Archive for September, 2012

September 30, 2012

5 Biggest Lies About America’s Public Schools — Debunked

By Kristin Rawls | Published October 1, 2012 by Alternet

Here’s the truth behind 5 of the most destructive myths about public education.

October 1, 2012 |

Just weeks into the 2012-2013 school year education issues are already playing a starring role in the national conversation about America’s future. Because it’s an election year, the presidential candidates have been busy pretending there are many substantial distinctions between them on education policy (actually, the differences are arguably minimal). Meanwhile, the striking Chicago Teachers Union helped thrust teachers unions into the national spotlight, with union-buster Democrat Mayor Rahm Emanuel reminding us that, these days, Republicans and Democrats frequently converge on both education policy and laborunfriendliness.

Since pundits and politicians often engage in education rhetoric that obscures what’s really going on, here are five corrections to some of the more egregious claims you may have recently heard.

Lie #1: Unions are undermining the quality of education in America.

Teachers unions have gotten a bad rap in recent years, but as education professor Paul Thomas of Furman University tells AlterNet, “The anti-union message…has no basis in evidence.” In fact, Furman points out, “Union states tend to correlate with higher test scores.” As a 2010 study conducted by Albert Shanker Fellow Matthew Di Carlo found, “[T]he states in which there are no teachers covered under binding agreements score lower [on standardized assessment tests] than the states that have them… If anything, it seems that the presence of teacher contracts in a state has a positive effect on achievement” – by as much as three to five points in reading and math at varying grade levels.

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September 27, 2012

Quebec’s four-tiered education system a disservice to those in need

Abolishment of school boards got all the attention in recent election campaign, but special-needs students’ poor access to education is far more pressing

By Robert Green | A slightly edited version of this op-ed appeared in the Montreal Gazette September 26th 2012

The education issue that got the most attention during the recent Quebec election campaign was the proposed abolition or restructuring of school boards. However, there is a far more important structural problem that got far less attention. The problem involves the most vulnerable and needy students in our education system. It relates to the existing policy of denying 163,000 special-needs students in Quebec access to a large portion of the province’s education system.

To understand this issue, it is important to recognize as a starting point that Quebec has a four-tiered education system: fully private schools that receive no government subsidies and are not bound to follow provincial curriculum; semi-private schools that do receive government subsidies and are bound to follow the Quebec curriculum; “special status” public schools that have entrance exams; and public schools open to all, regardless of income or ability.

Entrance exams in all but a few of the schools in the first three tiers ensure that it is only this final tier that is accessible to the majority of students with special needs, regardless of their ability to pay for private schooling.

The result is an over-representation of students with special needs within a portion of the education system — i.e., the fully public portion — where resources are already stretched thin.

This situation would not be such a problem were it not for the public subsidies to private schools that effectively allow so many families to opt-out of the public system. Compared with other provinces, Quebec has by far the highest percentage of students enrolled in private schools — and the numbers are on the rise. From 2004 to 2010, the number of secondary students enrolled in private schools rose from 17 to 19 per cent. On the island of Montreal, it has been estimated to be as high as 30 per cent. This compares with a Canadian average of 5.6 per cent.

The reason this multi-tiered education system should elicit concern has to do with what the world is learning about successful education systems.

Finland is renowned for consistently producing the highest achieving students in the world. In his recently published book Finnish Lessons, former Finnish education minister Pasi Sahlberg credits Finland’s success largely to its emphasis on ensuring “equal educational opportunities” for all of its students. This means in particular that all schools have the resources to meet the needs of students with various learning difficulties.

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September 22, 2012

Ruth Rosenfield’s Attempt to Deny MTA Members Access to Financial Documents Must Be Rejected: An Open Letter to All MTA Members

By Robert Lavoie
MTA Syndical Rep for Westmount High

Dear fellow members of the Montreal Teachers Association,

Sorry to say but…here we go again:

There is an upcoming motion at the next MTA reps meeting asking reps to interpret the constitution in such a way that denies us access to the financial records of our union.

By now you have received a document from the MTA containing the most recent unfounded accusations against me by MTA President Ruth Rosenfield.

