have more flexibility in hiring staff and will not be subject to the seniority and transfer rules in the district's collective bargaining agreement. The president of the Philadelphia Federation of ...


Unions Dismayed by Supreme Court Ruling

From Guest Blogger Liana Heitin On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Idaho state law that bans local governments from allowing unions to collect political contributions through payroll deductions. Labor unions contended that the 2003 law violated their free speech rights. Following the 6-3 vote deeming the law constitutional, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that, "Such a decision is reasonable in light of the state’s interest in avoiding the appearance that carrying out the public’s business is tainted by partisan political activity." (See more about the case on Mark Walsh’s School Law Blog). The National ...


The Scoop on the Stim: Teacher Effectiveness

If you're a teacher-policy geek like me, you'll want to check out all the teacher-related details in the completed stimulus. My colleague Michele McNeil has the scoop at Politics K-12 (disc: I helped a little). In my view, the most important piece of this is the requirement for states to improve teacher effectiveness. The language is pretty much the first toe the government's really put into that particular (swampy) pond. As with much in this huge bill, whether or not it really means anything is going to depend on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's following up on it....


Teacher "Bumping" in Rhode Island: Contracts, State Law, and NCLB

The nation's smallest state certainly can't say it has a timid state education leader: Rhode Island Commissioner Peter McWalters is taking on the controversial issue of "bumping" in Providence schools. Providence, like many other districts, operates under a collective bargaining agreement that handles hiring primarily through teacher preference and seniority: More-senior teachers can request transfers to open positions at other schools. After that, the central office slots the remaining teachers to open positions throughout the district. Essentially, McWalters is directing the district to override this agreement. In a letter to Tom Brady, the Providence superintendent, he indicates that the district ...


"Last Hired, First Fired" - Make Your Voice Heard!

Last week, I took a long look at seniority-based layoff policies in this story. But we also have an edweek.org poll on the topic, asking readers to vote on whether or not they agree with such methods of reducing the workforce. Right now, it's in a statistical dead heat. Make your voice heard!...


U.K. Teachers Take a Trip Across the Pond

From Guest Blogger Liana Heitin Today marks the close of a weeklong field trip for 80 British teachers who were chosen to participate in the British Council’s Teachers International Professional Development (TIPD) program. Since its inception in 2000, the government-funded U.K. program has been sending up to 15 groups of educators per year to study alternative-teaching methods in U.S. schools. This year, groups went to districts in Los Angeles, Houston, and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., among other places, to meet with state and district-level officials, observe classrooms, team-teach lessons, and trade ideas with their host teachers. They focused ...


Is the Tenure Conversation Changing?

The always thoughtful Sherman Dorn thinks I jumped the gun in this post. I disagree. Although the examples I point to are proposals and may not amount to anything concrete (and they certainly wouldn't be the first), the bigger picture is that the conversation about tenure does seem to be changing. Why? Well, districts and unions in particular are under pressure to rethink how teachers are paid, developed, and managed. Tenure falls under the last category. Secondly, Dorn goes on to write: "In collective bargaining agreements, there are provisions for gathering evidence that a teacher has problems in the classroom, ...


Where's the Beef?

The Washington Teachers' Union is going on the charm offensive for its contract counter-proposal to that provided by Chancellor Michelle Rhee. It is running a series of radio advertisements promoting the contract, and at this new Web site calls its own proposal "progressive, bold and comprehensive." You've got to at least give WTU points for confidence, given that the details are still so sketchy. The site provides just a few additional tidbits: The contract will include a "fair and expedient" process for dismissing ineffective teachers. The red- and green-tier proposal is gone, replaced with a schoolwide performance-pay model. And it ...


Disparate Views of Teacher Performance in San Francisco

The folks at the New Teacher Project have put out a district-level analysis of staffing policies in San Francisco. There are a lot of interesting findings to pick through, but the section that most struck me concerns teacher evaluations. Let's start with the actual figures: According to the report, only 5 out of 1,804 teachers received "unsatisfactory" performance ratings between 2005-07, while 86 percent of teachers earned one of the top two ratings. Now, take this finding: In a survey of 90 principals, 38 percent said that they assigned higher evaluation ratings to tenured teachers than their performance warranted. ...


Special Ed Forms Unite?

From Guest Blogger Liana Heitin All this buzz about the possibility of creating national standards (see Stephen's post on Weingarten) has me thinking: How would national standards affect students with special needs? Could they improve the IEP writing process for teachers? The laws governing special education are federally mandated, as you know. Every student who qualifies for services must have an Individualized Education Program with specific required components. Yet from district to district, the IEP documents can look completely different. The length, order of components, physical layout of each page, and style of writing student objectives seem to vary indiscriminately. ...


