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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

New Roundup

From the Seattle Times, a story about how the recent federal appropriations bill allows almost anyone hired as a teacher to be called "highly qualified". Here's something I didn't realize:

The legislation nullifies a Sept. 27 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that California illegally classified thousands of teachers in training as "highly qualified" in violation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Under that law, all students are supposed to be taught by "highly qualified" teachers who have earned state teaching credentials, but a 2004 Bush administration policy allowed states to give that status to interns working toward certification.

The San Francisco-based appeals court struck down that policy, siding with low-income families in Richmond, Hayward and Los Angeles that claimed that a disproportionate number of uncredentialed teachers were teaching in their schools.

That 2-1 ruling would have required districts to distribute teaching interns more evenly across schools and to notify parents when their child is not taught by a fully credentialed teacher, but the new legislation temporarily allows teachers in training to keep the "highly qualified" status.

Huck Finn sanitized for your safety is another story.

In its place, 219 times throughout the book, is the word "slave," a substitution that was made by NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama, which plans to release the edition in February.

Alan Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn University at Montgomery, approached the publisher with the idea in July. Gribben said Tuesday that he had been teaching Mark Twain for decades and always hesitated before reading aloud the common racial epithet, which is used liberally throughout the book, a reflection of social attitudes in the mid-19th century.

And people thought wanting to have professional development around Brave New World was a problem. But altering a book is wrong. Either use it as is with context and sensitivity or don't use it at all.

Since the publisher discussed plans for the book this week with Publishers Weekly, it has been "assaulted" with negative e-mails and phone calls, said Suzanne La Rosa, the co-founder and publisher of NewSouth Books.

"We didn't undertake this lightly," La Rosa said. "If our publication fosters good discussion about how language affects learning and certainly the nature of censorship, then difficult as it is likely to be, it's a good thing."

From Crosscut (and an alert reader here), a piece "How I Became an Anti-Union Democrat" by Adam Vogt about, well, unions. This line was particularly telling:

In recent years, as I’ve watched labor unions, particularly those representing teachers, reflexively fight against reforms that would increase accountability and limit benefits, I’ve found myself aghast at the unwillingness of so many public employees to sacrifice during lean budget times. Add to that my recurring experience as a government employee at the state and federal level witnessing the many "retirement" parties for government employees who look entirely too young to retire, all the while knowing that such an option likely won’t exist for workers of my generation.

Unwillingness of teachers to sacrifice? Look, except for those teachers in Wisconsin that wanted Viagra in their medical benefits, I don't see many teachers who haven't sacrificed. And who is this guy to decide when someone should "look" old enough to retire? A lot will change for the next generation but isn't all about workers who didn't sacrifice enough.

And a big thank you to another reader who sent me this great story from the WashingtonPost blog, The Answer Sheet. (I don't ID readers unless I know it's okay to use their first or last names as I know some people are sensitive to names being released but please know I appreciate the links).

It seems that 14 students from two NYC schools wrote a play about school reform during the time of Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg based on the play "Antigone". They had written it, produced it and were ready to go when boom! their principals said no. From the blog:

The play, titled “Declassified: Struggle for Existence (We Used to Eat Lunch Together,” was banned.

According to a teacher who was working on the project with the students, the principals sent word that they were uncomfortable with criticism of Klein and Bloomberg, and they would not allow the Dec. 17 scheduled performance to go on in the Jamaica High auditorium.

The blog thread has the complete play and here's a telling part:

Tireseus: You took away 30% of the school’s teaching staff which increased class sizes, and you gave half the space in the building away to new smaller schools. Would you call that fair treatment?

Chancellor: We can’t continue to invest in failing schools.

Tireseus: Do you really think closing schools is the answer?

Chancellor: The school is failing.

Tireseus: Or maybe you are failing the school. Why not give them what they need to succeed?

Chancellor: But schools must be held accountable.

Tireseus: And what about you, Chancellor? Who’s holding you accountable? The gods have given us the use of reason, but do we use it right? Do I? Do you?

Chancellor: Why am I standing out here like a target? Why is every arrow aimed at me.

Tireseus: Isn’t it your policy that is upsetting so many students and teachers?

Chancellor: Who’s got you in their pocket? Are you working for the teachers union now?

Tireseus: Honest advice is not a thing you buy.

