February 2011 Archives

Teachers Unions Are Changing Course

Facing mounting criticism that they prevent even the worst teachers from being fired, teachers unions are taking steps to streamline the dismissal process. No doubt their actions are hastened along by their realization that they are at risk of becoming an anachronism. But there's more to the story than mere self-survival. In late February, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union, proposed a plan that would give tenured teachers who are rated unsatisfactory by their principals a maximum of one year to improve ("Leader of Teachers' Union Urges Dismissal Overhaul," New York Times, Feb. ...


Hypocrisy of Education Free Marketeers

The rolling demonstrations that began in Wisconsin over collective bargaining rights for public sector unions have been the subject of exhaustive coverage by the media. But there's one aspect that so far has escaped their examination: The reaction to the protests by supporters of free markets exposes the basic contradiction of their position. The essence of the backlash is that in the Great Recession teachers have it too good at a time when employees in the private sector have it very bad. They get Cadillac pensions, enjoy lavish benefits, have summers off, go home at 3:00, and receive substantial ...


Meting Out Discipline Fairly

In an ideal world, there would be no need for discipline in classrooms. The curriculum would be so engaging and the instruction so inspiring that students would become engrossed in learning to the point that teachers would never have to worry about miscreant behavior. But that is not the real world of education by a long shot. The latest reminder was a recent public hearing before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. At issue was whether discipline policies now in place in schools across the country have a "disparate impact" on a particular group of students. If it can ...


School Funding Gets More Controversial

Critics of public schools argue that spending more on education will not improve academic achievement. They point out that educational expenditures have nearly tripled over the past four decades after adjusting for inflation but that overall student achievement has for the most part remained flat. Simply "throwing more dollars" at the problem will do little to improve outcomes. Yet if money doesn't matter, why do suburban parents go to great lengths to supplement existing funding? Parents in the Shawnee Mission School District, a wealthy Kansas City suburb, are fighting to pay more taxes to support their local schools ("Tax Complaint: ...


Are Teachers Employees or Professionals?

It's always interesting to contrast educational issues in other democratic countries with those in the U.S. The controversy now taking place in Japan is a good example because it's reminiscent of what transpired here in the past. Since 2003, teachers in Tokyo public high schools have been required to stand up, face the flag and sing the country's national anthem during school ceremonies. In 2004, Sawa Kawamura refused to do so. As a result, she has been assigned duties that limit her interaction with students, even though she has been teaching for 20 years. Some 400 teachers have joined ...


Is Advanced Placement All It's Cracked Up to Be?

Advanced Placement has been in the news recently for reasons that raise a few eyebrows ("Rethinking Advanced Placement," New York Times, Jan 7). Although record numbers of high school students are taking and passing the AP exams, an increasing percentage are scoring at the lowest level possible. Whether this data should be cause for concern or celebration depends on how AP is viewed. Here's where a bit of history is necessary. AP exams were created in 1956 by the College Board because elite prep schools wanted to convince colleges that their best students were capable of moving directly into advanced ...


Conflicting Views About Education and the Economy

When reports with the imprimatur of two prestigious think tanks draw opposite conclusions about the same issue within days of each other, the public is bound to be confused. That's what happened when the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress published views about the connection between schools and the recession. On Feb. 8, Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute wrote in "The Overselling of Education" that blaming joblessness on worker skill deficits is flat out wrong: "After all, most of those who are unemployed today were productively employed just a year or two ago. The notion ...


Good Principals Are Hard to Find

Although the preponderance of criticism of education today is aimed at teachers, principals don't have diplomatic immunity. In fact, principals are increasingly in the limelight because of President Obama's emphasis on leadership to turn around the nation's worst schools. In a front-page story on Feb. 8, the New York Times reported that about 44 percent of schools receiving federal turnaround funds in eight large states still have the same principals who were at the helm last year ("U.S. Plan to Replace Principals Hits Snag: Who Will Step In?"). Why have these principals not been replaced? The short answer is ...


Why Are Parents Satisfied With Underperforming Schools?

It's widely believed that parents choose schools solely because of their academic reputation. Many do, but many don't. This division was on display recently in Brooklyn, New York. It's a reminder not to make assumptions about the choices that parents make when their children's education is on the line. Before a raucous crowd of nearly 2,000 people, the New York City Department of Education's 13-member Panel for Educational Policy voted to shutter 10 city high schools that have failed to make satisfactory improvement. Despite emotional pleas by 300 speakers, including parents, teachers and students, the panel refused to budge. ...


The Golden Age of Education Never Was

So much anger aimed at public schools today is based on the assumption that they were far better in the past. It's understandable why this view persists when the media are relentless in their coverage of what seems to be only the most negative examples. The trouble, however, is that there never was an educational Eden in this country. In fact, ever since public schools have existed here, they've been the subject of complaints that sound very much like those heard today. A fast rewind through the decades serves as an instructive lesson, with today's parallels noted in parenthesis. It's ...


The Price Paid for Asian Academic Success

As if anyone needs to be reminded, Asian students consistently finish at or near the top on all academic rankings. The latest evidence was Shanghai's No. 1 placement on the Program for International Student Assessment and an article in the Wall Street Journal about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua that triggered more hits on the newspaper's Web site than any other topic in its existence. But what is left out of the overall glowing picture is the heavy price that students in China, Japan and Korea pay. This price shows up in two ways. According to ...


Split in Teachers Unions Threatens Solidarity

Long considered a monolith, teachers unions are facing a serious challenge from within their ranks. The threat made its first significant appearance in New York City and in Los Angeles, homes of the nation's largest and second largest school districts, respectively. The Los Angeles Times published a column on Jan.16 about the creation of NewTLA in response to frustration with the status quo ("Dissident L.A. teachers want more from their union"). Specifically, NewTLA charges that UTLA (United Teachers of Los Angeles) refuses to support reform proposals from classroom teachers, including steps to remove ineffective teachers and to implement ...


The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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