Friday, April 28, 2006

The Worst of the Worst

I was re-scanning my copy of Collective Bargaining in Education and came across this link to an article in the National Review. It gives a pretty lurid overview of what it's taken to fire some teachers who really, truly deserved it. For example:

Consider the case of Carolyn White. A fourth-grade teacher at the nationally acclaimed Watchung elementary school in suburban New Jersey, the 48-year-old teacher had logged 27 years in the classroom. She was kind to her students, but she would disappear from the classroom for long periods. Her homework assignments were confusing, and due dates changed at a whim. Her written comments to students were indecipherable. In May 1996, as her students were heading back to their classroom after gym, a 5-year-old girl asked to stop in the lavatory. The child emerged holding a lipstick case that she had picked up. She handed her find to a teacher's aide, who opened it and discovered five vials, two of them filled with cocaine.

Meanwhile, back in the classroom, Miss White had begun a frantic search. ''I lost something,'' she told her students in a panic. She ordered two boys to rifle through their classmates' backpacks. When her lipstick case didn't turn up, she began frisking the bewildered children. Eventually she was arrested and carted off to jail for drug possession. The district superintendent suspended her almost immediately. But she continued to receive her $56,000 salary throughout the months-long criminal hearings. It was part of her teachers-union contract.

There's more in the article.

Read more here, if any.

Thinking about Retirement

In the must read category, this post from EduWonk gets into how the NEA and some of its "partners" may have been too cozy, and how members have suffered as a result. The article that he links to, from the LA Times, is pretty damning.

One thing that I'd like to see, somewhere, is a comparison of the retirement plans between all 50 states. I'm guessing that it's got to be out there somewhere; I've just not found it. I'd love to know who still has Defined Benefit plans, who's using Defined Contributions, who's using a blended model, who's going to have to pray for the continued health of social security, etc.

Up here the Washington State Investment Board does a spectacular job of running our TRS accounts, and the costs are better than reasonable. If you're on TRS it's well worth it to spend some time reading about the different fund offerings, and wandering through the Department of Retirement Systems and reading their material is also a great thing.

I'm dumping as much as I can into my TRS3 account. It's not easy, what with a mortgage and the Little sThinker on the way, but I know (hope?) it'll pay off.

Read more here, if any.


From Lynnwood Elementary School in northwest Washington:

You can read the full story here.

Read more here, if any.

Boom goes the Budget Dynamite, and A Modest Proposal

The most recent budget forecast says we could be looking at a $718 million dollar deficit when the legislature convenes next year. This is better than the $2.5 billion hole they had a couple of years ago, but still disappointing after the spending spree we saw this session. Schools will feel the impact, since we're the biggest part of the state budget, but there's still a lot of time between now and then.

For a while now I've been meaning to plug the 2006 Legislative Report from the Washington Association of School Administrators. It's the most comprehensive document out there for seeing just what was talked about in Olympia last session from a school standpoint. They show you the ideas that passed as well as the ones that were left on the cutting room floor, which is appreciated. I'm hoping they'll do an update to let us know which laws Governor Gregoire signed and which ones were left to go begging.

And speaking of laws that went begging, let's talk about SB 6411, which would have authorized 6 year long collective bargaining agreements for classified employees and certain other groups, like policemen. It passed the House 74-24 and the Senate 43-4, but was vetoed by the Governor because the duration of bargaining agreements is a mandatory issue in bargaining, could be imposed upon either side during binding arbitration, and thus could be a fiscal menace.

Well and good. In her veto letter the Governor says she'd be more willing to look at the bill next year if those things were addressed. Here's what I'd like to see:

1) Change the bill to include teachers. Any Superintendant or Uniserv rep will tell you that bargaining has a cost attached to it. If that cost occured every six years (or even every four years) instead of every three years, money will be saved.

2) Work around the binding arbitration issue by removing duration from the list of things that are mandatory bargaining items. I have no idea if that's even possible, but it would take care of the big problem.

There's no way that this is a bad thing. If a unit wants to negotiate a 6 year contract they should have every right to do so. If an association can get more money for their members in return for a 4 year contract instead of a three year deal, why not?

Read more here, if any.

More Teacher Sexual Misconduct

This time, it's at King's West High School in Bremerton. From the Tacoma News-Tribune:

A former King’s West School teacher, fired for sending what the school called “inappropriate e-mails” to a 13-year-old student, also faces a criminal charge.

Joseph B. Carver, 25, who taught math, U.S. history and physical education at the Lutheran school in Bremerton, was charged Wednesday in Kitsap County District Court with one count of communication with a minor for immoral purposes.

Conviction on the gross misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

A Kitsap County sheriff’s investigation found instant messages that Carver is accused of sending on to the student, including suggestions that he wanted to kiss and touch parts of her body.

Carver was in his second year of teaching at the school. He previously taught English for one year at Kingston Junior High School.

King’s West administrators fired him in March.

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Health insurance? We don't need no stinkin' health insurance.

Why does everyone resent the fact that teachers have good health insurance? Most recently it was Rick Hess, and now Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency is joining in. From his most recent edition of his Intercepts column:

* Next time you hear union officials complain about poor health insurance benefits, remember that the taxpayers footing the bill for those benefits may not have coverage for themselves.

The link in the blurb is to an article in the Tampa Tribune about how 41% of workers don't have health insurance. My gut reaction: so what? It's a national tragedy and crisis that so many workers are lacking even basic health care, but to suggest that teachers shouldn't push for quality care because other people don't have it is dense. Follow the slippery slope: should teachers have no health care, because so many others don't? That's a silly point of view, but it's also a silly comment above.

Read more here, if any.

Washington Learns on Administration

I'm spending some time going through the new materials from Washington Learns. One new bit of paper they've produced is a review of central office administration--how much is needed, what would the composition of an average district look like, etc. Some interesting points:

  • The state pays for 4 administrators for every 1000 full time enrollments (FTEs), covering both schools and the central office. When you think about how expansive that can be, that's really not an awful lot.
  • Picus and Associates (who wrote the paper) recommend that a district of 3,500 students would have 6 administrators, 3 professionals (maintenance, transportation, etc.), and 12 clerical positions. After some deletions and reassigning to the schools, they say that 6 administrators, 2 professionals, and 7 clerks is sufficient.
  • They hav a neat chart (it's on page 101-E) showing the different roles in the central office. Food for thought.

Administrative spending is one of those big hot-button issues, hence the popularity of the 65% Solution. It'll be interesting to see what the final report recommends.

Read more here, if any.

Jay Greene on Merit Pay

Jay Greene wrote an article recently, cited by Joanne Jacobs and available from the Manhattan Institute's website. It's on a merit pay proposal in Arkansas; the reason that it's worth paying attention to for us here in Washington State is because of the work being done by the Washington Learns commission.

In the article Greene goes over some of the usual objections to merit pay proposals, this time after they were raised by the NEA to block action in Little Rock. We'll probably hear much the same up here, if it gets that far. Here are the objections that Greene discusses:

Merit pay rewards teachers with advantaged students and punishes teachers with disadvantaged students. He points out that a good value-added model would make this a moot point. We have that option at my school thanks to the NWEA testing, which shows where they started, where they finished, and how much growth they made in between. As a first grade teacher we do the DRA Reading Assessment from Pearson Learning, so I can see where they are in September, January, and May. When they grow it's great, and when they don't I have to think pretty critically about what I'm doing. I don't see how this could be a bad thing.

Merit pay just produces teaching to the test. This was a phrase that carried charge and venom a couple of years ago; I think it's been defanged almost completely. You can teach to the test AND do the units you love, if you think creatively. There are still expectations in science and social studies, and they're still getting music and PE--can anyone tell me, really, what's been lost?

Greene does go a bit off track, though:

In addition, to prevent manipulation of one measure of student achievement to obtain bonuses, multiple measures could be used. TAP does this by using peer assessments as well as test scores.

Multiple measures are OK, but isn't student performance the ultimate indicator? If you tie money to principal and peer evaluations, I think you're taking a big risk that could negatively effect the community as a whole. I'm curious to know how it's worked in other places.

Merit pay creates competition among teachers, undermining their ability to work effectively as a team.

I don't see why this would be. Your goal is your goal; why would it matter if someone else meets their goal or not? Further, if the districts established grade level goals (i.e., 80% of 1st grade students will read on level) on top of the individual goals, then there's a powerful incentive to help your neighbor so that everyone succeeds.

