Category Archives: teacher tenure

10 Truths About Charter School Legislation Charter School Opponents in Kentucky Don’t Want You to Know

The Kentucky General Assembly is carefully considering passage of the state’s first charter school law, and some parts of the traditional public school establishment are in a state of panic. In that panic, lots of half-truths and misinformation are being spread. Here are 10 thing you need to know about public charter schools and House Bill 520, the bill that would bring charters to Kentucky.

  1. Kentuckians want additional public school options.  Polling data from national and local groups including the Kentucky Charter Schools Association, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) show that the vast majority of Kentuckians are (a) supportive of public charter schools, and (b) want additional public school options for students in Kentucky.
  2. All charter schools are public schools. Public schools are public because they are open to the public, cannot charge tuition, are funded by tax dollars, and are accountable to the public. Just like traditional public schools, all charter schools meet these criteria. Charter school opponents like to argue that charter schools are not public because they are permitted to contact with private education management organizations (EMOs). What they fail to acknowledge, however, is that traditional public schools can and do contract with EMOs as well. In fact, the state education agency in MD and local public school districts across the U.S. have enjoyed successful contractual partnership with Edison Learning, Inc., a for-profit EMO. The MD State Department of Education contracted with Edison Learning to manage five persistently low performing schools in Baltimore. Similarly, the Peioria (IL) District 150 contracted with Edison Learning to provide school turnaround services over a five year period. Just as with public charters that contract for services, these schools in MD and IL remained public schools.
  3. Because public charter schools are schools of choice, no students would be assigned to them.  If a parent likes the school her child attends, she would keep her child at that  school. The only students who would attend public charter schools would be those students whose parents believe they would be better served at a public charter. If no students choose to attend the public charter school, the school would not receive public funding and would have to close.
  4. Parents don’t take their children out of schools that are serving their children well. School districts that are meeting the needs of their students have no reason to be fearful of public charter schools. It’s the rare parent who dis-enrolls her child from a school she and her child are happy with just to try something new. On the other hand, school districts that know they are failing to meet the needs of some or all of their students should be in a panic about the healthy competition public charter schools may bring to their communities.
  5. Public education funds are allocated for students; not for local school districts. The argument that charter schools will take funding away from traditional public schools makes no sense. Public education funds would continue to follow students to whatever public schools they attend, regardless of whether that school is a traditional public school or a public charter school. What is absurd is the argument that a local school district is entitled to public funds allocated for a child who no longer attends a school in that district.
  6. Public charter schools inject competition into public schooling, forcing local school districts to work harder to meet the needs of low income students. Local school districts have always had to compete to keep middle income students in their districts. Superintendents and school board members know that middle class parents dissatisfied with public schools will move to another school district or pay tuition for their children to attend a private or parochial school. But regardless of how dissatisfied low income parents are, school districts could typically count on the public dollars that follow low income students to their districts. Why? Because low income parents don’t often have the means to relocate to a school district that better meets the needs of their kids. Public charter schools give low income families additional public school options, forcing school districts to work harder to retain those students and their accompanying state and federal dollars in their districts.
  7. House Bill 520 would make local school boards the only charter school authorizers across most of the state. Only in Lexington and Louisville would mayors also be permitted to authorize and oversee public charter schools.
  8. Kentucky’s traditional public schools need lots of help meeting the learning needs of low income students and students of color. While Kentucky’s public schools have made tremendous progress since the early 1990s, the academic performance of these low income students across the state remains incredibly low. The approaches we have tried in the past and what we are currently doing is not meeting the learning needs of these students. It’s time to try some different approaches.
  9. House Bill 520 would hold public charter schools to higher standards of academic performance accountability than traditional public schools in Kentucky. In addition to public charter schools’ required participation in the state assessment and accountability system, Kentucky charters would be held accountable to performance standards articulated in their charter contracts. Charters that fail to meet or make significant progress toward meeting those goals could be shut down by their authorizer (local school boards or mayor’s offices in Louisville and Lexington only).
  10. Teachers unions’ opposition to public charter schools is about job security for adults, not what’s best for kids. No teachers would be assigned to or required to teach at public charter schools. The only teachers who would teach at a Kentucky charter are those who apply to teacher there. Still, groups like the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) oppose HB 520 because (a) Kentucky charter teachers would be less likely to be dues-paying members of KEA; (b) charter school teachers would be held to higher standards of performance accountability and could be terminated if they fail to meet performance standards; and (c) existing collective bargaining agreements between teachers unions and local school districts would not apply to public charter school teachers.

