July 2010 Archives

A Viable Pensions Alternative: Cash-Balance Plans?

A new report looks at reforms to teacher-pension programs, many of which are seriously in the red right now.


Weingarten Weighs In on Obama Speech

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten had a quick briefing with reporters yesterday on all the edu-action this week. Asked about President Obama's defense of the Race to the Top program to the National Urban League, Weingarten said it's only natural that the president would focus on the $4.35 billion initiative. She also acknowledged that, despite her union's qualms about certain aspects of the program, Race to the Top demonstrates the power of federal education spending. "This is one of the president's signature initiatives," she said. "The Race to the Top has proven something really important: that the ...


NEA's Brand of School Improvement

The National Education Association's $6 million Priority Schools Campaign got a bit lost last year in the wake of all the Race to the Top action. Other reporters, myself included, had a hard time distinguishing this effort from all of NEA's other initiatives. Fortunately, while covering the NEA convention in New Orleans recently, I had a chance to sit down with Sheila Simmons and Steve Snider, the director and associate director, respectively, of the campaign. A 2009 mandate of the union's 9,000 delegate Representative Assembly, the campaign is funded through the union's strategic plan. It will focus on four ...


Report: States Must Strengthen Teacher-Preparation Accountability

States should overhaul the accountability mechanisms for teacher-preparation programs so that they focus on the effectiveness of graduates in classrooms, as measured by such factors as value-added data, classroom-based teacher observations, surveys of graduates and administrators, and data on the "persistence" or retention rates of graduates in the profession, an analysis released this morning says. States should also craft common licensing tests to facilitate better state-to-state program comparisons. And finally, accountability provisions should apply equally to both traditional education school programs and to alternative routes, concludes the analysis by the Washington-based Center for American Progress. It's a good summary of ...


Teaching Assignment Linked to TFA Retention

Teach For America teachers who are assigned to teach more than one grade, subject, or out-of-field are more likely to leave their schools—or the profession altogether, a new analysis concludes. The paper is the latest addition to a complex research base on the popular alternate-route-to-teaching program. (Eduwonk has a nice summary of the research over at his blog.) Morgaen Donaldson of the University of Connecticut and Susan Moore Johnson of Harvard University conducted the study, which is the first to my knowledge to examine the retention of TFA teachers longitudinally, using a national sample. It also avoids some of the...


Layoffs: Seniority vs. Effectiveness

Differences in which teachers get cut under a seniority-based layoff system compared with one based on teacher effectiveness are large and persistent, a new analysis of the New York City teaching corps finds. But unless the number of layoffs are considerable, the two approaches don't seem to differ all that much on how they affect class sizes, the analysis concludes. In general, critics of seniority-based policies say they require more teachers to be cut than under an effectiveness-based system, thereby raising class sizes. They also disproportionately affect low-income, high-minority schools that tend to have more novice teachers, such critics say. (If...


Rhee to Dismiss Hundreds of Teachers for Poor Performance

D.C.'s school chancellor moves to lay off more than 300 teachers, mostly for poor performance.


NEA Signs On to Fiscal-Equity Bill

The NEA now supports a bill to close a fiscal "loophole" in the Title I program.


Chewing Over the Convention News

This year's union conventions have given us a lot to chew on, starting with their responses to teacher effectiveness issues.


AFT's Race to the Top Resolution in Flux

Rumors were floating around for days that American Federation of Teachers officials would offer a resolution critical of the federal Race to the Top program, but such a resolution never made it to the convention floor. Some wonky background for you: An AFT affiliate did submit a Race to the Top resolution, but it wasn't considered because submitted resolutions are first handled by resolutions committees. Only three resolutions from each committee's list are put to the entire delegate assembly. The RTT resolution, I'm told, came up fourth. It will be referred to the union's executive council today, and then to ...


AFT Announces Next Innovation Fund Recipients

The American Federation of Teachers yesterday announced its next Innovation Fund grantees, and they'll be tackling everything from curricula to performance pay. I apologize for being a bit late to get you the news; yesterday was gangbusters at the AFT. Without further ado: • The Anchorage Council of Education, in Alaska, will help at-risk students earn diplomas by training "graduation coaches" in high schools. • The Boston Teachers Union will work to increase students' engagement in lessons by creating prototypes of high-quality instructional units that can be distributed online. • Education Austin, in Texas, will work with Austin Interfaith, a coalition...


Bill Gates' Speech: 'As Long As You Keep Pushing'

Bill Gates, who really needs no introduction, gave an address to the American Federation of Teachers today. I got an opportunity to chat with Gates after the speech and will have more for you on that next week, but here's a rundown of the address. You can think of it as somewhat akin to AFT President Randi Weingarten's earlier one at this convention: very carefully balanced. Gates congratulated the union for committing to reforms in places like New Haven, Conn.; Hillsborough County, Fla.; and Pittsburgh, and thanked the AFT teachers participating in his foundation's "Measures of Effective Teaching" study. He ...