Chancellor: All of you so-called seers: you have your price.

Tireseus: Rulers too have a name for being corrupt.

Chancellor: The decisions I take are not up for sale.

Tireseus: Are you so sure about that?

Chancellor: Get out of my office.

Tireseus: Fine, but know this: where you are standing now is a cliff edge, and there’s a cold wind blowing.


Yes, a cold wind IS blowing (and maybe a lot of hot air).

26 comments:

kprugman said...

The viagra story, you might get a different version of events if you asked the union what happenned.In the previous contract, the district proposed a way of saving money and preserve teacher jobs. The teachers believed the board and opted for the district's proposed benefits plan, and took a pay cut (to save the district money and prevent teachers from being laid off.) One of the school board members was on the board of directors of the insurance company. When the contract had to be renegotiated, the school board and the local paper made it appear as though the teachers union had bargained for the viagra. That's very unlikely. Will the union ever believe the school board's sincerity? Not likely either.

Anonymous said...

Melissa,

Thanks for posting the story about the play (I wasn't sure if it was right for the blog, but I thought it was a great read.) It's not terribly long, so take a few minutes to read the whole play if you have a little extra time.

The sections in bold are taken directly from the Seamus Heaney's translation of Antigone. It's interesting how the students wove the texts together, created a perceptive critique of education reform--certainly a piece worthy of a performance--and then had the rug pulled out from under them by their principal. I didn't see the follow-up but I'd love it if the students were able to produce a version and get it up on You Tube!

Jeanne

seattle citizen said...

Here's an announcement for a roundtable event at Seattle's Town Hall in February - a chance to be heard, to "vote" electronically on various issues...You have to register to attend, but it's free.

"Thursday, February 10, 2011, 7 – 9pm
Downstairs at Town Hall, enter on 8th Avenue
Already in the 4th year of the district’s latest strategic plan, are Seattle Public Schools working, or is it time for more reform? Voters have been generous in approving levies to support student learning, but are current resources being used as wisely as they could be? What can we learn from other communities and films such as Waiting for Superman about closing the achievement gap and creating an environment where every student can succeed? Join the conversation as Seattle Channel host C.R. Douglas leads a live televised discussion “in the round” with Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and other leaders from the school district, parents, teachers, students, and YOU. Electronic polling during the event will gauge responses from both the live and online audiences. Seattle Speaks is produced by the Seattle Channel, CityClub of Seattle and Town Hall.

Admission is free, but registration is required at www.seattlecityclub.org, or call 206-682-7395.

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

Thank Rep. George Miller, D. Martinez, CA for opening the door for TFA test prep instructors to teach our most vulnerable students. Just because gasbags in D.C. (and I include Obama) say TFA teachers are highly-qualfied, doesn't mean that children in high-poverty schools will not have a disproportionate number of inexperienced teachers. That's flat-out discrimination. Although the appeal of the School Board's approval of TFA for Seattle has been withdrawn, the fight is NOT over.


New federal law makes interns qualified to teach.

Greg said...

Melissa and others, this story prompts me to ask a question about the teacher's union that has been on my mind lately. Can you comment on it and help me think through it?

The problem I have is that I would expect the unions to push primarily for higher wages and benefits for teachers. But that is not what they seem to do. Instead, they seem to push for job security and, to the extent they push for higher wages, the unions seem to push for pay to be based on seniority.

I was trying to figure out why, and I think the answer is that this is what benefits the union. The union wants people who are loyal to the union, people who would lose their job if it were not for the union. If teachers who have been around for a while owe their higher pay and their jobs to the union -- if they would be fired if it were not for the union -- they will be very loyal to the union.

It seems to be the same problem that happens in any large bureaucracy. Less competent people in a large organization cannot keep their jobs without the organization, so they tend to be very loyal to it. Rather than expelling incompetent and self-serving people, those people thrive since they are the ones most dependent on and most loyal to the organization, and those people often assume positions of power. Soon, the organization is infected with those primarily seeking loyalty to the organization, and the organization starts serving itself rather than serving its original goals and purpose.

I fear this is what has happened to the teacher's unions. Like I said, I want to support them, but I would find it much easier to do so if, instead of advocating for job security and seniority-based pay and benefits, the union primarily fought for higher wages, working conditions, and benefits for all teachers.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Uh, Greg, are you talking about Boeing? What you describe happens in private business everyday. The large engineering firm I work for keeps incompetent people all the time, whether for political reasons, to avoid lawsuits, whatever.