 

 

Teachers Unions’ Opposition to Teacher Tenure and Layoff Reform Hurts Children

The California General Assembly’s stalemate on whether to change state laws regarding teacher tenure and layoffs highlights a major barrier to improving education for America’s most vulernable children. Once again, a legislative effort failed which would have made commonsense reforms to state laws regarding teacher tenure and layoffs. This year’s effort, Assembly Bill 934, would have (a) extended the the number of years school administrators have to evaluate teachers before teachers are granted the protections of teacher tenure, (b) created an expedited process for terminating teachers deemed to be ineffective after receiving additional professional support, and (c) allowed teachers’ job performance evaluations to be considered when making layoff decisions (instead of only considering teachers’ seniority). Once again, strong opposition from California’s teachers unions resulted in the reform effort going nowhere.

The California teachers unions’ resistance to common sense reforms is beyond disappointing. If you care about improving the quality of education for our nation’s most vulneralbe children, their resistance to these reforms ought to make you angry. These are commonsense reforms that would help to ensure that only the highest quality teachers are in California’s classrooms. There is no legitimate rationale for resisting efforts to ensure that administrators have ample time to evaluate the performance of teachers before granting them tenure. There is no legitimate rationale for opposing efforts to make it easier for administrators to remove teachers who are ineffective in the classroom. Neither is there a legitimate rationale for resisting changes that would allow teachers’ performance to factor into layoff decisions. Teachers unions’ resistance to these reforms ought to make it very clear that their intentions are to protect all teachers’ jobs regardless of whether those teachers are effective, because even ineffective teachers pay union dues. Nevermind the negative impact ineffective teachers have on the learning of their students. The tragedy is compounded when you consider that ineffective teachers are most likely to be in classrooms with children who need high quality teachers the most.

This legislative stalemate in California directly affects children in California’s schools. But the opposition of teachers unions across the country to similar reforms results in ineffective teachers remaining in high needs classrooms everywhere. California’s Supreme Court will eventually make a ruling on whether such language in unions’ collective bargaining agreements is legal in California, but whether the provisions of collective bargaining agreements are legal or not, protecting teachers we know to be ineffective is unethical and antithetical to what teachers unions say they are about. It’s time for all Americans, but effective teachers particularly, to take a stand against teachers unions’ insistance on protecting ineffective teachers.

English School Reform Plan Looks a Lot Like Charter School Expansion

A recent article in The Economist pointed to education system reforms in England which look a lot like charter school expansion and the establishment of charter management organizations (CMO). The plan being outlined is for all of the system’s schools to become academies. English academies bear striking resemblance to American charter schools. In sum, these are autonomous, state-funded schools that have relative freedom from government interference, may select their own curricula (may or may not use the national curriculum), decide the length of the school day, and may establish policies pertaining to teacher pay independently. They receive funding directly from the central government, without having funds flow through a local authority;

In addition to converting all current English schools to academies, academies would join multi-academy trusts, defined as charitable bodies which run chains of schools. These trusts bear striking resemblance to non-profit CMOs in the U.S. And similar to the bipartisan intent of the Charter Schools Program of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in the U.S., English officials want to see academy administrators who have proven their effectiveness, have the opportunity to manage additional schools.