I understand that all of this is very unpleasant but I feel that there is no other choice but to continue to fight for our rights within the MTA. When one member is denied access to how our hard earned money is spent, this is an affront to the rights of all members. Whatever you may have thought of Ms Rosenfield’s work in the past, her recent moves to limit access to financial documents must be opposed by all of those who believe that a union’s finances must be transparent to its members. Therefore, I have put together a few words about the issues and I would ask that if this raises any questions from you, that you not hesitate to bring them up with me, publicly or in private.

We are all dues-paying members of the MTA and deserve the respect of having access to information about how our money is being managed. It is a fact that the MTA is spending beyond its means and that this will have to be addressed before we reach critical financial instability. We ran a deficit last year of $61 000. By my calculation, at our current rate of overspending, the MTA will have exhausted its surplus in 3 years (8 years if you average out the deficits of the last 5 years). There is more to this problem than just overestimating membership numbers by fifty teachers (BTW, I would not blame the huge deficit on the membership calculation as much as spending $19,000 more than the budget approved last year for syndical leave – $19,000 more than we spent during the last local negotiations). The short-term fix of going for a deficit should be a reason for concern. It is important for us to see where cuts can be made.

I believe very strongly in transparency and the sharing of information so that members can make informed decisions – whether I like the information or not.

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September 19, 2012

Chicago Teachers Union’s Karen Lewis: Deal Ending Strike a Victory for Education

Published 19 Sep 2012 by

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September 19, 2012

Chicago Teachers: We Won So Much More Than a Contract

Published by Teachers for Social Justice

In this strike, so much more was won than a contract. After 17 punishing years of corporate, neoliberal policies, Chicago teachers stood up, and they stood up for the whole country. This courageous strike was born of a new kind of teacher unionism – democratic, activist, allied with parents, and fighting not only for fair compensation but for a richer, more humane and just education. What has been accomplished in Chicago in the last few weeks has reverberated nationally. It powerfully demonstrated an alternative to business unionism and the whole corporate education agenda. There are new solidarities, forged on picket lines, among teachers and between teachers and students, parents, and community members. Through this strike, teachers have emerged as activists and organizers, and there is a deeper consciousness about the system we are confronting. We have felt a new sense of our power to shift the education agenda. These gains are deeper and more enduring than any contract provisions. We are so much stronger due to the strength and unity of the CTU and the outpouring of public support.

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September 18, 2012

How to Fix the Schools

By JOE NOCERA. Published September 17, 2012 by The New York Times

“What is also a given in other countries is that teaching has a status equal to other white-collar professionals. That was once true in America, but Tucker believes that a quarter-century of income inequality saw teachers lose out at the expense of lawyers and other well-paid professionals. That is a large part of the reason that teachers’ unions have become so obstreperous: It is not just that they feel underpaid, but they feel undervalued. Tucker believes that teachers should be paid more — though not exorbitantly. But making teacher education more rigorous — and imbuing the profession with more status — is just as important. “Other countries have raised their standards for getting into teachers’ colleges,” he told me. “We need to do the same.”

Second, he believes that it makes no sense to demonize unions. “If you look at the countries with the highest performance, many of them have very strong unions. There is no correlation between the strength of the unions and student achievement,” he says.

Instead, he points to the example of Ontario, where a decade ago, a new government decided to embrace the teachers’ unions — to treat them as partners instead of as adversaries. The result? Ontario now has some of the best student achievement in the world. (Alas, relations between teachers and the government have recently deteriorated after a two-year wage freeze was imposed.)

High-performing countries don’t abandon teacher standards. On the contrary. Teachers who feel part of a collaborative effort are far more willing to be evaluated for their job performance — just like any other professional. It should also be noted that none of the best-performing countries rely as heavily as the U.S. does on the blunt instrument of standardized tests. That is yet another lesson we have failed to learn.”

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September 17, 2012

Grading Teachers, Failing Kids

By MOSHE ADLER. Published September 15, 2012 by

What would children gain from teachers who have the highest evaluations as measured by the metric that Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to implement for Chicago’s public school (but not charter school) teachers?  This is precisely what three Columbia and Harvard economists researched in a study that has received wide attention from the media and politicians.  According to the authors’ own interpretation—the sky.  But if you read the study itself—nothing at all.

