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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Standing up for teachers

By , Published: September 17


Teachers are heroes, not villains, and it’s time to stop demonizing them.
It has become fashionable to blame all of society’s manifold sins and wickedness on “teachers unions,” as if it were possible to separate these supposedly evil organizations from the dedicated public servants who belong to them. News flash: Collective bargaining is not the problem, and taking that right away from teachers will not fix the schools.
It is true that teachers in Chicago have dug in their heels against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s demands for “reform,” some of which are not unreasonable. I’d dig in, too, if I were constantly being lectured by self-righteous crusaders whose knowledge of the inner-city schools crisis comes from a Hollywood movie.
The problems that afflict public education go far beyond what George W. Bush memorably called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” They go beyond whatever measure of institutional sclerosis may be attributed to tenure, beyond the inevitable cases of burnout, beyond the fact that teachers in some jurisdictions actually earn halfway decent salaries.
The fact is that teachers are being saddled with absurdly high expectations. Some studies have shown a correlation between student performance and teacher “effectiveness,” depending how this elusive quality is measured. But there is a whole body of academic literature proving the stronger correlation between student performance and a much more important variable: family income.
Yes, I’m talking about poverty. Sorry to be so gauche, but when teachers point out the relationship between income and achievement, they’re not shirking responsibility. They’re just stating an inconvenient truth.
According to figures compiled by the College Board, students from families making more than $200,000 score more than 300 points higher on the SAT, on average, than students from families making less than $20,000 a year. There is, in fact, a clear relationship all the way along the scale: Each increment in higher family income translates into points on the test.
Sean Reardon of Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis concluded in a recent study that the achievement gap between high-income and low-income students is actually widening. It is unclear why this might be happening; maybe it is due to increased income inequality, maybe the relationship between income and achievement has somehow become stronger, maybe there is some other reason.
Whatever the cause, our society’s answer seems to be: Beat up the teachers.
The brie-and-chablis “reform” movement would have us believe that most of the teachers in low-income, low-performing schools are incompetent — and, by extension, that most of the teachers in upper-crust schools, where students perform well, are paragons of pedagogical virtue.
But some of the most dedicated and talented teachers I’ve ever met were working in “failing” inner-city schools. And yes, in award-winning schools where, as in Lake Wobegon, “all the children are above average,” I’ve met some unimaginative hacks who should never be allowed near a classroom.
It is reasonable to hold teachers accountable for their performance. But it is not reasonable — or, in the end, productive — to hold them accountable for factors that lie far beyond their control. It is fair to insist that teachers approach their jobs with the assumption that every single child, rich or poor, can succeed. It is not fair to expect teachers to correct all the imbalances and remedy all the pathologies that result from growing inequality in our society.
You didn’t see any of this reality in “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” the 2010 documentary that argued we should “solve” the education crisis by establishing more charter schools and, of course, stomping the teachers unions. You won’t see it later this month in “Won’t Back Down,” starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, which argues for “parent trigger” laws designed to produce yet more charter schools and yet more teacher-bashing.
I’ve always considered myself an apostate from liberal orthodoxy on the subject of education. I have no fundamental objection to charter schools, as long as they produce results. I believe in the centrality and primacy of public education, but I believe it’s immoral to tell parents, in effect, “Too bad for your kids, but we’ll fix the schools someday.”
But portraying teachers as villains doesn’t help a single child. Ignoring the reasons for the education gap in this country is no way to close it. And there’s a better way to learn about the crisis than going to the movies. Visit a school instead.

The Deceit of Joel Klein Continues

Readers of this blog may recall that after Vincent Foster - Attorney for Hilary and Bill Clinton, killed himself or was killed, a man named Joel Klein took his place.Joel threatened people, according to Linda Tripp, so that the Clintons could evade scrutiny from the public eye for all their misdeeds while in the White House.

Mike Bloomberg liked this idea of blocking the public from information, so Bloomberg brought Klein to New York City to be the so-called "Chancellor" to evade public school constituents as he altered - oops, "reformed" - the New York City Department of Education into a hybrid public/private entity. The secrecy was sanctioned by the whole strategy being called a matter of "National Security".
I wrote about it on this blog and on my website:

Former NYC DOE Chief Executive Officer Joel Klein and Former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice Assess Needs of Public Education From The "National Security" Perspective

Now we see that Joel is still up to his tricks:

SYNERGY: News Corp. Exec Uses News Corp. Paper To Attack Teachers' Strike Without Disclosing News Corp. Testing Contracts