Teacher Evaluation, School Closure Resolutions Pass

The American Federation of Teachers' delegates just passed two important resolutions, on teacher evaluation and school closures, so let's take each of them in turn. Resolution five, you may recall, codifies the AFT's evaluation framework and affirms that test scores, used appropriately and as one of several measures, can be considered in a teacher's evaluation. It was expected to generate quite a debate and possibly even amendment attempts, but in the end, it passed fairly swiftly. A whole slew of candidates, including the presidents of major affiliates, spoke in favor of the resolution: Mary Cathryn Ricker of St. Paul, Minn.; ...


AFT Election: The Caucuses Make Their Cases

This morning, two political bodies within the American Federation of Teachers presented their platforms for today's elections of AFT executive officers and council. That's right, I said two. Apparently, this is the first time since the 1970s that there has been a full slate of candidates opposing the incumbents. Keep reading. Current AFT Executive Vice President Lorretta Johnson spoke on the behalf of the incumbents, which include herself, AFT President Randi Weingarten, and Secretary-Treasurer Antonia Cortese. She underscored Weingarten's "vision" for moving the union forward, as well as her ability to fight back, and even call out allies: "I saw ...


UPDATED: Is Weingarten Ahead of Some Members?

It was always said of former American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker that he was a step or two out in front of some of his membership when calling for the union to change. (Think back to things like peer-assistance and review programs when they first came out.) Now, some members are asking the same question of AFT President Randi Weingarten, in what is becoming one of the subtexts of this year's convention. After all, Randi's balancing act is a tough one. Her desire to push the union's thinking on things like tenure and evaluation leaves her open to ...


AFT Hits the 1.5 Million-Member Mark

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten announced just a few moments ago that the union has reached the 1.5 million member mark. It has added almost 70,000 new dues-paying members in the past two years across all of its divisions, not just teachers. Weingarten, AFT Secretary-Treasurer Antonia Cortese, and Executive Vice President Lorretta Johnson danced on stage to "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" after the announcement. (Kind of an odd choice, as that was former National Education Association President Reg Weaver's favorite grand-entrance song, but never mind.) Quite a different story at the NEA, where membership has ...


UPDATED: AFT Chief Talks Teacher Evaluations

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten had a sit-down chat with reporters after her keynote address to the AFT convention Thursday, and there was some in-depth discussion about what's probably the top teacher-quality issue on the table today: evaluation. AFT officials have said for a while now that over 50 locals are piloting teacher-evaluation systems based on a framework developed by the union. I asked about these districts' progress in implementing the plans. Some of them, like Pittsburgh, New Haven, Conn., and apparently now Cleveland, have put evaluations at the center of newly inked contracts, while others are just ...


Weingarten: Reformer and Firebrand

In her keynote address today, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten sought to present two sides of herself and her work for the union, as both reformer and firebrand. The union, she said, has been willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations about reforms to teacher evaluation and due process. But it won't hesitate to speak out against politicians and pundits who are using the mantle of reform to attack teachers. Weingarten had a lot of tough ground to cover in this speech, and it's a delicate balancing act to advance some reform ideas and fight against others. No doubt ...


Kicking Off the AFT Convention

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten will be giving her opening keynote in just a short while. But before we get to that, here are a couple of guiding questions to pay attention to over the course of this convention. • What will AFT delegates' reaction be to recent education developments, like the Race to the Top? What do they make of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was the source of ire for National Education Association delegates earlier this week? • The AFT's Innovation Fund will announce its new grantees this Saturday. Who will the new grantees be? • President...


Wrapping Up the NEA Convention

This year's NEA Representative Assembly ended at 7:24 p.m, and there are a few additional things worth mentioning. • The delegation had a pair of idiosyncratic votes on two back-to-back items. The first one, New Business Item 47, which would have directed the union to publish an article in an internal newsletter promoting national-board certification, was voted down. A second one, NBI 48, directs the union to secure contract language that "maintains, establishes, and promotes" subsidies and scholarships to earn the credential. That one passed. • With the economy struggling, delegates were generally quite concerned about the cost of new...


Ravitch Speaks to NEA Choir

Education historian and advocate Diane Ravitch, the author of the bestseller The Life and Death of the Great American School System, came to the RA today to collect her "Friend of the NEA" award. She got a standing ovation after her speech panning the No Child Left Behind Act, the Race to the Top, charter schools, the "privatization" of public schools, merit pay, and efforts to shift away from seniority and tenure, among many other things. Suffice it to say that with an audience like the RA, which has big problems with all those things, her speech was akin to ...


Delegates Toss Arne Duncan Recall Resolution

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has come in for quite a bit of criticism at this year's National Education Association Representative Assembly. But the NEA delegates moved swiftly to table New Business Item 44, which would have encouraged President Obama to replace Duncan with "a person who is aligned with the interests of the NEA, its members, and especially the students it serves." In my four years of covering the RA, I have never actually seen something like this happen. Usually unpopular resolutions are defeated, but not removed entirely from consideration. That said, the general tenor of this ...


