Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kent Teachers To Go on Strike

This article about the teachers' strike in Kent was in this morning's Times. There are, as of 11:17 am about 357 comments after the online article. That is a huge number of comments and most are that the teachers are greedy and the teachers' union is the problem for every problem in education. The district did offer a raise over a couple of years but the teachers are also asking for smaller class sizes.

Eighty-six percent of the teachers voted to strike. Classes in Kent are supposed to start on Monday. Kent is the 4th largest district in the state and their teachers have never gone on strike before.

From the article:

"Michael Imbruglio, a chemistry teacher at Kentlake High, said he saw 150 students each day this past school year, compared with about 90 the previous year, when he taught in the Federal Way School District."

So I'd have to check but Federal Way is likely the same size as Kent; that is a lot more students to be handling in a day (although I think it is probably the number that an average SPS high school teacher has).


"The teachers want the district to use some of its $21 million in reserves to reduce the number of students in each class, which, Brackin Johnson said, is as high as 45 in some high-school classes, and 31 in first and second grades.

They also want fewer meetings, so they have more time to help students before and after school.

Valerie Munch, who teaches math at Northwood Middle, said she now has a meeting of some sort every day before school, and no longer can open her classroom early to answer questions from students, or give them a place to finish their homework."

That's a pretty hefty reserve (although the district said most of it is already earmarked which begs the question of why they call it a reserve). Those are some big classes if what they are saying is true. I'm not sure I know of any high school is SPS that has a class size above 35.

Class size seems a big issue in this strike.

"And in a proposal delivered to the union just before the Wednesday meeting started, the district offered to put a paraprofessional in fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms if there are more than 30 students, down from the current threshold of 32. It also proposed to form a committee of teachers, classified staff and community members to discuss class size.

Hanks said reducing class size is so expensive that such a move needs to be discussed by a broad group, because it could adversely affect the district's financial stability.

The district says it would cost $2.7 million to reduce each class by one student. The union disputes those figures."

First, I'm sure the teachers looked at that offer and said, "Yay! Another committee! Oh boy!" Really? That's the best the district could say?

Second, we voted on I-728 to reduce class size and yet that money seems to be being used for anything but. Why does Kent's district, our district take all the money and use it to lower class sizes? It's weird but you hear this in district after district about the I-728 money.


dan dempsey said...

The I-728 money is used for more coaches and more meetings and for providers of half day in-services etc.

dan dempsey said...

The district says it would cost $2.7 million to reduce each class by one student. The union disputes those figures."

Looks close to me but perhaps a bit high. Here is a ball park calculation:

for Kent class size reduction by 1 student.

27,400 enrolled at 30 per class = 913 teachers

27,400 at 29 per class = 944 teachers

31 teachers more at $70,000 per year (cost to district wages, benefits etc.)

costs around 2.2 million

zb said...

Thanks for the calc. I think this always surprises people -- how much labor costs, and what a large impact it has on budgets. To make the numbers work, you'd only need to change the average teacher cost to 87K, which can't be too far out of line.

Alternatively, they could decrease the per teacher cost to stay in the same budget, but decrease class size, and hire more teachers.

I think the teachers are right about class size; I know the data on class size is mixed (but, think the tough math drives part of the consideration of the issue). But, even if there's no obvious immediate impact on student learning, it clearly impacts teacher happiness.

But, we have to face that we'll need to pay heftily for class size, and think hard about what other balancing that entails.

I personally think class size is important

Dorothy Neville said...

Finding, heating, lighting, cleaning 31 more rooms in the district has got to have some costs as well. I can believe the $2.7 million figure.

dan dempsey said...

I find that $2.7 million figure as Dorothy says about right.

Interestingly Hattie finds an effect size of 0.21 for class size and he is looking at major reductions in class size. Remember this is based on academic improvement.

Like Dorothy says ... none of this factors in lots of intangibles. Those intangibles are often extremely important in children's lives.

I think in the classes with higher levels of disadvantaged learners that smaller class sizes become very important for those children as well as for teacher retention. Look at teachers staying at that school or the flight to the upscale suburban school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, I'm not sure I mean more rooms. Why can't teachers have, a couple of days a week in high need schools with large class sizes, an aide? Someone to work one on one with struggling students? When I volunteered with students in the past, I saw the difference consistent one-on-one attention can make.

That's all I'm asking. Why is this not possible with I-728?

WenD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WenD said...

On today's KUOW interview, I don't think the Kent district spokesperson addressed I-728. Lowering the threshold from 32 to 30 is still too high. They said the surplus equals 10 days of operating cash. It can't be touched. A lot of it is for federally mandated expenses. Not coincidentally, the interview that preceeded this one featured a group of primary care docs. They discussed why so many are leaving this area of medicine. Many are barely breaking even.

With our current funding models, teachers, like primary care docs, will rarely break even. There will always be something lost or sacrificed in order to stay in the classroom. They bear the brunt, as do the students. Meanwhile, cottage industries continue to grow around the achievement gap, the one we were going to conquer in the 90s. Less is expected of consultants and coaches, while much more is continually expected of teachers.

