Reynoldsburg Deserves Better

The Reynoldsburg School Board held its first public meeting since the district’s teachers voted to authorize a strike two weeks ago. As with the previous meeting, the venue was packed with teachers, students and community members, all opposed to the boards contract proposals. They had a simple message - the community deserves better.

In two packed board meetings now, not a single person has come forward to express any support for the 4 members of the Reynoldsburg school board pushing this extremist agenda. But instead of listening to the mounting chorus of objections to their plans, they continue to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on out of town lawyer and strike breaking firms like Huffmaster, which the board voter 4-0 last night to hire in case a strike occurs.

Via NEA:

The teachers, members of the Reynoldsburg Education Association, issued a statement August 8 after authorizing their bargaining team to call a strike at its discretion. Their 10-day notice of intent to strike, said the teachers, is a “continuation of our fight for the schools that Reynoldsburg students deserve, including a reasonable class size limit and a means of addressing the unprecedented teacher turnover in our district.”

Parent Debbie Dunlap, who has three children attending Reynoldsburg schools, said community backing of teachers has increased. “The support continues to grow. We hope the board members are truly hearing. We keep reminding them we are the stakeholders. And we’re not a few; we’re many.”

The teachers and the district failed to reach an agreement after meeting with a federal mediator this month. There is no word on when the mediator will be called back. The current contract expired July 31.

Since January, 54 teachers have left the district, including four whose resignations the board approved tonight. The total represents 20 percent of the district’s teachers. Twenty-eight teachers left during the same period the year before. The district has 6,200 students.

Parents of students are growing increasingly critical of the board’s refusal to heed community input.

In a letter to the school board, parent Beth Thompson wrote:
I firmly believe that this contract proposal will push high-quality teachers far away from Reynoldsburg; the very same teachers who have pushed our students and schools to become a model of innovation and to earn marks like Excellent and Excellent with Distinction in recent years. Basing a teacher’s pay increase on merit is an insult to teachers who collaborate, who we love and who treat our children with love and respect. This proposal disrespects the level of commitment these teachers have brought to our children for years.

Teacher and REA spokesperson Kathy Evans told local news station NBC 4, “Of course we don’t want to strike, but our students, teachers and community deserve a contract that invests in classroom priorities and builds a strong foundation for student learning.”

Students returned for the new school year August 13. Teachers, said Dunlap, continue to pour their energies into their students, regardless of the board’s actions.

“It has been very, very stressful for teachers,” said Dunlap. “But what has happened time and time again is teachers telling us, ‘Thank you. We couldn’t do this without your support.”

Dunlap said parents have been “awakened,” and she predicted community support will grow moving forward. “This momentum will not stop, even with a new contract. What happens here will affect not only our children but other children in Ohio and across the country, as well as educators.”

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Is the Dispatch Ignorant or Ideological on Teacher Pay?

The Dispatch recently published an op-ed titled "Rethinking teacher pay", a piece so terrible it could only be a product of ideology or ignorance, and one would hope that one of the largest papers in the state isn't ignorant. But we ought to examine the facts.
The Reynoldsburg City School District, site of many innovative projects in recent years, is in the middle of what may be its biggest experiment yet: exploring whether a well-run school district and its teachers can come to terms on a teacher-compensation plan that is meant to reward talent richly, even as it eliminates certain guarantees on which teachers have relied for decades.
By "certain guarantees" the Dispatch means healthcare. Obfuscating the radical nature of this "innovative offer" by the Reynoldsburg school board in the very first paragraph isn't a good start. We'll also draw reference to the fact that the district, thanks to its teachers, is rated A on the latest report card. This will be important later.

Instead, teachers would get a pay increase — or not — based entirely on their performance rating under the state’s new teacher-evaluation system. Those who come with especially good track records or fill critical needs or take on projects beyond their basic jobs could be eligible for bonuses of up to $30,000. Instead of a health-insurance card, teachers would get a lump sum of cash with which they could decide what kind of insurance policy to buy.
Merit Pay - based upon a flawed evaluation system that is under constant flux. Who wouldn't want their pay determined by a students test score from a single test on a single day - and then have those test results subject to a secret, constantly changing formula - applied unevenly throughout both a district and statewide? Even the Gates Foundation has called for a delay in the use of evaluations for these kinds of purposes.

Furthermore, while the Dispatch references up to $30,000 - the typical increase is far, far less. Indeed, the $30,000 isn't a performance based pay rise at all, but instead a bonus for teachers who perform jobs beyond the classroom - hardly something new. Extra pay for extra work.

On the issue of health insurance, the district has yet to specify how much of a cash lump sum educators would receive, and if this would be pro-rated based upon family etc. How attractive of a district would Reynoldsburg be to teachers with families if the provision of healthcare was denied? How long would experienced educators stick around?