Merit pay hurts teachers of subjects other than math and reading. This is the one that I can't get around, because I don't know how to get bonuses into the hands of the specialists, and my fundamental sense of fairness demands that everyone have the chance. This could be rectified through school-wide programs, which makes sense if you have specialists who assist in the core areas. Greene argues that we could focus on key areas, but if he's at all concerned about union buy-in (and he should be), then the system needs to address the needs of all of its members.

Teachers aren't motivated by money. Certainly not. In fact, I personally burn my paycheck every month and piddle on the ashes to show my disdain for the oppressive capitalist pigs.

Seriously though, no one goes into this job for the money. We all know that the money isn't good. What I can't get past is the idea that we would spit in the face of a way to get MORE MONEY, even if it isn't everybody initially. I'd rather try a system that gets MORE MONEY into the hands of the teachers instead of saying that MORE MONEY is a bad thing. I'm a fan of MORE MONEY, because I'm also a fan of short-term investments and fine cinema.

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Importance of Intervention Specialists

One of the big ideas of Professional Learning Communities is that there's always someone looking after every single student and not letting them fall through the cracks, even if they want to. Rogers High School in Spokane is a prime example. From today's Spokesman-Review:

Rogers High School senior Gregg Briscoe tried to sleep in Tuesday morning, but he wasn't too successful.

He'd already missed third period when the school's intervention specialist, Barb Farnsworth, came knocking on his front door telling him to get his butt to class.

"I'd have dropped out in the 10th grade if she didn't help me out," Briscoe said of Farnsworth.

Briscoe, 17, will graduate from high school this summer, a little late but better than not at all.

"These are the kids that will disappear into the wood if we let them," Farnsworth said. "We can't let these kids get away."

Because of a new intervention program in place at the Spokane school, Briscoe is just one of students that Farnsworth and the staff at Rogers haven't let "fall through the cracks."

With the help of some grant funding, Farnsworth moved over in January 2005 to become a full-time intervention specialist at Rogers, where there are large numbers of students living in poverty.

A Rogers alumna, Farnsworth has been working with high-risk students at the school for 24 years, first as a teacher and now as an unofficial counselor. Her title is teacher on special assignment.

She spends her days poring over data, such as students' grades, tracking where they've been, where they are going and what they need to be successful. Farnsworth is busy. Rogers has a large population of students from low-income families. About 68 percent, for example, qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

The program also includes a system of interventions with students, followed by personalized plans to help those who are struggling in life and school.

"I've never been anywhere like this where people work so hard and are so thoughtful about each individual kid," Assistant Principal Jim Fry said. "It's allowed us to hold on to kids and find a way to meet their needs."

Fry said the staff in November began to look at what other Spokane high schools were doing to reach struggling students in an effort to create something that would keep the mix of Rogers kids in school.

"Some of our kids are supporting entire families," Fry said. "So how do we have a rigorous program while still meeting the needs of those students? Before, they would just drop out."

So far this year, Farnsworth and the staff have held one-on-one meetings with 439 students in danger of failing or at risk of dropping out. Rogers has about 1,600 students.

Some of the programs put into place through the intervention system include a homework center and a program for freshmen who passed the seventh-grade WASL test, but were failing four or more classes in high school. The focus so far has been on ninth- and 10th-graders, with plans to include juniors and seniors as well.


"So many of them come to us broken," Farnsworth said. "The best we can do is to try and help them exist in their life; to help them recognize their potential and keep pushing them along."

This is a great thing, and I'm glad that Rogers has it available. Our school counselor serves this function, to a point, and I know that the HS counselors work just as hard, but having someone whose sole purpose is to birddog the kids who want to be ignored is such a super intervention.

Read more here, if any.

The Brand New Carnival of Education is Up!

I love carnival day--lots of great thoughts, lots of new ideas, lots of great reading. I've got one of my posts in the mix--you can see this week's edition at The Education Wonks.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Who wouldn't want Kermit to be their princpal?

I mean really, who wouldn't want loveable Kermit to be their principal? He's had a varied career, he relates well with children, he's an excellent singer, been in movies, played in a band, AND dated a pig. Central Linn school district-- shame on you!

In all seriousness, this guy sounds like a piece of work. When three out of 22 teachers are left after your 5 year tenure, it makes you wonder.

Read more here, if any.

Abuse Alleged at Lakes High School

Parents of severely disabled students are suing the Clover Park School District, says the Tacoma News-Tribune:

According to a police report, two paraeducators and a 17-year-old student said they saw a teacher slam Nam Su Chong into a locker in March 2004, apparently after he grabbed her arm. One of the para-educators also said she saw the teacher “at least 20 times” shove the teen so hard he lost his balance.

She told police she informed another teacher about the locker incident and another instance of the teacher shoving Chong, but it didn’t appear the teacher reported it to district administrators.


In the claim, she says she saw paraeducators joking in front of a student about the teen being on her period and a teacher maliciously teasing her son. She said the same teacher called her son, who’s half black, and the other students “slaves.”


Yukon said she worked as a substitute paraeducator with the teacher for three days and the teacher did not appear to be using a curriculum. When she asked why, Yukon recalled, the teacher said, “This is a glorified babysitting job. These kids are too stupid to learn anything.”

This can't go well, for anyone. The quotes and the allegations are horrible; one wonders where the truth really lies.

Read more here, if any.

Shoreline Makes a Giant Mistake

In the "Oh, crap!" department, Shoreline may need to lay off as many as 45 teachers to make up for a royal mistake in their budget. From the Seattle Times:

The Shoreline School District may lay off as many as 45 teachers next year to fill a budget gap left by major accounting mistakes that have put Superintendent James Welsh's job in question.

The five-member School Board, which met Monday, is combing through the budget, looking for any way to save money — from charging students more to play on sport teams to cutting nurses, librarians and security officers.

After the problem was first revealed in November, the district's top two financial officers left. Then, two weeks ago, the School Board put Welsh on paid leave.

The district is more than $5 million short this year.


The consultants hired after district comptroller Paul Flemming and director of budget and accounting John Scudder left late last year say they know what happened.

The district was in poor financial shape going into this school year, with only $240,000 in a savings account that should have had millions of dollars, according to the consultants. The district couldn't afford any mistakes, then it made two big ones.

First, Fleming estimated the district had 3,500 vocational students. Actually, it has about 700.

Since the state funds districts based on how many students they have, that error meant the school-year budget included about $2 million more than it would receive.

After the board approved the current year's budget in August, Flemming changed some numbers before he sent it to the state. The final budget gave a more accurate picture and revealed the district would be in the red for this school year.

The board never saw that revised version, said President Mike Jacobs.

"My job was to inform the superintendent, and I did that," said Fleming, who retired in November.

Fleming blames the problem on the superintendent, who he said knew of the problem. "We made the superintendent aware that the revenue was going to be short, but there was never a decision made to reduce that spending plan."

Welsh could not be reached for comment.

And the bad news keeps coming: Monday night, the board learned the district had been paying some ongoing costs from its capital budget, creating an additional $400,000 shortfall that will have to be reconciled.

"The district is not going to end this year in the black," said Bob Boesche, a consultant. "They will be in the red."

My district had to make some painful cuts three years ago because of state funding issues and declining enrollment. I can't imagine trying to fill-in a $5 million dollar hole.

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Hamilton and Eggs

A couple of weeks ago the big new thing was “Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job” from a group called The Hamilton Project, affiliated with The Brookings Institution. It’s not the easiest read in the world, partially because of paragraphs like this:

The dependent variable is the math score for person i in year t, Race/Eth is a vector of six racial/ethnic categories, ELD is a vector of five categories for English language development level, and Repeat is a dummy indicating whether the person is currently repeating a grade….The dependent variable is measured in “normal curve equivalents” (NCE). A normal curve equivalent is a linear function of test performance, which approximates the percentile for a normal distribution. If Z is a test score with mean zero and standard deviation of one, then the normal curve equivalent is calculated as NCE=50+21.06*Z. If Z is distributed normally, then NCE=1 at the first percentile of Z, NCE=99 at the ninety-ninth percentile and NCE=50 at the fiftieth percentile. One NCE point is used to approximate one percentile point.

To be fair, this is from the technical appendix. The trick is that their entire case on teacher quality rests on this formula making sense, and when you can’t understand the formula they use or the reasoning behind it the temptation is strong to ignore the entire work out of hand.

The report makes five recommendations on how to improve teaching. The first one is pretty interesting:

Recommendation 1: Reduce the barriers to entry into teaching for those without traditional teacher certification. The authors of the report, Robert Gordon, Thomas Kane, and Douglas Staiger, show that there’s really no difference in the performance of students of teachers who are traditionally certified, alternatively certified, or uncertified. This flies in the face of the “highly qualified” provisions of NCLB, but so be it. The barriers that I’d like to see out of the way are the ones that I have to pass just to keep teaching.

I’m part of the first groups to go through on the new Residency/Professional certificate program. For Washington State teachers the system used to be that you’d start with your Initial teaching certificate, earn 45 credits (a Master’s, essentially), then need 15 credits or 150 clock hours every 5 years to keep your certificate valid. The teaching force must not have been very good, because they moved the system into a “Professional Growth Plan” option. Now, instead of getting your Master’s degree and being done with it, you have to critically analyze your practice against 8 strands of effective teaching, carry out an action research project, present to a board….it’s a much different and much more rigorous process.

The end effect, though, is that teachers in their first five years are being pushed into doing backflips to keep their certification instead of doing the real work that is necessary to keep a classroom up and running. It’s a great idea if you want to run new teachers out of the system, but it’s a lousy way to start your career.

The total cost of getting my Masters and Professional Certificate together was nearly $9000. This is money that I had to spend just to keep on teaching, and that’s certainly a barrier. Sure, I could have done the ProCert alone, but a) you’re still required to work with an “accredited university” b) there’s still an action research project required and c) you’re still paying for university credits.

My wife is on the old certificate program. She just paid $90 to get her license renewed, plus all the money on credits and transcripts. Mo’ money, Mo’ money, Mo’ money.

Anyhow, now that I’m a Professional (finally?), I can settle for the 150 clock hours/15 credit program to renew. Clock hours are cheap and easy, and that’s what I’ll do.

The other trick to this proposal is the idea of lowering barriers into teaching. The idea of Antonio Banderas showing up to teach ballroom dancing to inner-city kids is appealing, sure, and if someone with the passion and the ability wants to share that with kids we’d be crazy to get in the way. I trouble I see here is that there are people who are coming through the ed schools who have no business teaching. They’ve run the gamut, from 21 year olds who act like they have conduct disorder to 50-year old career changers with lousy personal hygiene and no temperament for children. I had a great conversation with a professor in the teacher education program at Eastern a couple of years ago and I asked her how some of these people were able to get through, even with obvious problems. Her answer? Fear of lawsuits. The university president would over-rule the department staff because of the cost involved in defending the school in court. The hope was always that the master teachers in the schools would say no, but even if these people failed their student teaching they’d usually get placed somewhere else and pass the second (or third) time through. Many of the teachers felt pressured by the field supervisors to pass, and the only recourse they felt they had was a lousy letter of recommendation in their placement file and frank phone conversations with anyone who asked about them.

It takes an awful lot more now to get into and through the ed program than it did when I went there. To get in you need a minimum score on the Praxis, to get out you have to pass a different test, and they’ve beefed up the classroom hours required. This is a good thing for the ed schools, I guess, but will making it easier for anyone who wants to enter teaching really improve the corps as a whole?

I guess what I'm really wondering is where the happy medium is, if any. We make it hard to get into the ed schools, but too easy to get out. You can't teach without your license, but keeping your license is another onerous chore in an already hard job. We respect what you do, but not enough to wave any fees along the way.

Read more here, if any.

On the Importance of Subbing

I read the March copy of Scholastic's Instructor magazine this morning. Mrs. Thinker's pregnancy makes it hard for us to go to mass any more; if only I had that going for me during football season.

Anyhow, they were mentioning teacher blogs and I saw a quote that I really liked from Mr. Lawrence at Get Lost, Mr. Chips. The part that really struck me:

One thing I'd like to add to that is that I think substituting for one (1) year should also be mandatory for all new teachers regardless of age. No, this is not my way of getting back at everyone because of my sometimes great disgust with subbing. It's because I know of too many people who walked out of college and immediately got a full-time position without having to sub one single day while the rest of us have been toiling at it for a while. Substituting is like the hazing process before getting into the fraternity. It keeps you on your toes, it shows you that not all classes are peaches and cream, that not all kids are the same, but also teaches you to adapt. Going from school to school and at the different levels (elementary, middle and high) gives one a well-rounded peek at the whole of the district and not just one sector.

This is so incredibly accurate. I student taught in the fall, substituted from November to June, and was hired into a 1st grade job the next year. One of the folks that I taught with had student taught in the spring and walked right from student teaching into a full-time position. I had taught 100s of different kids in 10 different school in 3 different districts; he'd taught 22 kids in one classroom. I'd dealt with

  • middle schoolers asking me if I was gay,
  • a near fist-fight in the high school,
  • parents disliking me because who was I to hold their child accountable for anything,
  • serving time in the behavior intervention room (long, long, loooong day),
  • not getting support from the principal after breaking up a fight on the playground,
  • and having an EBD kid smear crap all over the bathroom walls

...and all he had to go on was one nice class of 22 first graders.

Subbing hardens you. Subbing makes you think. Subbing teaches you how to punt when the lesson isn't going well, how to organize your day, how to fully see just what the kids are doing, and so much about classroom management. A good substitute teacher is worth just as much as a good classroom teacher, and maybe more. I know that when we have workshop days we all argue about who gets to request The Good Ones and who gets their name tossed into The Lemon Lottery.

Anyhow, I think that if my friend had subbed at all he would have survived his first year and would be flying high today. He didn't make it, though. One year and out the door because of classroom management and parent problems. Subbing fills in the blanks that student teaching can't. It's excellent experience, even if the experience sometimes isn't all that excellent.

Read more here, if any.

Troubles continue at Eastern

A couple of weeks ago at our regional Uniserv meeting we heard about some of the troubles they were having at Eastern getting a new contract settled for the professors. Now, The Spokesman-Review ($) has picked up the story:


EWU faculty contract talks reach impasse
Mediator to consider salaries, workload

Negotiations between the faculty union and administration at Eastern Washington University broke down this week and will move into mediation, stalled over salary and workload issues.

It's the first time a mediator has been brought into the negotiations in the union's decade of existence, and it represents a long-simmering frustration, said Tony Flinn, president of United Faculty of Eastern.

"I wouldn't impute bad faith" to administrators, Flinn said. "But I really think the problem is a fundamental ignorance or indifference to the problems that have been developing over the past several years."

Flinn and other faculty members said that while Eastern's enrollments and class sizes have grown, its faculty salaries have stagnated, falling further behind other Washington schools and the national average. The union says that administration salaries, especially for the top positions, have risen steadily.

EWU administrators said they remained optimistic a fair contract can be reached. New President Rodolfo Arevalo, who took office April 1, said in a news release he was disappointed that the union had declared an "impasse" in negotiations, but noted that the negotiations had produced agreement on several topics, and were stuck on salary and workload concerns.


At the meeting I went to there was talk about organizing some sort of action against the school, perhaps a letter-writing campaign, but nothing firm yet. Despite all this you have to be happy with how Eastern has grown over the last decade; since my freshman year they've re-opened two dorms, built another downtown, and are still experiencing record enrollment. Not bad for a school that was nearly merged with Washington State in 1998 in a proposal spearheaded by none other than former State Senator become Mayor become Pariah Jim West.

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Education Blog Names That Haven’t Been Taken Yet

With the recent advent of D-Ed Reckoning, The Quick and the Ed, and Edspresso, it seems like we’re running out of interesting, topical names for education blogs. As a public service to any future bloggers, I offer you a list of names that you can use for your own.

  • Drop Dead Ed
  • The Grateful Eds
  • Ed Man Talking
  • For Your Edification
  • Ed On Arrival
  • There’s Education in my Pants!
  • That’s Ed for Ya!
  • Grandma’s Antebellum Education Emporium
  • Ed—It’s What’s For Dinner!
  • The Good, The Bad, and Ed
  • Educating Snakes on a Plane
  • The Ed Menace
  • Mask of the Ed Death
  • Say Hello to my Little Ed Blog
  • You’ve Just Stepped in Education
  • Mission Accomplish-Ed
  • Fed With Ed
  • Ed in the Head
  • Ed Poisoning
  • Can you teach me now? Good!
  • Oh my God, not Ed!
  • Caught Ed Handed

If you have any others, please share.

Read more here, if any.

Education Week on merit pay

I love Education Week. Weekly news and information about my favorite topic delivered right to my house is a happy thing, and their archives have helped me plenty of times, especially when I was working on my Master's degree. Today I read an article from a couple of weeks ago on Teacher Pay for Performance with the usual arguments for and against merit pay. The interesting thing to me was the
message board that they have set up to discuss the issue, and some of the sad, sad comments within. For example:

  • There are only so many schools with students who actually care to learn. These upper-income schools would attract the best candidates and then the remaining teachers would be left with the low-income and/or underperforming schools.

It's precisely this sort of attitude that makes NCLB necessary. "Shucks, it's not anyone's fault but the kids', really. We can't be expected to try and teach kids who don't want to learn. Bummer--let's give up!" That anyone would say this, much less someone identifying themselves as a NBPTS certified teacher, is profoundly sad.

  • I can, and do, lead my students to well planned, diverse learning experiences that challenge them at all levels of cognition while utilizing a plethera of research-based instructional strategies to reach all learning stlyes.
    Unfortunatly, as with the proverbial "horse" they can be led to learning, but I cannot make them learn. The students today are content to disrupt, disrespect, do little or no homework
    (or classwork), and fail knowing they will be passed from grade to grade with no accountability on their part. Parents are absently copliant and assume no personal responsibility for their own failure to hold their children accountable.

The first part of this reads like satire, someone trying to hook together as many catchphrases as they can to try and win a game of buzzword bingo. If only she'd talked about changing paradigms to ensure cross-cultural collaboration in professional learning communities....

If this person is serious, though--it doesn't matter how great you think the lesson is. If they're not learning, you're not doing a good enough job teaching, period. If you're patting yourself on the back for how "well planned" and "diverse" you are while at the same time not getting any results, you're not doing a good job. Effort without results is fine for t-ball, but it's not much of a way to teach a public school.

I'm leaning surprisingly right on this blog. Cripes, I voted for Nader twice and I love my union. Must be the spring weather making me dizzy.

Read more here, if any.

As goes Oregon, so goes Washington?

First some context, provided by Education Week:


Oregon K-12 Funding Falls Short, Report Says

A new report says that Oregon is $1.8 billion shy of providing enough resources to its K-12 schools.

The report, released March 31, was mandated by Measure 1, a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2000 that requires the legislature to adequately fund schools so they can meet state K-12 education goals.

“We have never met that level [of funding], and we are actually getting further away from that level,” said Sen. Richard Devlin, a Democrat and a co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report.

The Measure 1 report comes soon after six school districts filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging that it has repeatedly failed to provide adequate and stable funding for K-12 education despite legislation mandating that it do so.

The report shows that while the state is second in SAT participation, the achievement gaps between white and Asian students and their African-American, Hispanic, and Native American counterparts continue to increase.


Part of Governor Gregoire's Washington Learns initiative is a 6-state review of funding mechanisms. Oregon is one of the six states that they've chosen to look at. If Oregon is $1.8 billion under the ideal, the number for Washington has a chance to be staggering.

Read more here, if any.

You teach 26 kids and what do you get....

...not enough money to get out of debt, if you believe a new report from the State Public Interest Research Group entitled Paying Back, Not Giving Back: Student Debt's Negative Impact on Public Service Career Opportunities. It's a quick read, only 17 pages, and their main theme is that students are deterred from entering into public sector careers like teaching and social work because the student loans they carry won't be doable on the money they'll make. Using their numbers they say that 33.2% of Washington teachers who go to public universities have a debt load that will "exceed manageable levels", which is well above the national average of 23% but still not high enough to get us into the top ten (just eyeballing, I think we're 15th in the nation).

It's worse if you go to a private school, where 50.6% of graduates can't make it on a Washington salary. I've wondered for a while why anyone would spend $50,000 in tuition to go and teach in a public school; my second-tier degree got me in the door just fine.

(All due apologies to Tennessee Ernie Ford for the post title.)

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

It's Not What We Said Then, It's What We're Saying Now That Matters

The new issue of WE, the official magazine of the Washington Education Association, came in the mail yesterday. One highlight is the monthly address from president Charles Hasse where he says:

I’m glad that we took the time to rename our movement for school funding to Take the Lead. If you’ll remember, a year ago, we had a working title for it – Education Excellence. And we later found out that members didn’t like the name. It had a Dickensian ring to it; it sounded like some sort of stingy incentive program aimed at improving scores on high-stakes tests.

The humor in this is that at a union training I went to back in the fall they said they were changing the name because EdExcellence is the homepage of the conservative Fordham Foundation, home of Chester Finn and the famous Education Gadfly column.

The entire campaign does bring to mind a popular line from Dickens: “Please, sir, I want some more.”

There’s also a report from the recent Rep Assembly in Tacoma. I’m still waiting for the website to share the resolutions that were passed; it annoys me when we have a perfect tool for getting information to the members and they don’t use it well.

Perhaps the most useful thing in the magazine this month, and one that should be posted in every teacher’s lounge in the state, is the article on meeting the highly qualified provisions of NCLB. The seven scenarios and explanations that they give are highly readable, and it’s a really great piece. Good work, guys.

One area where I think they could improve is their coverage of retirement issues. It seems like they have a financial article every other month or so, but they could have talked a lot more this month about the vesting rule changes from the last legislative session (see here for an overview) or given a report on what’s new with the TRS plans (if you’re in a self-directed fund, you probably had a great quarter, and the TAP fund did fine too!). The WEA does a good enough job talking about the front end, getting more salary (it’s their number 1 priority, sez the cover), but they could be so much more useful if they would cover the back end, too.

Read more here, if any.

The PI Tackles the Math Wars

There were quite a few comments in the blogosphere about the recent Seattle Times article about math achievement in Washington (see here and here), and now the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is following up with its own article about math in Washington, this time looking through the lens of the Reform Math vs. Traditional Math debate. The interesting part of the article to me was the comparison between problem sets in the two styles; the reform math activity is one that I remember doing for fun when I was in school many, many moons ago.

The other interesting thing is a link to Washington Parents and Educators for Mathematically Correct Curriculum, an interest group that certainly favors the traditional approach. On their front page they have one of those quotes that you can't quite believe anyone would ever really say: “We Don’t Teach Long Division Anymore; It Stifles Their Creativity.” It makes for a good talking point, I guess.

In terms of where I fall, I'm completely with the traditionalists. The idea of 1st graders making their own meaning and finding their own way just doesn't work for me. I teach algorithms, I give them multiple ways to find the answers to the problems, and I relate what they're doing to the real world. We're doing a curriculum adoption right now, and I hope that what we get next year is similar to what we're doing right now because it's working quite well for my kids.

Read more here, if any.

The Finest in Education Reporting

In the "How the hell does that qualify as journalism?" department, here's a story online right now at the Tacoma News Tribune:

Co-principal, other employee placed on leave after complaint

The co-principal of Lakes High School and another Lakes staff member were placed on paid administrative leave Tuesday while a parent’s complaint is investigated.
Clover Park School District spokeswoman Kim Prentice would not describe the allegation.

In response to a News Tribune inquiry, she confirmed co-principal Brian Laubach was placed on leave, but would not disclose the other employee’s name. She did not know how long the two would be on administrative leave.

Lakes co-principal Georgia Dewhurst will handle duties while Laubach is on leave, though the district might get a substitute administrator at some point.

Debby Abe, The News Tribune

It certainly piques the curiosity, but is this really newsworthy? When you don't know the parent, don't know one of the parties involved, don't know the complaint, and aren't getting anything from the district, aren't you maybe rushing things when you put out a story like this?

Read more here, if any.

Review of "Teachers Have It Easy" from

The title is wonderfully provocative: Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers. When I saw it on the shelf at Barnes and Noble I went ahead and picked it up, and I was glad I did. It's fluffy in a few places, and the stories are repetitive after some time, but it's still a great read that says an awful lot about teaching today.

There's a very good review at theEducation Sector website. They also put out a bi-weekly email newsletter that has links from around the web; it's worth checking out.

The next book sitting in the pile, under the comic books, is The Essential 55 by Ron Clark. I picked it up at the WERA conference last month; it looks pretty good from the bit I've skimmed.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

We've only just begun, WASL style

The first round of testing began at my school today. We've spread it out over three weeks, which is especially good for the 4th graders who have to do reading, writing, and math. The 6th grade teachers report that they're actually feeling pretty good about things after last year when they did the pilot WASL, the ITBS, and the NWEA in back-to-back-to-back weeks.