Sounds like you've had incompetent teachers. Did your parents raise a fuss? Or is it that everyone else has incompetent teachers? That sure is the image many want to project.

Scoffer

dan dempsey said...

The situation is that Chancellors and Superintendents are rarely if ever accountable for their poor decisions.

In Seattle the veritable avalanche of poor decisions, which continually failed to intelligently apply relevant data, increased chaos in schools and continued subpar performance by too many students.

The union issue, a giant strawman, is used to cover the sins of centralized leadership.

Grade Inflation, poor discipline, substandard instructional materials, and defective educational practices with destructive professional development, all have their genesis in the actions of Centralized Leadership.

Decentralization with power, authority, and accountability given to principals is the solution.

Until principals have the autonomy to made decisions and the budget to make things happen the chaos will continue. Unions are not the problem.

Each principal needs to be accountable to the school's 5 person Board of trustees. That Board will support the Principal but also hold the principal accountable.

Greg said...

Scoffer, I agree that any large bureaucracy has the same problem. But, that doesn't help answer my question about whether teacher's unions are acting as a force for good or not (not necessarily part of the problem, just not part of the solution). In particular, I'd like to see our teacher's unions focus on advocating for wages and benefits for all teachers, especially new teachers, while lobbying for more state and local funding to pay for it.

Dan, I agree the much bigger problem is the bureaucracy of the SPS central administration and its lack of accountability. It is hard not to see the SPS administration as a self-serving organization that has lost its tether to what should be its true goals, educating the children of Seattle. I did not mean to suggest that unions were a bigger problem, only to explore why our teacher's unions don't seem to be a bigger part of the solution.

dan dempsey said...

Greg,

I think that the reason that the Seattle Education Association has not been a part of solutions again goes back to leadership.

The SEA has rarely represented the true interests of its members. The leadership has largely been in bed with SPS Central Admin. Look at TfA and the current teachers contract. The SEA administration has continually frustrated Union reform efforts by membership.

kprugman said...

The union represents the teachers and one of their functions is to ensure the employee contract is enforced. Curriculum is a separate issue.

The union cannot protect a teacher who violates school policies, except to ensure the district follows the procedures for dismissing a teacher that are in the contract. The union and the board both remain committed to recruiting quality staff.

The school board approves the district policies and procedures manual, not the teacher's union.

The chief conflict occurs when an administrator or a school board member fails to disclose their financial or personal relationship with a private vendor or consultant, then that should be examined more carefully. Their zealtry affects the financial and academic well-being of the entire school district and its not the best interest of the kids.

An expensive school, curriculum, technology, health-plan, or insurance-plan creates havoc that affects everyone. To publicly discredit the teacher's union only adds to the insult.

There are schools in your state that cost double per square foot more then it costs to build in NYC. That should tell you who runs education in your state. Its not the teacher union.

kprugman said...

Secondly, the 'union leadership' are teachers elected by other teachers, not hand-picked executives trained by the Broad Institute. The union makes mistakes. They are often not paid for what they do. The union president of a nearby elementary school district gets no compensation and essentially works two jobs on a teacher's salary. We're not talking about Teamsters or Longshoreman; these are college-educated teachers who like to think they're being treated like professionals and do the best they can in a field that is complex and very politicized.

Patrick said...

Seniority is the appropriate way to deal with layoffs due to loss of work or lack of money. It is much harder for someone who's 50 to find new work than someone who's 25.

Teachers can be fired for cause regardless of seniority. Way too many people don't seem to realize that. If you or your child has a terrible teacher, it's the principal's fault for not going through the process to get rid of them.

It's important not to use misuse the layoff process for firing for cause because if layoff list is full of undesirable teachers, principals will be reluctant to rehire anyone who gets laid off.

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

RE: Mark Twain: I agree that if a book can't be taught in context, don't teach it until you can support the context. Given the number of Americans who still believe that our president is a Muslim, this is going to be a daunting task, but a necessary one.

I understand why we have decades of readers who have taken offense, but nobody disputes that reading Twain's fiction is reading a window into our history, and that for many, nothing has changed. (Haley Barbour?) Our history is already sanitized. Black History gets one month a year, when it IS our history, 24/7.

