Tag Archives: teachers unions

Hillary Clinton’s Missed Opportunity

Last week, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received an endorsement from the National Education Association. Before that, she met with the NEA’s board of directors, and blogger Mike Antonucci posted Clinton’s responses during the meeting. Clinton talked about ESEA reauthorization, testing, standards, and college affordability. But what Clinton chose not to talk about in a meeting with a room full of teachers is just as instructive as what she did talk about.

Seeking the support of the nation’s largest teachers union would have been a great time for Clinton to discuss her plans for improving the teaching profession, but she declined the opportunity. The closest Clinton got to discussing how she views the profession happened when she touted her New College Compact proposal—a college tuition assistance program. While talking about the proposal, according to Antonucci, Clinton said, “If you do public service, and I consider teaching public service, you will have a lot of debt forgiven depending on how many years you serve as a public school teacher.”

This framing of the teaching profession contrasts with the Obama Administration’s work, which has influenced states and districts, and by extension, the general public, to reconsider teaching as less of a public service and more of a true profession. Through Race to the Top, ESEA waivers, TIF and other programs, the Obama Administration set forth an ambitious path forward to reshape the teaching profession. Under these policies, teachers are held accountable for student achievement and paid handsomely when they lead students to academic success and take on leadership roles that improve overall school performance.

As many districts, big and urban to small and rural, struggle to fill teacher vacancies, treating teaching like a charity role is not the kind of policy that is going to attract and retain the professionals needed in public education. To be sure, Clinton has many more months to unveil her full education policy platform. Her remarks to the NEA’s board of directors were just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully Clinton will not stay silent on pressing teacher policy issues for much longer.

Could Seattle Be a Test Case for Teacher Evaluation in a Post-ESEA Era?

Seattle Public Schools students headed back to school late this week after a teachers strike delayed the start of the school year by about one week. The main grounds for the strike were lack of teacher pay increases and heavy teacher workloads—both of which got sorted out in the deal negotiated by the Seattle Education Association (SEA) and the school district. Another significant result of the negotiation? Student test scores will no longer be tied to teacher evaluations.

A major reason the SEA was able to slide in the negotiation about student test scores and teacher evaluations is the fact that Washington State does not have an ESEA waiver, which requires student growth to be a “significant” part of evaluations (how significant is largely left up to the states). For teachers of tested grades and subjects, the waiver rules require that state tests be included at some level. Interestingly, the ESEA bills moving to conference in the coming months will not include teacher evaluation, effectively removing the federal requirement for the use of student test scores in teacher evaluation. All of this raises the question: could what happened in Seattle be an indicator of what may happen to teacher evaluation systems across the country? Continue reading

Who Speaks for Teachers? The Supreme Court Will Have an Opinion

This week, the Supreme Court took a case that will ensure the excitement of the last few weeks will continue another term – at least for those in education.

SCOTUS has confirmed it will consider Friedrichs V. California Teachers Association, a case about the constitutionality of mandatory union dues. California teachers are arguing that paying mandatory union fees violates their free speech rights, especially when they disagree with the political positions the unions take. This is not the first time the Court has heard such an argument, and the ruling could have implications for public employees beyond teachers, but the case should be interesting in the education world because it literally pits a teacher, Rebecca Friedrichs, a 27-year veteran educator from Buena Park, California, against her union. It underscores the point that teacher voice is far from monolithic.

This recognition of the plurality of teacher voice is significant, as teacher demographics change and education reform efforts—from teacher evaluation to the Common Core State Standards—effect the daily experience of classroom teachers in different ways. The evolution of teacher voice has likely always been a trend, but the rise of teacher voice organizations has spotlighted the nuance these teachers add to the public debate about education policy decisions.

Take, for example, the debate over teacher tenure highlighted by the state lawsuit, Vergara v. California. Continue reading

Grade-Span Accountability Is A Bad Idea: Just Ask CAP and the AFT

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Center for American Progress (CAP) have released a joint set of principles for ESEA reauthorization. They call for preserving statewide annual testing requirements for students, but they would base school-level accountability only on tests taken once per grade span—once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school.

Like the Education Trust, we think this is a bad idea. Grade-span accountability solves none of the problems of our current system while making other problems worse. Namely:

  1. It doesn’t address concerns about over-testing. Students could be taking the same number of tests as they have in the past, particularly if districts don’t reduce the number of duplicative and unnecessary local tests. CAP has rightly cited these local tests as the root of the problem, but this proposal would not reduce the number of federally mandated tests.
  2. Rather than decreasing the stakes on standardized tests, the AFT/CAP proposal would amplify them. Under their plan, a 5th grader would no longer be taking tests that reflect just on the 5th grade. His or her results would be the basis on which their entire school was judged. How, exactly, does this help “de-link [academic standards] from high-stakes tests”, as AFT President Randi Weingarten suggested a year ago?
  3. It makes it even harder to focus on specific subgroups. NCLB held schools accountable for every subgroup that had a sufficient number of students (called the minimum “n-size”). But under the CAP/ AFT proposal, a school’s 5th grade African-American, ELL, or SWD groups could be too small to meet the minimum n-size and the whole school’s disadvantaged students could go uncounted. This may sound wonky and technical, but it becomes a pretty huge issue even at relatively small n-sizes (such as 10 or 20 students). Arne Duncan has estimated that hundreds of thousands of students were invisible to state accountability systems because of n-size issues. CAP has praised states in the past for lowering their n-sizes, but their plan to have fewer students “count” toward a school’s accountability rating would mean less attention on important subgroups of students.
  4. We already have anecdotes about teachers who prefer to avoid tested grades and subjects. They may prefer teaching in 2nd grade, where there are no required standardized tests, than 3rd grade, where there are. But it’s tough to avoid the current tests altogether because they’re given in 3rd through 8th grade. Grade-span testing would make it even tougher to attract teachers into those few areas with much higher stakes. Who wants to be a 5th grade teacher when they might responsible for their entire school? In most places, they won’t even earn any extra money for all the added pressure! Moreover, this is exactly the kind of policy the AFT previously opposed for teacher evaluations. A year ago, Weingarten wrote: “In Florida, the system went completely haywire, giving teachers value-added scores for students they had never taught.” If it’s not okay for educator accountability, why is it okay for school accountability?
  5. Standardized tests are often criticized for merely reflecting student demographics. While states and districts have been slow to implement accountability systems that incorporate student growth, with annual statewide testing, we at least had a hope of shifting attention to how much progress students make over time. CAP and the AFT once shared this hope. Yes, not all that long ago AFT advocated for an ESEA that “judges school effectiveness—the only valid and fair basis for accountability—by measuring the progress that schools achieve with the same students over time.” With longer gaps between tests that count for accountability purposes, we’re more likely to lean even heavier on raw test scores, measures that are highly correlated with student demographics.
  6. Under this plan, students and families would still get a sense of how much progress they’re making. That’s important, but it’s odd to then turn around and suggest that states and school districts should ignore this same information for determining school progress. As CAP’s 2011 NCLB recommendations suggest, “Measuring and reporting student data is not sufficient to improve our nation’s schools. Congress should take several steps to ensure schools act on that data to boost student outcomes.” We assume they did not mean several steps backwards.
  7. AFT and CAP pitch their proposal as targeting interventions to schools with large achievement gaps. That’s true, it would identify schools with gaps. But, ironically, it would give no credit to schools that are actually closing those achievement gaps. CAP used to support annual gap-closing goals. But now, schools with large concentrations of economically disadvantaged and minority students, English Language Learners, or students with disabilities would all be penalized unfairly, worse than they are under NCLB.

Ultimately, this plan would move us closer to how other countries do testing: fewer tests with much higher stakes. Rather than having regular check-ups on student progress, with relatively low stakes on those results, we’d have much higher stakes attached to a smaller number of test scores. Fortunately, AFT and CAP have already told us why this is a bad idea.

The “Soft Bigotry of ‘It’s Optional’”–and What it Reveals about ESEA Politics, Policy, and Prospects

No matter the final outcome, one things is for certain: the new Congress has energized the debate over ESEA reauthorization. In the span of a weekend, numerous organizations articulated key principles for overhauling No Child Left Behind, including state education chiefscivil rights organizations, and the nation’s second largest teachers union, the AFT.

Now, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has stepped into the fray, in a significant policy speech this morning, marking the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s call to Congress to expand the federal role in education–which resulted in the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The big news item here is Secretary Duncan’s “line in the sand”–keeping the requirement for students to be tested statewide in reading and math annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school. But what sets Duncan’s remarks apart from the statements released over the weekend isn’t testing, but how strongly he defended other potential federal responsibilities in a new ESEA, including requirements for states to:

  • adopt college- and career-ready standards;
  • continue producing annual information for families about their child’s learning, and the learning environment and results for their schools as a whole;
  • maintain school accountability systems that include consequences for schools where students don’t make academic progress; and
  • improve teacher preparation programs, and establish teacher evaluation systems that include evidence of students’ learning.

Duncan also highlighted ways the federal government could be even more active in promoting opportunity, such as resource accountability to ensure that low-income and minority kids are not shortchanged when it comes to course access, effective teachers, and fiscal resources; new support for innovation and research that helps schools continuously improve; and an expanded role within ESEA to help states deliver high-quality preschool.

In defending a robust federal role, Secretary Duncan even co-opted President Bush’s talking point by calling out “the soft bigotry of ‘it’s optional.’” That’s not just a great punch line. It also revealed much more about the politics of reauthorization, the confusing and convoluted federal education policy landscape, and the prospects of this particular effort to rewrite NCLB. Continue reading