Archive for the 'Teachers' Category

October
31st 2014
Antonucci Reminds Us to Be Skeptical of Union Leaders’ Pleas to Change

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Innovation and Reform & School Finance & Teachers

From the spooky to the smile-inducing to the skeptical, welcome to Eddie’s roller coaster world of education policy commentary. Skeptical, you say? What am I talking about?

The article of the week for you to read comes from Education Next and America’s most well-informed and honest observer of all things related to the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, Mr. Mike Antonucci. He lays out the big story about teachers unions and the war within. Bringing nearly two decades of experience watching union leadership operate, he starts the article with this back-to-the-future comparison:

From the NEA’s highest office, the rhetoric of 2014 looks a lot like the rhetoric of 1997. Yet the union is no closer to being a real “agent of change” now than it was then. What you’re seeing, Antonucci explains, is the “external message,” what’s meant for all of us outside the union to hear. Very different from the “internal message” to members and activists, which in recent days has created a real problem:

In the good old days, the two audiences were always separate. But in today’s world, where everyone with a phone or Internet access can act as a reporter, the two messages can overlap, causing confusion and contradiction.

Yet by all appearances, the union continues to waffle on deciding what it’s going to be. Antonucci notes how the last five years have been especially rough on NEA and AFT. Economic recession combined with reform-minded governors concerned about the cost of government and quality of schools has hit their membership numbers and bottom lines. Federal stimulus dollars could only delay the inevitable for a brief while.

A few weeks ago I asked if time was on the NEA’s side. The rate of American public school teachers who belong to the union recently dipped below 50 percent. In Colorado, at last check, the trend line is similar, though union members still make up the majority.

The most interesting piece of the Education Next column is the highly informed conclusion about what happens to the unions going forward. Year after year, some express the hope that the NEA and AFT will evolve from being primarily about “the protection of teachers in the workplace and of union prerogatives everywhere” to finally fulfilling that call to be agents of positive reform in schools and the teaching profession.

Antonucci isn’t buying it, though. He doesn’t see the massive but shrinking organizations effectively adapting from their “adherence to a mission designed for the world of the 1960s.” Rather, he sees them going the way of a prominent private sector union that once was a dominant and respected force, but now has lost most influence and power:

Even if their current difficulties continue, the NEA and the AFT will never disappear. But their days of dominating the education environment are on the wane. In the future, we will look upon them as we now do the Teamsters, as remnants of an earlier age.

See what I mean about skepticism? It’s hard for a young person like me not to put on my rose-colored glasses and be hopeful. But in this case, I am giving credence to the educated opinions of my elders.

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October
24th 2014
Buckle Up for the Ride, Colorado: The Testing Issue Isn’t Going Away Soon

Posted under Federal Government & Grades and Standards & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & reading & School Accountability & State Board of Education & Teachers

Tests in schools, tests in schools. Why do I have a strange sort of feeling this issue isn’t riding off quietly into the sunset any time soon? First, we’ve got the entire hot mess known as Common Core (or maybe we should just follow Governor Hickenlooper’s advice and rename it “Colorado Core”?) and the new regime of PARCC assessments that go with it.

Underneath all that, though, are all the competing concerns and interests. What do we want tests to do? Is it about improving instruction and directly affecting student learning? Or are they primarily useful tools to help measure and compare how different schools and educators are doing? As I’ve heard it said many times, “what gets measured gets done.” So you can’t just throw out all the tests. But which ones do we need, and how much is too much?

As you can see, magical policy solutions aren’t hiding just beneath the surface. Some leaders on the Colorado State Board of Education have tried to find a way to give local schools and districts more testing flexibility, while preserving key features of accountability. But then the grumpy old U.S. Department of Education mothership has all but completely squashed that idea.

Then we have the legislatively-appointed Standards and Assessments Task Force. On Monday, this 15-member group met and narrowed down the areas of concern to oh, at least eight. These are items to study and make recommendations about. Looks like a big task to tackle by the early 2015 deadline. Then yesterday the Task Force set up a listening session in Colorado Springs, reports the Gazette. Among the many concerns highlighted: Continue Reading »

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October
22nd 2014
Silly Season Won’t Last, So Find Out Candidate Stances on Key K-12 Issues

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Governor & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Teachers

Oh, it’s the silliest, silliest season of the year. How do I know? My grandpa muttering under his breath when one more irritating political ad interrupts his otherwise enjoyable viewing of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. And the other night my mom crumpling up the latest campaign attack flier that came in our mailbox and finally telling dad they need to turn in their ballots “to stop the madness.” Yes, it’s less than two weeks until Election Day 2014.

Above the fray comes the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess and Max Eden noting how little this year’s prospective political officeholders are saying about the things that affect my world, things like Common Core standards, tenure reform, and school choice:

A systematic analysis of campaign Web sites for the 139 major party candidates for governor or U.S. senator (there is no Democrat running for the Kansas Senate seat) shows that most hopefuls have little to say on any of these pressing questions.

Call me curious, or call me crazy. This little piece prompted me to check out Colorado’s own major party candidates — including two guys running for governor and two running for U.S. Senate. What do they have to say about K-12 education matters? After all, maybe we’re part of the exception here, or maybe there’s more to the story that AEI seeks to tell. Continue Reading »

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October
21st 2014
COLA Wars: Yesterday’s Colorado Supreme Court Ruling on PERA

Posted under School Finance & State Legislature & Teachers

My parents don’t often let me drink soda, but I like to think of myself as a Coca-Cola guy. Pepsi just doesn’t quite do it for me. And don’t even get me started on the off-brand colas. Big K Cola? Yuck!

I have to admit, though, that I haven’t yet tasted this PERA COLA thing I’ve heard so much about. Maybe that’s for the best; judging by some of the reactions I’ve seen to yesterday’s Colorado Supreme Court ruling on the issue, I’m thinking I’d probably find it a bit too heavy.

I wrapped up last week’s policy adventures by writing about Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), which provides pensions for many Colorado’s public school teachers (roughly  and a large number of other public employees in the state. In that post, I briefly mentioned a 2010 bill that aimed at partially correcting one of PERA’s biggest problems: Unfunded liabilities.

While that bill was a small—perhaps inadequately small—step in the right direction for Colorado, it required some tough changes to be made. Among those changes was a reduction in annual cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments for those covered by PERA’s pensions—including the more than 100,000 retirees who are already receiving benefits. More specifically, the bill cut yearly COLA increases from 3.5 percent to 2 percent or inflation, whichever happens to be lower.

As you may have guessed, this move made some folks rather unhappy. A lawsuit was filed, legal battles were fought, and the case eventually wound up in front of the Colorado Supreme Court. The question: Does the 3.5 percent yearly COLA increase represent a contractual, constitutionally protected obligation for PERA?  According to the Court, the answer is no. Continue Reading »

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October
17th 2014
The Unfair Retirement PERA-chute: New Group Pushes for Pension Reform

Posted under Education Politics & School Finance & Teachers

Happy Friday, readers. I know we’ll all be starting our weekends in a few hours, but I think there’s time to squeeze in just a little more education policy before then. Today’s topic: reform efforts centered on Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA).

I’ve written about PERA and some of its pitfalls before, but let’s recap briefly for those who are new to the discussion. PERA is Colorado’s public employee pension plan, and the program covers a variety of public employees. Many of those employees are—you guessed it—public school teachers.

While the phrase “pension plan” sounds decidedly innocuous, PERA has been criticized frequently. Among other things, the scheme has been knocked for tying Colorado to some pretty nasty unfunded liabilities and unfairly penalizing young or new public employees.

Although a 2010 bill attempted to address some of PERA’s problems, it may not have fully righted the listing ship. Now, though, the winds may be starting to shift. Continue Reading »

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October
15th 2014
Dangerous Decoration: How Much is Too Much for the Classroom?

Posted under Early Childhood & Just For Fun & Research & Teachers

My English classroom has a fish in it. No, not a real fish. A fish sticker. A shiny fish sticker with glittery scales, blue eyes, and an intriguingly amused expression on his (her?) face. Sometimes it feels like the fish sticker is staring at me. Have you ever tried reading or writing with a shiny fish sticker staring at you? It’s tough. And I often find myself staring back.

As it turns out, I may not be the only little guy distracted by certain classroom decorations. According to an article on NBC News this week, some teachers are beginning to take steps to reduce those distractions by stripping some of their classroom decorations.

The crusade (okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement) against decorations is partially based on a recent study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon that found highly decorated classrooms can affect the learning of young students. Continue Reading »

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October
14th 2014
Two New Columns Bring Us Back to Reality in Jeffco Public Schools

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & High School & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers

It’s time to cut through the fog. Pieces of misinformation about the Jeffco school board have become so rampant that, even with your low-beams on, you’re bound to run into one or two of them. To deny the concentrated campaign of union field-tested talking points has been effective at increasing the numbers and volume of the opposition would be to deny reality. Just like it would be to swallow the talking points whole.

As this new Townhall column by Colorado’s own Mark Baisley reminds us: Continue Reading »

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October
9th 2014
Education Reform Times May Be A-Changin’, But Not for All

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & School Choice & Teachers

A long time ago, during an era known as “The Sixties,” there was a popular song called “The Times They Are a-Changin’”. Or so my Grandpa tells me. Apparently, it’s a sort of iconic piece about all the upheaval that was starting during this distant past. I have to say it’s a catchy tune, too.

Because it occurred to me as I perused this latest piece by the venerable long-time education reform Checker Finn, called “Time for a reboot” (my Dad says I should have referenced his old computer’s experience with the “blue screen of death,” but I digress). The pro-Common Core author acknowledges some of the complaints made about standardized testing and says reformers need to back away from “test-driven accountability” as a “primary tool”:

The wrong answer is to give up (or declare victory) and settle for the status quo. Far too many kids are still dropping out, far too few are entering college and the work force with the requisite skills, and far too many other countries are chowing down on our lunch.

Major-league education change is still needed, maybe now more than ever, and it’s no time for either complacency or despair.

Oh, it sure sounds like the times they are a-changin’! Finn says more emphasis needs to be placed on areas I’ve written a lot about here, including providing more quality choices, using technology to differentiate instruction, and letting the dollars follow the student. Bingo! Continue Reading »

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October
8th 2014
A Show in Jeffco: Last Week’s Meeting and What Lies Ahead

Posted under Education Politics & School Board & Teachers

As you may recall, I went to a party last Thursday night. Sadly, I didn’t find the snacks I was promised (though not for lack of trying). What I did find was a relatively small room absolutely packed with cameras, tension, and people wearing cheaply designed custom t-shirts. And snacks or no snacks, I got quite a show.

The meeting began with more than two hours of public comments. Some of these comments were entertaining, but others were so venomous that I felt compelled to cover my little ears. Threats were issued, ultimatums were given, and political potshots were taken. Many (many) thousands of up-twinkles were performed. And through all of this, the board majority listened patiently and without reaction. That’s pretty impressive.

But the public comments were just the beginning. Shortly thereafter, the real fun started as the board began discussion on the “censorship” issue” that has rocked the district in recent weeks. Superintendent Dan McMinimee offered a pretty reasonable compromise that restructured the district’s two existing (and rather mysterious) review committees instead of pursuing an amended proposal for a new committee. Continue Reading »

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October
7th 2014
Falling Membership Decline Begs Question: Is Time on the NEA’s Side?

Posted under Education Politics & Teachers

Time is not on my side today, which means I have only a few moments to write something. Which is interesting. Because as Mike Antonucci reports, time doesn’t seem to be on the side of the National Education Association, either: Continue Reading »

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