Category Archives: Teacher’s Unions

Ohio’s Issue 2 Goes Down in Flames

Issue 2 defeated

Ohio’s SB5, which was introduced by state Sen. Shannon Jones, a Springboro Republican, but championed by Gov. John Kasich, who took office declaring he would change Ohio’s collective bargaining law, went down in flames last night as Issue 2 was defeated 61 percent to 39 percent. This was a huge victory for unions who represent the 360,000 public employees whose powers would have been trodden had the law prevailed. And like so many teachers and public workers who sought to overturn SB5, I could not be more relieved today.

Issue 2 defeated

Kasich, on the other hand, can be feeling only defeat after last night’s news. In his speech from the Statehouse he humbly conceded, saying, “It’s clear the people have spoken. I heard their voices. I understand their decision. And frankly, I respect what the people have to say in an effort like this. And as a result of that, it requires me to take a deep breath and to spend some time to reflect on what happened here.”

But Ohio Civil Service Employees Association President Christopher Mabe said, “We want to thank the voters of Ohio who used their citizen’s veto to send a message that this extreme legislation was simply out of touch with the majority of Ohioans. Most Ohioans believe that government runs best when front-line workers have a seat at the table. Tonight, they gave us our seat back.”

The campaign against Issue 2 and its subsequent victory has many wondering whether Kasich will have as much success next year in accomplishing his policy goals.

Ohio State University election law professor Dan Tokaji said, “I think there is no question this is a major black eye for the governor. He made the scaling back of collective bargaining rights really the signature issue of the first part of his administration, so this is a huge blow.”

Republicans knew there might be trouble back in the summer which opponents of SB5 turned in a million valid signatures, a record number for a referendum, qualifying Issue 2 for the ballot.

And the amount of campaign money raised by both sides was further indication that Issue 2 was in trouble. We Are Ohio, the coalition of Democrats and major labor unions, raised more than $30 million for their campaign, sometimes soliciting outside help to raise funds, while Building a Better Ohio only raised about $7.6 million, according to recent campaign finance reports. And We Are Ohio outspent Building a Better Ohio by more than a 3-to-1 margin, running far more commercials to spread their message.

So, does that mean that SB5 is a distant memory? Apparently not, because the October 25 Quinnipiac University poll showed that those polled supported requirements for public workers to pay at least 15 percent of their health care costs and to contribute at least 10 percent of their salary toward their pension. And it also showed support for establishing a merit-based pay system, one of the provisions in SB5.

And the number-two ranking Senate Republican, Sen. Keith Faber continues to argue that lawmakers shouldn’t hesitate to pursue collective bargaining reform again; in spite of the intense opposition such reform has created. He said, “If it’s the right thing to do and we need to work on it again, that’s kind of what we get elected to do.” He also added that he noticed in the final weeks of the campaign that “people are opening up to the need for change.”

So, I’m not sure we have heard the end of this sort of reform in the state of Ohio. The rumblings are out there, and we need to remain vigilant. But for right now, I think we deserve to sit back and celebrate our victory.

Idaho Online Class Requirement for High School Graduation Gets Board Approval

Online Class

Heavy controversy surrounds Idaho’s new education plan which, among other things, makes Idaho the first state to require high school students there to take at least two of their high school credits online in order to graduate.

In spite of the fact that this proposal received heavy opposition this past summer at public hearings across the state, the education board gave its initial approval to the online graduation requirement in September. Over the month of October, trustees collected feedback regarding this requirement during a 21-day public comment period.

Those who were for the virtual classes claim that it will help the state to save money while better preparing its students for college. But those who were against the requirement claim that it will reallocate state taxpayer money to the out-of-state companies which would provide the online curriculum and the laptops. They also expressed concerns that the state will ultimately replace teachers with computers.

Board member Don Soltman said, “A majority of the comments felt there should not be an online learning requirement.”

Yet, in spite of huge opposition to this online requirement, the plan received final approval Thursday. This law will apply to students who are entering the 9th grade in the fall of 2012. It will then go before Idaho lawmakers for review in the 2012 session, which begins in January.

It comes as no surprise that the Idaho Education Association criticized the decision in a statement on Thursday, where they said that the board “overruled the wishes of a majority of Idahoans and disregarded parental choice” by mandating the online credits.

Online learning advocates, however, feel that this requirement is reasonable because it is necessary for children to be prepared for life after high school.

Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a Washington-based nonprofit, and an obvious proponent of online learning, argued, “There is still a live teacher. It may be at a distance, but that teacher is still instructing and interacting with the student.”

