Welcome to the blog of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. CTEN is a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the public at large with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Undoubtedly the biggest national education story of the
last few weeks is President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos to
be the Secretary of Education. The reform-minded crowd by-and-large lauded the
pick, while the teachers unions have been in a state of grief. The NEA has been
pillorying DeVos every chance it gets on its website, asserting that she is an “ardent
supporter of ‘school choice’ privatization schemes, despite a complete lack of
evidence that privatizing public schools produces better education.” The union
also claims that she has “invested millions lobbying for laws that drain
resources from public schools…fought against the regulation of charter schools…and
is not a good fit for a position overseeing the civil rights of all students.”
Responding to the charges, Arkansas writer Paul Greenberg
delivers an op-ed in which he states that “Betsy DeVos is a fighter and a
winner.” I threw in my two cents, responding to the union’s charges and think
that she – with a few caveats – is a good choice for the job.
The Programme for
International Student Assessment (PISA) tests reading, mathematics and science and is administered
every three years to 15 year-olds in 72 countries by the Paris-based
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The latest results were
announced a couple of weeks ago, and the news wasn’t good. U.S. students
performed in the middle of the pack in reading and science, but well below
average in mathematics. Many make excuses for our poor showing by claiming that
the U.S., unlike other countries, tests all its children, not just the elite, has
large proportions of immigrants and English-language learners, and has a huge
proportion of children in poverty. But Robert Rothman, writing in the Hechinger Report, disagrees.
The fact is that these criticisms are
inaccurate. Nearly every country enrolls nearly all 15-year-olds in school, and
the U.S. is on the low side, with 84 percent of 15-year-olds in school. Many
countries have higher immigrant populations than the United States, and in some,
such as Singapore, immigrant students outperform native-born students.
And poverty does not explain the U.S.
results. Yes, child poverty rates in the U.S. are high, but they are about at
the average for OECD countries. Some high-performing regions, like Hong Kong,
have much higher poverty rates. And some, like Hong Kong, have managed to break
the connection between socioeconomic status and achievement. In Estonia, for
example, 48 percent of low-income students are “resilient”; that is, they score
at top levels. In Canada, the resiliency rate is 39 percent. In the U.S., it is
32 percent—and the good news is the rate has gone up over the past decade.
On December 8th,
the National Council on Teacher Quality released new ratings for 875
undergraduate elementary teacher preparation programs. One of NCTQ’s findings
is that these programs “still have far to go, particularly in preparing
elementary teachers in mathematics…. The new findings do little to quell the
notion that teaching is an ‘easy major,’ open to anyone who applies in many
institutions. Only one quarter of the programs (26 percent) are sufficiently
selective, generally admitting only the top half of college goers.” To access
the NCTQ report, go to http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=c9b11da2ceffae94e1dc196f6&id=5e42db5a3d&e=9dc9a1baf8
The same day NCTQ
came out with its teacher prep analysis, the Fordham Institute released a
report on the difficulty of removing ineffective teachers from public school
classrooms. The results of the study showed that in some school districts it is
virtually impossible to get rid of an under-performer. The Fordham analysts
used a ten point metric based on three simple questions:
tenure protect veteran teachers from performance-based dismissal?
does it take to dismiss an ineffective veteran teacher?
vulnerable is an ineffective veteran teacher’s dismissal to challenge?
They then used
this framework to gauge the difficulty of dismissing ineffective veteran
teachers in 25 diverse school districts across the country and found three
major obstacles. In 17 of the 25 districts, state law allows teachers to
achieve tenure and never relinquish it, even if poor performance reviews
follow. Also, it takes forever to cut through the red tape involved in a
teacher dismissal. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, it can take five or more
years to complete the process. And finally, teachers have multiple appeals to
their dismissal in many districts.
Vice President for External Affairs at the Thomas
B. Fordham Institute, has
written a forceful piece for U.S News
& World Report in which he suggests that we “Let Poor Parents Choose
Too.” Making the case for parent power in the current political climate, he
If it's education reform technocrats and
accountability hawks versus parents this time, the mood, the moment and the
moral argument would seem to favor parents. If this year has taught us nothing
else, it's that Americans have had just about enough of their betters deciding
what's best for them and expecting them to play gratefully along. Reformers
might have to start accepting that our greatest point of leverage is to help
parents choose wisely, rather than trying to police their choices by means of
aggressive accountability schemes.
choice is on the move in other states, California is lagging. EdSource’s Louis Freedberg suggests, “Trump
school voucher plan would face huge obstacles in California.” There are many
questions: Would a voucher program be legal in California? Where would the
federal funds come from? How much would the plan as proposed by Trump cost in
California? Where would students
be able to use the vouchers? To see how Freedberg answers these and other
questions, go to https://edsource.org/2016/trump-school-voucher-plan-would-face-huge-obstacles-in-california/573691
Scalia died in February, the Friedrichs case
went with him. But there is another case on the horizon that is trying to
accomplish the same end: giving workers a choice whether or not to pay dues to
a public employee union as a condition of employment. According to Choice Media,
Enter Illinois plaintiffs Mark Janus and
Brian Trygg and a case called Janus
v. AFSCME. With the legal counsel of Jacob Huebert of the Liberty
Justice Center, they are suing Illinois public sector unions for the same
reason as the Friedrichs plaintiffs
— forced union fees. The plaintiffs are employees of the state of Illinois;
Mark Janus is a child support services worker at the Illinois Department of
Healthcare and Family Services, and Brian Trygg is a transportation engineer.
Attorney Huebert told Choice Media that if they win their case, the precedent
would apply to public school teachers as well.
“If the court were to rule in their favor
[Janus and Trygg’s], it would extend to all government workers who’ve been
forced to pay union fees as a condition of employment,” Huebert said. “That’s
really the issue at the heart of the case: Can the government force its
employees to pay union fees as a condition of employment? If it can’t force
Illinois state workers to do that, it’s not clear how it can force any other
kind of government worker to do that.”
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