Setting the Standard in Education

Posts Tagged ‘teachers’ unions’

Chaos and Teachers’ Voices

In Federal, LA on July 6, 2010 at 4:09 pm

As I was reading Joanne Jacobs’s blog today, I came across this tidbit from Organized Chaos. Its author, Ann Bailey-Lipsett, was invited to a panel discussion with Education Sector. You can see the whole video here. Here’s what Jacobs quoted that interested me:

With first graders this process usually starts out in a few different ways.

The “structure-seekers” ask a lot of questions like “Where do I put my pencil?” “What is the right answer?” and “Do you want us to use blue paper or light blue paper?” while the “oh good, freedom! Let’s see what we can do/get away with” group gets busy making something happen. Not necessarily the right thing, mind you, but paper gets cut, glue bottles are out, excited chatter starts. Then another group, of course, the “run and hiders” manage to sneak into the classroom bathroom, or into the classroom library . . .  All the while, the “I have the right answer” group of children is walking around the room telling everyone else what to do with utmost confidence. And of course, because they are 6 and 7, they end up crying, stamping their feet, and swearing that they are not Susie/Jamie/Max’s friend because Susie/Jamie/Max wont listen to their idea.

Which is, actually, somewhat similar to what’s going on in the education-sphere as we all react to Race to the Top, and the (possible?) changes in Elementary and Secondary Education Act (The act formally known as NCLB).

Some states immediately got busy applying for RttT grants, while others refused to participate in the process. Some are not acknowledging that any change is occurring and will not until they’ve seen progress from other states, while some, who comfortably followed NCLB, are still waiting for specific instructions. Even in the room today, as I listened to the debate over how much students’ standardized assessments should play into teacher evaluation I couldn’t help feel that this how we are reacting to the discussion even on a personal level. Some of us are the bossy first graders announcing we know what the answer should and should not be. Some of us figure it will all play out in the end and we’re just along for the ride, while others look at this as a blank check to start some change.

Was this classroom full of 6-year-olds or policy-makers?

I really enjoyed Bailey-Lipsett’s insights, so I figured I’d look a little deeper and see what the rest of her blog post had to say. I thought a few of her points were really important. First of all, there is a worry that this method of being “tight on goals, loose on means” as Duncan has said can backfire. Bailey-Lipsett says she named her blog “Organized Chaos” specifically because of the craziness that results in these similar methods. Everyone has a different reaction and it takes a lot of energy to get to the end. However, after thinking about it, she realizes that with the right constraints, she ends up with better products in her classroom than when she has more structure. The idea behind the methods is clearly that with so many people trying many different things, there will be a big mixture of successes and failures from which to learn. Those lessons can then be applied in the future. If we only try one method, we can only know whether that one method worked. If we try many, there are many lessons to be learned.

Another point that of worry for her is the part of teachers in all of this. This has been a particularly contentious issue recently. The Administration has said many times that they want teacher input, but most teachers don’t feel like they are a part of the process. They don’t even feel much connection to the process, since it takes time for any of the new initiatives to take effect. Schools are still caught up in whether or not they will make AYP, pitting teachers against a system of punishment and blame. She said Brad Jupp pointed to the ability of unions to be the voices of teachers in all of this, but to her, in the current climate, that’s not feasible. Teachers join unions for protection from lawsuits, not as a place to voice their opinions. Perhaps that is the critical point that needs to be made. The unions have become powerful in many places because of their large membership, but there are so many teachers who are members that don’t even follow what their own unions are doing. If you thought national voter turnouts were terrible, you should see union voting. Rates of under 20% are not unusual.

One solution would be to create a grassroots movement to get teachers more involved in their unions. Young teachers with new ideas could actually participate and make a difference. I had a discussion with some others about this very thing. Within UTLA it literally only takes a handful of votes to get elected as a delegate in the House of Representatives. Get some people together and you can have your voice heard. While this grassroots approach has potential, I am a top-down kind of guy. I think to get things done quickly, people at the top need to make them happen. Perhaps instead of dealing with unions (which also leaves out all those who don’t belong to them), the administration should be looking to create ways for teachers to have input. Task forces and advisory committees could be formed and polls taken to see what teachers want. Why should it be so hard to find out what teachers think?

