Setting the Standard in Education

Posts Tagged ‘UTLA’

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.

Advertisements

Back on track

In California, LA on June 24, 2010 at 11:56 pm

If you hadn’t noticed, it’s been a few days since my last post. Aside from applying for jobs in NYC (anyone have any leads?), I’ve been spending the week trying to catch up on all the articles I was behind on. I subscribe to 19 education news sources to get you the best tidbits from around the blogosphere and further, so after being in Israel for 3 1/2 weeks, I was behind by about 700 articles. I’ve managed to finally catch up, so I figured it’s time to get back to my article every day or two that I had going before.

There are a few  topics that I would like to cover. Tomorrow’s post will be about the recent selection of organizations that won grants to develop assessments aligned with the new CORE standards. Very exciting. I’ll also give you my thoughts on the scalability of the Locke High School turnaround, a school to which I have a personal connection.

Tonight, we’ve got  a local LA headline (from yesterday): John Deasy, deputy director of the Gates Foundation’s education division, has been hired as the new deputy superintendent for LAUSD. Not only that, but with a salary of $25,000 more than what Ray Cortines (the current superintendent and his boss) is making, there is speculation that he will take over for Cortines within two years. Before his stint with the Gates Foundation, Deasy was superintendent for Prince George’s County Public Schools from 2006-2008 and Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District from 2001-2006.

Deasy has been picked as the new deputy superintendent for LAUSD.

What does this mean for LAUSD? First of all, it could possibly be a strong step in the right direction. Under Cortines, the district has by-and-large bent to the will of UTLA, not wanting to ruffle any feathers. While I am sure Deasy intends to work with the union, rather than against it, his track record shows he is a big proponent of some policies that they have adamantly fought against. Most notably, he arranged a bargain in his Maryland district to incorporate performance pay into the teacher contract. Other policies he has advocated include data-based decision making, staff development, fair evaluations for both teachers and administrators, and revenue sharing by richer sections of the district with poorer ones.

Of note is his performance in his previous districts. While Deasy made large gains with Prince George’s County, he left after less than three years with the district still the second worst in Maryland. I doubt he’d leave so quickly from such a big project as this, but you never know. There is certainly a lot on the line for him if he is to step in after Cortines, who at the age of 77 is expected to retire within the next two years. One thing is for sure, it will be no easy task with so much dysfunction and so many budget problems both at the district and state levels.

Who Deserves to be Laid Off?

In California on April 29, 2010 at 10:55 am

That’s the question on the lips of many education  policy makers. It’s not that anyone really wants people to be laid off, but if someone has to, who should it be? In California, Governor Schwarzenegger has supported a bill that would end seniority-based layoffs. The current system, which forces school districts to get rid of their newest teachers completely ignores the strength of the teachers getting laid off. This has a few repercussions:

Someone's got to go, so who should it be?

1. The most obvious is that terrible teachers get locked in once they’re in a school long enough and great upcoming new teachers are kicked to the street. This not only lowers the quality of the teaching, it means that change rarely happens. New ideas in how to teach are much less likely to be put into practice. It doesn’t matter if teacher preparation gets better if none of the teachers coming out of those programs can’t hold down jobs. On top of that, it takes away some incentive for teachers to get better at their practice. If they are not pushed to be the best, they don’t have to be.

2. As Gov. Schwarzenegger points out, in a district like LAUSD, minority students suffer disproportionately. The ACLU has actually sued the state and LAUSD because of the extremely high rates of layoffs in poor neighborhoods. Because schools in high-poverty areas are often a rotating door for teachers, they have a much higher number of new teachers. How high? The three schools that the ACLU is suing over had between half and three-quarters of their teachers laid off last year.

3. By firing the employees who are newer and make less money, more teachers have to be laid off. A report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education from last year showed that almost 50% more people have to be laid off when layoffs are seniority-based, rather than seniority-neutral. For example, to have a 10% reduction in salary expenditure (which is a completely reasonable number in the coming year, by the way), more than a quarter million more teachers would have to be laid off using a seniority-based system.

Obviously, there are many great reasons to change the system. Opponents, like UTLA President A.J. Duffy think that without protections for teachers who have been teaching for a long time, the opposite will happen: the more expensive older teachers will be the first to be laid off, because they cost more. Obviously, this would also be a problem, since there wouldn’t be teachers with a great deal of experience to help newer teachers. However, aside from this not being very likely, the solution which is being proposed is simple: base firings on effectiveness and ignore seniority. That’s what should be done anyway. A strong veteran teacher should have the same protection as a strong new teacher and vice versa. Unfortunately, there are others who try to stall improvements. LAUSD superintendent Ramon Cortinez says he is fine with changing the system as long has it is a solution that is developed by the unions and a task force. For those who don’t know, these task forces are notoriously slow, taking years to make reasonable decisions. These layoffs are happening this summer. There is no time to wait -and perhaps that is his plan. Take so long that it becomes irrelevant. Thankfully the state is trying to come through when the local district doesn’t have the chutzpah to do anything.