Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Friday, April 30, 2010

Special Complaint Filed Against Bronx Science AP Rosemarie Jahoda

Principal Valerie Reidy and students from the Bronx H.S. of Science, known nationwide for producing Nobel prize-winning scientists and other notable graduates.

Bronx Science is in the news once again. I wrote the following in 2007:

Teachers Flee From Specialized High School Bronx Science in New York City to Escape From Principal Valerie Reidy's Intolerable Rule

My sources have, for years, told me and anyone else who would listen, that Bronx Science is a terror-driven school where teachers are afraid all the time not only of Ms. Reidy, but also of false claims made by Assistant Principal Rosemary Jahoda.

An arbitrator decided a special complaint that Chapter Leader Peter Lamphere and AP Rosemary Jahoda should be transferred, and the NYC BOE answered: "Thanks, but no thanks."

Why am I not surprised?

Betsy Combier

April 28, 2010, 5:54 pm
Report Details Infighting at Bronx Science

There’s been trouble brewing for some time at Bronx High School of Science, one of the crown jewels of the city’s public schools: for more than two years, all but two members of the 22-teacher math department have made complaints centered around Rosemarie Jahoda, the assistant principal who oversees them.

Now, an arbitrator has issued an official “fact-finding” report, and the infighting it describes is not pretty. Ms. Jahoda called one veteran teacher a “disgusting person,” the report found, and that same teacher apparently referred to Ms. Jahoda as a “dictator.” Ms. Jahoda raised her voice several times at teachers in front of their students and called one “irresponsible.”

Ms. Jahoda was accused of harassing and intimidating new math teachers, who did not have tenure and could be removed at any time – none of them are at the school any more. The assistant principal was so harsh that she “reduced 7 teachers to tears on 12 separate occasions,” according to the report (which does note, however, that one of those teachers was inclined to cry rather easily).

Ms. Jahoda said that the problems began after she gave an untenured teacher and Peter Lamphere, who is chapter leader of the teachers’ union, an unsatisfactory rating for their teaching – a relatively rare occurrence in the city schools. But the arbitrator found that both Ms. Jahoda and Valerie Reidy, the school’s principal, “failed to appreciate the seriousness of the complaints.”

The arbitrator concluded that Ms. Jahoda and Mr. Lamphere should be transferred to another school. To that, officials at the education department essentially said: thanks for the suggestion, but no thanks.

In a letter to the arbitrator and the teachers’ union, David Brodsky, who heads labor relations for the city’s Department of Education, said that he did not believe that the fact-finding report “portrays an accurate, fair and complete picture of the relevant events,” and rejected nearly all of the recommendations, including the transfers.

Was Bronx Science HS hostile to its math teachers?
By Kate Pastor, Riverdale Press

The Department of Education has rejected a fact-finder’s report that had substantiated 20 Bronx Science teachers’ complaints of harassment at the hands of an administrator.

In May 2008, almost all of the 22 teachers in the school’s math department filed a Special Complaint charging that Assistant Principal Rosemary Jahoda contributed to a hostile work environment through harassment and intimidation of teachers, particularly untenured ones. They complained that unreasonable demands were made of staff and that insubordination letters and unsatisfactory ratings were given out to those who spoke up.

Ms. Jahoda was hired by Principal Valerie Reidy in August 2007 to improve the math department despite pockets of resistance from teachers, fact-finder Carol Wittenberg and the Department of Education agreed. Ms. Jahoda focused on four untenured teachers, including Tia Smith, Elizabeth Bellantoni, Carolyn Abbott and Nancy Phillip, none of whom are still at the school. All four claimed they were being harassed.

The report, which followed months of arbitration, said teachers found the assistant principal’s behavior so intimidating they refused to meet with Ms. Jahoda alone behind closed doors.

“When I read her [Ms. Wittenberg’s] findings, it was as if we didn’t present any evidence at all,” said Ms. Reidy, adding that the school had presented case law defining harassment and nothing that took place at the school rose to that level.

The report concluded that Ms. Jahoda and UFT Chapter Chair Peter Lamphere should transfer out of the school, that the school principal should use a facilitator to work with the math department, remove all ‘letters to the file’ issued to the complainants during Ms. Jahoda’s tenure and that actions affecting teachers who transferred out of Bronx Science should be rescinded.

But the fact-finders report, signed April 15, is non-binding. And now the Department of Education has slapped it down.

“As to the issues considered by the fact finder, I completely reject her conclusions that the Assistant Principal Rosemarie Jahoda harassed [certain teachers],” Monday’s decision by the chancellor said.

The decision also dismissed findings based on a surreptitious recording, which was “no doubt heavily relied upon by the fact finder” but which did not support the teachers’ case, the report said. Furthermore, withholding of 18 months of recordings tainted the teachers’ case and begged the question as to why they weren’t entered as evidence if they contained any proof of harassment.

Of the four recommendations given in the fact-finding report, the Department of Education supported one: the hiring of a facilitator if funds permit to “begin the healing process.”

Though Ms. Reidy (above) said the hearings were disruptive in terms of scheduling, she said, “The school at this point is very calm.”

“She [the fact-finder] makes it sound like we have the crusades going on in the hallways,” she said.

Apart from her own role, Ms. Reidy said she stands fully behind Ms. Jahoda and believes the assistant principal’s decisions were in students’ best interest.

“I think that when kids come to a school like Bronx Science, both they and their parents come with very high expectations and we have to meet those expectations,” Ms. Reidy said.

Assistant principal harassed math teachers at Bronx Science High School: report
BY Meredith Kolodner, DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER, April 29th 2010,

An assistant principal created an atmosphere of "intimidation and harassment" in the math department at the storied Bronx Science High School, a fact-finding ruling has found.

The independent report sided with a complaint signed by 20 of the department's 22 teachers.

Assistant Principal Rosemary Jahoda referred to one teacher as "disgusting," addressed others in a "demeaning" manner like "children" and reduced seven teachers to tears on 12 occasions, the nonbinding decision says.

"The education community at Bronx Science needs to see substantial change," wrote fact-finder Carol Wittenberg.

She recommended the transfer of an assistant principal and the teachers union chapter leader, as well as the retraction of all disciplinary measures taken against math teachers during the last two years.

The Education Department rejected almost all of Wittenberg's findings as "not fairly based upon all the evidence."

Jahoda said she was the one being harassed and that the arbitrator's opinion is "not based in fact."

"There was no harassment, and to some degree the teachers were trying to intimidate and bully me as a new [assistant principal]," said Jahoda, who was hired in the fall of 2007.

Principal Valerie Reidy said she was disappointed by the ruling.

"It's about a supervisor doing her job," said Reidy. "You may not like what I said or the results, but that doesn't mean I'm harassing you."

Teachers at the school, though, disagreed.

"It really exposes the DOE's rhetoric about their supervisory process just being about getting rid of bad teachers," said Peter Lamphere, the union chapter leader. "In this situation, you had good teachers who fell victim to an abusive supervisor."

Fact finder calls on Bronx Science administrator to step down
Updated 5 p.m., 4/22/10
By Kate Pastor, Riverdale Press

An fact finder has substantiated 20 Bronx Science teachers’ complaints that an administrator harassed and intimidated them.

In May 2008, the vast majority of teachers in the school’s math department filed a Special Complaint charging that Assistant Principal Rosemary Jahoda attempted to make changes in the math department by focusing on four untenured teachers. They claim she harassed them, treating them like children in an effort to meet the goals set out for her by Principal Valerie Reidy.

“It would be difficult to have heard the testimony of seven of the complainants, to have read the statements of the 13 others and to have listened to the June 10, 2008 audio recording of the meeting in Jahoda’s office and not conclude that Jahoda has a confrontational style that is intimidating and demeaning,” according to the arbitrator’s report issued on April 15.

The fact finder, Carol Wittenberg, concluded that Ms. Jahoda and UFT Chapter Chair Peter Lamphere should transfer out of the school, that the school remove all ‘letters to the file’ issued to the complainants during Jahoda’s tenure and that actions affecting teachers who transferred out of Bronx Science be rescinded.

"After hearing extensively from all concerned, the Fact Finder is convinced that the education community at the Bronx High School of Science, one of the flagship high schools of the Department of Education, needs to see substantial change to overcome the disruption caused by the events and to begin the healing process," the report said.

The recommendations have been sent to School Chancellor Joel Klein, who will make a final decision in the case.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Teacher Tenure Debate

Theresa Europe, Director of The Administrative Trials Unit, NYC Board of Education

Is holding onto a tenured teacher a policy of the past that has no value for the present?