The study examined the incomes of adults who, as children in the 4th through the 8th grades, had teachers of different “Value Added” scores, with Value Added defined as improvement in the scores of students on standardized tests.  The researchers found that the average wage and salary of a 28 year old who had an excellent teacher was $20,509 in 2010 dollars, $182 higher than the average annual pay of all 28 year olds in the study.

How does this compare to the average salary and wage of a 28 year old in this country? The authors chose not to make the comparison, but we can make it for them.  They excluded from their study people whose income was higher than $100,000. As we shall see, this exclusion is problematic; but to do the comparison we must do the same. The average salary and wage in 2010 of a 28 year old who earned less than $100,000 a year was $29,041, 42% higher than the income of a 28 year old in the Columbia-Harvard study who had an excellent teacher. In other words, even if we accept the spin the authors put on their numbers, having an excellent teacher does not pull people out of poverty.

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September 15, 2012

What research really says on teacher evaluation

By Richard Rothstein. Published September 15, 2012 by The Washington Post’s education blog ‘The Answer Sheet’

It was bound to happen, whether in Chicago or elsewhere. What is
(Scott Olson/GETTY IMAGES) surprising about the Chicago teachers’ strike is that something like this did not happen sooner.

The strike represents the first open rebellion of teachers nationwide over efforts to evaluate, punish and reward them based on their students’ scores on standardized tests of low-level basic skills in math and reading. Teachers’ discontent has been simmering now for a decade, but it took a well-organized union to give that discontent practical expression. For those who have doubts about why teachers need unions, the Chicago strike is an important lesson.

Nobody can say how widespread discontent might be. Reformers can certainly point to teachers who say that the pressure of standardized testing has been useful, has forced them to pay attention to students they previously ignored, and could rid their schools of lazy and incompetent teachers.

But I frequently get letters from teachers, and speak with teachers across the country who claim to have been successful educators and who are now demoralized by the transformation of teaching from a craft employing skill and empathy into routinized drill instruction using scripted curriculum. They are also demoralized by the weeks and weeks of the school year now devoted to gamesmanship—test preparation designed not to teach literacy or mathematics but only to make it seem that students can perform in an artificial setting better than they actually do.

I suspect, but cannot prove that the latter group of teachers is more numerous and that teachers in the discontented group are more likely to be seasoned, experienced, and successful. I suspect that teachers in the group supportive of standardized testing are more likely to be young, frequently hired outside the usual teacher training stream, and conditioned to think of education as little more than test preparation.

The research evidence is weighty in support of the discontented view; two years ago, EPI assembled a group of prominent testing experts and education policy experts to assess the research evidence on the use of test scores to evaluate teachers. It concluded that holding teachers accountable for growth in the test scores of their students is more harmful than helpful to children’s educations. Placing serious consequences for teachers on the results of their students’ tests creates rational incentives for teachers and schools to narrow the curriculum to tested subjects, and to tested areas within those subjects. Students lose instruction in history, the sciences, the arts, music, and physical education, and teachers focus less on development of children’s non-cognitive behaviors — cooperative activities, character, social skills — that are among the most important aims of a solid education.

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September 13, 2012

What’s Driving the Chicago Teachers Strike

by BINOY KAMPMARK. Published September 12, 2012 by

“To imagine the pupil-teacher relationship as one of finance, student growth, popularity scores and spread sheets is mind jarringly obscene, but this has not stopped the process from accelerating.  In fact, it is becoming more rigorous than ever, taking hold in universities at an alarming rate.  As part of the same mix, the U.S. Department of Education has proposed to use the test scores of graduates’ students to evaluate schools of education.  Never mind the fact that such scores are notoriously unreliable.

Once you make teachers servile to the market economy and the managerial classes, their performance ceases to be one of teaching but entertaining.  One is not getting so much better teaching than better circus acts, backed by the dull machinists of power point.  In that case, we get not only the teachers we deserve but the graduates we don’t want. This is truly a kingdom of dunces.”

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September 12, 2012

Dear Ontario teachers:

By Nora Loreta. Published September 12 by

I know you’re angry right now. You should be. That your bargaining process has been interrupted by the reprehensible actions of the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives in Ontario should outrage you and all Ontarians who support you.

I want to acknowledge your pain. Having never had a student wet himself beside me, having never had to separate a fight where girls’ hair is strewn across the floor, having never had to explain why the Merchant of Venice doesn’t suck, having never had to stop myself from swearing for more than a few days at a time….I know that what you do I could never do. What you do, most people can’t do. Even with the shitty teachers lumped in, the service you give to the community deserves to be acknowledged, honoured and celebrated.