Government by initiative has been unkind to education.

Renee said...

I wonder if they have so many resources being used up top as much as Seattle does?

Class size makes a HUGE difference - Seattle has a limit of 32 students in each class with a total workload of 150 total for each teacher. I once worked at a school that had 25 students/class and it was much easier for me to talk to each individual and get around to them. Those extra 7 students do make a huge difference for individual student time. I would love to have a 90 student load - I have a 150 student load. There are only so many papers you can grade and so many lab books you can grade and not go crazy.

I think people who complain in their comments that teachers are lazy should try teaching for a week and see what they think. They need to come up with their own lesson plans, manage 150 students, meet diverse needs of students, differentiate, teach to the standards, go to meetings etc. They really have NO idea. But that will never happen, so its fine. Its also very easy to comment somewhat anonymously on a board.

Aides / volunteers are also extremely helpful. I regularly have volunteers from the University of Washington. When I had a student teacher, it was amazing what difference having ONE more adult in the class can do.

As far as "breaking even" - this is for sure. There is supposed to be a housing program in Seattle to help people teaching in the city. The problem is, the restrictions on this housing offer / discount make it extremely difficult to be qualify for the program by the time you are a 3rd year teacher with a degree.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks Renee for the input. I believe another adult CAN really make a difference in a classroom whether it's classroom management or tutoring. Maybe I'm just naive but I wish the money was being used for that.

wseadawg said...

WenG PROFOUNDLY said: "Meanwhile, cottage industries continue to grow around the achievement gap, the one we were going to conquer in the 90s. Less is expected of consultants and coaches, while much more is continually expected of teachers."


Why are the coaches and consultants completely exempt from the abuse, snide commentary and outright disrespect that the teachers get bombarded with anytime "teacher" is contained in the same paragraph as "union?"

Who can justify such expenditures on such controversial and unproven people while laying off teachers and increasing class sizes?

WenG's comments hit my nuclear button and they should hit everyone's nuclear button.

What does it say about the lack of respect for our teachers that the district hires "coaches" to help implement sub-standard, shoddy curricula, instead of giving teachers the help and support they clamor for? If we have money for coaches, why don't we have more money for classrooms?

And if I hear MGJ say that closing schools saves money because "it costs money to heat and keep the lights on in those buildings" one more time, my head will explode. Closing a bunch of schools saves a couple mil per year, while they commit 25 mil to a lousy math program that nobody wants? And we're supposed to believe these folks are cost conscious?

Unknown said...

I agree with Renee...and I would add that "scripted" curriculum does not really reduce the planning time to a great degree - unless the teacher is assigned to teach exactly the same scripted curriculum for several years. But usually the assignment or curriculum changes.

Ironically, and unfortunately, I do not find classroom aides to be half the help they should be - not by any lack of ability or effort, but rather real help means time for the adults to plan together. Usually the aide and the teacher do not have the same "planning" time (The aide is rarely paid to plan at all - only to actually be in contact with students - so if they are to spend time planning or conferencing with the teachers, it is before or after school, outside of their hourly contracted time.)

So, I have found Aides are way under-utilized by design, unless both teacher and aide choose to give time back to the system.

dan dempsey said...

Less is expected of consultants and coaches, while much more is continually expected of teachers.

What is expected of coaches and consultants???? Anything?

In regard to the 90 kids or 150 kids point.

That is precisely at the heart of the 4 period-day controversy.
Does not matter that West Seattle faculty find 90 student workloads much better than 150 student work loads.

MGJ said "NO West Seattle your workloads it must be 150 student workloads." [Maximums were more likely 100 and 156 but you get the idea].

livfinne said...

If Kent teachers strike, they will be in violation of their current contract. What is the point of negotiating a new contract with a party which refuses to follow the provisions of the current contract? See our blog: http://washingtonpolicyblog.typepad.com/washington_policy_center_/

Unknown said...

Ug Liv. Tired old argument. How can teachers be in violation of a contract that has expired? And why not call the "Washington Policy Center" what it really is? From their website..."Improving lives through market solutions". In other words, anti-union, anti-public education...

Look at the board members and you will see the agenda...

seattle citizen said...

And Liv, if teachers can't strike, then why even have a union? The strike is the last resort of unions, and without that option what power do they have to negotiate with management?
"Uh, gee, we can't strike, I guess we'll just limit ourselves to being really annoyed if you pay us market wages on the global market rate."
(I wonder what teachers get paid in Peru? In Rwanda? In Cambodia? Their wages are "market rate," so why wouldn't a business just pay its employees that? After all, "there are many lined up to teach, so take our wage and conditions or get out." If we can't outsource teaching to a place with lower cost labor, maybe they can give some immigration work visas to those Rwandan teachers to come over here and work for the minimum wage? Whaddya think?)

MathTeacher42 said...

wseadawg -

rdotbmurphAT gmail

is my non school email - drop me a line, if you'd care to - I won't reveal your identity

(too many whack-a-doodles out there!)