One of those opposing this new requirement is Kendra Wisenbaker, an elementary school teacher in Meridian, the largest school district in Idaho. While she agrees that some students may actually flourish from online learning, she also expressed concerns, saying, “The poor kids are guinea pigs. I am a little conflicted, I am. It won’t work for every kid, and I think requiring it is a horrible idea. But it shouldn’t be an option for saving money,”

Members of the Idaho State Board of Education have stated that the majority of the opposition people are expressing is directed at the whole education law, not just the online requirements. While state legislatures nationwide are tackling education policy this year, education experts agree that Idaho has made some of the most far-reaching changes of any state.

Idaho’s new education plan is introducing merit pay, limiting union collective bargaining rights, and reallocating money from salaries toward changes which include more classroom technology; all part of the changes backed by Idaho’s governor and Tom Luna, the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Some in Idaho have praised Luna for changing how the state’s limited education dollars are being spent and for working to fix a badly broken system.

But others, including educators, have heavily criticized Luna’s plans. In fact, a group sought to recall Luna because of the education changes, but they failed to garner enough signatures earlier this year to be successful. Since then, parents and teachers who want to overturn the new laws met a June deadline to put three repeal measures on 2012’s November ballot.

What’s my opinion? First, while I understand the need to cut costs, I don’t understand how that is going to happen if tax dollars are simply being sent out of the state to provide curriculum and technology.

Second, online learning is certainly a wonderful alternative for some students and being exposed to this avenue of learning is probably very constructive for them. But to make it mandatory is ludicrous. There are students who will struggle with this method of instruction: students on IEPs, those with ADD or ADHD, students with vision problems, etc. Forcing all students to conform to this type of instruction is diametrically opposed to basic educational philosophy which requires us to meet children’s individual needs based upon their dominant learning style. Shouldn’t the superintendent of public instruction be well-versed in basic school pedagogy?

Finally, do I worry that computers could take the place of teachers some day? Well, who can really say what the future holds, but I will tell you, without any hesitation, that there is no computer online course on this earth that can ever replace a caring, sensitive, child-motivated, highly-trained, competent teacher. Teachers don’t just teach; they nurture. No online program can ever compete with that.

Senate Education Panel Approves ESEA Revisions

Finally, the Senate education committee approved a bipartisan rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act this Thursday, which will continue to face huge opposition as it moves forward. Some of that opposition will likely come from civil rights and business leaders who feel it is a step back on student accountability and from Republican lawmakers who are likely to say that it does not take away enough federal control of K-12 education.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and lead engineer of this bill, is hopeful that it can be brought to the Senate floor for a vote before Christmas, which would derail President Obama and Arne Duncan’s plan to offer state waivers from integral parts of the current law.

This bill would continue the system of testing students as they are currently tested in grades 3 through 8 and in high school, as well as continuing to provide achievement data for a variety of student subgroups. Some of these subgroups include students with disabilities, racial minorities, and English-language learners.

But, at the same time, this bill would significantly scale back the accountability system which was an integral part of the old NCLB legislation and had won such huge bipartisan support in 2001. The panel’s bill would also (as reported by Education Week):

* Do away with Adequate Yearly Progress
* Halt federally-directed interventions except for the lowest-performing schools and those with continual achievement gaps between low-income
* Based in part on the administration’s regulations for the School Improvement Grant program, it would spell out a series of federal interventions for turning around these lowest-performing schools
* Require states to create college-and-career standards, and although almost every state has already joined the Common Core State Initiative, they would not be required to do so
* Restructure the Department of Education, consolidating it into 40 programs from its current 82

During the panel’s discussions, multiple amendments were filed which provide some insight as to the hot issues that will be debated when this goes to the Senate floor. One of these includes Sen. Michael Bennet’s amendment requiring states to set performance targets which would include setting goals to move all students to proficiency by 2020 and cutting the achievement gap in half within various student subgroups. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., disagreed, arguing that such an amendment would be a “back-door way” of maintaining the AYP yardstick which has been widely ridiculed as an assessment tool.

Strangely, some of the debate has brought some interesting agreements between some very unlikely groups. For example, Sen. Harkin’s draft version of the bill which was released on Oct. 11, called for states to devise teacher evaluations which would take student achievement into account. However, Republicans on the committee disagreed, saying this would be a federal mandate dictating what should be a state and local issue. This was an argument that the National Education Association was on board with, as they also felt this provision was a federal intrusion.

Another issue that the NEA and GOP agreed on was one that would allow states to tender their own plans for turning around the lowest-performing schools to the U.S. secretary of education.

On the other hand, this issue brought heated debate between Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Alexander argued that his amendment would give states the opportunity and flexibility to create a turnaround plan that would best work in their circumstances making it more effective than the one spelled out in the bill.

However, seven Democrats on the committee voted this amendment, which passed unanimously by Republican members, down. Clearly, this will be a hot topic on the Senate floor, which is not surprising as it relates to how much federal control there should be in state and local affairs.

Some of the amendments that were accepted include:

* An amendment allowing students in the lowest-performing 5% of schools in a state to transfer to better-performing schools
* An amendment that would require new principals coming into turnaround schools to have a background in school improvement
* An amendment giving states the choice of using computer-adaptive tests for accountability purposes under the law
* An amendment to provide competitive grants to recruit and train principals to lead turnaround schools

Some amendments which were rejected include:

* An amendment which would have permitted teachers to be considered “highly qualified” only if they complete a state-approved traditional or alternative teacher-preparation program, or pass a meticulous state-approved teacher-performance assessment, and earn certification in their particular subject matter
* An amendment to do away with the approval for the Promise Neighborhoods program, which aids communities in developing cradle-to-career services

Several amendments were offered, but later withdrawn dealing with highly qualified teacher provisions, continuous improvement of schools, and scrapping authorization for the Race to the Top program, providing an interesting  preview of what is to come when this committee’s bill hits the Senate floor.

Public Employees Have Sacrificed Much Already

With the vote on Ohio Issue 2 right around the corner, I felt compelled to share with you some facts that might help you make an informed and fair decision when you step into your local voting booth this November. I hope that you will read this information with an open mind.

I recently received findings from a report compiled by a former Ohio journalist, TC Brown. During his journalism career, he was the assistant bureau chief for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer in the Statehouse Bureau in Columbus, and he has written for several magazines and national publications. His stories drove reforms in many areas, such as changes in state policy for disposing of hazardous and radioactive waste and transformations in the manner in which the state determines its consumer fraud recovery, to name a few.

He has received national, state, and local journalism awards, and resides in Ohio where he works as a writer, editor, social media expert, media consultant, and an investigator.

I tell you these things to reinforce the veracity of the information that TC Brown reported when he turned his numerous skills to studying public workers. In his research, he found out some interesting information about the willingness of these public workers to sacrifice during tough economic times. The following are some of his key findings (which I quote directly):

•        Public union workers have saved taxpayers more than $1 billion through collective bargaining concessions since 2008.
•        State employees contributed $350 million in wage freezes, furlough days and increased healthcare costs.
•        Teachers and support staff accepted wage freezes in more than 90 percent of collective bargaining agreements this year – concessions not tallied in this report because they are not yet available.
•        Last year, at least 65 percent of public employee contracts included at least 1 year of wage freezes, some furlough days, reduced compensation, rollovers or economic re-openers.
•        Some of the lowest-paid public employees – non-teaching personnel such as custodians – have gone up to eight years without a pay increase in exchange for stable health care costs.
•        More than two-thirds of all teachers’ contracts increased employee insurance premium contributions or significantly changed their health plans, with the savings often used to improve educational opportunities.
•        More than 93 percent of public workers already pay for their own pension plans, with no contributions from their employers.
•        On average, county and state employees pay more than 15 percent for their health care plans.
•        A sample review of concessions in a half dozen Ohio cities shows that employees and safety forces have saved their towns nearly $11.5 million since 2008.
•        By far, the largest pool of concessions identified in this report came from public education unions, who are estimated to have saved school districts at least $700 million for the 2010-11 (fiscal) school year.
•        The collective bargaining law has been a successful tool that essentially eliminated much of the conflict the state saw three decades ago between public-sector unions and government managers.
•        When the economy is good, public employees have made modest gains through contract negotiations. When times are tougher, public employees have been willing to make concessions to preserve jobs, maintain programs and services and help their employers balance budgets

In fact, according to his findings, public employees made over $1 billion in sacrifices to help out their state and local budgets during these tough economic times.

Is it too much to hope that these sacrifices will not be overlooked in November? Public workers are not asking for much when you show up to vote in this upcoming election; just the right to have a voice in important decisions which affect our ability to do our jobs successfully. Who knows better than teachers, policemen, and firefighters how to best serve and protect those individuals we have agreed to serve and protect?

Do not reward our deep commitment by stripping us of our ability to speak up for our rights and our futures. Over $1 billion in sacrifices is surely worth that much, don’t you think?

Please, remember our sacrifices in November, Ohio, and vote no on Issue 2!

Boris Korsunsky Defends Teacher Tenure

A recent article which appeared in Education Week by Boris Korsunsky caught my eye and kept my attention as he enumerated some very powerful reasons to keep tenure in public schools. Let me summarize his very interesting points.

