A California judge has ruled that teacher-tenure laws deprive students of their right to an education under the California State Constitution and violate their civil rights, reports Jennifer Medina for The New York Times. The decision could radically alter how California teachers are hired and fired, and is expected to prompt challenges in other states. The decision, endorsed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, closes the first chapter of Vergara v. California, in which a group of student plaintiffs backed by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur argued that California tenure laws deprived them of a decent education by leaving bad teachers in place. In his 16-page ruling, Judge Rolf Treu agreed with the plaintiffs’ contention that California’s laws make it impossible to remove the system’s numerous low-performing and incompetent teachers, and that tenure essentially assures them a job for life; that seniority rules requiring newest teachers to be laid off first are harmful; and that granting tenure to teachers after only two years on the job is farcical. Further, the least effective teachers are disproportionately assigned to schools filled with low-income and minority students. The decision is believed to be the first legal opinion to assert that quality of education is as important as access to schools and/or sufficient funding. More. Related
Twilight of the teacher unions?
As the two national teacher unions prepare for conventions this summer, they are roiled by the current moment in their history, writes Stephanie Simon for Politico.com. Long powerful in American politics, the unions face falling revenue, declining membership, damaging court cases, defection of Democratic allies, and a public-relations campaign portraying them as greedy and selfish. Responding to these challenges has been difficult, since both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are divided internally. One faction urges compromise, another pushes for confrontation. Collectively, teacher unions represent 3.8 million workers and retirees, and bring in $2 billion a year. Yet 43 percent of Americans saw teachers unions as a negative influence last year, up from 31 percent in 2009. Union leaders have responded by supporting proposals they once reviled, including rating teachers partially by student outcomes. They’ve also swallowed frustration and put political muscle behind Democrats firmly in the reform camp, starting with President Obama. But that impulse to accommodate has sparked furious backlash from some rank-and-file. Analysts, even those sympathetic to organized labor, say teacher unions risk alienating the public with their constant complaints about a wealthy conspiracy against them, and their defense of job protections like those found unconstitutional last week in California. More
Bill Gates’s Common Core
In a lengthy article profiling the involvement of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the Common Core State Standards movement, Lyndsey Layton writes in The Washington Post that the foundation didn’t merely bankroll the movement’s development. It built national political support, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes. Bill Gates was de facto organizer, providing money and structure in a way that avoided a collision of states’ rights and national interests. The foundation spread money to teacher unions and to business organizations — groups that have clashed in the past — as well as to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political stripes. Money also flowed to state and local groups to influence policymakers and civic leaders. The idea found a major booster in President Obama. And yet, because of the way education policy is decided, the Common Core was instituted in many states without a single vote taken by an elected lawmaker. In an interview, Bill Gates said his role has been to fund research and development of new tools like the Common Core and offer them to decision-makers trying to improve education. It’s up to the government to decide which tools to use, but someone has to invest in their creation, he feels. More
A new paper from the American Enterprise Institute re-examines the film Waiting for Superman, finding it to have been neither overwhelming success nor abject failure, but a new kind of advocacy that solicited public sympathy and support through popular media. The report credits the film with real-world effects: creation of The Huffington Post education page; $2 million in classroom donations from ticket sales and DonorsChoose; and increased interest and funding for participating nonprofits and schools. Participant — Superman’s production company — in its promotional materials credits the film with creation of StudentsFirst, use of the parent trigger, and a February 2011 speech from the AFT around revamping teacher evaluation and tenure, among other things. A 2011 study by the Ford Foundation found film viewers remembered key facts afterward and expressed interest in learning more, but the movie was “unable to foster a national conversation among those not previously invested in the education-reform debate.” A 2013 study from USC found viewers learned key concepts and were more likely to seek information about public education, encourage friends to demand better schools, donate books or materials, and volunteer. Still, the movie only weakly motivated viewers to take larger organizational action. The paper draws several lessons for this newer advocacy: a campaign’s main characters must be diverse enough to engage a broad audience, and address fundamental issues over narrow ones; it must resist the urge to be comprehensive, and can be controversial only to a point; and producers should anticipate being misunderstood and prepare counter-arguments, as well as devise concrete actions for viewers and policymakers to take. More
