Monday, August 31, 2009

Oh No She Didn't!

WEA members received an email today related to the NEWS Lawsuit, the latest effort (remember Doran?) to get the courts to weigh in on funding schools. It'll be an interesting case to watch; I wish that TVW was showing it.

Inside that email, though, are a couple of shocking paragraphs (emphasis mine):
Each day of the court case, we're highlighting state politicians who are failing the children of their district by refusing to fully fund our schools.

A politician like Laura Grant, who represents the 16th District: Her recent vote for education budget cuts in school districts like Walla Walla, Kennewick, Kiona-Benton City, Pasco and Prosser means $8 million less to help educate our children in the 16th District.

Or John Driscoll in the 6th District, who voted for the huge unfunded education overhaul bill at the same time the Legislature cut $10.6 million in state funding to the Spokane, Cheney, Mead and Nine Mile Falls school districts.

And don't forget Ross Hunter, who figures his votes to cut $17.4 million from schools in Bellevue, Issaquah and Lake Washington will go unnoticed. We have news for him. Educators, parents and, most importantly, children in classrooms who are going without because of his opposition to full funding are noticing.
All three of those members of the House are Democrats, two of them (Grant and Driscoll) from historically Republican districts. Hell, John Driscoll only beat John Ahern by about 100 votes in their contest, and Laura Grant polled below 50% in the primary earlier this month in her bid to win a special election to finish out her father's term.

The WEA calling out Democratic legislators. That's something to think about.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

It's Conclusive: Strikes are Good for Students

So Liv Finne, who is to education policy what Michelle Bachmann is to rationality, has a poorly-formatted post up about how Kent shouldn't strike because of their poor WASL scores. The Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF) has piled on, too, in an editorial that I'll spend more time with in a different post.

The obvious argument for a union hack like myself, then, is that those scores would be better if the teachers weren't going to useless meetings, or if the class size was what it should be, or if teachers didn't flee the district to brighter horizons.

I think it's Al Shanker who's attributed with the idea that if it's good for the teachers then it's good for the students. With that in mind, I used the School Report Card that the EFF released last spring, along with their list of districts that have been out on strike recently. On the EFF report card a rating of "6" is considered average, and the cut-off score for a 6 is to be ranked 570 or higher.

In Bellevue, which went out on strike in 2008, the elementary schools are ranked #1, 615, 104, 104, 44, 431, 650, 30, 855, 16, 49, 259, 227, 227, 295, 461, 57, and 401. That's an average ranking of 268, well above average. Only three schools in Bellevue are ranked "Below Average" on the EFF metric. If you take them out, the average ranking rises to 180.

Collective bargaining and a strike don't seem to be slowing Bellevue down any.

Let's try Shoreline, who went out in 2007. Their schools are ranked 95, 104, 136, 295, 295, 372, and 372. That's an average of 208, even better than Bellevue. Every school in Shoreline, which also had labor troubles this year, is above average in the EFF rankings.

How about Lake Stevens, which had a strike in 2003 and is looking likely to have another one? Their 6 elementary schools are ranked 259, 401, 208, 136, 227, and 549. An average ranking of 297, and again no school is below average on the EFF scale.

If strikes hurt, then every post-strike district should look like Marysville (2003, an average ranking of 687, 6 of 10 schools below average). These school rankings, though, show that there isn't much of a trend to be found.

So if a strike is the ultimate manifestation of out of control teachers, and if out of control teachers are the antithesis of student achievement, then why do the kids in districts that have gone on strike seem to be doing pretty well?

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Puget Sound Liberals on the BIAW

An interesting look at the best lobbying group in Olympia, here.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Liv Finne School Wouldn't Be Much of a School At All

Over at Washington Policy Blog from the Washington Policy Center they've got a blogger by the name of Liv Finne. She runs their education policy center and has a ton of ideas that I don't agree with, which is fine because hey, diff'rent strokes and all.

Today, though, her post tied into the Kent teacher's strike is just asinine.
Today, the Seattle Times reports that Lisa Brackin Johnson, president of the Kent teachers' union, has led Kent teachers into striking against their students.
As a local president, I'll personally attest that on something like this the president is more of a follower than a leader. When 86% of the members vote to do something, it's because they want to do it, not because of prompting from their leadership. Liv's attempt to personalize it by calling out Brackin-Johnson by name is silly.
If principals were in charge of their school budget and staffing decisions, teachers would feel that they are connected to, and part of, the important budget decisions that affect them, including the number of students assigned to their classrooms.
This simply must be true, because there has never been a teacher--ever, in all of history--who has disagreed with their principal. Similarly, there has never been a bad principal. The solution is obviously to give them more power, because that's what teachers are clammoring for.
This strike is not only illegal, but entirely unnecessary. Washington's schools receive over $10,000 per student from all state, federal and local sources. Each class of 20 students receives $200,000, which should allow their principals, not a statewide single salary scale, to determine teacher pay, to pay the best teachers up to $100,000, and to take the rest to run the school.
This is a math fail of such magnitude that it's hard to even know where to begin.