States Take Up Tenure Reform

Think performance pay is the biggest teacher-policy controversy going on right now? Hold on to your hats, because it looks like the issue of teacher tenure is poised to leap onto the national scene, with at least three states considering changes to their systems for granting tenure, which grants certain "due process" rights to teachers before they can be dismissed. In Ohio, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland wants to grant teachers tenure after nine years, rather than the current three. (I wonder how many teachers would actually stay around long enough to earn it.) It would also allow tenured teachers to ...


Weingarten Endorses National Standards

Over the weekend, Randi Weingarten supported national content standards in a big Washington Post op-ed. Andy Rotherham offers a commentary on it here. The American Federation of Teachers has supported national standards for some time but never quite this vocally. And it's interesting that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has intimated lately that he wants to move in this direction, too. Like most other policymakers who have endorsed national standards, Weingarten doesn't mention anything about a national assessment. A national test that could be used for accountability is controversial but it seems like a topic that for pragmatic reasons needs ...


ELL Programs Brace for Funding Cuts

From Guest Blogger Liana Heitin Last year, the superintendent of public instruction in Arizona, Tom Horne, implemented a host of regulations concerning the instruction of English-language learners. Students not proficient in English were to have four hours a day of direct English instruction: an hour each of grammar, reading, vocabulary, and conversation. During this time, they would remain in a self-contained classroom with a "highly qualified" teacher and other students at their proficiency level. In order to institute these new requirements, schools with a high number of ELLs (mostly urban schools) had to find and train ELL teachers, create new ...


D.C. Honors Board-Certified Teachers

Earlier this week, education leaders from the District of Columbia honored 20 new teachers who successfully earned advanced certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. That figure is quadruple what it was last year. Both D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, were in attendance. (It's reassuring to know that the two women can actually be in the same room together without spontaneously combusting.) Both made what sounded like conciliatory remarks about the D.C. contract situation. "Regardless of all the issues we may have, hopefully we can find ...


Are Coaches Expendable?

From Guest Blogger Liana Heitin In Curriculum Matters, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo points out that reading coaches, many of whom were hired with now-depleted Reading First funds, are being dropped from school budgets. It’s hard to say exactly how big a role coaches play in increasing student achievement, but they’re given much credit in places like Warren County, Ky., where reading scores have shot up. Teachers there receive "spot training" on a daily basis, during which coaches observe small-group reading instruction and jump in when help is needed. As noted in this Herald-Tribune story, coaches assist instruction in a ...


$200 Million for Performance Pay in Stimulus

This just in from my intrepid colleagues at Politics K-12: The conference agreement on the stimulus will include $200 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund, a federal performance pay initiative. Looks like the Obama administration, which supported the extra funding for TIF, managed to carry the day on this one. In the grand scheme of the multibillion-dollar stimulus, $200 million is chump change. But that's not the case in the world of performance-based teacher pay, where the figure amounts to more than twice what TIF got in the last appropriations cycle. One of the challenges of performance-based pay is how ...


ABCTE Has Record Enrollment Despite (Because of?) Poor Economy

I think Liana's on to something when she suggests below that the economic downturn could benefit alternative certification, as newly laid-off professionals seek stable jobs and think about changing careers. Consider alternate-route provider American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence, which saw record enrollments in January with 496 teachers-to-be signing on. In most months, the figure hovers at about 200. ABCTE did offer a discount on its program, which typically costs $850, but its leaders think there's more to it than that. “The downturn in the economy could end up being a blessing in disguise for school districts looking ...


Recession Boosts Teacher Pool, Accelerated Cert. Programs

Despite massive teacher layoffs in California and Florida, there are some areas of the country where teaching is still considered a recession-proof profession— and, consequently, an attractive option for people hit by corporate downsizing. According to the Omaha World-Herald, Omaha Public Schools usually have 400-500 teaching positions open in the fall, and district officials are expecting just as many for the 2009-10 school year. North Carolina anticipates needing to fill 11,000 positions over the summer. As Wendy Boyer, the V.P. for workforce development at Omaha’s chamber of commerce, said, "There's always going to be a need for ...


Trouble in Paradise

It sounds like the KIPP unionization in New York City has gotten a little rocky, per this New York Times article, with teachers that elected to join the union saying they've since felt intimidated by administrators and haven't had the same access to them. Alexander Russo has an interesting response here in which he suggests that if this deal turns sour, it's as much a risk for the unions, who are trying to establish credibility in the charter movement, as for the school's administration and for KIPP, which risk coming off as anti-labor. What do you think?...


Teacher Beat Welcomes a New Guestblogger!

My apologies for not posting yesterday, but I return with exciting news to make up for it: A new guestblogger, Liana Heitin, will be helping me out on blogging duties and making sure that not a morsel of teacher-policy news falls through the cracks! Some of our readers will know Liana from her work at sister publication Teacher Magazine but she also brings some great on-the-ground experience, too: she was a Teach for America teacher in Phoenix before turning to edu-journalism. Why not take this opportunity to add Teacher Beat to your RSS feed so you won't miss any of ...