What do you think? How can teachers be heard better? Tonight, I’m off to a screening of “Waiting for Superman.” I’m sure you’ll hear all about it tomorrow.

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I don’t get it…

In Federal on July 5, 2010 at 6:15 pm

I try to stay on top of education developments by subscribing to a wide range of publications. I’m up to reading about 20 blogs and newsfeeds to try to stay on top of things. While many of these publications seem to tow a similar line, I also subscribe to a few that are just out there sometimes. The one that stands out the most is Schools Matter. Often, I think a more apt name might be “Teachers Matter (more than students).” I can often understand the concern for teachers’ rights in the current political climate. A lot of people are worried about their jobs.

If you can’t tell by now, I generally disagree with the way that many put status-quo-teachers’ opinions over the needs of students. Please note that I specifically said status-quo teachers and not all teachers. Many teachers are progressive. I do not believe that teachers’ unions reflect the progressive attitudes that many teachers have. At a national convention of the National Educators’ Education Association this past Saturday, there were calls of defiance against Barack Obama and Arne Duncan. Notably, no White House representatives were invited for the first time in two years. NEA president, Dennis Van Roekel, said on Saturday,  “Today our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment I have ever experienced” and when referencing the Obama administration’s actions to date said, “This is not the change I hoped for.” I am willing to be that many if not most teachers do not feel the same way. The current administration has dumped over $100 million into education, most of that not even reform-based. Perhaps he forgets that last year over $90 million was given to states to keep teachers on payrolls. The problem is that those like Van Roekel equate pro-change with anti-educator. Believe me, I think that teachers are the single most important part of a classroom today. That is precisely why I believe that current policies of last-hired, first-fired in so many places are themselves anti-educator. Educators will not regain the trust of Americans until they are an elite profession. Until a district can get rid of a bad teacher without having to spend close to $300,000 and two years, there will be way too many bad teachers.

Hopefully, there won't be too many that get indoctrinizated.

And while there are some obvious reasons that many support the NEA and the AFT, I am more mystified by other things that come out of Schools Matter, often from Jim Horn. His post today exemplifies the backwards thinking that can come from trying to be against everything. Aside from the fact that, like most of his posts, this one just copied and pasted from other sources and no actual reasoning is supplied (he often just writes a few sentences of angry preface), it is supremely clear that Horn makes very little sense. Horn copied from a Press of Atlantic City article entitled, “Almost 3,000 New Jersey seniors have yet to graduate after failing tests” and renamed it “NJ Proficiency Test Blocks 3,000 from Diplomas.” I would look at the original article and lament the horrendous educations these students must have been given to have been allowed to pass enough classes to graduate, but not be able to pass a test, which is given in 10th grade and in all reality tests at about an 8th or 9th grade level. If a student can’t understand algebra, it’s not because of a test; it’s because they weren’t taught well enough. Horn of course thinks that the teaching must have been OK, so it’s got to be the test that was a failure. The real title of the article should be “NJ Proficiency Test Shows 13 Years of Poor Instruction Blocks 3,000 from Diplomas.” Until people like Horn stop claiming that the tests are civil rights problems and realize that the real problem is inadequate instruction that English Language Learners and students from urban schools receive, they just won’t get it.

Twists and Turns

In Federal on July 1, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Well, despite all of the opposition (at least in the blogosphere) to Rep. Obey’s $10 billion teacher jobs amendment to a war bill, the House decided to pass it. The bill includes $800 million in cuts to White House initiatives, including $500 million from Race to the Top. If the Senate approves it, President Obama has promised to veto the bill. I can’t imagine it’ll get the 2/3 it would need to override a veto. Then again, I didn’t think it would pass in the first place. It’s interesting to note how education often does not completely work along party lines. The president is opposed to an appropriation that would be considered by many to be “too liberal.”