A salvo from Haycock and Ali
Recently, AFT President Randi Weingarten and Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond redefined “accountability” to mean its opposite, write Kati Haycock of the Education Trust and Russlyn Ali of the Emerson Collective in The Huffington Post. In doing so, Haycock and Ali say, they illustrated perfectly how the reform debate makes false connections between policies and outcomes. The Weingarten/Darling-Hammond piece asserts that California’s record graduation rates and gains on national eighth-grade exams are the result of new funding formulas and testing policies not in place until after these gains. That they call California exemplary is “laughable,” given that the state’s educational system so poorly serves low-income students and students of color who make up its majority. “California’s educational system has for years been gripped by a kind of ‘pobrecito’ phenomenon, where hugging kids is considered an acceptable substitute for teaching them,” Haycock and Ali say. Accountability for student learning has never been taken seriously. “Our kids take the journey through school only once; the poorest among them, in particular, need us to get serious about their education while they’re on that journey — not years later,” Haycock and Ali write. They feel Weingarten and Darling-Hammond are saying that public education doesn’t need meaningful expectations and consequences. Instead, schools just need greater resources, support, and time. More. Related
Perhaps new teacher evals aren’t so bad
New York City public school teachers used to receive either a ‘satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory’ rating, reports Beth Fertig for WNYC. In 2012, 97 percent were deemed satisfactory. Now, teachers are rated through a combination of classroom observations and student test scores, and teachers and principals say overall they appreciate the classroom-observation component — it’s just very complicated. Last year, principals had to make four classroom observations of every teacher, and observe for 15 minutes each time. During these visits, they measured teachers on 22 competencies. The new teacher contract reduces the competencies to eight, partly because principals were overwhelmed. At the Community Action School on West 93rd in Manhattan, Principal John Curry and special ed teacher Noah Foster allowed Fertig to record a classroom observation and follow-up conversation. Curry recently assessed Foster’s seventh grade English class, which he was co-teaching with a general education teacher because it had a mix of students. Curry brought his laptop for notes, and cell phone to record parts of the lesson. He leaned in when Foster pressed students to think about a writing assignment based on a chart about student crime. “Careful — does the data say that kids are turning into criminals?” Foster asked. Curry rated Foster “highly effective” on six of eight areas, “effective” on two. But the conversation with his principal meant more to Foster than actual ratings. “I value these conversations extraordinarily,” Foster says. More
Shelby County Schools, one year on
A new report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education evaluates the merger of Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools — the largest district consolidation in American history. Prior to the merger, Memphis had low-performing schools and an “impenetrable” central office; Shelby County had better-performing schools but persistent achievement gaps and few charters. District leaders elected to manage a portfolio of different school types, including some operated by charter organizations, and hold all schools to identical expectations. The report assesses the new Shelby County Schools (SCS) in terms of: options for families; school autonomy; pupil-based funding; talent-seeking strategies; sources of support; performance-based accountability for schools; and public engagement. It found communication with families, autonomy for principals, and performance-based accountability to be weak areas; however, the district’s pipeline to high-quality teacher- and leader-preparation programs, and hiring from these pipelines, was a strength. Researchers note that since they conducted interviews, the district has taken significant steps. All departments are building a menu of services with associated price points so school leaders have budgetary discretion; it’s developing a pupil-based funding model to allocate dollars to schools rather than employees; and creating a school-performance framework so families can access information. The report concludes that SCS has used the merger to leverage opportunities for students, institute financial soundness, and build a self-reflective, transparent organization, albeit with significant work left to do. More
NCLB and teacher morale: No biggie
A new report from the American Educational Research Association investigates NCLB’s impact on teacher perceptions of work environments and related attitudes, including satisfaction and commitment to remain in teaching. Using four iterations of the Schools and Staffing Survey from 1994 to 2008, it documents overall trends in teacher attitudes and uses the presence and strength of prior state accountability systems, as well as likely impacts on high- and low-poverty schools, to isolate NCLB’s effects. Researchers documented substantial changes in job satisfaction and job commitment since implementation of NCLB, though not negatively, as has been argued elsewhere. For example, while teacher hours have increased, so have feelings of classroom control and perceptions of support from peers, administrators, and parents. They found some indication of negative effects on perceptions of teacher cooperation, but also potentially offsetting positive effects on perceptions of administrator support and classroom control. “Simply stated, our results do not support media accounts, academic reports, or policy rhetoric that portray NCLB as undermining teacher morale and intent to remain in the profession,” the authors write. They concede it’s possible that NCLB is only beginning to have substantive impact on teachers as states fully implement the law and its sanction provisions; future research can test this as newer data become available. More