I've read alot about tenure, especially after being involved in the rubber room process for seven years as a journalist/paralegal/educator, yet I am a parent, too, of four daughters.

I dont hear very often about how children see "teacher effectiveness", or how a child feels when a teacher disappears, so I asked my youngest daughter, Marielle, who is now 17 and heading off to college in September. She recalled the day two years ago that a teacher she liked suddenly disappeared without explanation. She remembered every detail, and she told me that all of her friends were tormented by the disappearance. She and her friends valued the way this teacher listened to their statements in class, and how this teacher respected their answers, telling each of them that there was value in every perspective. This was a social studies teacher who also was funny at times, serious with his aim to focus on the lesson, but always respectful of each student and his/her contribution to the daily conversation.
One day he was there and the next day a substitute sat at his desk. Marielle and her friends were insulted at the Principal's lack of concern for their feelings, and never totally forgave her (the Principal).

I'm going to continue to ask the kids what they think, because isnt all the talk about teacher tenure really about educating young people to become the best they can be? We all must listen to all voices, no matter what age and/or training he/she has in the biography

Is Teacher Tenure Necessary?

Tenure is under attack. The century-old system of protecting experienced teachers from arbitrary dismissal — long viewed as sacred — has triggered hot political debates in several states.

"Teacher effectiveness" has emerged as the biggest buzz phrase in education policy circles. Because teachers have such potential for affecting the quality of children's education, some people are starting to argue that it must become easier to get bad teachers out of the classroom.

"There seems to be a lot of drive to do away with tenure," says Sandy Kress, who helped write federal and state education laws as an adviser to George W. Bush and other policymakers. "Tenure has proved to be just a horrible barrier to getting rid of that small percentage of teachers who are just not effective."

Action All Over

This is not merely an academic debate. A bill in Colorado that would change tenure rules and tie them to student performance passed out of a Senate committee last week and has the support of Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter. A Florida bill to abolish tenure was vetoed this month by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, but a similar bill is pending in Louisiana.

Debates about tenure rules are happening at the local level as well, notably in Washington, D.C., where a proposal to eliminate tenure and seniority rules in exchange for higher pay led to protracted arguments over the local teachers' contract.

Washington state, meanwhile, along with Maryland and Ohio, has recently lengthened the number of years teachers have to wait before becoming eligible for tenure. Elementary and secondary school teachers can become eligible for tenure after as little as two years on the job, although the time frame varies by state.

"What's become so problematic about tenure is that it's awarded almost automatically, without regard to performance in student learning," says Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, which advocates changes to the teaching profession.

A Matter Of Due Process

Unlike tenure for university professors, tenure for K-12 teachers does not, in theory, shield them from dismissal. Instead, it's simply a guarantee of due process — that if a teacher is fired, it will be for cause.

The advent of tenure, which coincided roughly with World War I and the suffragist movement, was meant to protect teachers, who, in olden days, were often fired for reasons that had nothing to do with their work, including race.

Teachers were often let go when a new political party came to power locally, or if the principal wanted to hand out jobs to his friends, or even if a teacher got pregnant.

"These laws were passed in state after state to protect good teachers from arbitrary actions," says Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, which is the country's largest teachers union.

"Due process is necessary in order to avoid the type of abuses of the past," he says. "It's very upsetting that in 2010, under the guise of improving schools, we suddenly get rid of protections from firing teachers for inadequate or wrong reasons."

Are Protections Still Needed?

Advocates of overhauling tenure say they favor due process. But they point out that tenure predates subsequent labor laws that guard against discrimination or other employer abuses. "So much has changed about our larger legal framework," says Tim Daly, president of The New Teacher Project, which helps place teachers in urban schools. "A law about teacher tenure, by far, is not the only thing that would protect you."

This point now is commonly made, but Susan Moore Johnson, who teaches at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, says, "I'm not really convinced there are more protections now. You continue to hear stories about how favoritism is alive and well in public schools."

For his part, Daly doesn't advocate the abolition of tenure, but he does believe it needs to be changed. Dismissals should be job related, he says. But the problem he sees is that there are so many legal and managerial hurdles involved in dismissing a teacher that tenure has become a de facto shield against firing even the worst teachers.

"Tenure says you can't be dismissed unless you are shown to be incompetent through the evaluation process," Daly says. "But the evaluation process doesn't work at all, so tenure is seen as an ironclad guarantee of a job."

Change May Be Coming

That's where policy advocates have spotted an opening. It's clear that the way teachers are evaluated will undergo change. The federal Race to the Top program, a $4 billion pot of money meant to encourage states to pursue innovative educational strategies, insists on tying teacher evaluation to student performance.

The ins and outs of how student scores on standardized tests are weighted in evaluating teachers can quickly turn into a topic of interest only to insiders. In contrast, the public can understand and respond to the idea that a lifetime job guarantee has become anachronistic in today's economy.

Getting rid of tenure is still going to be a tough sell. Teachers unions are generally considered among the strongest lobbies in most states, and job protection for their members goes to the heart of their mission.

Johnson, the Harvard professor, says that unions make convenient targets for blame in such matters, noting that even teachers without tenure are rarely dismissed. She has studied some of the few districts where teachers are regularly let go — which are those where joint panels set up by unions and administrators sit together in judgment.

"Principals will say, 'The reason I don't dismiss anyone is because the union will stand in the way,' " Johnson says. "But where teachers are dismissed, it's through a peer review that guarantees due process."

Less Than 1 Percent Fired

Firing teachers is hard. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have each fired fewer than 1 out of 1,000 of their tenured teachers in recent years. Those numbers are not unusual.

Administrators complain that the process is too draining. Reviews of dismissal cases can take years to make their way through the system, costing tens of thousands of dollars each.

Teachers say that administrators are themselves at fault for performing perfunctory, "drive-by" evaluations. One study of selected districts in four states found that 99 percent of teachers receive "satisfactory" ratings.

Sometimes, bad publicity can curb the worst abuses on either side. The Los Angeles Times found last December that L.A. schools deny tenure to fewer than 2 percent of probationary hires, with evaluations often amounting to nothing more than a single, pre-announced classroom visit lasting 30 minutes or less.

Following the report, Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines pledged greater scrutiny. In February, the district announced it would fire more than 110 nontenured teachers for performance -— three times the annual rate in recent years.

Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers announced the city would close the district's "rubber rooms," where teachers are paid to sit and do no work, often for years, while awaiting the outcome of dismissal hearings.

Newspaper and magazine articles about the rubber rooms — which Bloomberg labeled "study hall for teachers" — had embarrassed both the city and the union. Now, teachers will be assigned to administrative or nonclassroom duties while cases are pending, with the city hiring more arbitrators to speed up the process.

— Alan Greenblatt

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Governor David Paterson Brings Sunshine To NY State

Gov. David A. Paterson signed ten new bills into law last week, three of which bring more transparency into public meetings by amending the Open Meetings Law. The bills were passed in the Legislature during this year’s Sunshine Week in mid March. Photo by Governor’s office.

State spreads some more sunshine
Group complains new open govt. laws don’t affect state Legislature

by James Nani, April 26, 2010

Gov. David A. Paterson signed 10 bills into law on April 14, three of which strengthen the state's Open Meetings Law.

The Open Meetings Law grants the public access to meetings of a large number of government bodies at the state and local level in New York.

Legislation signed by the governor includes one law (A.5873/S.4284) that will affect the Public Officers Law to ensure that public meetings are held in facilities that are able to

accommodate members of the public. It was sponsored by Sen. Dave Valesky, D- Oneida,(picture below) and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon (pictured above).

Another new law dealing with open meetings (A.10093/S.3195) would require state and local governments to establish rules allowing public meetings to be photographed, recorded — audio and video — and broadcast, including webcasts. The bill was sponsored by Valesky and Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito, D-Rome.

"I believe open government is most important at this time for people to continue to believe in their government," said Destito.

The governor also signed into law a measure (A.10196/S.7054) to let a court impose penalties when it finds violations of the Open Meetings Law. That bill was vetoed last year, according to a press release from Paterson's office, because that version would have created monetary penalties for violations of the law that would have been passed on to taxpayers, he said. This version signed into law will require training for those who do not comply. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, D-Mamaroneck and Destito.

"As a responsible government, we have the duty to inform the public of the state's business and these new laws will help to do that," Paterson said. "I am extremely proud to have signed this legislation that will not only strengthen the state's Open Meetings Law in various ways, but will increase the public's right to attend, listen to and watch the decision-making process in action," he continued.

While the laws passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor would spread more sunshine on local public bodies, good government groups are complaining that New York leaders neglected to do the same at the state level.

Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner said the Open Meetings Laws are "as good as
far as they go" but do little to change the culture of secrecy in Albany. Lerner said the new open meetings laws will affect regulatory bodies such as the Board of Elections, whereas budget discussions among state leaders and legislative conference meetings are still closed to the public, despite budget reform laws that passed in 2007.

"I think opening the process will give people more confidence in their leaders," said Lerner. "When things happen behind closed doors they always assume the worst," she continued.

In addition to the new sunshine laws, the governor also signed into law legislation (A.775-b/S.4645-b) that directs the commissioner of health to provide parents of children between 6 months and 18 years of age who are in daycare or school with information on influenza and immunization. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, D-Brooklyn, and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale.
Senator Montgomery
"Last year, the flu posed a genuine public health threat to the people of New York. We can never be too careful in getting the word out on how to prevent and treat the flu, especially for our children," said Paterson.

"Vaccinating healthy youngsters protects the entire community," said Montgomery. "Children represent the greatest transmitters of influenza, and educating students to take their yearly shots will prevent them from becoming infected and spreading diseases. I commend the governor for signing this bill into law to keep our youth healthy and safe."

Paterson also signed a bill (A.3910-a/S.1535-a) amending state Election Law to permit victims of domestic violence to cast a special paper ballot — similar to absentee ballots — in elections rather than being required to appear at the polling place where their abuser might be able to stalk them. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Thomas P. Morahan, R-New City and Assemblyman Daniel H. Gabryszak D-Cheektowaga.

The following bills were also signed into law:

- A.1138/S.4529: Authorizes the College of Optometry of the State of New York to provide certain services to persons receiving medical assistance.

- A.4296-c/S.5915-a: Bans the use of employee confidentiality agreements for public authorities, except where information is protected by established, published rules, such as the Freedom of Information Law.

- A.7805-b/S.5461-b: Replaces the term "law guardian" with the term "attorney for the child" to more accurately reflect an attorney's role. The term guardian has caused misunderstanding and clashing expectations about the actions and intentions of the child's lawyer, particularly in civil family court cases. According to the bill summary, the term law guardian is often interpreted to mean someone who is playing a neutral role in the legal process.

- A.8558/S.5991: Creates an exemption for certain special assessments, fees and surcharges on hazardous waste generated on or at elementary or secondary schools. The legislation is intended to encourage schools to conduct cleanup efforts in consultation with the different governmental departments.

- S.6972-a/A.10065-a: Provides a temporary retirement incentive for certain public employees who are over 55 years old and have 25 years of service.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Young v Old Teachers In New York City

Aside from the fact that in my mind making a policy that "old" teachers must be replaced by "young" teachers is discriminatory and unconstitutional, the discussion must focus on the subjective evaluation of individual abilty to teach rather than a general characteristic. Are all older teachers - say over 50 - no longer valuable to the teaching profession? How many of you readers instantly thought of an "older" teacher you have/had in school, whose teaching fired you up to learn more outside of the classroom in the subject he/she taught, and guided you to excel in his/her class? Are you now telling yourself, "yes, I loved this teacher, but maybe he/she was an exception"?

Age has nothing to do with good or bad teaching ability.

The argument for or against "older" teachers remaining in the classroom should stop right here. I have sent all four of my children to public schools in New York City, and my youngest graduates from high school this year, so I have more than 20 years of watching my kids' teachers in their classrooms. However, I and my twin sister went to a small private school on the Upper East side, Nightingale Bamford. My middle school English teacher, Ms. Vicory, seemed to be over 100 years old to my young mind, but her interpretation of great writers such as Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Austin, enthralled me and convinced me that reading the classics was something I wanted to do. I decided to be like Ms. Vicory when I got to be an "adult", let's just say I'm now over 21 years of age. Then, when I went on to college at Northwestern University, I was fortunate enough to get into the class of Dr. Bergen Evans,a teacher who, I am convinced, changed the way all writers look at the English language and use of words. I couldnt wait to attend his classes, even though he was so popular that I was one of more than 300 in the auditorium he called his classroom. The class size didnt matter, and neither did his age, which was over 50 when I was a student of his.

My children have had excellent teachers and teachers that taught them nothing at all. From my experience of going to each school my kids attended, and sitting through classes on parent visiting days for more than 20 years, I can say that the age of the teachers I observed had nothing to do with my opinion about their teaching ability.

Thus, my conclusion is, Mr. Klein's push to remove "older" teachers from their teaching duties is simply an attack on their salaries, not their abilities. In some cases this attack on a person's ability to teacher may be valid, but I refuse to give Mr. Klein the right to define who a "good" teacher really is.

On the other hand, how old is Joel Klein? Where is the return on the $250,000 of public money spent solely on his salary, plus all the 'perks' that he gets as the lawyer for the NYC Board of Education? Why was he chosen to be the person who decides who are our children's teachers?

These are the more relevant questions to the current budgetary concerns that plague New York City.

Younger teachers in New York like Marisa Raff, 28, are at risk in a last-in-first-out layoff system.

April 12, 2010
Bill Would Allow Layoffs of Teachers With Seniority

When the Bloomberg administration raised the prospect of teacher layoffs this year, administration officials complained that they would be forced to get rid of the youngest newest teachers, and called on legislators to rewrite the seniority rules.

That wish may be one step closer. Two Democratic state lawmakers have sponsored a bill that would give principals in New York City the power to choose who should lose their jobs if the city needs to lay off teachers because of budget cuts.

The bill is certain to raise the ire of teachers’ unions, which remain a powerful force in Albany. It could provoke also a new round of battles between the United Federation of Teachers and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who have had an icy relationship for months and are fighting over a new teachers’ contract.

Mr. Bloomberg has said that as many 8,500 teachers would face layoffs, as the city’s Education Department faces a budget cut of $600 million to $1.2 billion. Under the current law, teachers who have been in the system for the shortest amount of time would be the first to lose their jobs — a policy commonly known as last in, first out.

Last month, the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, released numbers showing that the layoffs would be concentrated in the one of the wealthiest and one of the poorest districts in the city: in a worst-case situation, District 7 in the South Bronx would lose 21 percent of its teachers and District 2 on the Upper East Side would lose 19 percent, according to the city analysis. Some of those teachers would be replaced by more-senior teachers from elsewhere in the system.

“Experience matters, but it cannot be the sole or even principal factor considered in layoff decisions,” Mr. Klein said in a statement. “We must be able to take into account each individual’s track record of success.”

Jonathan Bing, a Democratic assemblyman from the Upper East Side, said lobbyists from the city had approached him about sponsoring the bill soon after the city released those numbers.

“There needs to be some better way to go about doing this than to simply get rid of every teacher we have hired in the last few years,” Mr. Bing said. “This has to be, on some level, about merit.”

Mr. Bing said he had “great respect for teachers,” noted that the union had donated to several of his political campaigns and acknowledged that the bill would almost certainly anger it.

“We are in an educational and economic crisis like no other,” he added.

Under the bill, each school would form a committee of parents, teachers and administrators to determine who should be laid off.

Seniority protection is dear to labor unions, who say that without it, employers would use layoffs to eliminate workers who make the most money.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said that in other cities that had eliminated seniority, like Washington, the rate of teacher turnover had increased, making the system less stable.

“I would like to see something more fruitful to figure out how to avoid the catastrophic cuts,” Mr. Mulgrew said Monday.

The city appealed to State Senator Rubén Díaz of the Bronx to sponsor the bill in the Senate, although just last year Mr. Díaz said that Mr. Klein should be fired.

“I used to be angry at the way they were treating parents,” Mr. Díaz said. “Now this would allow parents to have a role. If a school needs to get rid of teachers, they should be able to decide their own special needs.”

April 24, 2010
Teacher Layoffs in New York City

To the Editor:

Re “Bill Would Allow Layoffs of Teachers With Seniority” (news article, April 13):

Despite all the publicity about New York City’s desire to fire or lay off senior teachers, scant mention has been made of money, a major factor in principals’ reluctance to rehire displaced teachers.

For decades, schools were financed with “units,” each being worth the salary of an average-service teacher. No matter whom the school hired, the cost was the same.

In a perhaps misguided effort to equalize financing to schools, this administration forces schools to bear the true costs of each teacher. Simply put, a principal can hire two beginning teachers — perhaps more — as cheaply as he can hire one senior teacher. My conversations with countless principals reflect this reality.

Though the chancellor has periodically offered temporary incentives — paying the differential for a limited period of time — the principal knows that the true cost will ultimately appear, forcing him to lay off a younger teacher to pay the senior teacher.