Students No Worse Off With Alt-Cert Teachers

Mathematica has a big new report out using a rigorous, experimental design that shows that students taught by teachers who came through alternative routes in general did as well on reading and math standardized tests as those taught by traditionally certified teachers. The study also found no correlation between the number of hours of coursework and student achievement. One of the reasons this is a big deal is that most of the studies of alternative certification have focused on the "elite" programs like Teach For American and the New Teacher Project; this looks at a bunch of regular, state-run programs. ...


Rhee Speaks!

District of Columbia schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee turns in a must-read piece in the Washington Post, in which she tries to set the record straight: Broom aside, she's not focused on firing teachers. "I want to be clear about something: I do not blame teachers for the low-achievement levels. I have talked with too many teachers to believe this is their fault. I have watched them pour their energy into engaging every student. I know they are working furiously in a system that for many years has not appreciated them," Ms. Rhee writes. As part of the upcoming contract negotiations, ...


A "Map" for Current and Future Teachers

From guest blogger Sean Cavanagh A new Web site offers teachers the ability to look at the certification requirements, as well as the average salaries, of any in state in the county, with a few clicks of the mouse. It's called "CertificationMap.Com, and it's a creation of MAT@USC, the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, which delivered online. The "map" would allow a job-seeker, career-changer, or educator of any sort to examine any state's requirements on skill testing, subject-area competence testing, and prerequisite coursework. It also allows visitors ...


Shameless Self Promotion

I'll be moderating an edweek.org chat on performance-based pay this coming Monday, Feb. 9, at 1 p.m. We have a great panel lineup of one researcher, one district official/practitioner, and one union official. So join us, and come armed with questions....


Performance Pay: The Other 70%

One of the main sticking points about performance-pay programs is that less than a third of teachers, usually around 30%, teach grade 3-8 reading and math, the subjects and grade levels that are most frequently tested per No Child Left Behind. A performance-pay system, the argument goes, should be able to offer all teachers in a school at least some (if not all) opportunities to win performance bonuses. A new paper from the Center for Education Compensation Reform, a federally funded body that provides technical assistance to the the Teacher Incentive Fund grantees and disseminates resources on performance pay, attempts ...


A Push for Teacher Equity

The unequal distribution of effective teachers is cited as a major problem for the achievement gap, and also quite an entrenched one given that poor working conditions, seniority rules and other factors result in higher proportions of such teachers in low-income and minority schools. A little known provision in the NCLB law required states to have plans to address this situation. The U.S. Department of Education made a big stink about this in 2006. But the agency has been practically silent on the issue ever since, and its own monitoring reviews show that a lot of states aren't doing ...


N.D. to Consider Rolling Back Substitute Teacher Requirements

Here's an interesting blurb out of North Dakota: the state is considering rolling back its requirements for substitute teachers due to a shortage. The state has some of the toughest requirements for substitute teachers out there, generally requiring them to hold a full teaching certificate and a full four-year college degree. Most states have pretty lax rules for substitutes, and the practice of putting long-term subs in classrooms and rotating them has been one of the ways states have gotten around the "highly qualified" rules in the NCLB law. North Dakota's proposal would allow Title I paraprofessionals with a 2-year ...


AFT Submits D.C. Contract Counterproposal

The Washington Teachers' Union and the American Federation of Teachers have submitted their counterproposal to District of Columbia Chancellor Michelle Rhee. There's probably a lot more in the actual proposal, which we apparently won't get to see anytime soon since that's a private matter between union and membership. But what stands out at least from this summary is the complete absence of the two-tiered pay proposal and any mention whatsoever of tenure. Though controversial, those ideas generated a lot of excitement about the contract, and they were apparently the reasons why private foundations were lining up with funding. Some of ...


UFT Wants to Lessen Bloomberg's School Control

The New York Times reports on the United Federation of Teachers, which is proposing to limit the number of positions on the Panel for Education, the 13-member body that approves standards, policies, objectives, and regulations for the 1 million-student school system. This panel, the story says, is viewed as a "rubber stamp" for N.Y.C. Mayor Bloomberg, so reducing the number of appointees would likely curtail (or at least delay) his ability to set policy. The move is also a precursor to the debate that will take place in Albany as lawmakers review the 2002 law that charged Bloomberg ...


Peer Review: A Panacea?

The national teachers' unions weren't altogether thrilled by all the attention paid to teacher effectiveness in two reports released last week (see here and here for details). National Education Association Dennis Van Roekel, for instance, argued that the reports would have overemphasized standardized test scores. "What a teacher does with her students, how she relates to them, and how she translates her subject knowledge into effective teaching practice are all the central measures of quality teaching," he argued. AFT was equally unhappy with the reports, but the union's releases heavily promoted the "peer assistance and review" model of teacher evaluation ...


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