English academies are not a new concept. Currently, English academies make up nearly 60% of secondary schools and just under 20% of primary schools. The rationale for the plan is the same as the rationale for education reforms internationally that seek to increase schools’ flexibility and autonomy: (a) increased autonomy allows schools the flexibility needed to innovate, and (b) increased competition results in schools improving and being more attune to the needs and desires of students and parents. The plan to expand academies in England, however, is not without objections from some. Opposition to English academies is similar to opposition for charter schools in the U.S. In England, teachers unions and the Labour Party have been vocal critics of academies and the new plan to expand them.

Even with the aforementioned opposition from some groups, English policy makers and education leaders have decided that all schools in England would benefit form the flexibility that current academies have experienced. In England and in the U.S., policy makers and education leaders have come to realize that raising that educational achievement of students who have traditionally been under-served by public schools, requires granting schools much greater flexibility in the areas of budgeting, personnel, curriculum, and instruction. And in exchange for that increased flexibility, schools can and should be held accountable for higher standards of performance.

Teachers unions and their advocates will continue to fight such reforms. There is no way around their opposition. Granting personnel autonomy to school leaders means removing some of the employment protections teachers in the public sector have enjoyed for generations. But increased autonomy in personnel matters is essential to increasing schools’ flexibility; and granting schools additional flexibility to innovate is in the best interest of children.

Kentucky: Any Charter School Law Just Won’t Do

With Kentucky’s election of conservative Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who included school choice as a part of his campaign platform, and Democrats coming closer by the day to losing control of the state House of Representatives, discussion of the passage of a charter school law in Kentucky has picked up significantly. In fact, I have never heard more discussion of what many education policy movers, shakers, and watchers are saying is the inevitable emergence of public charter schools in Kentucky. As a longtime advocate for the passage of strong public charter school legislation in Kentucky, I greet that conversation with cautious optimism.

It is true that the support of Governor Bevin, the support of newly appointed Education and Workforce Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner, and shaky control of the state House by Democrats, all contribute to a political environment in Kentucky that could be ripe for the passage of a strong charter school law. But even with a more favorable political environment, advocates for high quality charter schools should be more insistent than ever that Kentucky’s lawmakers get charter school legislation right. We have learned from other states successes and challeng

es that the details of charter school legislation matter tremendously.It is the provisions of the statute that set the framework what charter schools in a state will eventually become. Unfortunately, I believe the inclination of some educational leaders and lawmakers in Kentucky is to try to pass a charter school law that is most palatable to the traditional public education establishment, rather than passing a law that gives charter schools in Kentucky the greatest opportunity to be successful. Rather than putting first the academic well-being of children who will be served by Kentucky’s charter schools, I fear that some lawmakers find it preferable to please district and state-level education leaders and the organizations they represent. Make no mistake about it, the interests of children and the interests of education organizations are not always one in the same.

I have gone on record previously and I do so again in saying that I will not advocate for the passage of a weak charter school law. A charter school law in Kentucky that leads to the creation of no high quality public charter schools, or worse, leads to persistently low achieving public charter schools, would do more harm to children than good. As such, Kentucky would be better served by forgoing the passage of a weak charter school law, and having no charter school law at all.

There are many elements of a strong charter school law to be decided on, but there are a few essential elements that must be a part of Kentucky’s charter school law if it is to lead to successful public charter schools. Based on research, the successes and failures of other states, and good old fashion common sense, here are a few of those essential elements:

  • Multiple Paths to Authorization. Kentucky’s charter school law must include more than one path to authorization for schools. Local school districts may serve as one of the charter authorizers, but groups applying for a charter must have at least one additional path to apply for charter authorization. Others states have experienced success with additional routes to charter authorization through independent charter school commissions, state boards of education, state commissioners or superintendents of education, city governments, and state-supported universities. All of these options should be considered in Kentucky. Providing charter schools with only one route to authorization through local school districts would leave the establishment and success of charters schools in Kentucky solely in the hands of organizations that have opposed the passage of charter school legislation.
  • Academic Accountability. Kentucky’s charter school law must hold charter schools to the highest standards of academic performance accountability. Authorizers must be held accountable for granting charters only to groups that have a comprehensive plan for the success of the school. Authorizers must be held accountable for monitoring the academic performance of charter schools in their charge, intervening when needed, and not renewing or revoking schools’ charters when necessary. Public charter schools in Kentucky cannot be allowed to fail children and families year after year, generation after generation, as some of our traditional public schools have.
  • Collective Bargaining. Kentucky’s charter schools must not be bound by collective bargaining agreements between teachers unions and local school districts. The provisions of such agreements limit the human resources autonomy of administrators in some of Kentucky’s traditional public schools. Specifically, provisions of such collective bargaining greatly limit school administrators’ ability to recruit, hire, supervise, evaluate, and if need be, terminate school personnel. As the charter school concept is based on providing schools with greater autonomy in exchange for higher levels of academic accountability, binding public charter schools with those restrictions would be counterproductive. A charter school law would not and could not, however, prevent teachers at Kentucky charter schools from forming their own unions if they so chose and collectively bargaining with their schools.
  • Funding Equity. Kentucky’s public charter schools must receive funding that is equitable to traditional public schools. Public charter schools in some states have been crippled by receiving as little as half the per pupil dollar amount that would be allocated for a child attending a traditional public school. Such funding inequity would be unacceptable in a charter school law in Kentucky. Funding for public charter schools should be allocated in the same manner that funding for traditional public schools is allocated, on a per pupil basis. For every child whose parent chooses to enroll her in a public charter school, the same state, local, and federal dollars that would follow her to a district school should follow her to a public charter school.

Teaching Today: Change is Afoot

DSC00329Teaching today is a much different profession than it was 30 years ago. Truthfully, it is significantly different from what it was nearly 15 years ago when I became a teacher. And the profession is likely to change even more in the next five to ten years. While some veteran teachers argue that many of the current changes to teaching are unspeakable, I am convinced that much of the reform to teaching is for the best (best for children, that is). Here are just a few areas where the teaching profession today and moving forward is significantly different from what it was just a generation ago.

  • Job Security Fewer teachers today, and most likely even future teachers going forward, will enjoy the degree of job security that teachers in previous eras enjoyed. A high degree of job security has certainly made teaching attractive for some. The reality of the profession has been that regardless of whether a teacher is effective, he can usually manage to find and keep a teaching job somewhere (often teaching our most vulnerable children). That era, however, is coming to an end. For many teachers today and most teachers tomorrow, job security will be dependent on their effectiveness. Teachers who cannot demonstrate their effectiveness, through their students’ performance on standardized examinations, will find themselves struggling to keep their jobs.
  • Seniority For generations, more senior teachers have enjoyed the privileges of having first dibs on ‘choice’ teaching assignments and greater protection during reductions in force (RIF). During RIFs it has been customary for teachers last hired to be the first ones let go, while teachers with seniority have been protected; a practice commonly known as LIFO (Last In, First Out). While LIFO and other teacher seniority provisions remain a part of some teachers’ collective bargaining agreements, such provisions are becoming less common. And in cases where seniority provisions haven’t been completely negotiated away by school districts, seniority privileges are being curtailed, giving district and school level administrators greater discretion in teacher hiring and retention. It will soon be the norm in public school districts that teachers’ hiring, retention, and transfer will be based on their effectiveness, not their seniority.
  • Teacher Salary Public school teachers’ salaries have long been determined by their years of teaching experience and their level of education (bachelors, masters, doctoral degrees). In such systems, all teachers with five years of experience and a masters degree would have the same base salary, regardless of their effectiveness. But teacher pay is now being reconsidered. Policy makers, researchers, and educational leaders are questioning whether current teacher salary models makes sense in the current era of performance-based accountability. States, school districts, and charter schools are now experimenting with different approaches to teacher pay including merit pay, performance pay, performance bonuses, differentiated pay by subject area, and market-based salaries. Aspiring teachers and teachers who are relatively early in their careers should expect that in the near future their pay will be be at least in part based on their effectiveness (as measured by their students’ performance on standardized examinations).
  • Teacher Leadership While teachers have always been called on to lead in various capacities, teachers are now being asked to take on school-level leadership roles like never before. Much of the change in the expectation that teachers lead may be attributed to the increasing popularity of distributed and shared leadership models in P12 schools. Anyone going into teaching or intending to stay there should expect to take on significant formal and/or informal school leadership roles throughout their career. Such roles might include department chair, subject area lead, professional learning community (PLC) lead, peer mentor, trainer, and school or district level curriculum leadership positions.