I spent the morning proctoring for a group of 4th graders. The prompts seemed fair this year, and by careful reading of the questions I think you could pretty easily get the full points. I was the "scribe" for one little guy, which meant he dictated his answers to me and I would write down exactly what he'd say, then we'd go back through and he'd edit what I put down. It's a tricky process, because we're not allowed to put in any punctuation at all--the kids have to re-read what we've written and then tell what should be where.

Tomorrow I'm going to sit in on the 5th grade science test; I'm really interested to see just what that looks like. Our 5th grade team does some of the neatest experiments (messy, too!) and I'm hoping that the kids will be able to transfer that learning into the writing that's required for the test.

All in all it was a very stress-free operation. That starts with our prinicpal, who's made it clear from day 1 that the scores will not be the be-all and end-all of this school. The teachers in the upper grades do a great job of communicating to their kids that this is just another test, and it's one that they are ready for and will do well on if they just use skills that they've worked on all year long. Hopefully the results will reflect that!

Read more here, if any.

Monday, April 17, 2006

WASL Week: Doing the Numbers Before They Do You

The Seattle Times has an interesting article about the struggles Washington kids are having with the math section of the WASL:


Year to year, more students flunk the math segment of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning than reading or writing. Last year, more than half the state's 10th-graders failed math. And it's even worse for low-income and minority students; in 2005, only about 28 percent of low-income sophomores passed, and only about a quarter or fewer of black, Indian or Hispanic 10th-graders.

The class of 2008 is the first for which passing the WASL, or an alternative assessment, is required for graduation. The math segment of the test will be administered this week. So will science, but it won't count toward graduation until 2010.

Experts predict we'll have to change the way math is taught, and even the way we think about it, or math will continue to be a stumbling block.

What's the problem with math?

Research shows kids learn math best when they begin with a thorough grounding in mathematics fundamentals and progress in an orderly sequence, with the help of similar instructional approaches, from class to class and grade to grade.

But in Washington, many kids face bamboozling instruction that can be a mile wide and an inch deep. They endure competing approaches and instructional materials. And many textbooks aren't even in sync with the material kids will be expected to know on the WASL.

And by high school, kids have spent years marinating in a culture that disses math. Few people in this country boast about being illiterate. But it's long been a laugh line to declare "I'm not a math person." Not so in countries such as Japan and Singapore, where students are expected to conquer math — and keep trying until they do.

And in America, where are the math bees, the volunteer math tutorial corps, the math-is-fundamental public-service campaigns? As a society, we root for reading. But we expect success in math to just happen ... or not.


They're wrong about the math contests being nonexistent. "Math is Cool!" is a big deal here in Washington; doing a Google search returns several team photos and information about the program. The Washington State Math Council sponsors a Math Olympiad every year for kids in grades 5 through 8, along with the High School math contest. Then there's our very own state Mathematics Helping Corp, which I'm sure that OSPI could have told them about.

Not that I'm arguing that math hasn't been the second cousin to reading in the state reform efforts--it surely has, though one could argue that that's not a bad thing. The efforts to make things better are ongoing, though. And frankly, it's probably science we should worry about the most.

Read more here, if any.

Washington Learns, the NBPTS, and You

I'm really interested to see just where Governor Gregoire's Washington Learns initiative goes. She's a good friend of the WEA (see here and here), but some of the early materials coming out of the task force are certainly things that the WEA isn't going to approve of.

Take, for example, the differentiated pay proposal that you can find here. It still has the steps and lanes that we're all accustomed to, but the difference between emerging career, career, and master teacher will depend on classroom performance. They also are including a $6,000 a year bump for teachers who pursue National Board Certification, which is a strategy that I have to question (see here for an explanation of why). If it's a choice between paying people for certification or paying people based on results, I think the latter is a better option. After all, aren't we trying to get away from a system where certification is everything? I understand that the process to get National Board certified is rigorous and meaningful, but isn't classroom performance far more tangible?

The Washington Association of School Administrators has done the best job of reporting about Washington Learns through their excellent "This Week in Olympia" newsletter. You can read the back issues right here. The Governor's office has also done a really good job of keeping the Washington Learns website linked to above updated with the most current meeting materials; it's worth checking out.

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Reflections Made While Doing Things That I Shouldn’t Be Doing Because There Are Other, More Important Things To Do

“She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5 is kind of creepy, if you listen to the lyrics the right way.

It’s physically impossible to stop playing FreeCell when you’re on a winning streak. In fact, it would be a sin, and that’s not something I should do during Easter Weekend.

The lawyers on “Conviction” sure do fool around a lot.

I’m never going to read that copy of Teaching K-8, so why don’t I just throw it away?

Whoever invented the mint chocolate chip is an absolute genius. I wonder if he went to a public school?

“When You Love a Woman” is clearly the best song Journey ever made.

Comic books can be just as distracting when you’re 30 as they were when you were 10.

Read more here, if any.

The Education Gadfly Podcast for 4/13/06

Podcasts are a new thing for me. I installed the iTunes reader a couple of weeks ago and went looking for podcasts related to education, but didn’t have much luck beyond the Merrow Report and a TV news show from England. That being it, I was pretty excited to hear that was going to be starting a podcast to accompany the always-interesting Education Gadfly column that Chester Finn does every week.

The results so far aren’t bad, and I hope the show sticks around. It’s a little too jocular for my tastes sometimes, and I do wish Mike Petrilli would be more than the Colmes to Rick Hess’ Hannitty. They could learn a lot from the John Merrow podcasts, actually—they’re excellent shows that combine informative and entertaining in a very tight package.

There is one segment this week that I’d like to talk about, based off of this new report from Robert Gordon at the Brookings Institute:


Petrilli: So, here’s the question though: we now know that a teacher who is horrible in their first or second year in the classroom is most likely going to be horrible 5 years later. They’ll get a little bit better, but they’re never going to be as good as the teacher that looked pretty good in the first couple years, you can predict. So if we see teachers who are flailing in their first couple years, more so than their peers, that are clearly not getting any results in student achievement, we should just do them a favor and fire them on the spot.

Hess: You know, a lot of this is just common sense. In any walk of life people can and do get better, but certainly when we’re talking about how we want to invest money and who we want to keep and who we want to pursue, there’s a bunch of this common sense stuff, and what we’re seeing is bi-partisan agreement on what it looks like.

My first year of teaching was spectacular. I’d never really wanted to be in the lower grades, but when my first principal called me up and offered me a 1st grade position I jumped at it just to get my foot in the door. It was great. Heck, it was magic. The kids made spectacular gains across the board. They were diligent, intelligent, and every single last one of them gave an incredible effort day in and day out. They made the job easy.

Year 1 was heaven, and year 2 was hell. I could tell from the first day that this was a completely different group of kids and I was never able to establish control. My biggest problem was a little girl with pre-adolescent bipolar disorder, which I wouldn’t have believed existed until I met her. She was a kicker, a biter, a thrower, a screamer, and she sent me home bruised on several different occasions. Compound that with the seizure disorder and Oppositional-Defiance that she also had, and we had a grand time.

The kids weren’t learning, and I was burning out fast. I remember sitting at my desk with tears in my eyes one night at around 8:00, trying to figure out the right buttons to push. It had been so good the first year; how could it have gone so wrong, so fast?

My principal took notice, but anyone could tell that the group I had was difficult. It was a difficult time in a lot of places that year; this was the 2002-2003 school year, and the buildup to the war in Iraq meant that a lot of the moms and dads would be leaving soon. When June came and the kids moved on, it was a happy thing for everyone involved.

Then came year three, and I sucked again. Screwed the pooch, as my high school football coach used to put it. Again, I had no control. Again, the kids weren’t making gains. One year you can call an aberration, but two years is a trend, and my trend was sinking like the Titanic. Happily for me I had passed the two-year probationary period and couldn’t be non-renewed outright.

Here’s where the public policy aspect comes into play. If my principal had fired me then and there I would have left teaching, and I couldn’t have blamed the guy a bit if he had let me go. I was doing a bad job and everyone knew it. The trick is that I got better. Love and Logic saved my career by teaching me a better way to talk to the kids and handle the problems that came up. Here in the northwest Dr. Gib Bennington is pretty famous for teaching a class called “Disrupting the Disruptor”, and it too made a great difference. Year 4 was great. The behavior problems that had ruined the last two years were nearly non-existent, and this year I think I have a real shot at getting 85% of my kids to pass the end-of-year DRA reading assessment. The majority can be above average, and that’s cool.

The neatest thing is that this year the staff picked me to be the teacher of the year for our school. That meant an awful lot to me, being recognized by the people who I work with for the things that I do.

So, despite two bad years, I’ve improved. I’m making a positive difference with all of the kids and my scores prove it. If I’d been let go after that 2nd or 3rd year, I wouldn’t have had that chance. Could my school have found someone else? Sure. Would they have been better than me? Quite possibly. Would they have been doing me a favor, or my kids a favor, by firing me as Petrilli suggests? Debatable. Is this clearly common sense, as Hess calls it? In my opinion, no.

My point is that so much of the success of a class is based on the type of kids you have. I'm a better teacher now than I was three years ago, but I still don't think I could have done much with that group even if I knew then what I know now. The two ladies that teach across the hall from me are both incredible teachers, but one in particular has felt like she's really struggling this year, and it's based off of the kids more than anything.

This is leading me into a post about value-added models and getting the teachers who are the best to the kids who need them most, but I'll leave that alone for now.

Read more here, if any.

Some of my Favorite Teaching Stories from this Year

At Christmas we were doing a “Guess the Hidden Gift” activity. The kids had to write three clues about their gift, and then draw a picture of it. As I wandered around the room I came to T, who was working hard for once. His three clues:

1) They’re red
2) They’re itchy
3) They’re on your body

“T…” I said, “Please tell me that your gift isn’t chicken pox.”

“Yeah! I gave them to my sister!”

The matching picture was pretty good, too.


My student teacher did a great activity the other day where the kids made inchworms and used them to measure things around the room. It went really well—it’s fun when the practicum students nail a lesson. J comes up to have me tape his worm to his finger and says, “Mr. Rain, my worm is constipated.”

Earlier in my career I would have paused, asked J some leading questions, and discovered why constipation was on his mind. Now that I’m old and cranky, this is how it goes instead:

“Oh. Did he eat too much cheese?”


“Some people say that makes them constipated, eating too much dairy stuff.”

“Oh. No, he’s just constipated.”

“Alrighty then. Back to work.”

And off he went, happy as could be, constipated worm perched on his finger, ready to do battle with the measurement system.


You can tell a lot about a class by the read-aloud books that they pick. I start every year with some of the Junie B. Jones books, but this year I’ve got a pretty good group and though they could handle listening to a Ramona book. The vocabulary’s quite a bit more challenging, the books are far longer, and the pacing is slower, but the stories are just as meaningful to the kids today as they were when they were written in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I read Ramona the Pest a few months ago and then let them vote on what we’d read next; Ramona the Brave was an overwhelming winner.

The other day Ramona scrunched up Susan’s owl, and now she was talking with her mother and father about it. As I’m reading W raises his hand.

“Yes, W?”

“Mr. Thinker, when did you get a nose ring?”

“W, honey, I don’t have a nose ring.”

“Then what’s that round thing in your nose?”

“I’m guessing it’s probably a booger, kiddo.”


Then one of the other kids jumps in, “I can see a bunch of hair up there, too!”


Read more here, if any.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Washington Contracts on the internet

In the "day late, dollar short" department, there was a debate last month about having teacher CBAs on the internet so that the public-at-large can see them without having to make a special trip to the district office. To me it's a good idea; they're public documents anyhow, and I'm all about using the internet to make as much information available so that those who want to can make informed decisions.

Interested, I went surfing around to see how many union agreements I could find for Washington State school districts. The results:

  • Spokane District 81 has all their agreements for every bargaining unit posted here. Their certificated contract runs 106 pages.

  • Central Valley's contract is here. It's 78 pages.

  • Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver, and Spokane are all on file with with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but not for on-line access.

  • The Longview Public Schools post all thier CBAs in one place.

  • Sticking with SW Washington, though, Rochester, Battle Ground, and Vancouver do not have their agreements posted. In the North, Bremerton is a no.

  • Surprisingly, I can't find Marysville's agreement anywhere. Since they had the longest teachers strike in state history, that's odd to me.

And after a couple more strike-outs (Issaquah and Snohomish, most notably), that's enough of that. I tried about 20 districts and found 3. That's not good.

Read more here, if any.

Uniserv City, USA

I had two meetings this week at our friendly local UniServ office. On Tuesday there was a presentation on grievance training 101 with some absolutely hilarious video clips. The disheartening thing was to hear about the problems that are occuring in some of the other locals in the area, particularly Rosalia. It makes me happy to have the relationship that we do with the administrators in my district; it's not the ideal, but as labor/management things go I think it's about as good as you could ever hope to get.

On Wednesday the rest of the liberal elite and I gathered for the monthly Representative Council meeting to discuss the goings-on of the council. We started with a presentation by a teacher from Rogers High School about diversity training, then those who attended the Representative Assembly in Tacoma last month shared some of their highlights. Staff members talked about some of the battles they're fighting; it sounds like the situation at Eastern could get a lot worse before it gets better, and in Selkirk they're not only facing the possibility of a school closure and the lowest enrollment they've seen in years (read their Superintendent's reports for a good overview), but the union itself is divided over some delicate staffing issues. It didn't sound like a happy place at all.

We also voted for new officers for the Region. Everyone ran unopposed, which was fine.

I like these meetings. Number 1, the food is outstanding. The beef stroganoff on Wednesday was great, and the teriyaki chicken breast with rice on Tuesday....yum. They're also all good people, and when you know the effect that unions have on the schools it's neat to see what that looks like up close on the local level.

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Carnival of Education is up at The Magic School Bus

For the first time one of my blog posts has been included! You can access the newest carnival here.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Gender Gap in Washington State

There's an interesting post over at Joanne Jacobs' blog talking about the gender gap. The researchers in this article at the Washington Post argue that there really isn't a boy crisis, at least for middle-class white boys.

I wandered over to the report card site that OSPI runs to see what the situation is in Washington. The trick there is that you can only see the results for one of the NCLB subgroups at a time; for example, boys or whites, but not white boys. If you look at the overall gender gap with all races put together this is the pictures that emerges, organized by reading, math, then writing:

4th Grade Boys: 76.9, 60.5, 48.6
4th Grade Girls: 82.3, 61.1, 67.3

7th Grade Boys: 64.0, 50.1, 52.2
7th Grade Girls: 74.5, 51.6, 70.9

10th Grade Boys: 68.2, 47.1, 56.3
10th Grade Girls: 77.8, 47.9, 74.4

Boys trail in every single area, true, but in math the gap is never bigger than 1.5%. Reading ranges from 6% to 10%. Writing is the single biggest problem in each grade level, starting with a 19.7% gap in the 4th grade, 18.7% in 7th, and 17.9% in 10th.

If anyone knows of a way to disaggregate the data from the OSPI website, or find a place where it's broken down more thoroughly, I'd love to hear about it.

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I made someone else's blog!

I know that for the folks who have been blogging for a while being mentioned somewhere else is no big deal, but for a newbie like me it's still a cheap thrill. Playing around on Google I found a link at Jerry Moore's School Talk about this post that I made last month talking about the WEA's new Take the Lead initiative. The great thing is that he interjects some stats that I hadn't found, and it makes what I originally wrote much, much better. Thanks, Jerry!

In looking over his site, he's got a great handle on the national scene when it comes to union politics and schools. It's well worth a visit and I'll be adding it to the links list ASAP. You can go to his blog here.

Read more here, if any.

Nitpicking West and Hess: The “Unions have a clear advantage” issue

(A continuing series looking at the new A Better Bargain: Overhauling Teacher Collective Bargaining in the 21st Century report, available here.)

I’m quoting from page 19 of the report, under the “Grievance Procedures” heading:

Critics of teachers unions assert that unions’ institutional resources and specialized expertise give them a clear advantage in the ensuing proceedings. Ron Wilson, executive director of the North American Association of Education Negotiators, says, “There is a definite difference in expertise [between unions and school districts]…Districts often utilize labor relations consultants to close the gap, but small districts have to rely on associations to provide them the resources they need.”

As an aside, the use of the word “associations” here is confusing. Are they relying on the local union associations to provide them with resources? Other professional associations, like the NAAEN referenced above? I’d guess that the second is the intended meaning, because if a district is relying on the union for bargaining help I can see where some of the odder contracts around come from.

The most striking example of union coordination may be the NEA’s UniServ system, a nationwide network of 1,650 full-time and 200 part-time employees who provide local affiliates guidance on matters including negotiations and grievance resolutions. The NEA touts the UniServ program as “a vast cadre of human resources,” on which it spent approximately $50 million in 2001.

NEA leaders, however, downplay the significance of UniServ, noting that its employees have multiple responsibilities, work with several districts, and offer expertise that pales beside the staff districts can readily hire. Moreover, union officials point out that school districts command far greater legal and budgetary resources.

There’s two key points to be made here:

1) You can’t dismiss the expertise that exists in the district office. When we bargained last summer I was looking across the table at our superintendent, assistant superintendent, the director of special services, the school business manager (who’s one of the sharpest guys I’ve ever met), and a principal who used to be the union president and who has a top-notch reputation for figuring out how to get things done. Here in Washington State they can call for help from the Association of Washington School Principals, the Washington Association of School Administrators, the Washington Association of School Business Officials, the Washington State School Directors Association and those are all on top of the district legal staff.

2) When the state feels threatened it can spend the money to make the threat go away. For example, take the special education funding lawsuit being filed by 12 school districts against the state. In the recently-completed legislative session $1.099 million dollars was put into the state budget expressly for the purpose of fighting this lawsuit. It could be argued that this is no different than the WEA adding another $1 assessment to the dues to tilt at whichever windmill happened to be biggest at the most recent Rep Assembly (see here for the newest increase), and it’s certainly a piddling amount when you consider what the California Teachers Association did to Schwarzenegger, but it does show that the mechanism is there if the state has the will to use it.

I’ll say, too that after having gotten to know our UniServ people pretty well in the last year that they are as busy as described. We have three full-time UniServ reps to cover the Eastern Washington region; the region is split into three different sections, with each of them being responsible for one. At any given time imagine that 1/3 of them are in a bargaining year, so there’s always plenty of action. On top of those duties they have to take care of the business of the UniServ, like putting on trainings and attending meetings.

The overriding theme of the section is that the grievance procedure is a hindrance to getting rid of bad teachers, and I won’t argue the point. When you read something like this chart (I think it's the same one Stossel used) detailing what it takes to fire a bad teacher in New York City you’d be hard-pressed to argue that the process isn’t flawed. This makes me a bad union member, but I’m all for extending the probationary period for teachers from 2 to 5 years, but only if there’s just cause for them to not have their contract renewed. I worry about the “New Owner” effect, where someone new buys the team and promptly fires the GM, coach, and trades away most of the players because they want to put their stamp on the team. I’m thinking Dan Snyder or Jeffrey Lauria here. I think too of the Pittsburgh Steelers; they probably could have fired Bill Cower after some of his weaker seasons, but it’s good for them that the didn’t.

I probably won't be able to look at the report any more this week, just because of circumstances and time. Next up, when I get to it--teacher transfer provisions.

Read more here, if any.

Random Drug Testing on Trial in Wahkiakum

The only reason that I know where Wahkiakum is is from having grown up in Southwest Washington. It's really a beautiful part of Washington, down west of I-5 on your way to Long Beach, and now it's a battle ground for the ACLU and drug testing. From The Daily News in Longview:

After more than six years, a lawsuit challenging Wahkiakum School District's policy of conducting random drug tests of student athletes will finally get its day in court this week.The controversy began in 1999 when Wahkiakum school officials began testing middle- and high-school athletes in an effort to curb drug use, which school officials said was reaching epidemic levels.

Parents of two student athletes objected to the tests, which were required for participation in school sports. The parents, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued to ban the tests.

Hans and Katherine York and Paul and Sharon Schneider, all of Cathlamet, and the ACLU argue that the testing is unconstitutional because it's administered without suspicion of wrongdoing.

The school district, represented by Wahkiakum County Prosecutor Fred Johnson, contends that a compelling interest in reducing drug use overrides any invasion of privacy.Both parties have requested a summary judgment. The civil rights group and the school district will present oral arguments in Wahkiakum County's Superior Court at 10 a.m. Thursday, and a final decision will be made sometime thereafter.

The summary judgment motion may truncate a lengthy trial, Johnson said. "Everyone is saying there aren't any factual disputes, just legal disputes," he said last week.This will be the first court decision in Washington regarding school drug testing, and the ultimate decision may decide how aggressively schools statewide can test for drugs."It's good that we're moving along," Johnson said. "I think this is an issue that needs to be resolved, and that's why the Wahkiakum School District, though it's not the largest district in the state by far, is pursing this. ... It's an issue of significance to the schools and students in the state of Washington."

The lawsuit has taken a roundabout path to trial. Although the district has halted testing pending a trial, the ACLU carried the issue to the Court of Appeals after a judge refused to issue an injunction against the tests. A 2002 appeals court decision, which on the one hand said the issue was moot and on the other hand agreed with the school district, allowed the lawsuit to go forward in Superior Court.

Compelling public interest or not, I have an awfully hard time with the idea that it's OK to force someone to submit to a urinalysis when there's no evidence that they've done anything wrong. Even if there's ample proof that they've done drugs I think this is something that should be the ultimate responsibility of the parents, and if you give them the information and they choose to do nothing about it then you pursue your options with Child Protective Services.

If this policy had been in place when I was in school, I still wouldn't have done drugs, but I also wouldn't have played sports.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Nitpicking Hess and West: The Hourly Pay Issue

(A continuing look at the recent A Better Bargain: Overhauling Teacher Collective Bargaining for the 21st Century report from the American Enterprise Institute.)

The report makes heavy use of sidebars—there are 9 of them in 49 pages—and the one on page 23 is provocatively titled, “Are Teachers Underpaid?” I really feel that Hess and West got too cute for their own good in this section, and the point that they’re trying to make gets lost because of the disingenuous games they play with the numbers. From the report:

Almost everyone “knows,” in the words of Washington Post national columnist Richard Cohen, “Teachers make lousy money.” In fact, the claim that teachers are underpaid is debatable. The average teacher salary in 2004 was $46,400, compared to the average full-time worker salary of $43,690.

The argument has never been that teachers are underpaid compared to the average worker—the argument is that teachers are underpaid compared to the average worker with a college degree, an important distinction. Happily Hess and West provide the ammunition to shoot down their argument in the very report that they cite in this section. According to the Survey and Analysis of Teacher Trends Report 2004 from the American Federation of Teachers, "the average job offer made to college graduates who were not education majors was $40,472, or $8,768 more than the beginning teacher salary." This is where my "too cute for their own good" criticism comes into play: full-time workers includes the guy who manages the Pizza Hut and many factory workers. Is that really who the authors want to use as their comparison point?

They also got off-track when they started talking about beginning teacher salaries:

While a starting salary for a teacher with a B.A. in 2005 of $42,000 in Los Angeles or $44,500 in Newark, New Jersey, may seem shockingly low to the typical New York Times reader, it's actually higher that what many Ivy League graduates earn when starting in the policy world, advertising, or similar non-technical jobs. For instance, those 2004 graduates of journalism and mass-communication programs who landed jobs earned a median salary of $27,800 if they had a B.A. and $33,000 if they had an M.A.

Notice again how they shifted from the micro to the macro, looking at beginning teacher salaries of 2 different school districts and comparing them to the national average of the professions he chose. According to the AFT report referenced earlier the average beginning teacher salary in 2004 was $31,705 dollars, ahead of the B.A. figure but behind the M.A. This is also more than $10,000 less than the starting teacher salaries that they used to make their point.

Next up, the hourly argument:

While pay comparisons are inevitably subject to wrangling among economists, one recent analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Compensation Survey found that teachers earn “more per hour than architects, civil engineers, mechanical engineers, statisticians, biological and life scientists, atmospheric and space scientists, registered nurses, physical therapists, university-level foreign language teachers, [and] librarians.” In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2004, the average pay per hour for all full-time workers in the “professional specialty and technical” category was $29.77, while public secondary school teachers earned $32.52 and elementary teachers $32.53—or about 10 percent more than the typical professional.

To counter this argument I give you an excerpt from “Redesigning Teacher Salary Structures: A Handbook for State and Local Policy Makers” by Allan Odden and Marc Wallace. Dr. Odden is one of the nations leading experts on differential pay for teachers, and the report I’m quoting was prepared as part of the Washington Learns initiative that is looking at teacher compensation here in Washington State. From the report:

Should teacher salaries be “adjusted” because of their “shorter” work day and year? A final issue in making salary comparisons is whether teacher salaries should be “adjusted” to account for the fact that the typical teacher works only 9 or 10 months of the year, or even just 5-6 hours a day. … But as Allegretto et al. (2004) learned from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, such an adjustment is not warranted because it is difficult to determine how many hours or even weeks that teachers work. Teachers prepare lessons and correct papers outside of the regular school day and often engage in training or curriculum development over the summer months. In comparing salaries among professions, the BLS makes no adjustments when “work” hours are difficult to determine, such as the number of hours airplane pilots work, or college professors work, and suggest that salary comparisons for such jobs, including teachers, be made on an annual salary basis. We agree with that position.

There’s a bit of humor (irony?) in the fact that nearly every district here in Washington computer the hourly salary of their employees; for my district, it’s (base salary) / 182 / 6.5. This is how the per diem rate is computed, and any district that uses per diem or TRI hours to pay for extra responsibilities—I get paid per diem for running the before school intervention program, for example, or for summer school.

Next time: bargaining isn't fair, because unions have more resources.

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John Merrow on Al Shanker

I just got done listening to John Merrow’s podcast about the life of Al Shanker. It’s a very slow download, but you get an excellent, 45-minute piece that gives a great overview of the last 30 years. Shanker sounds like he was a neat person to know. You can download the podcast here.

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Nitpicking Hess and West: The Benefits Issue

The American Enterprise Institute released a new report from Rick Hess and Martin West last week called “A Better Bargain: Overhauling Teacher Collective Bargaining for the 21st Century.” Mr. Hess is one of the most widely heard voices on education, and Eduwonk calls West a "rising star" in the field of education research. Together they’ve created a reasonably balanced look at the issues that are inherent in collective bargaining for teaching.

The interplay between unions and schools is a fascinating one to me. Last summer I was on the bargaining team for my union as we negotiated a new contract with my district, and it was a chore. We met about 15 times, I spent better than 100 hours working on writing language and trying to find the common ground, and things were so heated at one point I thought we were going to impasse. After a lot of give and take we were finally able to get done a week before the teachers came back to school. This year I’m a building rep and actively involved at the Uniserv level as well. It’s given me a much better understanding of the entire system.

Anyhow, I’ve been reading the report. It reads very well, as these things go. There are some areas of it that I disagree with, though, so I thought I’d do a series of posts on those. I’ll quote liberally, but you might want to download the PDF and follow along. The first problem: the benefits issue, which begins on page 25.

The first paragraph starts off well enough:

Evaluated solely in financial terms, the benefits teachers receive are modestly more generous than those received by comparable private sector workers. A 2004 Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey indicates that the fringe benefits cost per teacher amounts to 20.2 percent of total salary, as opposed to 17.0 percent in the private sector.

But then things go off track:

The average elementary school district in California spent more than $13,000 on statuatory, health, and welfare benefits per teacher in 2002-2003. When added to an average salary of slightly more than $55,500, these benefits brought the state’s total cost per elementary teacher to more than $68,000.

Notice the shift from talking about the national average to talking about the situation in California. I’ve criticized my union for using California as a stalking horse before (see here), and I’ll criticize the report for the same reason: given the cost of living and the inflation in California, it makes for a lousy comparison to anything when you’re talking money. Note too that in California the benefits actually work out to 23.4% of the salary, higher than the average that was quoted only a sentence before.

In the second paragraph they discuss retirement plans for teachers:

Nearly all public school systems still rely on “defined benefit” retirement plans that provide a formula-driven pension and disproportionately reward educators who stay in one place for 15 or 20 years at the expense of those who depart sooner. For instance, in 2000-01, 15 of the 16 states that constituted the Southern Regional Education Board required newly hired teachers to teach at least five years before vesting in the retirement system, and five states required a period of at least ten years.

There’s a couple of problems here, one extreme and the others niggling:

1) The biggest problem is that most retirement plans are run and managed by the states, not by the individual districts, and therefore lie outside the scope of any collective bargaining agreement. Here in Washington the Teacher Retirement Systems (TRS) are run by the Department of Retirement Services (for the defined benefit portion) and ICMA Retirement Corporation (for the defined contribution). Thus this is not a matter of “overhauling collective bargaining”; it’s something that is clearly a state prerogative.

2) Spinning off of the first point, it’s also something that is well within the power of the states to do. Here in Washington there are now three active TRS plans (1, 2, and 3, naturally). If you’ve been hired after 1996 you’re automatically on TRS3, which provides only 1% of the average of your “average yearly compensation” (AYC) for every year of service credit. As an example consider Mrs. Smith, who is seeking to retire at 60 after 37 years of teaching. Let’s also say that her final AYC was $60,000 a year:

37 years * 1 percent per year * $60,000 = $22,200 per year = $1850 per month

Were Mrs. Smith on TRS1 or 2 she would be able to claim 2% for every year of service credit, which would double her “defined benefit” pay to $44,400.

The folks who count the beans in Olympia decided long ago that TRS 1 and 2 would be too expensive. As a result TRS 3 was born, which cuts the defined benefit severely but requires that you put in a certain portion of your salary to a “defined contribution account,” which is managed by the state but completely your responsibility to fund and choose where the money goes.

I’ll personally testify to the fact that the WEA is a powerful union with a lot of clout. If Washington State could change their retirement system to better fit the needs of today, then why can’t other states?

My ultimate question to Mr. Hess and Mr. West would be—is this enough flexibility, to your mind? The ultimate free market exercise would be to get the state out of the retirement business entirely and demand that teachers instead make their own choices about where the money goes, which would provide the ultimate in flexibility for career-changers. It’s tough to understand just where they want to go with retirement; the motivation is there, but they’re awfully muddy on the execution.

The next paragraph (on page 26) takes on health care. Sadly, it does it very poorly:

There is also mounting evidence to suggest that teacher benefit packages are poorly equipped to deal with the rising cost of health care. The Rhode Island Education Partnership published a 2005 study that compared benefits for public school teachers to those of employees in the state’s private sector. It found that in all of the private sector firms, managers had the discretion to select a health carrier and the design of the health-care plan, while none of the school districts in the study had that capability. More than 85 percent of the private sector contracts required employees to pick up more than 15 percent of their health-care costs, compared with none of the teacher contracts. Seventy-three percent of school districts provided health benefits to retirees at no cost, while none of the private firms did so. In short, it appears that—much like troubled industrial-era firms such as General Motors, the failed steel giants, and major airlines—school districts are sinking enormous sums into gold-plated benefits plans for workers and retirees that may prove unstable.

Health care costs are one of the top things that districts worry about (there was a good Edweek article on the subject here). When we were negotiating last summer the district was very frank in saying that they needed to find a way to keep health costs in line, particularly the “carve-out” that the state charges to pay for retiree health costs.

That said, using the situation in Rhode Island to argue that there’s a national problem is deceiving. Are there no national studies that prove the point Hess and West are trying to make? Doesn’t the NCES or Education Week or somebody have the numbers to show how much is being spent?

But even beyond the total cost argument, why not give teachers a hell of a health-care package? Hess characterizes the packages as “gold-plated” (page 42, and this interview) and argues that since people look more at the base pay than at the benefits we should thus move more money into pay (particularly merit pay and extra pay for high-need areas), but to my mind a much better idea is to talk about the idea of “Total Compensation Package.” If you want to attract “mobile, skilled, college-educated professionals” (p. 41) to teaching, celebrate the fact we have good health care!

In my capacity as a building rep I’ve had dozens of conversations about benefits, and we all know we’re getting a good deal. Cherish that and publicize it, and don’t polarize an entire profession by messing with health care. Hess brushes on this point himself when he talks about the teacher strike in Vermont in 2005 where health care was the biggest issue; can you imagine that on a national scale? Will it make teaching an attractive profession if we’re all on strike and rallying? If you give the NEA a club, can you be all that shocked when they hit you over the head with it?

In my own district there was a proposal two year ago to switch dental plans. Right now there are two options; this would have taken both of those away in favor of a new plan with lower costs. The district put it to a vote of the teachers, and it failed miserably. Had that been forced upon us, the results would have been disastrous. This point is brought up in the last paragraph of the sections:

The response to efforts to rein in such packages often reveals a sense of entitlement among both union leaders and members that will make change difficult.

Part of this, too, is the fact that teaching still attracts a lot of young mothers. There have been 8 pregnancies at my medium-sized elementary school in the last two years, and I know they all appreciate the sick leave packages and medical care that they get. No one will fight harder than a mother who feels her family is threatened, and that’s how many of them would look at an attack on health care.

That was long. Next up we’ll look at what the report says about hourly pay.

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