Any solution to the surplus of senior teachers without positions must reflect this reality if it is to be fair to those teachers whose only crime has been to give the city years of service.

Stephen Phillips
Brooklyn, April 13, 2010

The writer, program head, adolescence education at Brooklyn College School of Education, retired in 1997 as superintendent of alternative high schools and programs with the New York City Board of Education.

The Charter v Public School Debate is All About Money, Transparency, and Accountability

April 23, 2010
For School Company, Issues of Money and Control

When the energy executive Dennis Bakke retired with a fortune from the AES Corporation, the company he co-founded, he and his wife, Eileen, decided to direct their attention and money to education.

Mrs. Bakke, a former teacher, said she had been interested in education since the summer she was a 12-year-old and, together with a friend, opened the Humpty Dumpty Day School, charging $2 a week in “tuition” to parents of the children attending. Mr. Bakke was eager to experiment with applying business strategies and discipline to public schools.

The Bakkes became part of the nation’s new crop of education entrepreneurs, founding a commercial charter school company called Imagine Schools. Beginning with one failed charter school company they acquired in 2004, they have built an organization that has contracts with 71 schools in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Imagine is now the largest commercial manager of charter schools in the country.

But as Imagine continues to expand, it is coming under growing scrutiny from school boards and state regulators questioning how public money is spent and whether the company exerts too much control over the schools.

The concerns are being raised as charters, designed by education reformers to create alternatives to hidebound and failing public schools, are becoming an indelible part of the nation’s education landscape. Such schools are among the biggest beneficiaries of the billions of dollars the Obama administration plans to spend to improve public education.

Because public money is used, most states grant charters to run such schools only to nonprofit groups with the expectation that they will exercise the same independent oversight that public school boards do. Some are run locally. Some bring in nonprofit management chains. And a number use commercial management companies like Imagine.

But regulators in some states have found that Imagine has elbowed the charter holders out of virtually all school decision making — hiring and firing principals and staff members, controlling and profiting from school real estate, and retaining fees under contracts that often guarantee Imagine’s management in perpetuity.

The arrangements, they say, allow Imagine to use public money with little oversight. “Under either charter law or traditional nonprofit law, there really is no way an entity should end up on both sides of business transactions,” said Marc Dean Millot, publisher of the report K-12 Leads and a former president of the National Charter Schools Alliance, a trade association, now defunct, for the charter school movement.

“Imagine works to dominate the board of the charter holder, and then it does a deal with the board it dominates — and that cannot be an arm’s length transaction,” he said.

Such concerns have thwarted efforts by Imagine to open a school in Florida, threaten to stall its push into Texas, and have ended its business with a school in Georgia and another in New York, as well as other states.

Imagine is not shy about the way it wields its power, which it calls essential to its governing philosophy. “Imagine Schools operates the entire school, and is not a consultant or management company,” its Web site says. “All principals, teachers, and staff are Imagine Schools people. The Imagine Schools culture is meant to permeate every aspect of the school’s life.”

Mrs. Bakke, who is paid $100,000 as vice president of education at Imagine, says it works in “close partnership” with the boards of the schools it manages. “The governing boards are definitely in charge, but they look to us, frankly, because as you know, nonprofit boards are well meaning but don’t always have the experience and expertise running the schools,” she said in an interview.

She said that she and her husband, who is paid $200,000 as the company’s chief executive, sank $155 million into Imagine and that they were able to run schools efficiently. “We offer a great deal for communities and for taxpayers,” Mrs. Bakke said, “because we’re providing education at less than what a traditional school is spending.”

She says the company should be judged by its educational results, not its business and financial arrangements.

As measured by testing mandated under the No Child Left Behind law, the academic achievements of schools managed by Imagine are mixed, like those of most charter schools. But Imagine says that many students in the schools it manages enter with academic abilities below their grade level and that a better measurement of its success is the rate at which they are catching up.

Its analysis of test data taken at the beginning and end of the 2008-9 school year shows that 89 percent of its schools had learning gains better than public schools serving similar populations of students.

“We have high expectations,” Mrs. Bakke said. “Academic performance matters.”

Nonprofit or Commercial?

Mrs. Bakke said her company “is operated as a not-for-profit.” But Imagine is not a nonprofit group, and it has so far failed to gain status as a charity from the I.R.S.

Imagine applied for federal tax exemption in 2005 and has repeatedly said approval is imminent. It typically takes four to six months for such approvals. “We’re not sure why it’s taking so long,” said Mrs. Bakke, who is 56. “We suspect it’s because we’re trailblazers in a sense, and they haven’t had an application quite like this.”

The I.R.S., as is its policy, declined to comment.

The lack of status as a federally approved nonprofit group is proving to be one of Imagine’s biggest challenges. So it often gets involved with schools at their inception, recruiting board members or hitching its wagon to nonprofit groups that can obtain a charter, as it did in Las Vegas, where it teamed with 100 Black Men of Las Vegas to open an elementary school, the 100 Academy of Excellence. The school opened in 2006, and the county school board soon began documenting problems. It found the school’s bookkeeping under Imagine to be lax, and it said that the school lacked enough licensed teachers.

The school has had three principals in four years, two of whom were pressured to resign after complaining that there was not enough money for essentials like textbooks and a school nurse. The state said that by paying Imagine for necessities like furniture and computers, the school had violated regulations requiring competitive bidding. It further violated state law by running a deficit, which left it in debt to Imagine.

Mrs. Bakke declined to comment on issues raised at specific schools. “In all cases we strive to operate with high ethical standards, set high standards for performance, hire the best possible people, and correct mistakes as quickly as possible,” she wrote in an e-mail message.

Some schools say they are happy with Imagine’s management. At Hope Community Charter School in the District of Columbia, which opened in 2005 and where Imagine helped identify board members, the board agreed to pay Imagine virtually all of the school’s revenue, to allow Imagine to set the school’s budget subject only to approval that “shall not be unreasonably withheld or delayed,” and to seek Imagine’s approval for how it spends charitable gifts.

James Kemp, the board chairman, said that District of Columbia charter school regulators had repeatedly expressed concerns about the arrangements. He also said that even the school’s own auditors chided the board for allowing Imagine to pay several large bills without its approval, as required under contract.

“The charter board has alerted us and me specifically that this is not the normal way charter schools run, having their management company as involved as Imagine is with our school,” Mr. Kemp said. “But that’s the way we’ve set this up, and we’re happy with it.”

Josephine Baker, executive director of the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board, which grants and oversees charters in Washington, said the board had concerns about who was running the show at Hope Community.

“It’s not just Imagine, though Imagine is the one that probably has given us the most concern,” she said. “We find it is very hard for schools that hire management companies to maintain their independence, and charter schools are supposed to be independent.”

Mrs. Baker said she did not think the contract between Imagine and Hope Community would be approved today, in part because the entire model of using management companies is flawed. “There are not a whole lot of charter schools that are just marvelous, and those that are do not have management companies,” she said.

In Texas, parents trying to open a charter school for elementary school students thought that Imagine was going too far.

“Imagine did a few things that indicated they thought the charter belonged to them, which was not our understanding at all,” said Karelei Munn, who is part of a group working to establish a charter school in Georgetown, Tex., near Austin. “We were looking to control our board, and they were looking to control our board.”

Ms. Munn and other members of the group holding the charter broke their ties with Imagine and are trying to form a school on their own.

Regulators in Texas have been slow to approve a second Imagine school, citing concerns that include an e-mail message from Mr. Bakke to the company’s senior staff members that was reported on by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch last fall. In the message, dated Sept. 4, 2008, Mr. Bakke cautioned his executives against giving boards of schools the “misconception” that they “are responsible for making big decisions about budget matters, school policies, hiring of the principal and dozens of other matters.”

Instead, he wrote, “It is our school, our money and our risk, not theirs.”

Mr. Bakke, who is 64, suggested requiring board members to sign undated letters of resignation or limiting board terms to a single year.

In a statement after the e-mail message was disclosed, Mr. Bakke apologized to board members “who felt offended or maligned,” saying he had “overstated my personal frustration in ensuring that the dedicated, caring people who hold the seats of charter governing boards at Imagine Schools understand and support our mission and operating philosophy.”

As Texas continues its consideration, the e-mail message helped upend Imagine’s plans to open a school in the Hillsborough County School District in Florida, which encompasses Tampa.

“That e-mail was very, very bad for them,” said Jenna Hodgens, the local supervisor of charter schools. “All the things we had been questioning, things about control of the school, he answered in his own words.”

The Hillsborough school board rejected the application in December. “Charter schools are not private schools, they are public schools and are governed as such,” said Susan Valdes, who heads the board. “Some, though, are starting to forget that — and they’re getting away with it. But not here.”

Fees, Rent and Bank Accounts

Some schools that have contracted with Imagine have feuded with the company over fees. Imagine typically charges 12 percent of a school’s revenue for basic services. It then may tack on fees, for example, for guaranteeing a school access to credit if needed or to cover the costs of flying Imagine personnel in to address problems.

The Kennesaw Charter School in Kennesaw, Ga., ended its contract with Imagine in February over such issues.

Under its original contract with Imagine, the Kennesaw school board forwarded all revenue it received from the state and district to a bank account in Florida controlled by Imagine to pay salaries and other expenses. Kennesaw’s board had full discretion over just $20,000, said Lori Hardegree, a board member.

If the school had money left over at the end of the year, the surplus was paid as a fee to Imagine.

Minutes of board meetings and reporting by the local school district show that the board had trouble getting information from Imagine about how it was using the money. And the school owed Imagine $1.2 million, in part for what the company spent to cover damage from a hurricane but also partly for expenses the company described as “off the books” and never fully accounted for to the school board’s or the district’s satisfaction.

It took Kennesaw more than a year of negotiations to break up with Imagine, and it still owes the company roughly $480,000. But board members say they are finding that they are saving money by running the school themselves.

“For one thing, we’re saving $30,000 that went out each month to pay Imagine’s fees,” Ms. Hardegree said. “We’re finding we’re saving money on every contract that we’re negotiating on our own.”

In New York, the Bronx Academy of Promise Charter School agreed to pay Imagine 12 percent of its revenue as a fee, and an additional 2.5 percent was charged to ensure Imagine would extend a loan to the school should it need one. The doors had hardly opened when the school’s board and principal began having problems with Imagine.

“It was rather baffling, but as a management company, they weren’t providing any management services,” said one person who has worked with the school and spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation. “With the exception of payroll processing and some accounting support, it wasn’t really clear what they were doing for the school.”

At the end of its first school year last May, Bronx Academy broke its contract with Imagine. Mrs. Bakke said that Imagine provided a full battery of educational, financial and administrative services to the Kennesaw school and the Bronx Academy. “Both boards were fully aware of start-up and other costs incurred by Imagine, and the obligation to repay those costs in the event of a termination of contract,” she wrote in an e-mail message.

The Ties That Bind

One of the most difficult tasks for a charter school is getting a building. Only a few cities like New York or Washington help such schools with real estate. And charter schools cannot use tax-exempt bonds to raise money the way public school systems can.

Mrs. Bakke said that Imagine’s real estate activities ease that burden for charter schools and are one of the biggest assets it brings to the table. “Our organization brings new investment into public education and avoids the need for the local community to float school bonds,” she wrote in an e-mail message.

But some regulators and school officials say that Imagine uses debt and real estate to bind schools to it.

Imagine typically buys or leases buildings through a real estate arm, SchoolhouseFinance, and uses those properties to attract groups wanting to open charter schools that then pay to rent them.

Last year, Imagine sold 27 of its school buildings to Entertainment Properties Trust, a real estate investment trust that is the country’s largest owner of movie theaters, as part of a deal that won the company $206 million. The buildings that were sold were leased back by Imagine, which then subleased them to the schools that occupy them.

In February, the company sold seven more schools to Inland American Real Estate Trust for $61 million in a similar arrangement.

Mrs. Bakke said a portion of the proceeds from the sale of those buildings was used to pay off bank debt and construction costs, with the remainder going to buy or construct new buildings and into the operations of existing schools. But board members of eight schools said they were never consulted about the sales or the decision by Imagine to commit them to leases. In at least some cases, Imagine makes money on the subleases. Bronx Academy, for example, paid Imagine $10,000 a month more in rent than the company paid the owner of its building.

The rents the company charges schools it manages now are one of the things threatening to scuttle its agreements with the two schools it manages in Nevada, the 100 Academy of Excellence and Imagine School in the Valle.

Last year, almost 40 percent of the $3.6 million that Nevada paid 100 Academy was spent on rent. Less than half of its total revenue, about 41 percent, was used to cover salaries and benefits for teachers and administrators, who are employees of Imagine.

In contrast, a charter school in Las Vegas of about the same size that operates without a commercial management company, Innovations International Charter School of Nevada, spent 74 percent of its total revenue on salaries and benefits, according to figures provided by Gary A. Horton, an administrator at the Nevada Department of Education.

“After paying for real estate and management, 100 Academy has very little left over for education,” Mr. Horton said.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Core Issue: Teaching Experience - Does It Matter?

Diana Senechal writes in Gotham Schools that experience counts in any discussion of teacher effectiveness.

Why Teaching Experience Matters
by Diana Senechal, Gotham Schools

Teacher layoffs in New York State are about to begin, and they will not be pretty. There is no ideal approach to them; one can only hope to do as little harm as possible. But how do we set our priorities? Who should stay, and why?

Currently, the teachers contract requires layoffs to be done according to seniority, following the basic principle of “last hired, first fired.” In a recent City Journal op-ed, Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Marcus Winters objects to the idea of laying newer teachers off first:

Basing layoffs on seniority would make sense if it were true that more experienced teachers were always more effective. But a wide and uncontroversial body of research says that’s not the case. We know that after only a couple of years in the classroom, a teacher’s additional experience has no bearing on the amount her students learn.

Unfortunately this is one of those “research has shown” statements that distort what the research has actually shown. It is far from true that “after only a couple of years in the classroom, a teacher’s additional experience has no bearing on the amount her students learn.” With respect to test scores alone, the statement is inaccurate — and a teacher’s influence on learning (as any teacher knows) goes far beyond test scores.

What does the “body of research” actually say? A few leading studies indicate that the effect of teacher experience on student achievement is greatest in the first few years. In “Photo Finish” (Education Next, Winter 2007), Thomas J. Kane, Jonah E. Rockoff and Douglas O. Staiger report:

New York’s teachers are no different from other teachers around the country. Teachers make long strides in their first three years, with very little experience-related improvement after that. The students of third-year teachers score 6 percent and 3 percent of a standard deviation higher in math and reading, respectively, than students of first-year teachers.

This does not mean that additional teaching experience has no effect. Charles T. Clotfelter, Helen F. Ladd and Jacob L. Vigdor (2007) have found that teacher experience has a significant positive effect on student achievement, with more than half of the gains occurring during the teacher’s first few years, but substantial gains occurring over subsequent years, albeit at a slower rate. They write:

Compared to a teacher with no experience, the benefits of experience rise monotonically to a peak in the range of 0.092 (from model 4) to 0.119 (from model 5) standard deviations after 21-27 years of experience, with more than half of the gain occurring during the first couple of years of teaching.

None of this is a surprise. Novice teachers are often thrown into chaotic situations; it may take them a year to get their bearings. They may be asked to teach a subject outside of their field, or to teach more than one subject. They may be assigned the lowest-performing students. After a few years, not only do they get a handle on their everyday duties, but their assignments may be slightly easier or closer to what they know.

One would expect, even hope, that a teacher’s effect on test scores would slow down at a certain point. Students have a role in their own achievement, after all. A teacher typically has a mix of students: those who work hard at their subject and those who don’t, those who find the subject easy and those who struggle with it. Yes, a teacher’s instruction has a great effect on students, and teachers should do all they can. But if years of teacher experience had a linear correspondence with gains on test scores, the teacher would essentially control student performance. What would this say for human choice and responsibility? What role would students play in their own education?

Beyond this, there is more to education than test scores in math and reading. It seems silly to belabor the point, but it eludes many policy makers and think-tankers. State tests are low-level tests of skills and strategies. They involve very little subject matter knowledge; to pass a reading test, one need not have read any excellent literature. One doesn’t even need to know how to write a grammatical sentence. An excellent teacher goes far beyond the test in rigor, substance, and understanding, and life experience and teaching experience enrich this.

Besides teaching the actual subject (which is much richer than the stuff on the tests), a teacher offers insight, knowledge, experience, and wisdom, whether directly or indirectly. Over time, a teacher comes to see the education field and his or her subject in perspective. Newer teachers may be excited about new discoveries, but teachers with more experience can distinguish valuable ideas from passing fads. There are exceptions, of course, on both ends. But experience can bring humility, good judgment, and an ability to see and hear the larger story.

A student gleans these things. They affect the sounds in the room, the tenor of the lesson, the way the subject matter comes through. They can be sensed in the tones of the words. I remember how a teacher read Robert Frost’s “Never Again Would Birds’ Song Be the Same,” and the strange mixture of triumph, humor, and sadness in the last line, “And to do that to birds was why she came.” A younger teacher might have read it beautifully but without quite the same mixtures.