My State of the Union Education Wish List

As we prepare to hear President Obama’s assessment of the state of our great nation tonight in the annual State of the Union Address tonight, I am making a list of a few statements that I would like to hear him make. The president is preparing for what many pundits are predicting will be a pretty tough re-election campaign, so I would expect him to recap some of the education accomplishments of his administration, and that is fine. But after a brief recap of those victories, I want him to make a few clear and definitive statements about the educational direction he would like to move the nation in during a second term. 

Here are a few of the specific things I would like to hear:
  1. I want to hear President Obama say that we must increase the number of high quality public school options available to parents. The president has been a supporter of increasing public school options for families in the past and I hope to hear that commitment reaffirmed tonight.
  2. I want to hear President Obama say that we do not currently have the necessary teaching and leadership capacity in our schools to prepare our children for 21st Century success; and that states must adopt a “by any means necessary” approach to getting teacher and school leader capacity to where it needs to be. 
  3. I want to hear the president say that states must hold schools, teachers, and leaders individually and collectively accountable for student learning. I want him to say that schools where children do not learn are of no use to us. I want him to say when children do not learn, adults have to lose their jobs.
  4. I want to hear President Obama say that he will remain committed to the federal government providing financial supports and incentives for states that take bold steps toward implementing serious reform in their public schools; not the surface stuff that everyone likes, but really committing to going back to the drawing board to redesign systems so that all children can learn.
It is past time to get serious about providing a quality public education for all of our children.

The Teacher Salary Schedule Must Go

Since my time as an early career teacher it has always struck me as odd that teachers’ pay is as regimented as it is. I can remember my introduction to the teacher salary schedule as a first year exceptional children’s teacher in the New Orleans Public Schools. As a new teacher, I remember coming to the conclusion that it did not matter how good a teacher I became, how hard I worked, or how much my students learned, my salary would be determined solely based on the number of years that I stuck around and whether I earned another degree. That message is not one that we should be sending to new teachers, veteran teachers, or potential entrants to the teaching profession.

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work with many teachers as colleagues, mentors, mentees, and students. Many of those teachers have been exceptional professionals, but a significant minority of them have not been. As I reflect on the teachers that I have seen and worked with over the years, a few things are apparent to me. First, there has not been a strong correlation between teachers’ years of teaching experience and their instructional prowess. While nearly all teachers take a couple of years to get the lay of the land and get comfortable with teaching, beyond those initial years I have seen immense variation in teachers’ abilities. I have worked with the third year teacher who could teach circles around the 10-year veteran, and I have worked with the 15-year veteran whose expertise in classroom management resembled that of a first-year teacher fresh out of a sub-par teacher preparation program.
Similarly, I have seen absolutely no correlation between instructional expertise and holding a masters degree. I have worked with teachers holding masters degrees in whose classrooms very few children learned anything, and I have worked with teachers holding only bachelors degrees in whose classroom no one–child or adult–ever left without learning. Now, after having taught in and researched teacher and administrator preparation programs across the country, I can completely understand why this is the case (I will explore this in a future post).
Here are a few things that I have learned about teachers: 
  • Some teachers are great. Some teachers are good. Some teachers are average. Some teachers are below average. Some teachers should not be teachers.
  • There is a strong positive correlation between great teachers and student learning.
  • There are a myriad of factors that contribute to great teachers being great. The list is as long as the discussion of the factors is complex.
  • Inputs like years of experience and additional degrees may be important, but these factors may or may not be positively correlated with student learning.
With all that said, we continue with a system where teachers are paid according to inputs (years of experience and graduate degrees) with no consideration of their outputs (student learning). This is preposterous. It makes absolutely no sense to me that a school district would pay two 10-year veteran teachers with masters degrees identically even when one teacher is clearly outstanding and the other is clearly not. It makes even less sense to me that a school district would pay a bad, 10-year veteran teacher significantly more for teaching 6th grade mathematics than it would pay a 5th year teacher who is clearly outstanding. What is even more ludicrous to me is that two teachers with identical inputs entering the profession in the same year in the same school district would earn identical salaries for the length of their careers regardless of whether they have differential development as teachers. What these realities say to me (and to teachers) is what we value most is you sticking around a long time whether you are good or not, and getting a masters degree. If children happen to learn anything in your classroom, that’s fine but not necessary; we are not going to reward you for it. 
As I am not one to mince words, let me go on the record here to say that I think the teacher salary schedule is ridiculous. While it may (or may not) have been useful in previous generations, it will not help us to encourage continuous improvement in the teaching profession or to steal top-notch talent from other professions in the 21st Century. The teacher salary schedule must go, and it must go now. It has already had an unbelievable negative impact on the teaching profession and P-12 student learning. We must eliminate its use immediately so that it can do no more harm.

