Be Careful What You Wish For

This is an all-too common refrain. One current example, according to Bradley Marianno at the74 is the Los Angeles teacher strike. Anti-union advocates had thought they had put the nail in the public sector strike with the Janus v. AFSCME ruling. In the dynamics of the modern teacher, however, this has only made the reality of unions and a common cause all the more pertinent.

He sums up his take:

United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl has, on multiple occasions, drawn connections to the spring walkouts and Janus, and he has made the pitch that the union is the best shot for gaining increased school funding and greater respect for education and for teachers. With momentum already building from job actions in Washington and Chicago, the court case may have served as more of a wake-up call than a death knell.

If the L.A. strike leads to real improvements for its members, it will once again showcase the value of unions and ensure their survival and relevance in a post-Janus world — and the baton will pass to the next group of dissatisfied educators and teachers unions eager to prove their worth.

Bradley Marianno, “Analysis: From the High Court to the Picket Line — How the Janus Case Emboldened Teachers Unions & Made Strikes Key to Their Survival,” The74. January 16, 2019

It was 20 years ago today…

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Amnesia can be wonderful thing, especially in politics. To listen to  John Kennedy, one may think that of course, the teacher pension problem is about poor planning. Then again, that may not be a flaw but a feature. He writes for the West Michigan Policy Forum:

It’s simple math. Today’s vastly underfunded teacher pension systems are not good for our teachers or students. Twenty years ago our state teacher retirement plan was fully funded, but due to poor financial planning assumptions and not meeting the annual funding requirement, there is now a shortfall of least $29 billion.

Here’s where amnesia takes over: twenty years ago the Engler administration raided the teacher pension fund as part of Prop A. Under that same plan, the Engler administration also shifted responsibility for increases in pensions to the local districts. The raid destabilized the funds and the cost shift meant that districts came into fiscal risk while simultaneously losing money to effectively teach their children.

And to spell this out completely: John Engler enjoyed some of his most significant support from the Republican party of W Michigan. This crisis is almost entirely one of their own making.

Better Teachers

 

The release of rankings by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has Tom Watkins again worrying about teacher quality.

I firmly believe our public schools, both traditional and charter, are the true Statute of Liberty of this great country of ours. They take the tired, hungry, poor, children that speak English as their second language, and children with disabilities, and provide them with hope and opportunity. Great educators are the torch lighting the way for us all. We need to be about lifting up our teachers and children while being ready to challenge the status quo.
Are we producing quality teachers in the fields of greatest demand?

It is not enough simply to throw out bad teachers — we need to better ones but where will they come from? The discussion flows in three streams. Unfortunately, Watkins wants to take all three.

First, thee is the contrast between mere credentials and actual skills.  The bad teachers and bad programs often deal with failure on the skills/classroom management side. Here the Spartans have made real progress with their year long practicums and supervision by mentors.

A second proposal is to look outside the educational matrix for talents. This is the old Engler reform, and one that has some plausibility. One expects that those who are skilled in one area might be able to be a success elsewhere. This is the theory of adjuncts at the college level.  ere, we could  think of Teach for America as a natural experiment. These are highly intellectually skilled, motivated students and yet only 50 percent last. There is lot to be said for the TFA model and how it challenges many teacher ed programs — a TFA grad is probably preferred to the recent grad from  Lake Superior State — at the bottom in the MI NCTQ ranking.

And then there is the curriculum. By its own admission, the NCTQ standards focus on the curriculum. This has a formal objective quality, more prescriptive than anything else. Intuitively, we think that good programs must also do something on the actual shaping of the student, that being a teacher is more than course mastery.

The problem lies elsewhere: we have created a political rift between the political class and the schools. Michigan schools go under-funded in part because of reaction to and conflict with the teacher unions. The habit of underfunding schools, first begun in the golden age of the automobile, is now baked in by means of political conflict. When we can’t reform for fear of advantaging our opponents — our students pay the price.

Everything You’ve Heard About Failing Schools Is Wrong

Mother Jones takes us inside a “failing” school to see the very hard work of teachers. If you’re looking at why school reform should focus on teachers, here it is. This quote expresses the amazement.
“Yet even as the school was being placed on the list of lowest-performing schools, 84 percent of the graduating class went on to college, higher than the district average; this year, 88 percent were accepted. (Nationally, 32 percent of Latino and 38 percent of African American students go to college.) That same year, Mission improved Latinos’ test scores more than any other school in the district. And while suspensions are skyrocketing across the nation, they had gone down by 42 percent at Mission. Guthertz had seen dropout rates fall from 32 percent to 8 percent. Was this what a failing school looked like?”
Attendance: up. Dropout rates: plummeting. College acceptance: through the roof. My mind-blowing year inside a “low-performing” school.