Local Control Making a Comeback in the City of Angels?

There is an interesting story developing in Los Angeles.  Changes may be made to allow more school autonomy from the school district and limit teachers’ unions:

The agreement, tentative until union members vote on it, doesn’t resolve key contract disputes, including whether teacher evaluations should include students’ standardized test scores, a provision L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy is seeking. And teachers will continue to work under the terms of the larger labor contract that expired July 1.

But the agreement, negotiated over the last couple of months, does provide for significant changes at local campuses that were championed for years by teachers union leaders. Schools would be able to choose their own teaching materials, schedules and campus rules. They could hire teachers and other staff of their choice. If they wanted to diverge from policies of L.A. Unified, officials could not say no, provided that all laws and legal requirements are honored.

But this local control also would limit union authority. If staffers at a school wanted to void portions of the thick union contract, United Teachers Los Angeles could not stop them.

“I think of this very much as unleashing the power of the professional,” Deasy said during a school board meeting. Teams of teachers, he said, are “uniquely qualified” to drive improvement at schools “better than the system writ large.”

One drawback and a question – this basically weakens the Public School Choice policy implemented in 2009.  This allowed charter schools and other organizations to take over a failing school.

It was a policy that had some teeth, and I’d hate to see that go.  The question I have is where is the influence and power of the parent?  The Public School Choice policy seemed to empower more parents than what this agreement will do it certainly seems like this will be a mixed bag – if the teachers’ union even agrees to this (which I doubt).

Who Defines Education?

I read earlier this week a post over at the Common Core blog about who defines education and why it matters.  The author of the post, Hillary Marder, was complaining about how governors were driving the definition based upon “economy efficiency” and the often tout developing skills.  That, Marder claims, fuels their talk of standards, etc.

She said the focus needs to be on quality content.  I don’t necessarily agree with those points.  We can elevate certain subjects, like math and science, to the neglect of other subjects.

One question that lingers is this – who defines what is “quality content”?

Marder answers that question for us – education insiders, as they are the ones she feels should define education:

Far too often, those outside of education take it upon themselves to define it. But it is up to the people within education—educators and advocates alike—who understand and live its inner-workings, to call for a better definition.

To be blunt though, wasn’t it those who were education insiders and those training the next insiders who screwed things up to begin with?  Much of what we’ve seen coming out of the public school hasn’t been education, nor has it necessarily focused on quality content; instead we see much focus on a whole plethora of things other than teaching kids fundamental skills and content.  Teachers and those who trained them are the ones who have pushed this along with any other fad they have wanted to experiment with.

Here’s a thought – let the people who understand and live the inner-workings of children call for a better definition – parents.

School Choice: An Anti-Bullying Tool

Richard Zeile, member of the Michigan State Board of Education wrote an op/ed for the Heritage Newspapers (serves Southeast Michigan) and he makes the argument that school choice should be seen as an anti-bullying tool.

So how do bullying and school choice relate? Bullying is often a social system problem.

Bullies find that their negative behavior works for them. Their peers are intimidated, or actually supportive, of their harassing an unpopular or isolated student.

And the victim of bullying is often socially isolated, having established or been labeled with an identity which he or she cannot escape (“Oh, you’re the one who exposed himself last year…”).

Anti-bullying programs rightly address the social world and peer pressure of the school, equipping students to deal with these issues.

But the child who is overwhelmed and thinking of killing him- or herself because there is no escape needs a more immediate and drastic escape. Such a child (and family) needs school choice.

Safety is one of the unacknowledged advantages of school choice, whether it is enrollment in a neighboring district or a nearby charter school.

When security is of paramount importance, the choice is often a private school (the time-honored choice of so many public officials, including recent presidents and governors).

School choice is not a cure-all for the bullying issue, but it may be an option for a family or a student.

I can’t say I’ve ever seen this angle on school choice, interesting argument.

Common Core webinars in North Carolina

According to the NC Department of Public Instruction,

Information for implementing the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics is the focus of three webinars scheduled in the New Year. We hope your schedule will allow you to participate in one of the following (the webinar material is the same for each) webinars. Each will be held from 3-5 p.m.:

Jan. 10: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/137465529
Feb. 9:  https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/762931233
March 8:  https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/380992544

As far as I can tell, the webinars are open to all.  I will be monitoring these sessions, but if anyone else is interested, follow the links above to register.

For the DoE, Two Assessments Are Too Many

The Department of Education has rejected an application by a group of California-led states to offer an alternative set of assessments for English-language learners to a group of states led by Wisconsin.

Why?

It’s hard to know for certain why Wisconsin’s World Class Design and Assessments (WIDA) recieved $10 million and the other testing consortia received none.

However, one can only assume that the Department of Education is intending to do what seems to be an endless priority — push for ever-increased consolidation on standards, assessment, and curricula.  The more consolidation there is, the less influence each state would have relative to the federal Department of Education.

The Centerpiece for Branstad’s Education Blueprint Being Put on Hold

Mary Stegmeir of The Des Moines Register reported yesterday that Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s education blueprint centerpiece, the teacher pay proposal, was being put on hold for another year.  She wrote:

Instead, a task force will be formed to study the issue of teacher leadership roles. That group will make recommendations to lawmakers in late 2012 to be considered during the 2013 session with possible implementation the following school year, Glass said.

“We absolutely are not moving away from the principles that are behind that four-tier salary structure,” Glass said. “But we also recognize that it’s a big change from a fiscal standpoint. We think this is a conversation we need to engage in when we’re at the beginning of a two-year budget cycle, so we have all the chips to play with.”

The governor’s teacher pay plan is one the elements of the blueprint that has generated the most comments and criticisms at education reform town hall meetings held across the state this fall, with some union leaders questioning whether the proposed changes skirted collective bargaining laws.

Linda Fandel, special assistant on education with the Governor’s office, said the residents – and lawmakers – needs more time to learn about teacher leadership roles, and craft a pay system that works for Iowans.

The teacher pay plan was one of the items we looked at when Eric Goranson, Bill Gustoff, and I graded the blueprint.  We said:

Although everyone agrees that all education boils down to the teacher’s ability to connect with and educate kids, we have reservations about a one-size-fits-all pay scale. We are concerned that it will further burden the state budget.We believe it further erodes local control because it allows for no variance or flexibility regardless of differences in cost of living between urban and rural settings. It also lacks evidence of efficacy. We cannot find compelling evidence that teacher pay, in and of itself, increases a single child’s test scores or overall academic achievement. Simply taking more money from taxpayers to pay teachers more without knowing that other reforms and increased choice will follow is an irresponsible diversion of public funds.

I’m happy that the Administration is taking some time to study this further and hope that they would do this with a variety of elements within the blueprint.  With this particular area of the blueprint perhaps they will allow for local school board feedback and scrap the “one-size-fits-all” model.  I have said that I agreed with Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass that the “step and level” pay system needs to go and that a merit based system should be implemented.  What the blueprint suggested missed the mark.

Something we should watch and take note of is who will be invited to take part on the task force they will create to study this issue.  Will they just invite those who favor centralization?  Will they be in league with the teachers’ unions?  Who they ask to participate will be instructive in know what kinds of proposals they really are willing to accept.

This is a good step, but changing up the pay proposal alone, however, won’t raise the grade for the overall blueprint.

Governor Bentley of Alabama Condemns Common Core

Unfortunately, the Repeal the Common Core Standards movement suffered a setback when the State Board of Education voted 6 – 3 to retain the Standards.

However, the movement is now stronger than ever with Governor Bentley issuing a statement saying:

“Every state is different. Every Legislature is different. I think having one standard goes against the intent of the founding fathers of the United States.”

The Governor cast his vote against the standards.  State Board of Education Members Stephanie Bell and Betty Peters also voted against the standards.

Opponents of national standards have vowed to fight on empowered by the Governor’s support.  The efforts to hide the truth about the standards from the public is becoming less and less effective.  Governors like Mr. Bentley realize that this is something the people (and the Founders) never wanted.

We need to continue to shine the truth on these standards.