Teacher Tenure Rules Changing in Colorado

The Colorado General Assembly has passed new legislation which includes pretty significant changes to rules governing tenure for K-12 classroom teachers. The bill cites difficulty with removing ineffective teachers as a reason for making these changes. The bill states, “Under Colorado law, a school district is required to enter into a contract with a teacher after three consecutive years of adequate service, giving the teacher tenure or nonprobationary status…nonprobationary status has become a right , and it is nearly impossible to take that status away or remove the teacher from his or her job.” Also, while not stated in the bill, it should be noted that competing for federal funds in the second round of the Race to the Top competition was undoubtedly an impetus for this reform as well.

According to current Colorado law, school districts are required to have evaluation systems that meet the following minimum requirements:

  • probationary (non-tenured) teachers receive at least two documented observations, and one evaluation from which a report is written;
  • probationary teachers must have a minimum of three years of continuous service before being considered for tenure; and
  • tenured teachers receive at least one documented observation per year and at least one written evaluation every three years.
With the newly passed legislation, Colorado Senate Bill 10-050, local school districts must modify their evaluation systems to ensure the following:
  • probationary teachers’ one evaluation per year must result in a final cumulative written report;
  • probationary teachers must have a minimum of five years of continuous service before being considered for tenure;
  • non-probationary teachers must be issued five-year contracts to be renewed every five years thereafter, provided the teacher receives a satisfactory final cumulative written evaluation report at the end of the five-year period;
  • local boards of education are required to provide written notice to non-probationary teachers whose contracts will not be renewed, and provide him/her with the reasons for contract non-renewal; and probably most significantly,
  • probationary teachers must show that they have improved student achievement for three consecutive years to earn tenure, and tenured teachers must show improvement in their students’ achievement for two consecutive years to keep their jobs.
I have lots of thoughts on this bill, but I will only share a few here to kick off the conversation:
First, I submit that the Colorado General Assembly, while its motives are commendable, is probably not the appropriate level to address what I believe to be one of the most salient issues with tenure; that is, the fact that administrators across states routinely award tenure to probationary teachers who they know to be ineffective teachers. Too many administrators fail to adequately supervise, support, develop, and evaluate young teachers. Even if you extend the probationary period from three to ten years, if you do not address this critical failure in school leadership, tenure reform efforts are for naught. And for better or for worse, that is not something that state legislatures can fix.
Second, regarding the use of student improvement data as part of teacher evaluation systems, I am all for it; but the devil is in the details. The Colorado General Assembly has wisely not specified what the details of this new evaluation system will be; for those decisions are much better left to professional education leaders. My hope is that we do not see a one-size-fits-all approach to measuring improvements in student learning. We will have to wait and see what the Colorado Department of Education comes up with. I will be watching.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts!