NEA Change of Heart on Merit Pay?

Speaking to members of the National Education Association (NEA) at their annual meeting, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan challenged union members to consider the idea of linking teacher pay to student achievement- www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-07-02-teacher-pay_N.htm?obref=obinsite  Surprisingly, Duncan’s comments were met with what USA Today reported as “raucous applause and only a smattering of boos.” I think this is pretty big news. Both the NEA and the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) have been incredibly resistant to this idea. I don’t want to read to much into this, but could their response be a sign that the NEA is in the midst of an ideological shift regarding their stance on teacher merit pay. Or could it be that they see the writing on the wall that big reform is coming, like it or not, and it might be more advantageous to sit at the table and help decide what it’s going to look like than to continue to fight a battle that they will inevitably lose. 

What do you think?

School Reconstitution as a Reform Strategy

The U.S. Department of Education announced to day that school turnaround funds to “prod” states and school districts to close failing schools and reopen with new leadership and teaching staffs- www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-05-11-duncan-schools_N.htm?obref=obinsite  I think we’re starting to see the pattern here. The Obama Dept. of Education is going to push hard for states to adopt some strategies that they have have deemed to be proven school reforms. This latest one is an extreme one, but school reconstitution is not new to federal education policy. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) required schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) for five consecutive years to adopt one of five school restructuring options, one of which was school reconstitution. 

Will it work? It could for some. Just like lots of other reforms, there are many variables at play. For a variety of reasons, school reconstitution is not a common reform strategy. One ramification that immediately jumps out is the logistics of displacing large numbers of school staff who may or may not find positions at other schools. This becomes an even hairier problem in states and districts where teachers unions have collective bargaining agreements. But this new enticement to specifically engage in school reconstitution may result in more states and districts giving it a try. Why? Well, for one, money always helps, especially in tough economic times; but also, being a federal initiative provides some degree of political cover for state and local leaders who would have liked to try the reform out anyway. 
It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Charter School Cap Could Deny North Carolina “Race to the Top” Funds

North Carolina’s interest in competing for funds through the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” contest has again brought the state’s charter school cap to the forefront of education policy discussion. In order to compete for funds, the contest requires states to submit plans for overhauling their education systems with specific components, one of which is easing restrictions on charter schools. North Carolina’s current charter school policy caps the number of charter schools that can be authorized at 100, and provides that no more than five charter schools may be authorized within a school district per year. Shortly after the passage of charter school legislation in 1996, charter school advocates started pushing the General Assembly to raise or remove the cap, arguing that it limits opportunities for the success of the state’s charter school movement. All attempts have thus far been unsuccessful.

Recognizing that the state’s charter school cap could put it out of the running for “Race to the Top” funds, earlier this month the governor, state superintendent, and chair of the State Board of Education wrote to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, “objecting to the emphasis on charters as the major tool for innovation” ( see newsobserver.com/news/education/story/1671514.html ). I sincerely doubt that their letters of disapproval will result in any changes in the contest’s requirements or lead to the Dept. of Education having leniency on North Carolina’s proposal. The irony of the situation is that it has been Democrats in North Carolina that have blocked all attempts to remove the cap. If North Carolina Democrats, who have controlled state government for the better part of the last 100 years, are determined to keep the cap on charter schools, they will be the reason for putting the state out of the running to receive a substantial boost in education funding from this Democratic presidential administration.
My gut feeling is that the enticement of “Race to the Top” funds could be enough to push the General Assembly to raise or remove the cap, which again is ironic since charter schools are seen largely as a conservative education reform in North Carolina. Go figure! To say the very least, the Obama Department of Education has redrawn the education reform battle lines.

New Orleans Public Schools Teacher Accused of Extortion in Exchange for Passing Grade

A New Orleans Public Schools teacher has been accused by a former student of extortion in exchange for changing his failing grade to a passing one- www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2009/09/student_teacher_traded_cash_fo.html . The former student has turned over copies of a recording on which his former teacher agreed to change his grade in exchange for a “monetary gift”. He alleges that the teacher demanded cash gifts from him totaling $1,200 over the couse of a year. You have to hear this to believe it. Check out the link.

I am not only a former teacher, but a former New Orleans Public Schools teacher; and I consider myself as a strong teacher advocate. I understand firsthand the daily challenges that teachers face. But IF these accusations are true, this teacher’s actions were absolutely inexcusable. An extraordinary degree of public trust is given to teachers, and actions such as these only serve to erode that trust. I sincerely hope that there is more to this story than we’re hearing and that she will be vindicated. But if she is guilty, she should be punished. A strong message must be sent. This type of behavior is not the norm for teachers. Most teachers in New Orleans and around the country adere daily to the highest possible ethical and professional standards, and behavior like this threatens to scar their hard work, high standards, and dedication.

North Carolina Community Colleges to Admit Undocumented Students with Conditions

Members of North Carolina’s State Board of Community Colleges voted to allow undocumented students to admitted to degree programs at the state’s 58 community college campuses- www.newsobserver.com . This vote comes following a 16-month period where undocumented students were denied admission while the State Board debated the issue. With today’s vote, admitted undocumented students will be required to pay out-of-state tuition ($7,700 per year), will not be eligible to receive financial aid, and will not be allowed to enroll in classes until all students who are legal residents have been registered. 

Given these conditions, it is highly unlikely that North Carolina’s community colleges will enroll many undocumented students. Nevertheless, protesters were very unhappy with the State Board’s decision to not totally ban admissions to undocumented students. Since the new policy will all but assures that most undocumented students will not be able to attend a North Carolina community college, and prevents even the slightest possibility that an undocumented student’s unlikely enrollment would adversely affect a legal resident, any discontentment with the State Board’s decision is ideological. Protesters wanted the Board to turn away undocumented students, not because of any harm that their enrollment would bring to legal residents, but simply because they are undocumented students. Let’s call a spade a spade. Given the new policy, very few if any of these students will be able to enroll in North Carolina community colleges, and the ones that do will be virtually undetectable. Any opposition to the Board’s decision is ideological; not because undocumented community college students in North Carolina threaten the economic well-being of legal residents in North Carolinians. I’m sorry, but they don’t.

Harvard’s New Education Leadership Doctorate & School Leadershp Preparation Reform

Harvard University announced this week the creation of a Doctor of Education Leadership program (Ed. L. D.). According to Harvard’s Graduate School of Education website (http://www.gse.harvard.edu), the new degree program will be a “practice-based doctorate designed to equip students with a deep understanding of learning and teaching, as well as the management and leadership skills necessary to reshape the American education sector.” That statement in an of itself is not terribly revolutionary. University departments of education leadership across the country (including my own at the University of Kentucky) are engaged in program reforms with the same goals. However, Harvard’s program will be revolutionary in several other ways. First, the program will be tuition free. That’s right, free. Admission to the program will be highly selective and limited to only 25 students per year. For a university with the resources of Harvard, footing the bill for 25 doctoral students doesn’t sound like much. But I believe the gesture is meaningful.

Second, and most noteworthy, I would argue, is that the program will be the product of collaboration between faculty members from Harvard’s schools of education, government, and business. This is not customary for education leadership programs. In fact, it’s pretty far from the norm. The great majority of Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Education Leadership programs feature curriculums that are completely self-contained within the college of education. The idea that scholars and leaders in sectors outside of education can contribute meaningfully to school and school leadership reform is resisted by more than a few education practioners and scholars. So what Harvard is doing is indeed pushing the envelope in the school leadership preparation reform discussion. And in my opinion, it’s a positive move.
For more information on Harvard’s program, go to: www.gse.harvard.edu/academics/doctorate/edld/index.html

Since I’m giving plugs, for more information on the University of Kentucky’s education leadership programs, go to: education.uky.edu/edl

Persistently Dangerous Schools and Special Populations

The “persistently dangerous” schools component of No Child Left Behind allows parents to transfer their child out of a school that a state designates as persistently dangerous. States have rather wide discretion in how they will define “persistently dangerous”. The Virginia Department of Education has decided that persistently dangerous schools will be “identified based on school safety data such as the types and occurrences of violent criminal acts in public elementary schools or secondary schools.” The Georgia Department of Education has a pretty specific formula for determining which schools will be designated as such (for Georgia’s policy, see www.gdoe.net/gepb/policy/GEPBPolicy_400/GEPB_471.pdf). In North Carolina, the State Board of Education has defined persistently dangerous to mean, “A public school in which the conditions during the past two school years continually exposed its students to injury from violent criminal offenses and it is an elementary, middle or secondary public school in which a total of five or more violent criminal offenses were committed per 1000 students (0.5 or more per 100 students) in two consecutive school years.” 

 At one North Carolina school for children diagnosed with severe behavior and emotional disorders (Longview School), three cases of assault (a sexual assault of a female teacher, an assault involving serious injury, and an assault involving a weapon) have the school in danger of being placed on North Carolina’s persistently dangerous schools list. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, if the school lands on that list, parents would be must be given the option of transferring their children to other schools. In this case, however, the question of where those students would transfer to is problematic. On the special education continuum, Longview is a public-separate setting. This means their students’ disabilities are severe enough that their educational needs cannot be met in self-contained classroom settings at traditional public schools. The problem is that Longview is the only public separate school for middle and high school students in Wake County, North Carolina. With the special population that schools like Longview serve, there is not a need for another school like it within that district. If Longview or another school like it ends up on North Carolina’s persistently dangerous schools list, special considerations will have to be made. One possibility is interdistrict transfers. I would contend, however, that a better solution would be a policy that holds the school accountable for student safety, but also recognizes the unique population served by these types of schools. And while we’re at it, providing whatever additional additional resources-human, financial, or material- are needed to keep students safe at the school. Unique circumstances often require unique consideration; something that broad policies and rigid policy enforcement are not the best at doing.

Opposition to President Obama’s Address to School Children

President Obama is scheduled to address the nation’s school children on Tuesday in a speech stressing the importance of setting educational goals. The announcement of this address, however, has set off a firestorm of debate and opposition. In response to parents who have voiced strong opposition to their children hearing the President’s address, educational leaders across the nation are advising school-level administrators to offer alternatives for children whose parents do not want them to watch. In some districts, superintendents have announced that children’s absences for Tuesday (the day of the address) will be excused.

Let’s step back and put this thing into perspective folks. Whatever one’s political ideology or affiliation, you must recognize that we are talking about the President of the United States. He wants to address American children on education over the major television networks. From some parents’ response to this speech’s announcement, one would think that we’re talking about a suspected child predator who wants to take their children into his bedroom for a private conversation. This is absurd! Untold numbers of adults talk to children everyday at school, on television, the radio, online, etc. But parents are talking about taking their children out of school so that they won’t have to hear the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES speak to them?!?Come on, what is all of this really about? Really?