First, let me tell you a little about the author of this piece. Korsunsky is a physics teacher in a public school in Massachusetts, who happens to also be tenured. He has two master’s degrees from Russia, his native land, as well as a doctorate from Harvard Graduate School of Education. Korsunsky is an educational consultant, a widely published author, and a winner of the 2011 Amgen Award for Excellence in Science Teaching. I tell you all of this in order to establish the wisdom and expertise that this man possesses. 

In his article, he first focuses on the current trend to improve the quality of public school teachers by rewarding effective teachers with merit pay while removing the security of tenure. He points out that dangling the promise of merit pay is an empty rhetorical tool in light of the current financial problems which schools face. And removing tenure, which is a central benefit for teachers, to supposedly improve the quality of teaching may actually do just the opposite.

He states that, if the goal is to attract and retain excellent teachers, the tenure system should not only be kept in place, but it should be expanded. He maintains that strengthening tenure systems should be considered a cost-effective way to draw effective teachers into the teaching profession, attracting higher quality candidates and improving the morale of currently employed teachers.

Korsunsky argues that contrary to the belief that tenured teachers don’t have any incentive to work hard because they know they can’t be fired, tenure isn’t a lifetime job guarantee, and unions don’t go out of their way to keep incompetent teachers in their jobs. Unions make sure that teachers’ rights to due process are being protected, and that administrators can’t fire teachers on a whim.

He goes on to explain the importance of due process since it is so difficult to judge the quality of a teacher objectively, and test scores aren’t an accurate measure either. It is sobering but true that, as Korsunsky states, “In reality, any teacher is only as good as his boss thinks he is.”

He brings up the definite possibility that without tenure, teachers who would likely be fired first are those with more experience, who also earn a higher salary and may be considered “troublemakers.” As he points out, these teachers tend to be the most creative, but potentially controversial employees.

“Do you want your children’s teachers to be silent in faculty meetings for fear of displeasing the principal? Do you want your child’s biology and history teachers to be fired each time a different political party wins a local election, or when a principal has a nephew or a girlfriend who needs a job? I have heard plenty of such stories from my colleagues working in the ‘non-tenure’ states,” Korsunsky writes.

Many aspects of the teaching profession have made it an undesirable career for many people, including the inherent stress, the lack of respect teachers receive from the public, the tedious hours spent grading in the evenings and on weekends, and the low salaries with no opportunity for promotion. Korsunsky’s claim is that a stronger tenure system might help teachers overlook these drawbacks, as it would give them both job security and intellectual freedom.  

Korsunsky writes, “The main beneficiaries of the tenure system, in the end, are the students and their parents, not the teachers. Without tenure systems, the nation’s public school teachers would be either much less competent or much more expensive—or both. The evidence of the positive effects of tenure can be found, for instance, in the generally higher levels of student achievement in the ‘tenure’ states as well as in the presence of tenure-type systems in some of the best American private schools, such as Phillips Exeter Academy. As a teacher, I am grateful for the tenure system. As a parent, I am glad my children’s teachers have it. As a taxpayer, I know that many of the nation’s best teachers would have left the profession for the private sector if their paltry public-school salaries were not augmented by relative job security.”

At the same time, he acknowledges the need to make the process of granting tenure more rigorous than it is in some districts. But he likens the need for qualified teachers to earn tenure to the need for Supreme Court justices to have it. He concludes, “Without tenure, no president would be able to find decent candidates for a stressful job with no promotion opportunities, no objective quality indicators, plenty of public backlash, and a comparatively low salary. And, as we all know, America needs a lot more than nine good teachers every year, doesn’t it? How do we lure tens of thousands of bright and passionate young people into the classroom every year? Free apples just won’t cut it, I am afraid—but some job security should help.”

I could not agree more. Tighten up the qualifications for earning tenure, but give teachers a perk that makes it worth it to stay in a profession which has virtually no economic advantages.

Kyle Farmer Speaks for Kasich, Not for Teachers

I know I don’t speak alone when I voice the fact that a certain commercial has been running in my state of Ohio which gets my dander up every time I see it. If you’re a teacher in Ohio, you probably know exactly the ad I am referring to. It features a teacher from Baltimore, Ohio, who is all for Issue 2. Well, recent information has turned up about this educator who obviously has some ulterior motives for appearing in this commercial.

kyle farmer

Kyle Farmer, who is featured in this ad, (please follow this link to view it if you haven’t yet) identifies himself as a teacher, which is true; he teaches at the Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Center, where he is listed as a social studies instructor. But he is so much more than that, or at least he wants to be.