Reynoldsburg teachers say they already have sacrificed, by forgoing scheduled raises and agreeing to larger class sizes during a financial crunch.
Say? Why doesn't the Dispatch report this as a fact, for it surely is. This is not a he said/she said proposition. This isn't an issue that can be cast as teachers simply wanting step increases.
Most of all, she wants to attract and retain top talent by offering premium salaries. She can do this only if she is freed from the table of longevity-based increases that long has ruled school districts.
How on earth does the superintendent expect to attract any talent by offering no healthcare, and only arbitrary and potentially capricious pay increases based on secret student test based systems? The true fact is that a record number of Reynoldsburg teachers are now leaving the district after hearing of this folly

The graph above shows attrition in the district this year to over double previous years. This "innovative proposal" isn't attractive and wishing it to be so isn't going to make it so.

As more and more children come to schools without the support from home that bolstered past generations of students, schools have struggled to find ways to overcome the challenges. Of all the things schools can do and provide, an effective teacher has proved to be the most important.
Remember when we said we would come back to that "A" rating? Reynoldsburg, with its traditional pay and benefits structure is already providing an excellent education for its students, which includes a growing number of challenged demographic groups. Not to sound like a status quo supporting anti-reformer - but if it''s not broken what are we looking to fix?

Finally

In most professional fields, people are recognized for superior performance and their salaries reflect it. If education can find a way to elevate teaching to that level of regard, children could benefit immensely.
The trouble with this corporate point of view is that it simply isn't supported by the evidence. Study after study, trial after trail, deployment after deployment proves that merit pay in the education system doesn't just fail to life student performance, it damages the system by created a greater incentive for cheating, teaching to the test, non-collaboration and diminished workforce morale.

You can read a pretty good synopsis of some of the issues here at Frakonomics.

We began by asking if the Dispatch was ideologically or ignorantly predisposed to supporting the Reynoldsburg school boards hair brained scheme - after going through their missives step-by-step it seems like it is a little of both

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ODE Threatens Charter School Whistleblowers

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) yesterday made chilling statements in response to the Horizon Science Academy charter school scandals being reported. ODE spokesperson John Charlton had this to say (reported in Gongwer)
Mr. Charlton said it's possible the educators who came forward could be investigated by the Office of Professional Conduct themselves. Those referrals and investigations remain confidential under law, however, until action is taken against an educator's license.


"We would like to remind educators that they do have a responsibility as mandatory reporters and certainly we hope that the educators that testified were not withholding information for this political event that they pulled at the board meeting," he said.
It is unconscionable that ODE would threaten any whistleblowers, rather than get down to the business of a real investigation of these charter schools. If ever there was an example of the need for educators to have due process protections provided by a union, this is it.

ODE has sat on information regarding these charter schools all year. Indeed, you can read Matt Blair's allegations going back to at least the beginning of this year, as reported by Dianne Ravitch and Bill Phillis of Ohio E&A.

In June, Plunderbund.com reported on the whitewashing of this investigation by ODE

In an email sent Monday to members of State Board of Education of Ohio, Mr. Blair said he witnessed exposed wiring, mold in the school building and school administrators tampering with standardized tests.


Rather than look in the matter, Ohio’s top education officials launched a phony investigation, complete with instructions to those answering questions to keep their responses brief and “positive.” Translation: Dispute everything Mr. Blair said.


Public records show that the office of Dr. Richard Ross, Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction, forwarded questions that he wanted sponsors of the schools to answer. The questions are clearly NOT written to determine whether Blair’s observations were accurate.


For example, the only effort to address the cheating is this question:


“Does the school have a written testing security protocol and does your oversight include confirmation that the protocol is followed?”


The sponsors assured Dr. Ross and all of the schools have policies in place and, “We do not have any reason to believe that this is an active concern.”


Not any hint of whether anyone even asked about the specific cheating allegation: A teacher who came in on a weekend to find a group of Turkish men marking up standardized tests.
In a Hannah news report yesterday, ODE spokesperson John Charlton when even further in smearing these whislteblowers
ODE spokesman John Charlton said the case is a reminder of educators' obligation to respond promptly to certain situations, and he was critical of the way the teachers brought their concerns to the board via the routine public participation session at the board meeting.


"General concern for the welfare of our children, it does not come in the form of a choreographed political stunt," Charlton said.
If ODE had acted when they first learned of these allegations, educators would not have had to go the State Board of Ed and give a public accounting of their experiences. Instead, ODE continues to stonewall and whitewash this scandal involving politically connected charter school operators.

Heads need to roll at ODE. Both for the whitewashing of this scandal and for the chilling response sent to whistleblowers. Here at JTF we have no confidence in ODE to deal adequately and transparently with this scandal.

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Questions Every Public School Parent Should Be Asking

A reader emailed us a link to this article. We thought the questions raised really do deserve answers. Parents deserve real answers to these questions…

—> For principals:
1. How many standardized tests does my child have to take this year?
2. Where do these tests originate?
3. What is the specific academic purpose for each one?
4. How will these tests affect my child’s academic future or standing?
5. For each test, does the teacher see individual student results and have a chance to adjust individual instruction to help each student?
6. Who sees the scores, where will they be recorded, and for what purpose?
7. Do the scores become part of my child’s record?
8. Who in the district instructed you to give these tests?
9. How much time does the administration of each test take?
10. What training was provided to staff and how much time did that encompass?
11. Explain how costs for each test are used in a way that is in the best interest of your students.
12. How many staff are being taken away from teaching or counseling duties to administer each test?

—> For school superintendents:
1. Identify by name and frequency each standardized test your district requires in each grade.
2. Explain where these tests originate and, for each, explain its specific academic purpose and the year it started.

—> For school board attorneys:
1. Explain your district’s policy on opting out of/refusing standardized tests and cite its legal foundation.

—> For school board members:
1. How do you view the academic purposes for standardized testing?
2. Are you familiar with all the standardized tests your district requires, and their academic purposes?
3. Are you willing to initiate a parent/teacher review of the use of testing in your district?
4. Is this test mandated by the state or is this a district choice?
5. What are the costs associated with this test per student and to the district per grade level?
6. Will you provide the district’s opt-out policy to all parents in writing?

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10,000 educators say "enough is enough" with the high stakes testing

We've been fortunate enough to attend the last 3 NEA Representative Assemblies, where over 10,000 NEA members from all over the country gather to present and vote upon the Association's business, policies, resolutions, and ot elect its leaders.

This year, in Denver, after saying goodbye to ougoing NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, delegates elected an all-minority, all-female, officer team to lead it.

NEA Vice President Elect Becky Pringle (left), President Elect Lily Eskelsen García (center) and Secretary Treasurer Elect Princess Moss (right).

As historic as this is, delegates also broke with the past on the subject of Arne Duncan, the head of the Department of Education. At previous Representative Assemblies (RAs), delegates had debated, and voted upon, calling for his resignation. Those attempts were narrowly voted down.

This year, citing the U.S. Department of Education’s “failed education agenda focused on more high-stakes testing, grading, and pitting public school students against each other based on test scores, and for continuing to promote policies and decisions that undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching education professionals, and education unions.” - delegates voted to call for his resignation.

This shift is continued evidence of educators frustrations with the growing reliance on testing, and its negative impacts on students and teachers alike.

President-elect Eskelsen García told delegates, “For us, one thing is clear. Before anything is going to get better: It’s the Testing, Stupid. Better yet, it’s the stupid testing.” She called the accountability systems that Duncan has pushed “phony” and harmful to students, teachers and the teaching profession.

Delegates went further on the issues of test misuse, with their very first piece of business - overwhelmingly approving a "Campaign Against Toxic Testing".

NEA will conduct a comprehensive campaign to end the high stakes use of standardized tests, to sharply reduce the amount of student and instructional time consumed by tests, and to implement more effective and responsible forms of assessment and accountability.

You can read the full text here.

Speaking of efforts from the likes of moviemakers, billionaire brothers, and conservative politicians who continue to pursue policies harmful to students, NEA President-Elect Lily Eskelsen García addressed Representative Assembly, “People who don’t know what they’re talking about are talking about increasing the use of commercial standardized tests in high-stakes decisions about students and about educators ... when all the evidence that can be gathered shows that it is corrupting what it means to teach and what it means to learn”.

One thing is clear, educators have had enough, and policy makers should expect to see increased resistance to high stakes testing run amok.

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Poll - Ohioans Reject Recent Education "Reforms"

16 Superintendents, along with community members, joined together and commissioned a poll to gauge the publics perception on a range of education policy topics. The results should give corporate reformers serious pause. You can see the entire survey results here.

Despite the focus on teacher quality by politicians and corporate reformers, citizens continue to see that school funding is the biggest problem schools face. Indeed, they view teacher quality as the least problematic area to be concerned with

Citizens reject other corporate and political reforms too. When asked what the most important indicator of school quality is, the newly revamped report card comes in dead last. Citizens just don't find it relevant.

Further blows are cast, as citizens continue to reject the use of high stakes testing, recognizing that it is not healthy for students and not appropriate for evaluating the quality of teachers.

Profiteers have little to cheer about as citizens reject the use of tax dollars for being used to support charter schools and private schools.

Finally, it is very clear who people view as the real problem - politicians.

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