Imagining either book with the n-word sanitized reminds me of how conservatives in Japan have erased several genocidal details of their WWII experience from their history books.

Sanitizing any book supports ignorance. This isn't the same as editing for accuracy.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So Greg, I was waiting to hear back from an SEA rep just to see what they might want to say to your question. I haven't heard back from anyone so here's what I think I understand and what my conclusions are.

I think job security is always number one for any union. The teachers are no different. I think the union has somewhat given up on higher wages because we all know that teachers should be paid better (and, we might get a better pool of teachers if they were). I mean they want a COLA but beyond that..

However you are right about the benefits and working conditions being important. I think teachers have many more expectations on them than teachers in the past. If their school doesn't have a counselor, they're it (unless they just choose to turn away). If their school has a half-time librarian, the teacher turns into the librarian for his/her class.
And then, there's all the testing. Longer report cards. The Source. Professional development.

I will say, though, that while I understand that teachers are not on "vacation" the whole summer, they do get a lot longer holidays than many workers (although, yes, many do work from their homes then). It is a different kind of benefit than almost any other kind of profession.

I can honestly say that I do not believe the union wants to protect incompetent or bad teachers BUT there's more to it than that.

Look, I think the number of truly bad (in attitude/action) and/or truly incompetent teachers is small. I think our problem really is the number of teachers in the middle who are either unhappy with work conditions, burned out, in mid-career and maybe not as inspired or just plain mediocre teachers. That's where you have problems.

You can get rid of the truly bad (and I think the union wants them out because they give everyone a bad name). But how do you inspire members to do better when their own principals can't? What do you do with a teaching corps that feels alienated from the superintendent who is supposed to motivate them?

As you say, the union exists because of its members so it's important to them to keep people in the fold. But I suspect in any given school, teachers know who is low on energy or enthusiasm or ideas and is just phoning it in. We ALL know, in any industry, people like that.

Melissa Westbrook said...

continued
Naturally in teaching it IS important to keep teachers inspired and motivated because of the work they do; they influence a year in the life of a child. So while Macy's can have a bored, unmotivated worker, we can't have large numbered of mediocre teachers in our schools.

That is the harder issue to figure out.

Right now, honestly, I would agree that kids are really not the focus. I say that with no disrespect towards any educational professional or elected official. But the loud voices we are hearing are yes, about adult issues. Oh sure, Michelle Rhee talks about the kids and the teachers unions talk about their classrooms but really they are talking about larger issues.

Michelle Rhee and the national ed reformers believe they know best and everyone else just get out of the way (and if you don't you just want to whine and keep the status quo which is nonsense). The teachers unions feel attacked. Where is that laser focus on administrators who create programs, direct schools and dole out money and on principals who are the leaders of their schools? You can see why the teachers union wants to protect its membership given that.

But where is the careful, well though-out plan for the students? I was talking with a reporter and we were discussing what the Legislature might think. I don't know what they could think given that the WASL has been tweaked endlessly, now has another name, the State Board of Education is yet again tweaking graduation requirements, we don't really know how many SPS grads graduate college ready and now the feds want to create national standards.

All that effort, time, money towards testing and assessing and yet we STILL don't have it down. We need a plan and we need to STICK to it. We need a plan that addresses the needs of OUR district and not serves some national ed reform agenda and/or protects some teachers' jobs.

Where is that focus from both sides?

I just don't know who's right but I do know that it feels like walking in quicksand.

Anonymous said...

The proposed transportation standards show different (earlier) arrival times than we currently have. Are bell times changing again? The arrival for elementary shows a new window of 8:00-3:45 (originally 8:50-3:40).

Inquiring parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

I saw those arrival times and wasn't too concerned because it was bus arrival. Hmm, maybe I should ask.

peonypower said...

As a new union rep- a few observations. 1. Not many people want to be reps- it means more meetings that you have to go to, more information you have to keep up with, and this is on top of whatever school responsibilities you have. 2. Many of the reps in buildings have been reps for a long time. They are not often new teachers and yes they definitely are tied to insuring job security.