In the ad, Farmer sings the virtues of this legislation, in spite of the fact that it would strip Ohio’s public employees of almost all of their collective bargaining rights, leaving critical decisions in the hands of school districts. (Just look back at my blog about New Berlin, Wisconsin if you want proof of what it could do to teachers in Ohio.)

So, why does he appear in this ad, risking the anger of many of his fellow teachers? Well, according to several sources, including the Columbus Dispatch, Farmer is the official chairman of the Fairfield County Republican Party, with great aspirations for a future in politics. In fact, on his Twitter page, he refers to himself as a “wannabe political operative.” And, low and behold, he is a member of Kasich’s steering committee of teachers assembled to help him decide how merit pay should be implemented. As you recall, this was one of the provisions of Senate Bill 5, now Issue 2.

Farmer has spoken more than once of his dislike of the Ohio Education Association on his Twitter account, accusing the union of “stealing” money from him, and calling the OEA “thugs.”

He has also posted a picture of himself at the governor’s mansion, and appeared in a political ad on the Internet plugging “Teachers for Kasich.”

And what of his own aspirations? Well, in 2006, he ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives, and it is rumored, according to the citizen-driven, community-based, bipartisan coalition, We Are Ohio, which came together to repeal SB5, that he is considering another run for office in the future.

This is a man whose motivation is clearly not to express the view of teachers, but to glean favor from a governor who is determined to strip public employees (and that includes those that Farmer would call his colleagues) of any decision-making ability and protection from their union.

By the way, Kyle is not the only Farmer to be politically inspired. His father, Joseph Farmer, is an At-Large member of the State Board of Education whose term expires on Dec. 31, 2014. Would it come as a huge surprise to learn that Joseph was appointed in 2011 by Governor John Kasich?

So, how credible is this ad? Well, it features a teacher who does not disclose his ties to Kasich or his resentment of labor unions and claims to be speaking for his fellow teachers. Not very truthful so far, and then the Columbus Dispatch uncovered one last little deception in the ad which also features footage of a female teacher in a classroom of young children in front of a whiteboard. Guess what? That isn’t a real Ohio teacher at all; it is a stock clip that has also been used in similar anti-union campaigns in Wisconsin.

Shame on you, Kyle Farmer! How dare you pretend to represent the teachers of your state when you are clearly seeking to advance your own agenda! I am sure you made points with the governor, but I bet things are a little uncomfortable for you around your sold-out colleagues.

New Berlin’s Teacher Handbook: Is it Punitive?

I received a forwarded message through my email regarding a new Wisconsin teachers’ handbook which sounded so unbelievable to me that, at first, I thought it must be a hoax. So I did some research and found, much to my amazement, that not only is it true, but somehow I missed this story at the end of August, and maybe you did, too. So, here is a tragic story that teaches a valuable lesson: How unfairly teachers can be treated when collective bargaining goes out the window.

At a hugely attended meeting in New Berlin, Wisconsin, on August 29, the school board of the New Berlin school district voted unanimously to approve a new employee handbook which took effect this year. It was the second public meeting to discuss the passage of this handbook, since the initial meeting became so raucous that police had to be called in.

This second meeting of the school board was more controlled (probably the appearance of police cars with lights flashing all over the parking lot helped to subdue the crowd a little) but it was still charged with emotion, as districts all over the state have been adopting new handbooks spelling out wages, work rules, and benefits, now that collective bargaining is a thing of the past.

The crowd that gathered represented the two factions in this heated issue: teachers and union supporters who were concerned that the harsh rules will negatively affect their work and the reputation of the district as a whole and those in the community who support Governor Walker and want to see lower taxes.

Education Association President Diane Lazewki said that the changes proposed by New Berlin were further-reaching than the handbooks being adopted in other districts in their state. She said, “I would be surprised to see any other handbook as punitive as ours.”

So, is the new handbook punitive? Well, before I go any further, let me share some of the handbook’s more surprising mandates, from the email I received:

* Workdays for elementary will increase by 60 minutes and Secondary by 30 minutes
* Staff must be available to students before and after student schedules for at least 30 minutes per day
* You can be required to work an additional unpaid 15 hours; no more than 3 hours a week
* No pay for subbing during your preps; Principals can assign you to sub
* Certified staff hours are 1520 per year full time (190 days for this year only)
* The 2012-13 school year starts on August 15th and runs until June 15th
* You may be required to start as early as 6:15 AM and end as late as 5:00 PM
* You may be required to attend in-service or other training, outside your regular work schedule
* Next year, if we do not change the political landscape, pay will be based on performance; pay is insured this year because of the NBEA agreement.
*  You are not allowed to drop any licensure without the superintendent’s approval
* Dress Code: Skirts below knee, no sweatshirts, no jeans, no large logos, no open shirts, etc.
*  Be dismissed for having students as friends on Facebook
* Jury Duty: regular pay, but you must show documentation to the district that you’ve tried to change the jury duty time to July and August
* Evaluations: Done yearly without notice
*  Collaborative time twice weekly for 2 hours a week.
* You must report all traffic incidents (except speeding) or any tickets you have received to the District within 3 days or face dismissal even if it occurs during your time off
* Take away all microwaves, refrigerators, and coffeemakers, even though each administrator and the District have these items.
* 4 initial sick days and earn l day per month based on good attendance
* However those who have accumulated over 45 days will not be awarded any days until they have used enough days to fall below the 45 day cap.
*  Long term disability reduced from 90% of pay to 60% of pay. If ill or have had surgery and do not have any sick time built up, you will be short pay. You will also have to pay your insurance premium during any disability leave.
*  No days will be added to sick bank, which will be discontinued after this year, erasing any safety net for those who become critically ill.
* Resign before first day of school, you must pay $200 plus board contributions of benefits (insurance).
* Resigns after the first day school, $2000 plus benefits payments if not 60 days notice given

Sound a little punitive to you?

Art Marguardt, New Berlin School Board member, said that the board and the administration had spent extensive time on the handbook and denied that they were trying to be punitive. He said that the atmosphere has changed in Wisconsin from the unions having their way to the elected representatives now having the dominant voice. That’s “hard for some people to swallow,” he said.

Leslie Potter, who is a teacher at New Berlin West, told the board that the new rules would require that she work more hours but would limit the time she spends with her students and expressed concern that it eliminated any reference to prep time for teachers. “The school board says that they value collaboration,” she added. “We request that they approach this handbook in the same manner.”

After teachers had their say, a community member spoke up, saying that he represented the 5.5 million taxpayers in the state who approved of Walker and were in favor of what he was doing. While many in the auditorium broke into applause, teachers and union supporters sat silently, and eventually they walked out before the man was done speaking.

The bottom line is this: the New Berlin school board unanimously accepted this new handbook, and it sends a chillingly, clear message to teachers everywhere about what may be coming to their state in the future.

My state of Ohio is another state like Wisconsin, whose governor has pushed for a bill to end collective bargaining. Our unions fought back, and the state has one more chance to keep what is happening in Wisconsin from happening in Ohio. I appeal to those of you who live in Ohio to vote no on Issue 2 this November, and spread the word to others to do the same.

I don’t care how you try to spin the facts; this new handbook sounds punitive, and it certainly will do nothing to improve the morale of the teachers who work in that district or the quality of instruction that the students will receive.

Department of Education’s New “Report Card” for Teachers

For the first time a pilot program by the Ohio Department of Education is ranking the abilities of individual teachers in what is being called “a landmark measure in the school reform battle.” This new “grade card” which was recently issued for some of Ohio’s public school teachers supposedly shows which educators made a measurable difference in the classroom last year. 

Currently, the reports are only for about 30% of Ohio’s reading and math teachers who teach fourth through eighth grade, which means that about 7,500 teachers received a report with details as to what effect they had on their students’ learning last year. Thirteen Ohio districts and two charter schools were participants in this first round of effectiveness reporting. Using the “value-added measure,” these reports link data regarding student growth to the teachers who worked with these students.

The value-added system, which has been rejected by many analysts who have studied it, determines how much growth students have shown within a school year after first determining where they started. It is considered to be an “equalizer” because it assumes teachers will make progress with each student no matter what their ability level might be. 

In spite of the fact that unions have opposed using student data to judge teacher effectiveness, Ohio is required, under the federal Race to the Top initiative, to change the way principals and teachers are evaluated. Additionally, the state budget bill now requires Ohio’s Education Department to devise an evaluation tool that would base half of a teacher’s job evaluation on data regarding student growth.

The Columbus Dispatch pointed out the following implications of this new evaluation system:
* Students could be assigned to classrooms based on teachers’ abilities — by placing low-, middle- or high-performing students with the educators best able to help them learn. Data showing the effect that teachers had with different types of students are included in each report.
* It will distinguish good teachers from great ones, and mediocre ones from good ones.
* Over time, schools will use the effectiveness ratings to weed out teachers who aren’t making the grade.

Matt Cohen, who oversees policy and accountability at the Ohio Department of Education, said, “This will help confirm good teaching. It will help identify in an objective way some of the issues that people are very uncomfortable about in terms of trying to characterize poor teaching from average teaching.”

Interestingly, officials who helped produce the new ratings said that they shouldn’t be used as a way of labeling teachers either good or bad. Mary Peters, senior director of research and innovation at Battell for Kids, a Columbus-based nonprofit organization helping the Department of Education to develop the evaluation system, said that this year’s rating is nothing more than a statement of a teacher’s effectiveness with their students for last year.  

“We need to be careful about making judgments about one year of data. These measures were intended for diagnostic purposes, to provide information to help teachers reflect on their practice and determine with whom they are being successful,” Peters explained.

And while officials agree that the data should primarily be used to improve schools, as more years of data becomes available, they admit that teachers consistently earning “least effective” ratings will be scrutinized closely by their administrators.

Cohen admitted as much when he said, “Our hope, anyway, is that what you end up with is a better work force. And when you do have teachers who are really consistently doing poorly with results for kids, that they might not belong there.”

Rhonda Johnson, president of the Columbus teachers union, one of the districts that were included in this first wave of evaluations, said that teachers in Columbus already use data to help determine how much they are accomplishing with their students, (as I think most school systems do) but she stated that valued-added data should not be the only tool in judging teacher effectiveness.

“It doesn’t tell the whole picture. This is only a fraction,” Johnson said.

I am not necessarily opposed to long-term analyzing of a teacher’s ability to get most students to show a year’s progress each year, with all students starting at a variety of different levels. I see some inherent problems however, that will most definitely need to be addressed along the way to avoid misusing this effectiveness system.

First, I do not feel that the same criterion should be used to judge progress for students on IEPs, as they tend to progress at a slower rate. If that is not taken into consideration with this new evaluation system, very few brave souls will volunteer to work with these students, which would be a travesty.

Second, administrators must be open to looking at mitigating circumstances which may have affected student growth on a class-by-class basis in a given year. Anyone who has been a teacher for any length of time knows that there are some years that you remember with a shudder, when your classroom seemed to be the dumping ground for so many behavior and/or academic issues that instruction was a constant battle. In situations such as these, administrators must look beyond data to see the reality that teacher faced in his or her classroom.

Third, I fear that some administrators will misuse these reports to condone the firing of teachers who may have had one bad year, or who could have become more effective with proper mentoring and guidance.

Finally, I worry that this information, in the hands of the media, will be used to vilify teachers and hold them up to public scrutiny and ridicule. We all remember what happened when the L.A. Times published their article ranking teachers and 39-year old Rigoberto Ruelas, Jr. committed suicide shortly after receiving a less effective ranking based on his students’ English and math scores.

So, what do you think? Are these “report cards” a good idea, or do you predict problems?

Tacoma Teachers’ Strike Ends and Students Head Back to School

From left, Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Art Jarvis, left, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, Tacoma School Board President Kurt Miller, and Andy Coons, president of the Tacoma Education Association, announce Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, that a tentative agreement has been reached in the Tacoma teachers strike, following a negotiating session in Gregoire's office at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Parties from both sides of a Tacoma teachers' strike were summoned to the Governor's office Wednesday after failing so far to reach an agreement.

     Art Jarvis, Gov. Gregoire, Kurt Miller, and Andy Coons

What welcome news! The Tacoma teachers’ strike is over, and its teachers and students returned to school today as everyone let out a sigh of relief.

On Wednesday night, after Governor Christine Gregoire had summoned both sides to her office in Olympia for a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement, and after seven hours of intense negotiations which were mediated by Gregoire herself, both sides made the necessary concessions to end this week-long strike.

The new three-year labor deal keeps the previous class-size limits in place as the teachers agreed to drop their demands for lower overall ratios of students to teachers. The district agreed to abandon their proposal to cut salaries, although teachers lost one paid training day.

The biggest arguments occurred over the district’s demands to revise staffing policies allowing them to reassign teachers between schools based on criteria such as performance evaluations rather than seniority. Ultimately, it was agreed that a joint panel of school officials and teachers would be established to set new teacher evaluation standards to be used along with seniority to determine future staffing reassignments.

The settlement includes an amnesty clause which guarantees that union members who participated in the strike would not be adversely affected by that participation in their performance appraisals.

On Thursday, Tacoma’s teachers showed up at Mount Tahoma High School to vote on the new three-year contract. Of the 1,701 who voted, only 15 teachers voted against the contract. The atmosphere was a celebratory one mixed with chants, standing ovations, and teachers dancing in the bleachers.

Tacoma Education Association president Andy Coons told the crowd, “We need to start healing. We need to get back to our classrooms. We need to focus on why we did this … we need to get back to that work tomorrow.” And of the teachers, Coons said, “I have never been more proud to be a teacher. This was not an easy process, but … we did what had to be done and we did it together.”