Firstly, I wish that she had linked to a source for her $10,000 figure, because the most recent data from OSPI puts the figure at $9,344.

Secondly, as any small school advocate will tell you, if those 20 kids are high schoolers who require an english teacher, a science teacher, and a social studies teacher, you've suddenly spent this mythical $200,000 without even paying the electric bill.

But the real heart of dumbness is in the next paragraph (emphasis mine):
As for the class size complaint so often heard in these strikes, this link from the OSPI website shows that the state funds enough certificated instructors to provide class sizes of 18 students. Too many teachers are simply not teaching, instead drawing salary by reviewing curriculum, administrating, or fulfilling some other less essential function. This link from the OSPI website shows that out of a total of 103,614 public school employees, less than half, or 49,146, are actual elementary or secondary school teachers.

But wait a minute....if it sounds too weird too be true, it just might be. Follow her second link and take a look at that second chart, and look at who Liv says is just "simply not teaching" and "fulfilling some other less essential function":
  • 1,240 Librarians
  • 2,122 Counselors
  • 989 Speech-Language Pathologists
  • 888 School Psychologists
  • 436 School Nurses
  • 325 Occupational Therapists
  • 116 Physical Therapists
  • 5,211 "Other Teachers", which the OSPI defines as "Instructs students in ungraded classes, special education, gifted, disadvantaged, early childhood, home/hospital, and adult education."
  • 3,339 "Operators", which is the fancy way that OSPI categorizes bus drivers.
....and a host of others, including all of the principals that she wants to give more power to. The numbers above add up to another 14,666 employees who I'd consider pretty important to the operation of a school, not "less essential."

In Liv's world, the Air Force should only have pilots, not mechanics, because it's the pilots who fly the plane, so clearly they're the only resource that matters.

Similarly, Hollywood should fire all the foley artists and FX professionals because it's the actors and the actors alone who make movies what they are. "Lights!" and "Camera!" are only preludes to "Action!", after all.

A hospital can be made up of only general practitioners, because really, that should be enough--who ever needs to see a specialist? Any teacher should be able to handle any reading difficulty, because aren't all learning disabilities pretty much the same?

You're going to walk to the Liv Finne school, because the bus drivers are clearly unimportant. You're not going to get any music, art, or PE at the Liv Finne school, because those aren't classroom teachers. Don't you dare be disabled at the Liv Finne school, because there are no OT or PT specialists to help you, much less the special ed support staff to help make sure that you're acquiring the skills you need. If your dad is an alcoholic and you're thinking of ending your life, you keep that to yourself at the Liv Finne school, because counselors are not teaching.

If you'll excuse me, I'm off to watch the video for "Another Brick in the Wall", because it totally fits what I'm envisioning the Liv Finne school to be.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Moving On, Moving Out

It was a good 8 year run in first grade, but when a 5th grade position opened up in my building last week, I jumped on it. I like the little kids, and teaching beginning reading is one of the great joys I've had in life, but it was time for a change, and I think this'll be a happy thing.

The trouble with that profound a grade shift is that you can't really take it with you--all the worksheets, all the story books, all the bits 'n' pieces that make the primary grades fun but don't quite work in the upper elementary.

A new adventure. I'm looking forward to it.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

There's Good Money in the Ed Reform Racket

The University of Washington's very own Marguerite Roza, an assistant professor at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, made quite a splash recently with a study arguing that states should no longer pay additional money to teachers when they earn Masters degrees. This isn't a new line of thought, but getting a full page write-up in Education Week and a mention in the Education Gadfly in short order isn't a bad month for an education researcher.

I've written about her before as well, here.

Her research is pretty counterintuitive, particularly to a happy union hack such as myself. Recent topics have included the idea that teachers could take a pay-cut to stave off layoffs, that insurance benefits are rather wasted, and now this new bon mot about degrees. It makes one wonder, how comfortable is this professor who has made the thrust of her research an examination on how to take salary and benefits away from teachers?

Turns out, courtesy of the state salary database at the News Tribune, that Dr. Roza is doing quite well indeed--a $10,400 monthly base salary, which works out to a cool $124,800 per year. Not too shabby!

I've ragged on Dan Goldhaber of the UW before, too--he's written about education, and is a very convincing public speaker, but the ideas that he presented during the Basic Ed Finance hearings were waaaaaaaaay out there. According to the Tribune Dr. Goldhaber makes $13,530 a month, or $162,360 a year. Those numbers are provided by the state.

Want to know why teachers are often so cynical about change agents? Because it's usually not the change agent who will be most affected by whatever grand idea is being proposed--it's the teachers.