In an op-ed in Sunday's Wall Street Journal, News Corp. executive vice president Joel Klein attacked the ongoing teachers' strike in Chicago without disclosing his role in administering $4.7 million in educational testing contracts at the heart of the dispute.
Joel KleinIn 2010, News Corp. purchased 90 percent of the education technology company Wireless Generation for $360 million, incorporating that company into the education subsidiary of News Corp. now known as Amplify.
Klein, the former schools chancellor for New York City, washired by Rupert Murdoch to run News Corp.'s education division in July of 2010 and is now the CEO of Amplify. While the Journal -- which is also owned by News Corp. -- identified Klein as Amplify's CEO, neither the paper nor Klein himself disclosed that the company has millions of dollars in contracts for the very testing that is a central issue in the strike.
In May, Chicago Public Schools entered into an agreement with Wireless Generation to provide "math assessment services" and "literacy assessment services" to the school district. The math agreement is for "a total cost not to exceed $1,700,000" while the literacy assessment cites a cost "not to exceed $3,000,000." The Progressive Change Campaign Committee first reported on these contracts in a September 12 blog post.
In his op-ed, Klein downplays the teachers' rationale for taking action, writing that the strike "feels more about attitude -- 'the mayor doesn't respect us' -- than substance." In fact, the Chicago Teacher's Union objects to a reformulation of the existing teacher evaluation system which would make standardized tests -- like those administered by Wireless Generation -- count for 40 percent of the score, which will be used to determine teacher pay and whether certain teachers will be laid off.
Union president Karen Lewis said the tests are "no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator" and that "there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control." The union is seeking such scores to weigh less heavily on the teachers' evaluations.
Indeed, reporting in the Journal has highlighted the centrality of teacher evaluations based on standardized testing to the ongoing dispute between teachers and the city. In a September 10 article the Journal noted that the strike has highlighted "a growing national debate over how best to evaluate teachers, set their pay and fire them."
In previous news stories discussing education reform, the Journal has disclosed its financial connection to News Corp. and Wireless Generation. In a May story on education standards, the Journal wrote about "Wireless Generation, an education-technology company owned by News Corp., which also owns The Wall Street Journal." In a January story on the "Race to the Top" education program, they made a similar disclosure. But the paper has not disclosed the contracts with Chicago Public Schools in their coverage of the strike.
Wireless Generation has previously been the target of controversy linked to its News Corp. ownership. In 2011, New York City rejected a $27 million contract with Wireless Generation, specifically citing the ongoing criminal investigation into phone hacking by their parent company. State Controller Thomas DiNapoli wrote, "in light of the significant ongoing investigations and continuing revelations with respect to News Corp., we are returning the contract with Wireless Generation unapproved."

GEM/ATR Committee: Advice To CTU on Protecting The Hiring Pools

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Chicago Teachers Union,
The GEM/ATR Committee's advice on how to be vigilant in protecting the integrity of hiring pools:

1. We wish to warn you that, if left unchecked, Chicago Public Schools will probably hire new, inexperienced teachers, from organizations such as Teach for America recruits, instead of teachers from your hiring pool. We are saying this based on our experience in New York City. The administration uses budget formulas which powerfully incentivize principals to hire new teachers instead of the excessed teachers from the closed schools. Our administration then presents the fiction that the excessed teachers are undesirable/unemployable, when in actuality the administration just wants to hire new teachers over older teachers, because they cost less to the schools.

2. Again, from our experience, if there is no enforcement provision and there is no transparency on the issue of hires in your city, your BOE, just like ours, will not fully comply with their agreement. To avoid these problems, there should be a joint committee between the union and a board of education that is supposed to evaluate the actual performance of the agreement (which we supposedly have in N.Y.C.), AND that the results be regularly published so that union members can be informed, in order to mobilize union members to hold board of education leaders accountable.  In New York, ATRs --excessed teachers, are in the dark as to whether the agreement is being enforced. We have just learned through the media that our ranks stand at a record 1,800 teachers in the excess pool. (Just from casual conversations, many of us learn of positions that were open but were not advertised/posted, even though they are supposed to be advertised.) In other words, if you do not have enforcement provisions and consequences for the BOE, they will not fully follow the agreement.

3. Union leaders should be given timely information as to the performance of the agreement.  By timely, we mean specific deadlines upon which specific information is shared (such as the number of excessed teachers, which licenses, number of new hires, the licenses of the excessed teachers, and proof of advertising/posting of every filled position.)

4. If the agreement/contract is not followed by a board of education there should be consequences to the board, such as allowing more input from teachers and parents as to policy decisions. For example teachers picked by the union, or parents picked by PTAs, would be allowed to vote on board of education policy making committees.  To unelected boards of education, we would say: "You should have no fear of getting increased democracy in policy decisions, if you just follow through with the agreement."

In solidarity, the GEM/ATR Committee, of excessed NYC teachers. (For full disclosure, we are unrepresented dues-paying members of the United Federation of Teachers.)                                                                                       

Teachers and Principals: Have You Checked Your Growth Scores Yet?

Resources About State Growth Measures