Dan Voelpel, the district spokesman said, “I think there’s a sense of elation not only at getting students and teachers back in the class but that we came up with an agreement that sets the stage for innovation in how we match up teachers with the needs of schools.”

Teacher Steve Jacobson holds his four-year-old daughter Bianca as he celebrates the end of the Tacoma Education Association strike in Tacoma, Washington September 22, 2011. EUTERS-Nicole Neroulias

Steve Jacobson, a 35-year old high school health and physical education teacher, who had his daughter, Bianca, perched on his shoulders during the celebration, said, “I’m excited to get back to work, and I’m excited for my daughter because she gets to go back to school.”

Tacoma schools superintendent Art Jarvis (L) and School Board President Kurt Miller ring the ceremonial bell, signifying school is in session and the end to the teachers strike, on top of the Tacoma Central School District's Administration Building September 22, 2011. REUTERS-Nicole Neroulias

District officials celebrated as well. Tacoma Superintendent Art Jarvis and school board president Kurt Miller rang the ceremonial bell which stands above the district’s central office, something that hasn’t been done in almost 10 years.

As he rang the bell which echoed throughout downtown Tacoma, Jarvis declared, “We call all the children back to school.”

And to parents who have had to search for and pay for day care and for many students, the news has been a welcome relief.

“We were thrilled,” said Jill Furman after the strike ended. She was preparing to go grocery shopping with her ninth-grade daughter Rebecca, who said she was running out of things to do in the days off. “It just got boring after a while,” she said.

Some loose ends will still need to be tied up. For instance, the judge must still decide whether he will drop the contempt-of-court citations, although district officials said that they consider the issue closed. And the district will still need to determine how they will spend down its reserve funds by $15.4 million this year in order to avoid deeper cuts in student programs and staffing.

On Thursday, the district’s website announced that school would reopen Friday, and today, teachers and students returned to their classrooms.

What a relief for this district who reached a fair compromise and can now get back to doing what it does best; educating and guiding its students!

Governor Mediating in Tacoma Teachers’ Strike

Is this a first? Has a governor ever gotten involved in a teachers’ strike to the degree that Washington’s governor has?

Motivated by frustration over the cancellation of school for seven days in Tacoma, Governor Chris Gregoire called both sides involved in Tacoma’s teachers strike into her office today in hopes of reaching a resolution to the district’s stalemate.

Negotiators traveled to Olympia to continue their discussions under Gregoire’s watchful eye when talks throughout the day today failed to reach an agreement. Representatives from both sides arrived before 3 p.m. to begin closed-door talks.

In spite of the fact that the governor has no direct control of the schools in her state, she has been putting pressure on both sides to reach an agreement.

Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for the governor, said, “She is incredibly anxious. She wants to get those kids back in school.”

Wednesday marked the seventh day of Tacoma’s teacher strike and the seventh day that the students in the state’s third-largest school district have not been able to attend school. The two sides continue to battle over issues involving pay, class size, and, most importantly, how the district handles teacher transfers.

Gregoire stated that she wants negotiators from the district and the union to remain in her office “until their differences are reconciled and the school doors reopen.”

The governor is right to be concerned, as a strike that lasts a long time hugely impacts the students and the parents of the community which can erode needed cooperation between the community and the schools.

Jennifer Boutell, a mother of two girls who attend the Tacoma school district, said that she is very lucky that she can stay home and watch her young daughters while this strike continues, but she points out that many cannot, and parents’ patience is running out.

Boutell told a reporter that the strike has forced her to delay freelance web development projects, and she said she knows of parents from her daughter’s school who have had to skip work in order to take care of their children. With the cost of day care escalating to $35 per day per child during the strike (apparently day care centers are reaping the benefits of the strike-gouging at its finest) some parents simply can’t afford not to stay home with their children.

Those who have been involved in any way in a teachers’ strike know the emotional toll it takes on all those involved. It will take years for this district, once it finally reaches a resolution, to get back to normal.

Having been through a strike at one time in my teaching career, I can honestly say that it was the most difficult point in all my years of teaching, as it did tremendous damage to relationships in the school and in our community. Healing that damage took several years.

I earnestly hope that issues can be resolved soon in this Tacoma strike. Cooler heads need to win out here and concessions need to be made on both sides of the table to end this for the sake of Tacoma’s children who need to be in school and for the parents who need to go to work.

I applaud Governor Gregoire for showing the leadership that these negotiators need to get this resolved. I hope she stands firm and keeps those doors closed until reason is restored and true negotiation leads to the reopening of Tacoma’s schools.