(For the record, I made $46,341 last year with a Masters degree plus 8 years)

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Mayoral Control in Seattle a Step Closer?

Remember back in March, when a community activist by the name of Mike McGinn said that part of what he'd do if elected mayor of Seattle would be to take over the Seattle Public Schools, the same way that Michael Bloomberg has done in New York City?

With former mayor Greg Nickels throwing in the towel today, Mike McGinn is now in the general election this November against T-Mobile exec Joe Mallahan.

Could be interesting, because with the Race to the Top putting education more into the spotlight the schools are going to be in the spotlight in an intense way--I expect that it'll really heat up next year, when our Representatives and Senators start looking for issues to hang their hat on in the 2010 midterm elections. It's an idea that was floated before; is now the time?

Listen too to today's Weekday program from KUOW, where they preview the race and one of the callers brings up mayoral control directly.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Swing and a Miss, EFF Edition

So it's August, and you know what that means--more rightous indignation about the potential for teachers to go out on strike. This post from the EFF's blog is on point, and it lays out the anti-strike position well, even though I'd respectfully disagree with where they're going with it.

At the bottom, though, they really go off the rails when they talk about the Kent School District and their ongoing negotiations with the Kent EA:
If the Kent teachers' union truly cares about the education of the children in that district, it should not strike. Instead, continue to work out problems at the bargaining table. Don't take them out on the students.
Here's the trick--the KEA would like to work those problems out at the table, but it's the District that cut off negotiations and declared an impasse, refusing to interact with the EA any longer.

If Kent gets pushed to the brink, it's going to be the KSD that put the kids in a bad way. They pretty much admit as much in their open letter to the community.

It's going to be an interesting couple of weeks.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The L"E"V Finally Comes Clean: Teachers Are The Problem

This editorial being hosted by the League of "Education" Voters on their blog is, I think, the clearest statement of their beliefs that they've ever come out with. The money paragraph is actually in the middle:

The very idea that any teacher would think their own personal needs are more important than the personal needs and expectations of the people they work for, the parents and taxpayers, and most of all, the children, is appalling. Disrupting the school year, short as it is for the job to be done, is, in my considered opinion, the height of arrogance and shows a singular lack of care and understanding of the dynamics that lead to improvement in the long run for schools. And it is bad for kids.
Hear that, teachers? If you put yourself first, your family first, your own children first, that's appalling. Speak up for yourselves and you're both ignorant and arrogant.

You see, moronic teachers, the L"E"V has a better way, a true way, and there is only one way, and it is their way. I mean, really, what the hell do teachers know about teaching and learning anyhow?

Later on there's some platitudes about all sides working together, but you know that's not the goal. That certainly wasn't the goal of the House Education Committee when HB2261 was written behind closed doors and rammed through courtesy of Senator Jarrett and Representative Hunter. It isn't the goal of the Race to the Top money, which the reform elements in the state have latched onto as a potential way to fund 2261, the bill that they got passed with absolutely 0 money attached to it.

The chasm between teachers and the L"E"V is the difference between right and wrong, and they're not on the right side.


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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fun With On-Line Schools

The passing rate on the 10th grade math WASL for the Insight Academy, an on-line charter school run by the Quillayute Valley School District in Forks: 17.9%

The statewide average: 45.2%.

Must be the vampires.

Also check out the Columbia Virtual Academy, operated by the Valley School District in Stevens County. The Valley School is a K-8 building with about 200 students, while Columbia Virtual is a cash cow that had more than 700! students enrolled in October of last year. Note, first, that they don't have any WASL scores listed. Note, too, that though they started with 707 kids, they only finished with 225. I may have to do more research into the why on that one.

You could also try Columbia Virtual Academy of Colville, where 10% of the kids pass the math WASL in 10th grade.

There's nothing wrong with on-line learning. Some of these aren't looking like they're really on-line learning.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Correlation != Causation

Keep that in mind as you read this article on how on-line degree programs make better teachers. Recognize, too, that one of the 10 Ideas the House Republican Caucus is advising to save the state money is, "Take the emphasis off bricks and mortar and put more focus on distance learning through technology."

I've taken a couple of online classes for credit. I've found them pretty meaningless, honestly. If you've had a better experience, I'd love to hear about it.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

The Poison Pill That Could Kill HB2261

....can be found here, via the Political Buzz blog from the News Tribune.

Senators McAuliffe and Oemig are holding a statewide listening tour to get teacher input on the bill. Good for them, I guess--better now than never, which is where we were at. The trick is that the cratering state budget won't be ready to accomodate all the new spending on all the new programs 2261 mandates any time soon, so if this nascent idea to speed up the pace at which 2261 was implemented were to take hold, much of it would have to end up on the cutting room floor out of economic necessity.

Consider that the Governor has already vetoed two sections of the bill dealing with access to preschool and gifted ed programs, which was a definite slap to the "2261 will make everything better!" crowd. If this were to become a trend, it's very easy to see a path to what the WEA feared all along--the good that made people like the bill will evaporate away a section at a time, and what we'll all have left is onerous new certification requirements and more bureaucracy.


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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Health Insurance Redux

The other day I chided Rep. Condotta for his attack on insurance benefits for public employees; today's mail brought more ammunition.

My district offers 12 different insurance plans, which in and of itself might be a problem. Today I got a packet about our upcoming benefits fair that contained a spreadsheet comparing all of the plans that we offer, showing what the co-pays are, deductibles, benefits, etc.

I'm on the Group Health $15 Copay Plan, which is by far the most expensive of the Group Health plans but looks reasonable when compared to Premera. Go down to the lines about "Hospitalization" and "Outpatient Surgery" and you'll see why the thought of one of Rep. Condotta's high deductible plans terrifies me:

$15 Copay Plan: $300 maximum copay, then covered in full
$500 Deductible Plan: $1,000 maximum copay, then covered at 80% after deductible is satisfied.

Outpatient Surgery
$15 Copay Plan: $15 copay
$500 Deductible Plan: $100 copay, then covered at 80% after deductible is satisfied.

I've talked before about my profoundly deaf daughter. Her left ear works for now with a hearing aide, but her ENT doctor has said that she could easily be a cochlear implant candidate if her hearing degenerated any farther. Given that the surgery and equipment can cost $50,000 a shot, even 80% coverage would still mean that I'm out $10,000 (or, 5 months of take-home salary) to pay for the procedure.

NYC Educator has been doing some incredible writing about health insurance, the health care industry, and how it all relates to teachers. My project for back to school, before I speak to the membership, will be to line up our health plans with the state offerings and see if they compare. If they do, maybe that's the way we go. If they don't, then we keep doing what we're doing.

It's going to be a fight either way.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Today's Education Hero: Rep. Joel Kretz of the 7th LD

Rep. Kretz is a Republican who represents the 7th LD, which covers everything north of Spokane to the Canadian border, and from Idaho to the Okanogan Valley. Geographically the largest in Washington, it's also a district where any cuts to levy equalization (LEA) would be the most profoundly felt, and Rep. Kretz has been leading the charge to preserve this vital funding for small school districts.

As exhibit 1, check out his 2009 session newsletter (which I hope to be able to link to shortly). Fully half of it is devoted to HB1776 and levy equalization, including a list of every school district he represents and what the Governor's proposed cuts to LEA would have meant for them.

Exhibit 2, this editorial published in the Pend O'Reille Miner on levy equalization, which gets to the heart of the issue in as clear and succinct a way as you're ever going to find. It was also published in the Davenport Times, which is where I first encountered it.

If there is a special session in October where levy equalization is attacked, again, it's good to know that we have people like Joel Kretz fighting the good fight.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Beating Lou Dobbs to the Punch

I, too, am a Kenyan national. Didn't realize it, but this birth certificate proves it.


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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Why I Worry, Health Insurance Edition

Take a minute to let this press release from Rep. Cary Condotta wash over you:
"Let's get back to true insurance instead of prepaid health care. It worked before and it will work again," said Condotta. "Now if we could just make Health Savings Accounts available to all state employees, as is required under House Bill 1383 signed into law in 2006. This type of option could actually reduce costs and premiums for all plans. Now is the time for bold action to reverse the perverse cost increases in health care caused by low deductibles and co-pays. Steve Hill and the board have taken the first step, now let's get the HSA option in place and watch health care costs decline and people's health improve accordingly."
Get that? $15 co-pays and $100 deductibles are THE PROBLEM, and Rep. Condotta has a solution: health savings accounts! Never mind that there's ample evidence that HSAs make existing systemic problems even worse. Marguerite Roza of the University of Washington has written before about the "above average" health insurance that teachers receive, the clear implication being that we're getting something we haven't earned and that something should be done about it.

I carry the insurance load for my family. My wife is self-employed, and with my special needs daughter in the picture I'm a power user of our Group Health plan. This year I've paid $442.86 a month, and next year preliminary estimates say that it'll be more like $470. I also put $100 a month into an American Fiduciary flexible spending account, and I'll easily use all $1,200 of it before the year is done.

Granted, I'm not typical. Single employees, employees who are covered by their spouses, and employees with no kids in the home usually end up contributing to the insurance pool that gets split up among people like me who pay out-of-pocket. If you cover your family a proposal like Rep. Condotta's screws you over twice, when your rates go up AND there's less of a pool to help you out.

The problem that's been identified by everyone is the cost to the system. Any solution that relies on making things harder for teachers isn't a solution that deserves to go anywhere.

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