BRIEFLY NOTED CALIFORNIA
Consider the source
Los Angeles’s top juvenile court judge is objecting to a planned diversion of $13 million to school police there from state funds earmarked to provide special-learning assistance to disadvantaged kids.More
A bill making it easier to fire abusive educators headed to Gov. Jerry Brown two days after a judge found California’s teacher-tenure laws unconstitutional. More
California K-12 summer school programs appear to be making a comeback thanks to a rosier budget picture and a new education-funding formula that directs more money to students who would benefit most from added-learning time. More
Something, at least
California will add thousands of transitional kindergarten and childcare slots for young children with a budget deal underway in Sacramento, though these fall short of a broader expansion originally proposed. More
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced support for a two-year moratorium on tying results from assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards to teacher evaluations, or student promotions to the next grade level. More
In his strongest criticism to date, Gov. Bobby Jindal said he wants Louisiana out of the Common Core and tests that go with it. More
Piece o’ cake
Changes to South Carolina’s education standards will be ready by the time the General Assembly returns in January, according to an education official. More
Both the New Mexico Public Education Department and Albuquerque Public Schools admit errors in data on which new teacher evaluations were based, but neither could say how widespread problems are. More
Colorado has backed away from its planned July start date for a new mandatory quality-rating system for early childhood education; officials now are aiming for a November launch. More
Teachers and some New York state lawmakers have proposed changing how students compete for admission to New York City’s most selective public high schools, saying the current one-test system is unfair and excludes talented minorities. More
Everyone’s doing it
Seventy-eight percent in a recent survey of 694 teachers with an average of 14.5 years’ experience report using digital games in class, up from 50 percent two years ago. More
Go team go!
The American Medical Association says cheerleading should be considered a sport because of its rigors and risks. More
A Norfolk Circuit Court judge has found Virginia’s school-takeover division to be unconstitutional “because it purports to create a school division that is not supervised by a school board.” More
The National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year award identifies outstanding high school journalism teachers who have done exemplary work in the previous academic year. Maximum award: laptop computer, travel and lodging expenses to national conference, per diem for substitute teacher fees, and a quarterly column for the Fund’s newspaper; the winner also attends a seminar at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., and a senior student at the winning teacher’s school will receive $1,000 to study journalism, based on performance in a writing contest held at his or her school. Eligibility: high school teachers with at least three years’ experience. Deadline: July 9, 2014.
National Association of Independent Schools Challenge 20/20 Program provides an opportunity for schools to develop globally based, experiential curricula and to build educational partnerships with schools around the world. Challenge 20/20 students form authentic bonds with students from across the globe, and learn first-hand about cross-cultural communication; together, teams tackle real problems. Maximum award: participation in the program. Eligibility: elementary and secondary schools, public or private, located anywhere in the world. Deadline: August 15, 2014.
Dollar General, in collaboration with the American Library Association (ALA), the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), and the National Education Association (NEA) is sponsoring a school library disaster relief fund for public school libraries in states served by Dollar General. The fund will provide grants to public schools whose school library program has been affected by a disaster. Grants replace or supplement books, media and/or library equipment in the library setting. Maximum award: $15,000 to replace or supplement books, media, and/or library equipment. Eligibility: public school libraries preK-12 within 20 miles of a Dollar General store, distribution center, or corporate office, which have lost their building or incurred substantial damage or hardship due to a natural disaster (tornado, earthquake, hurricane, flood, avalanche, mudslide), fire, or an act recognized by the federal government as terrorism; or have absorbed a significant number (more than 10 percent enrollment) of displaced/evacuee students. Deadline: none.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“When rich folks who’ve just spent a huge amount of money taking away teacher rights and trying to pit teachers versus kids talk about sharing power, let them actually roll up their sleeves and help us educate kids in schools.” — Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, regarding the recent Vergara decision.