Highlights, So Far, From NEA 2010 RA

Just joining us this Monday morning for the 2010 National Education Association Representative Assembly? You've got some catching up to do, because Teacher Beat's been blogging all weekend. NEA Delegates Vote 'No Confidence' in Race to the Top: The item passed, but not every delegate wanted it to. It's Easy Being Green: Find out what the NEA is doing to reduce waste, at the RA and at its headquarters building. 2010 Greatest Education Governor Award goes to Maryland's Gov. Martin O'Malley. (He didn't flex his biceps or play a duet with NEA VP Lily Eskelsen. Too bad.) Also make sure ...


Maryland's O'Malley Wins 'Greatest Education Governor' Award

The National Education Association gave its annual "America's Greatest Education Governor Award" this year to Maryland's Martin O'Malley. As governor, he's overseen record increases in K-12 education spending, the provision of school-construction funds, and the creation of an independent labor board to handle bargaining disputes, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said during his introduction. (Formerly, such disputes were resolved by the State Board of Education.) O'Malley's speech mostly reiterated those accomplishments. But it also contained a few interesting tidbits, and omissions: • He took a swipe at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who's had an acrimonious relationship with the NEA's state...


ESEA Committee Chair Calls For Delegate Advocacy

Christy Levings, the chair of the National Education Association's ESEA Advisory Committee, gave union members an update today on the NEA's progress in advancing changes to the law, currently known as No Child Left Behind. Her presentation was notable more for calling on the delegates to the NEA's Representative Assembly to beef up their lobbying than for any specifics she provided on the union's progress so far. It was clear, though, that the union does not want to see the Race to the Top or the Education Department's four school-turnaround models included in the rewrite. "We need to get ESEA ...


NEA's 4th of July: Red, White, Blue ... and Green

The National Education Association is quietly turning green. For easy recycling, the representative assembly's internal newspaper, RA Today, is devoid of color and pictures and news stories this year: It prints just the resolutions. And delegates can access it through electronic channels rather than picking up paper copies. And for the first year, the union has "green delegates." About 1,000 of the union's around 9,000 delegates have opted out of the traditional printed materials that delegates receive. Instead, they download all of the convention materials from a website. The union hopes to have even more green delegates next ...


NEA's Delegates Vote 'No Confidence' in Race to the Top

NEA delegates approved a resolution in which the union takes a position of 'no confidence' in the Race to the Top and other U.S. Department of Education plans.


How Much Does Good Press Cost?

That issue was essentially at the heart of quite a bit of protracted debate on New Business Item 1. The original resolution would have directed the National Education Association to prepare and launch a major public relations strategy to "revive public confidence" in public schools. Major media buys put the cost of such a campaign at $52 million, or over a third of the NEA's current operating budget. "It costs money to put this message out," NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said. "It is not, 'Write it, and they will come.' " Unless, of course, you're talking about viral social ...


Van Roekel Calls For 'Commission on Effective Teaching'

Dennis Van Roekel's Keynote, take two! Near the end of his keynote address to the National Education Association Representative Assembly, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel called for the creation of a new commission—to be called the Commission on Effective Teaching—that would address "questions that have been avoided for far too long." "What would the profession look like if we, the union, actually controlled teacher training, induction and licensure, evaluation, and professional development? How do we ensure that all teachers are prepared to enter the profession and then are supported, especially in their first years?" he asked. The commission,...


Van Roekel's Keynote Dodges the Obama Question

The NEA president's keynote address is always the highlight of the first day of the National Education Association's Representative Assembly. This year's has got to have been a particularly difficult one to put together. A lot of delegates clearly have an ax to grind with Barack Obama, and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel needed to address that. After all, it's important to show your members that their dues are going toward something. But while it's easy enough to get delegates fired up against a Republican president, it's an order of magnitude riskier to do so when it involves a Democratic ...


UPDATED: NEA Resolutions Push Back on Obama Ed. Agenda

Several new business items to be debated this afternoon by the National Education Association's Representative Assembly focus squarely on criticizing or opposing elements of the Obama administration's education agenda.


Teacher Beat Covers the Conventions

Teacher Beat will be in New Orleans for the National Education Association's annual Representative Assembly, then head to Seattle for the American Federation of Teachers' biennial convention.


UPDATED: Weingarten Accuses Ed. Dept. of Protecting 'Pet Programs'

The feisty president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, called this morning to give me an earful about the debate on Capitol Hill over the $10 billion edujobs fund. As my colleague Alyson Klein reported extensively yesterday, some of those dollars would be funded by offsetting appropriations for the Teacher Incentive Fund and the Race to the Top. Now, Weingarten is furious that the Department of Education wants to preserve those programs. "The department was all for saving jobs until it was their pet programs or pet projects that have to share in some of the pain," she ...


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