Somehow, this message hasn’t gotten to Dalton McGuinty. Somehow his teacher-wife who I assume he talks to has withheld this vital information from him whenever they chat. Somehow his memories of high school (likely awkward) have clouded his judgement. Values of fairness, respect and process have been lost or forgotten.

Today was a terrible day in the history of Ontario.

In part, you are to blame. You spend too much time with students. Unlike the current government, you don’t issue a press release every time little Preethy learns to spell or big Hugh walks into class on time. You don’t brag to the world that another cohort of students have come and gone from your classroom with more knowledge than before. If you took the government’s approach to public relations, you would release an advisory about every child, every three days, even if medium-sized James was still a terrible fractioner.

In part, your union representatives are to blame. They thought that only Hudak could be as bad as Mike Harris. They were wrong. They thought that *maybe* Dalton was different. Despite having taken no action on much of the waste and poor policy ideas of the Harris years (like EQAO), they thought -just maybe- Dalton’ll respect us.

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September 11, 2012

Chicago’s Teachers Just Went On Strike — Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Why

Posted on September 9, 2012 by

During a press conference tonight the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) announced that it will be going on strike, its first action of the sort in 25 years.

Why are these 29,000 teachers and school workers going on strike in the nation’s third-largest public school district?

Because they want what all workers want: fair pay and decent working conditions. They also want what all teachers want — to serve their students to their best of their abilities.

Here’s a few things you need to know about the strike, and why the CTU is right and Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who has failed to fairly bargain with the union — is wrong:

  • Powerful Outside Interests Worked With Rahm To Cripple CTU’s Ability To Strike (They Failed): Last year, outside education privatization groups like Stand for Children worked with the city council and mayor to raise the strike threshold limit to 75 percent — meaning that 3/4 of teachers had to vote to strike. Jonah Edelman, who works for the group, bragged during the Aspen Ideas Festival that they had essentially eliminated teachers’ ability to strike. But in June, nearly 90 percent of CTU members voted to authorize a strike, easily surpassing the barrier that the city and education privatization groups had placed on them. But outside groups haven’t stopped taking aim at union rights. They’ve even paid protesters to demonstrate against CTU.

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September 10, 2012

Democracy Now on Historic Strike by Chigaco Teachers

Published September 10, 2012 by

Chicago Public Teachers Stage Historic Strike in Clash With the Mayor on Education Reforms

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September 8, 2012

The Finnish model: A beacon for education reform?

What can Canada learn from Finland’s commitment to education?

By Vivian McCaffrey | Posted September 7, 2012 by

For the last decade, Finland’s success on international tests has caught the attention of education policymakers around the world. What is it about this small Nordic nation that has led to its students’ high performance in science, math and reading assessments? Are there lessons for other countries, such as Canada? Pasi Sahlberg, a former teacher and education expert, endeavours to answer these questions in Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?

What is most perplexing for international experts is that Finland has produced top-performing students while eschewing market-based education reforms premised on competition and standardized tests. “Finland is an example of a nation that lacks school inspection, standardized curriculum, high-stakes student assessments, test-based accountability, and a race-to-the-top mentality with regard to educational change,” Sahlberg explains.

In Finland, the emphasis is on teacher-based assessment; teachers have the authority to design their own assessments and use them when they deem appropriate. External testing is limited. About 10 per cent of students participate in random-sample tests to assess aspects of the education program. The only universal test is the matriculation exams that high school students must pass to be eligible for post-secondary education.

The centrepiece of Finnish education is the nation’s teaching force. Teacher education reform dates back to 1979 when a new law on teacher education was introduced, along with a focus on professional development. Teachers are required to have a master’s degree and competition for spots in faculties of education is fierce. Only about 10 per cent of applicants are accepted.

The term “accountability” is not part of educational policy discourse. Finns place high trust in their teachers and provide them considerable professional autonomy. “The basic assumption in Finnish schools is that teachers, by default, are well-educated professionals and are doing their best in schools. In real professional learning communities, teachers trust each other, communicate frequently about teaching and learning, and rely on their principal’s guidance and leadership,” writes Sahlberg.

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