Now as a fairly new teacher and now a new rep- there is a movement by many in the union to move towards reform that addresses some of issues that have been raised here. For instance- asking for a more mentors for new teachers, and also more support for new teachers. A casual poll at my school revealed that newer teachers had more preps than more experienced teachers. This is a problem that leads to early teacher burnout, and it is something that the union should and I believe will address. Also limit on the number of high needs students in a class or a cap at which additional support will be provided (in the form of I.A.s).

Also, Melissa is absolutely correct that any teacher can be fired - and it is really up to the principal to enforce this good ones do. I was in a conversation New Year's eve about this idea and the other person kept insisting that teachers have tenure, and I spent too much time explaining how this is not true.

Am I glad the union is there- yes. Do some things need to change- yes. Is it difficult to change this- yes. Will things change- I believe yes as the membership changes so will the leadership and so will the outcomes.

Maureen said...

arrival for elementary shows a new window of 8:00-3:45 (originally 8:50-3:40)

I was at the Operations Committee meeting where they discussed this. I didn't write it down, but my memory is that the big changes have to do with schools with extended days. (maybe Hawthorne and West Seattle Elementary?) There were a few others that were five minutes here or there, but nothing substantial.

I believe there will be a big proposed change though so keep paying attention (Service Standards are now going to be introduced on the 19th).

gavroche said...

Here's one for the "What the ?!?" files -- SPS wins "national award" for "family and community engagement"!

(It's currently posted on the SPS News & Calendars page but dated September 24.)

Makes you wonder if these John Hopkins people have actually been to Seattle and seen how this District "communicates."

(Or did someone arrange this award to counter and mask the repeated criticisms Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson has gotten for her LACK of communication skills? If so, how CONvenient. Apparently SPS belongs to the organization that gave this award. The press release reads as though someone in SPS's own PR Department wrote it.)

Read it and gag:

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/news/1011/20100927_jhu_nnps.pdf

Seattle Public Schools Wins National Award for
Family and Community Engagement from Johns Hopkins University


September 24, 2010. Baltimore, Maryland —Seattle Public Schools’ efforts to engage families in increasing student academic achievement have been recognized with a prestigious 2010 Partnership District Award from the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS) at Johns Hopkins University.
The school district, which is a member of NNPS, received the award for its efforts to implement national best practices for family engagement Districtwide and for guiding schools to develop comprehensive programs of school, family and community partnerships aimed at supporting student achievement.

“Seattle Public Schools is demonstrating that research‐based approaches can be used to increase goal‐oriented family and community engagement that contributes to student learning and development,” said Dr. Joyce Epstein, Director of the National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University .

Adie Simmons, NNPS State Contact and Washington Education Ombudsman, cited “the outstanding work that their Superintendent and District staff have done in implementing family engagement national best practices to increase student academic achievement.”

For more information about Seattle Public Schools Family and Community Engagement program, contact Bernardo Ruiz at (206) 252‐0693 or visit www.seattleschools.org/area/fam/involved.xml. More information about the National Network of Partnership Schools is available at www.partnershipschools.org.
Caption for enclose photo of Seattle Public Schools Family & Community Engagement Partnership Team:
Front row seated, left to right:
Dr. Susan Enfield, Seattle Public Schools Chief Academic Officer; Bernardo Ruiz, Family & Community Engagement Manager; Dr. Maria L. Goodloe‐Johnson, Superintendent; Bridgett Chandler, Executive Director, Communications
Back row standing, left to right:
Ayaan Aden, Parent Coordinator; Linda Rose Slater, School Family Partnerships Supervisor; Tsege Tsegay, ReWA Community Partner ; Sonia Altamirano, Parent Coordinator; Margo Siegenthaler, School Family Partnerships Outreach and Training Specialist; Dena Nelson Neighborhood House Community Partner; Nelrica Mosqueda, Parent Coordinator
####

Charlie Mas said...

Bernardo Ruiz is doing great work building up and building out the Family Engagement Action Teams at the schools.

At the school level, the family engagement is pretty good and getting better. It's at the District level that it is dreadful and getting worse.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ditto on Bernardo and his hard work. I think he could give some advice on public engagement on a larger scale to the district but probably no one asks him. He has taken small but concrete steps and I applaud his work.

MAPsucks said...

Uh, sorry to disagree but I've seen Bernardo doing the scofflaw shuffle...

Melissa Westbrook said...

MAP, what does that mean?