The point is not that veteran teachers simply read poems with more feeling. The point is that life experience and the immersion in the subject affect the teaching in all sorts of ways, large and small. Repetition brings not only fluency, but insight; when you teach a subject over and over (especially a subject you know and love), you see more in it and find different ways of presenting it. Your repertoire grows; you have more materials, ideas, and lessons in your mind and file cabinets. You know how to reach your students; you are less severely affected by the day’s or the year’s ups and downs, distractions, and interruptions. Experienced teachers are also a great asset to novice teachers who need advice, encouragement, and guidance. When a school goes through upheavals every few years — discarding one model for another, or firing half its staff–a veteran teacher can help keep the school and its purpose intact.

At the end of his piece, Winters acknowledges that decisions should not depend solely on test scores. But this qualification comes a bit late. Even at their best, tests are confined to the short term and reflect only a fraction of what students learn. Teacher experience — even after the first few years — does affect test scores, but it affects much more than that. What the student turns into habit or remembers years down the road, what continues to play in the mind long after the test is done — that is the stuff of education. That is the stuff that veteran teachers teach well, having learned to sort out the flashy from the true.

Do you think that factors other than seniority should be considered in deciding layoffs?

There is a new comment on the post "Why Teaching Experience Matters".

Author: Julie Cavanagh
In response to, "I’ve always been surprised that more teachers don’t speak out about the issue of ineffective teachers. In private, of course, many teachers will complain about it. In public, though, very few. It might be the biggest piece of evidence that makes me wonder about my assumptions and encourages me to dig deeper."
As as been mentioned here many times the term "ineffective" is a complicated one. As an "effective" teacher, (with humility I say this knowing those who know me in addition to the parents and students I serve who would agree) I think the reason we do not shout from the rooftops about "ineffective" teachers is because there is no real space to do so, we have no influence, we have no power, and in the current reform debate any thing we would say would be used against us as a whole.
In response to, "In any case, I hear you and others (over and over again… it’s finally sinking in!) to look closer at the management side of the equation to better understand school dynamics." I would insert into this conversation the idea of 'peer review'. If we went to a system where teachers are evaluated and supervised by their peers, therefore giving teachers the space to hold eachother accountable, I think we would see far more of a positive impact on the quality of teachers and the profession rather than what we have now, which is a top down, blame based, ineffective evaluation model that is riddled with flaws that encourage political favor, supervisors who are not instructional leaders, and a system that struggles with how to elevate the teaching profession. The fact is, the overwhelming majority of teachers are effective. I work with an amazing group of educators at PS 15 and other education advocates across the city. I am humbled whenever I am in their prese
nce. It is immensely frustrating that the overwhelming majority of us are under attack for the very few who do the bare minimum or perhaps should even choose another profession. This is what is most concerning to me and points to a larger agenda to undermine public education. If 'ed deformers' were really concerned about how to attract and keep quality teachers or 'effective' teachers, they would not be attacking all of us, but seeking authentic ways to weed out the few, and those authentic methods certainly would not be based on test scores, merit pay, and getting rid of tenure. No data and research supports those methods as effective, but yet they are the cornerstone of the current reform debate.
Michael F, thank you for your kind words about our work. We all have different roles to play in this movement, but I certainly am always in awe of your precise, informed and eloquent writings on these issues.

Arthur Goldstein April 6th, 2010
4:23 pm
Thanks for writing this, Diana. With so many tomatoes being thrown at us on a regular basis, it’s nice to know there are some reasonable people writing about education from time to time.

Being a teacher encompasses much more than simply getting kids to pass tests. When you have 34 teenagers in front of you, you really never know what may happen. But here’s a fact–every time you deal with a crisis, you have a little better idea what to do during the next one. And the longer you do it, the better you get at it.

It’s ridiculous to say teachers do not get better after three years. Maybe I’m a slow learner, but I’m much, much better than I was as a three year teacher. If you can’t learn anything after three years, you likely couldn’t learn anything before either. And if that’s the case, you may as well give up teaching and get some no-challenge gig like writing op-eds for the New York Post.

leonie haimson April 6th, 2010
5:14 pm
The most important thing a teacher can do is to inspire a student to want to learn more.

Diana Senechal April 6th, 2010
5:58 pm

That is a difficult question. I would say, offer an excellent layoff package and ask for volunteers first. There may be many who would like to take a break, provided they could afford it and provided they could leave in good standing, with no stigma attached to the layoff.

Of course this has problems. A good layoff package is expensive, and you can’t guarantee that these volunteers wouldn’t be stigmatized for leaving. In fact, like any of the solutions, it’s probably badly flawed.

No solution that I can think of is really fair. But whatever course is taken, the DoE should admit to the unfairness of it and do something to honor and help those who have to leave. And this should not be an opportunity to hurt veteran teachers, push value-added assessment, or do anything other than cope with the crisis in the way that will do the least harm.

And the DoE could cut costs in other areas–for instance, hire fewer consultants. That could save many teacher jobs. Consultants often make more in a day than teachers in a week.

Much is affected by the spirit in which this is done. Rationalizations like Winters’ misrepresent what veteran teachers have to offer. This attitude has been growing more pervasive, and affects the school and the kids. Is it good for kids to see (relatively) older teachers treated as though they were less worthy? What does this tell the kids about how they should treat their teachers and parents? What does it tell them about their own futures? Doesn’t it send the message, “after 40 you don’t count any more”? That is no way to live, no way to be educated, and not true to reality.

Arthur, thanks for the kind words and comment.

Leonie, I agree, that’s one of the most important things a teacher can do. There are other important things and things that overlap with it–but in any case we shouldn’t lose sight of it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Florida Passes Teacher Merit-Pay Bill

Is this a sign of something coming to New York?

Teachers and other opponents of the merit pay legislation protest in a walk from Lee Middle School to the CTA/OESPA office in Orlando on April 8, 2010. (JACOB LANGSTON, ORLANDO SENTINEL / April 8, 2010)

House passes landmark teacher merit-pay bill
After more than nine hours of debate, lawmakers vote along party lines in approving historic bill. But will Crist sign it?

By Josh Hafenbrack and Leslie Postal , Orlando Sentinel, April 9, 2010


The Florida House passed a landmark teacher merit-pay bill early this morning that aims to put the state at the forefront of a controversial national push to tie teacher compensation to student performance.

The bill (SB6), identical to the Senate version that passed two weeks ago, upends the current salary system based on years worked and advanced degrees earned. In its place, it creates a new, complicated plan that eliminates tenure for beginning teachers and ties teacher pay largely to student learning gains on standardized tests

Before a marathon debate on merit pay that lasted more than nine hours, the House sent three other major education bills to Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday that would:

• Add tough, new graduation requirements (SB 4) mandating students take harder math and science courses and pass new end-of-course exams to earn diplomas.

• Ask voters to scale back the state's class-size law (SJR 2) they approved in 2002. If voters agreed in November, it would leave class sizes in Florida pretty much where they are today.

• Expand a voucher program (SB 2126) that gives poor children scholarships to attend private schools.

But the sweeping teacher merit-pay plan is the reform that has generated the most controversy – sparking outrage among Florida's teachers.

Florida would become the first state in the nation to enact such a broadside on teacher tenure, which Republicans said would reward excellent teachers with higher salaries and get rid of a system that promotes mediocrity

The House began debating the merit-pay measure at 5 p.m. Thursday and didn't take a final vote until 2:26 a.m. today, after 69 House members debated for 10 or 15 minutes each with dueling talking points. The final vote: 64-55.

Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, called it one of the most "transformational policy changes that our state and our nation has ever seen."

"It is tough and it is scary and does make you do a gut check and ask, is this right?" Cannon said. "And the answer is, it absolutely is right."

Every House Democrat and 11 Republicans opposed the measure, but the GOP's lopsided majorities in Tallahassee provided just enough cushion to push it through. Now, it's up to an undecided Gov. Charlie Crist on whether to veto the bill or sign it into law.

Under the bill, pay raises for Florida's 167,000 teachers would be based primarily on student test scores. No longer would years of experience and degrees dictate teacher salary. Instead, pay would hinge on student "learning gains," as charted by standardized tests, and principal reviews.

In addition, the bill would eliminate tenure job protections for teachers hired after July. New teachers would work on one-year contracts, which would be renewed only if their students show testing gains two out of every three years.

Advocates say it will improve Florida's public schools by rewarding good teachers with bigger paychecks and weeding out ineffective instructors.

"This is what I like about the bill…If you do a good job, you make more money," said Rep. Mike Horner, R -Kissimmee, arguing it would motivate teachers and have a "profound effect on the students in this state."

Many teachers, however, view it as unfair, unrealistic and unworkable.

"The Legislature truly just doesn't care about public schools," thundered Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, the teachers union. "The 2010 legislative session turned back the clock to the 1960s in Florida. They've truly just undone everything we've accomplished since Reubin Askew was governor."

If it becomes law with Crist's signature, the Florida Education Association may challenge the legislation in court, arguing that it interferes with collective bargaining and leaves too many details to be worked out later by the Florida Department of Education.

The late-night session was rare, especially to decide such a weighty issue. But in a chamber with 120-members, many who love giving speeches, the hours dragged on.

Some legislators ticked off as many of their teachers as they could remember. Just before midnight, one representative performed a symbolic burial of the bill – stuffing it in a trash can. A few minutes laters, at 11:45 p.m. Thursday, House Speaker Larry Cretul announced there were still 20 scheduled speakers left. Legislators let out an audible gasp, then settled in for three more hours.

Democrats were "bordering on fury," in the words of Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Davie. Critics expressed alarm about linking teacher livelihoods to student scores, even though teachers can't control external factors such as student's home life or socioeconomic status.

The bill is "discouraging and insulting" to reachers, said Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota.

"The impact of this bill could well be devastating to the morale of teachers around this state," he said. "It amounts to a gigantic social experiment" on testing and teachers.

"Teachers are teachers -- not miracle workers," said Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, one of the Republicans to cross party lines and oppose the bill.

Most Republicans said it's essential to get rid of teacher tenure. The system means "no matter how bad you are, once you've been there for three years, short of committing some heinous crime, you can't be fired," said Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda. "Tenure means never having to say you're sorry."

But teachers dislike that the bill ends the job security of "continuing contracts" and fear it would hold their paychecks hostage to students whose academic performance can be impacted by their world outside the classroom.

Some also question how the state and the school districts, as the bill requires, can develop so many new tests to cover teachers whose work is not tested on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test or national exams such as Advanced Placement.

Orange County teacher Regina Hellinger was so upset by the bill that she went to Tallahassee to testify against it at a March 25 House panel hearing.

A pay system tied so tightly to student academic performance will force teachers to abandon other activities that enrich students' education and will be "devastating" to public education, she said.

"It's so counter-productive to what we need to do, which is address the whole child," she said.

Hellinger, who teachers gifted students at Endeavor Elementary, said she has never seen her colleagues so angry and upset by Tallahassee-based decisions.

"I think teachers are going to react by actively campaigning against people who voted for this," she said. " This is going to bring us to the point where we're not going to be complacent anymore."

Teachers unions in both Orange and Volusia counties staged rallies this evening to show their opposition to the bill.

Osceola County teacher Marylee Chavez moved to Florida from Wisconsin six years ago. She said the proposal would make Florida unattractive to out-of-state teachers, who just a few years ago were actively recruited to work here.

"This is going to scare a lot of really great teachers who have been in the system a long time," said the second-grade teacher at Kissimmee Elementary. "It's going to make them say, ‘Why on earth would I want to be in Florida?'"

The big question now: What will Crist do? Although he'd previously expressed support, Crist is now considering a veto, citing teacher concerns. The governor said before Thursday's vote he hasn't decided what he'll do, but added he's "listening to the people of Florida, my boss." He has a week to act.

Crist's office has been inundated by opponents of the bill: 6,161 phone calls, 6,597 e-mails and another 3,358 "organized campaign" e-mails as of Wednesday. By comparison, 53 residents called or e-mailed the governor to voice support.

Republican legislators are furious about Crist's shift. "He's told me he's going to sign it, and I take him at his word," said Senate sponsor John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

Leslie Postal can be reached at or 407-420-5273.

Florida's merit-pay plan for teachers prompts debate
A measure moving through the Legislature would make performance paramount in deciding a teacher's pay raise

High school teacher Kathy Pham has earned two master's degrees and advanced certification over her 27 years in the classroom -- and thousands of dollars in extra pay.

Nicole Singleton Greenberg, a nine-year teacher, is planning to get her master's degree in elementary education.

If a bill speeding through the Florida Legislature becomes law, the Boulevard Heights Elementary teacher will likely not see any additional pay for that degree.

``It's definitely disheartening,'' she said.

The measure, which has passed the Florida Senate and one committee in the House, would base teacher pay in part on student achievement rather than the current system of years of teaching experience and credentials.

Some education experts say Florida districts could struggle to recruit new teachers if the bill becomes law, and fewer existing teachers would seek higher education or extra certification.

Performance-based pay is a polarizing concept, with supporters saying it will boost pay for highly effective teachers and provide young educators with a quicker way to earn more.

But opponents say it would result in an even stronger reliance on standardized tests and, by eliminating tenure in the future, leave new teachers without any hope for job security.

Districts would have to make their teacher contracts conform to the law or risk losing state money.

``We all want to have better teachers and improve education for everyone,'' said Marilyn Neff, an associate dean at the University of Miami School of Education. ``But some of the provisions in the bill aren't going to have that effect.''

Spurred by powerful teacher unions, thousands of teachers, students and parents have marched against the bill and flooded legislators' and Gov. Charlie Crist's in boxes with protests.

While the bill is backed by many Republicans, some GOP lawmakers are speaking out against it.

``We're trying to encourage Florida to have the best teachers,'' said state Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, who has planned a Monday news conference to oppose the bill. ``It discourages anyone from wanting to come to Florida to teach.''

If signed into law, the new bill would make teacher performance paramount in deciding a teacher's pay raise. For classroom teachers, at least half of their pay would be based on student improvement on the FCAT and other standardized tests. Principals and other instructional personnel would use the average improvement for the entire school. Teachers whose students don't make learning gains could lose their jobs.

The proposed law, parts of which would go into effect in 2014, would eliminate tenure for new teachers, who would instead be on single-year contracts.

Wayne Driscoll, the dean of the faculty at Nova Southeastern University's Fischler School of Education and Human Services, worries the bill might discourage teachers from pursuing advanced degrees.

That, he said, could have an adverse effect on teacher quality in Florida.

``Masters and specialist courses give teachers the chance to talk about the profession, to look at trends and data,'' he said. ``Teachers can't be counted upon, in the busy day that they have, to sit there and go searching for new techniques and new methods. They just don't have the time.''

But Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith said the vast majority of teachers who get advanced degrees do so in fields like administration, not the area they teach.

If the bill becomes law, he said, ``it'll change the market out there dramatically.'' He predicted teachers would seek out programs that would ``make a difference in their ability to be successful with kids.''

Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a teacher advocacy group, said the impact on teacher recruitment would likely be mixed, with some attracted to the idea of merit-based pay and others getting scared off. The council supports the bill.

``Hopefully, what they'll see is that this isn't a gotcha system meant to gut every teacher in Florida,'' she said. ``It's meant to identify the best performers and identify the weakest and help everybody in between to develop and improve.''

One way that teachers have boosted their pay is to go through the rigorous and expensive National Board Certification process, which they must complete over the course of a school year. The state used to cover 90 percent of the $2,500 application fee. Now it covers nothing. The state has also cut back on salary incentives for teachers who are certified, though teachers still get a bonus of up to 10 percent of the average teacher salary every year for 10 years.

Florida has the second-highest number of teachers in the nation who have been certified; Broward is the country's top district.

Teachers who aren't certified by 2010 would not receive any compensation under the bill.

Karen Garr, regional outreach director for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, said she believes fewer teachers would seek certification without the incentive -- which, she said, would be detrimental.

``If we can hang onto these people by giving them this career growth opportunity, and one that we know makes a difference to kids, then that seems to be a boost for the schools, the communities, the state as a whole.''

Pham, who got her certification in 2001 and is getting recertified now, said she would have gone through the process even without the extra pay.

``It's important, it's valuable, it makes you a better teacher,'' said the Hialeah Senior High language arts teacher. ``My students benefit.''

Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based research group, said Florida would suffer if fewer teachers sought the ``well-developed, nationally recognized'' certification.

``That would be a loss,'' he said.

Jennings said changing to a performance pay system is tricky because research has not proved that performance pay is effective.

``There's a nub of truth in this in trying to look at test scores to see how well teachers do,'' he said. ``It's something that has to be done very carefully before it destroys the teaching profession.''

Saturday, April 10, 2010

In Chicago, The "Excellence In Teaching Program" Is Tested

Katie Loveland, a fifth-grade teacher at the George B. Swift Specialty School, took a one-on-one approach in explaining fractions.

The issue that has created the problem of the "Rubber Rooms" is that Joel Klein and Mike Bloomberg have given principals, and the retired policemen and policewomen who are now working with OSI and SCI, the right to say "Jane/John Doe is a 'bad' teacher and I want her/him out of my school". Proving this statement comes later, or not at all.

In order to escape accountability for making false claims against NYC BOE employees, education administrators threaten and harass their victims to the point where they have to decide to prove their innocence, or give up, pay the fine offered by the Gotcha Squad, and agree never to sue the NYC BOE/DOE.

If you are the victim, here are my suggestions:

(1) if you are guilty of what you are accused of, settle, pay the fine, take the punishment (as long as the punishment fits the crime);

(2) if you are not guilty, stand your ground, gather your evidence, request that your advocate/lawyer contact your witness(es) and fight to prove your innocence.

Submission to threats and false claims about you/your character will follow you wherever you go for the rest of your career and your life.

Who is a 'bad' teacher? Who gave Joel Klein the right to say to principals and fake investigators that they could evaluate teachers and make a determination of their teaching abilities without, in most cases, ever having been a teacher themselves?
Click here for Klein's statement about teaching at a January 2004 breakfast.

Did big money, as in The Broad Foundation, change America's perspective on who could evaluate teachers?

Louis V. Gerstner Jr. thought he knew when he and others formed The Teaching Commission in 2003. Their report on obtaining "the best" teachers, "Teaching At Risk", reminded me of China's Chairman Mao's Little Red Book (which I picked up in Chinese when I visited Hong Kong in 1968) was followed by "Teaching At Risk: Progress and Potholes" in which Mr. Gerstner closed the doors on his Commission with some final comments.

April 8, 2010
Schools Test a New Tool for Improving Evaluation of Teachers

In a Chicago Public Schools system where half the schools are on probation yet 93 percent of teachers are rated “excellent” or “superior,” administrators are testing an evaluation process to more accurately measure a teacher’s classroom performance — with an eye toward closing the huge gap.

A pilot program called Excellence in Teaching, now being tested in 100 Chicago schools, seeks to produce an honest conversation about performance, useful feedback to teachers from principals and more realistic evaluations of performance in the classroom. Instead of a vague checklist that principals use to rate teacher effectiveness, the new program aims to define good and bad teaching, gives principals and teachers a common language to discuss frankly how to make improvements, and requires evidence that teachers meet certain criteria.

The Chicago Teachers Union has indicated support for the concept behind Excellence in Teaching, but specifics of any new evaluation system will have to be negotiated with the district.

“We’ve gone far too long without a definition of what good teaching looks like,” said Sheri Frost Leo, a manager in the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Human Capital.

The pilot program is “trying to shift the conversation from opinion, judgment and surface-level conversations around a checklist to deeper-level conversation,” Ms. Leo said.

As the Obama administration pushes for assessments tied to student achievement with its Race to the Top program, school districts nationwide are under pressure to redesign their teacher evaluations. But for teachers and students to improve, educators say an evaluation system must go beyond just stamping each teacher with a rating.

“It’s not sufficient to say your kids aren’t learning fractions well. The teacher needs to know, What do I do differently to teach the kids fractions?” said Charlotte Danielson, an educator who developed the Framework for Teaching criteria that Chicago Public Schools and other Illinois districts are using to define effective or ineffective teaching.

Currently, Chicago principals evaluate teachers using a one-page list of general questions about teacher practices. Next to each category the principal can mark “strength,” “weakness” or “does not apply.”

Provides written lesson plans? Check.

Presents an appearance that does not adversely affect the students’ ability to learn? Check.

Keeps up-to-date records? Check.

Some principals argue that, because of the checklist’s limitations, they may end up marking an entry as “strength” when it really belongs in a lesser category. A teacher may present a lesson plan that satisfies the checklist criteria, but that same plan may not necessarily engage students and help them learn.

For their part, teachers complain about the lack of feedback about their work. In some cases, principals do not even observe teachers in their classrooms, with some saying they just “know” good teaching.

“Our current process is a flawed process,” said Connee R. Fitch-Blanks, who coordinates professional development programs for the Chicago Teachers Union. “It does not lend itself to teacher growth or student achievement.”

As it builds a new system, Chicago Public Schools is also looking to the Chicago Teacher Advancement Program, a pilot project that awards bonuses to teachers whose students improve academically, as well as Fresh Start, another experimental program that features intensive peer review and mentoring for struggling teachers. State law requires the district to have a new system in 300 of its schools by Sept. 1, 2012.

In 2007-8, the school administration and the union settled on the criteria developed by Ms. Danielson to create Chicago’s Excellence in Teaching pilot. Teachers are rated in 22 categories. For example, an “unsatisfactory” rating is given to teachers who elicit “recitation rather than discussion” with their questions to students. Ms. Danielson’s assessment system also defines “basic” and “proficient” teaching. According to the ratings system, teachers are rated “distinguished” if “students formulate many of the high-level questions.”

The teachers’ union withdrew from the project because of disagreements about the nonrenewal of teachers without tenure. But Dr. Fitch-Blanks said the union was otherwise in favor of including Excellence in Teaching in the district’s new evaluation system in part because it offered an opportunity to develop a process in which teachers could grow professionally.

Because of the disagreement with the union, the district started the Excellence in Teaching project in 2008-9 as a supplement to the checklist, which is still the official system.

At the George B. Swift Specialty School in the Edgewater neighborhood recently, Harlee Till, the principal, took notes on a clipboard in the back of Katie Loveland’s fifth-grade classroom as the teacher drew circles on a white board to illustrate whole numbers.

Ms. Loveland, in her seventh year of teaching, has struggled to get her students to understand the concept of equivalent fractions. Instead of having Ms. Till observe a lesson that Ms. Loveland knows she can ace, she has asked the principal to critique this lesson about adding and subtracting fractions.

As part of the pilot project, Ms. Loveland and Ms. Till had a conference before the observation session to discuss her lesson plan. Later, they discussed the lesson, what Ms. Loveland is doing right and, more importantly to both, what she could do better.

“With just a checklist, a lot of teachers feel like ‘I know what’s on the checklist — I have to do this, this and this,’ ” Ms. Loveland said. “This is a more effective tool to communicate with the principal and how they can help you to better serve the students.”

According to an evaluation of the first year of Excellence in Teaching by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, about half the participating principals noted improvements in teachers’ instructional approach.

Since the Swift school started using the pilot program, Ms. Till said she had seen a positive shift toward more student involvement. The school was moving along, test scores were on the rise, she said, but it was all predicated on teachers’ pushing students in that direction.

“With the pilot,” she said, “the only way you can get the highest marking is if the kids have ownership, if the kids are the ones helping manage behavior in the classroom, asking the right questions.”

If problems are identified, schools can bring in professional-development support, including mentoring, to push teachers forward. But in cases where performance is exceptionally low, school leaders expect that a more accurate and consistent system of evaluating classroom performance will provide better evidence to justify removing some low-performing teachers, something rarely done in Chicago.

In 2008-9, 0.16 percent of teachers — a total of 35 of about 22,500 teachers — were removed, resigned or retired after performance-related dismissal proceedings were started, according to district figures.

The consortium’s report on Excellence in Teaching shows that the new ratings for teachers are starting to spread across a wider range. Of the ratings given to Excellence in Teaching teachers through March 5, 3 percent were “unsatisfactory,” 21 percent fell into the “basic” category, 55 percent were “proficient” and 21 percent were “distinguished.”

Under the checklist system, 0.3 percent of teachers are found to be “unsatisfactory.” Consortium researchers pointed out that more teachers would be identified as low-performing under the new system, as 8 percent of teachers in the sample for the first year report received at least one finding of “unsatisfactory,” which is described as hindering students’ learning.

Of the teachers in the pilot program who received the top rating, “superior,” under the checklist, independent observers found only 1 percent to be worthy of the top rating under the new system. A few of the teachers were even rated “unsatisfactory,” according to the consortium study.

Lauren Sartain, an author of the consortium report, said the checklist system did not provide clear criteria for finding teachers to be excellent or superior. “Those labels are applied arbitrarily,” Ms. Sartain said, “and this data backs that up.”

Some principals told researchers that the new framework made them realize how subjective they had been in past evaluations, that more training was needed and that the district needed to address how time-consuming the new program was.

Sylvia Baime, going on her 20th year as a teacher in the district, said most teachers wanted constructive critiques to improve.

“Someone comes in, actually observes you and gives their feedback — rather than just saying ‘Oh, here you go. You’re a wonderful teacher. Goodbye,’ ” Ms. Baime said.