Begone Ghosts of Reform Past!

The first few weeks of 2013 have greeted us like a trip with old Marley revisiting school reforms of the past. In the very first weeks, we have Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst lobby announce letter grades for states based on their adherence to her favorite pillars of reform policies. John Merrow provided us with a reprise of her greatest hits as the head of DC schools, along with some news regarding the cheating that accompanied her regime.

And next the Gates Foundation has provided us with another example of the perils of mixing research with advocacy. Their multi-year, multi-million dollar Measures of Effective Teaching project has once again supported their belief that we can predict which teachers will get the best test scores next year by looking at who got the best test scores this year. The practice of actually observing a teacher to see how "effective" they are does not apparently add much accuracy to the prediction, but they keep it in there nonetheless, perhaps for sentimental reasons. Then we have tossed in a new element - student surveys. And the perfect evaluation is some balanced mixture of these three elements, which will turn VAM lead into gold.

One reformer, Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation, has come right out and admitted what public school advocates have contended from the start. Many charter schools filter out difficult students, and whatever competitive performance advantages they have demonstrated are not credible evidence that they can do more with less. They can do more with more - and with fewer of the students most damaged by the scourge of poverty. Of course, Mr. Petrilli believes this ought to be celebrated, because like the Makers of Romneyan mythology, these students are "strivers," who ought to be well-served. The laggards they leave behind are of little concern. This is a frightening educational philosophy that runs counter to the main reform narrative, which has called upon civil rights rhetoric to justify school closures and charter expansion. But how can we reconcile an ethic supposedly based on equitable opportunities for all with a bare-knuckle life boat strategy that leaves many students behind to sink in under-funded public schools?

But alongside these visits from the ghosts of reforms past, we have some auspicious evidence that there may be a different future ahead.

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Education News for 08-02-2012

Statewide Stories of the Day

  • Democrats want to view state auditor’s school-attendance investigation (Dispatch)
  • The Ohio Democratic Party asked state Auditor Dave Yost last week to turn over records into the investigation of school districts rigging their state report-card data. Yost, a Republican, charged yesterday that the Democratic Party is meddling in a continuing investigation. “It’s a partisan political organization that exists for the purpose of electing Democrats and harassing Republicans,” Yost said. “That doesn’t belong in the middle of this work.” Read more...

  • TPS may reduce Nov. levy request (Blade)
  • Toledo Public Schools could reduce its upcoming levy request, after reports of a better-than-expected financial picture indicate projected deficits may be smaller than expected. The Toledo Board of Education is expected to call a special meeting Friday, during which TPS Treasurer Matt Cleland plans to propose a range of millage rates lower than the 6.9-mill new permanent levy request approved in May by the board. TPS ended the 2012 fiscal year on Tuesday with $8.58 million more than expected. The original projected surplus was $2.64 million. Read more...

  • Lockland puts superintendent on leave (Enquirer)
  • Lockland’s school board late Wednesday placed longtime Superintendent Donna Hubbard on paid administrative leave. Hubbard has worked for the tiny Hamilton County school district for about 37 years. Board President Terry Gibson said the board thought it appropriate to put her on leave while it investigates allegations of enrollment practices that resulted in low-scoring students being coded as withdrawn from the schools, which state officials say resulted in artificially inflated test scores. Read more...

Local Issues

  • Lake freezes teachers' pay, opens doors of new school (Blade)
  • MILLBURY - Lake Local Schools officials approved a contract Wednesday that freezes teachers' pay and increases their medical insurance cost, then proudly toured their new high school with members of the media. The glistening high school replaces the former building that was mostly destroyed by a tornado in June, 2010. The 144,000-square-foot facility that cost $25.5 million -- none of which came from local taxpayers -- features 28 classrooms and will house 450 students when classes start Aug. 21. Read more...

  • Heights pledges to pay bill, demands preschool funds (Newark Advocate)
  • PATASKALA - Licking Heights officials reiterate that they intend to pay back the Licking County Educational Service Center the money the school district owes the center. In the meantime, district officials continue to press the ESC to release state funding, pegged at between $78,000 and $156,000 a year, that they contend should go to Heights' preschool students with special needs. "We're certainly looking at paying what's owed, but we still contend we need that (special needs preschool) unit funding they're blocking from the state.” Read more...

  • North Olmsted offering before school care program (WOIO 19 CBS)
  • The North Olmsted Before School Care Program will be offered at two school locations for students in grades K - 3rd. Birch Primary School (24100 Palm Dr.) for Birch and Butternut students and Forest Primary School (28963 Tudor Dr.) for Forest and Spruce students. The program times are 7:30 a.m. - 8:50 a.m. on all days that school is in session. Cost of the program is $75.00 per quarter/per child. Students from Butternut and Spruce Primary Schools will be taken by district transportation to their school of attendance for the start of the regular school day. Read more...

  • Councilman would vote for charter schools after abstention (Blade)
  • A Toledo councilman who abstained Tuesday on two votes involving requests for new charter schools to open in the city admitted he should have voted and now wants the chance to do so. That could clear the way for one of the schools to open downtown. "I needed further clarification on the rule because I made a mistake in not understanding this rule of council and at the time, I labored under the belief that I could abstain," Councilman Tyrone Riley said Wednesday. Read more...


  • Improve the system (Dispatch)
  • As allegations of attendance-report rigging by Columbus City Schools and other districts spread, many are wondering if the annual school report cards put out by the state can be trusted. After all, if some districts have doctored their attendance figures in ways that make their proficiency-test passing rates look better than they are, then voters who are asked to pass school levies have no way of judging if they’re getting what they’re paying for. Others have gone a step further and said that if some school officials feel it necessary to cheat in order to improve district report cards. Read more...

Studies show unionized charters are desperately needed

Bill Sims, president and CEO of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools said, in defense of charter school teachers poor pay and conditions, "Charter school teachers often are making less than district teachers but because they tend to be smaller schools, with smaller classrooms, less bureaucracy, they officer[sic] a pay in 'psychic salary' that more often than not makes up the difference". If this is true, why do so many charter school teachers quit? Indeed, study after study has found that charter school teachers leave at alarming rates, with pay and poor conditions often cited as the main reason.

The Ohio Collaborative, an educational research group initiated by the Ohio Board of Regents and housed at Ohio State, produce a study in 2005 which found

Nearly half of the teachers in Ohio's charter schools quit their jobs each year, with the majority leaving teaching altogether, according to a new study.

From 2000 to 2003, between 44 and 52 percent of charter school teachers quit their positions each year. Few took other jobs in teaching.

In comparison, between 6 and 11 percent of teachers in traditional public schools left their positions during each of those years. Even in major urban, high poverty public schools, the teacher attrition rate was only between 9 and 19 percent.
The results showed many areas of concern, Opfer said.

For example, charter schools had an average of 30 pupils for each teacher in 2004, compared to 19 pupils per teacher in traditional public schools. The pupil-teacher ratio in charter schools increased significantly from 2003, when there were 24 pupils per teacher.

Class sizes that are almost twice the size of traditional schools puts lie to the claim by Bill Simms that charter teachers enjoy smaller class sizes. His entire defense of poor pay and conditions in charter schools is falling apart or looks absurd ('Psychic pay').

Other studies have found the same problems, time and time again in Charter schools. Poor pay and working conditions causing high rates of attrition - that is, high rates of charter school teachers quitting to find jobs more rewarding, both professionally and economically.

A 2007 study, titled "Teacher Attrition in Charter Schools", by The Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice, found

  • The single background characteristic that strongly predicted teacher attrition was age: younger teachers in charter schools are more likely to leave than older teachers. No significant attrition differences appeared between males and females or for African-American teachers.
  • Among teacher qualification variables, the best predictors were “years of experience” and “years at current school.” Teachers with limited experience were significantly more likely to leave their charter schools. (It is presumed that many of these inexperienced teachers moved to teaching jobs in other schools.).
  • Certification was also significant. Attrition was higher for noncertified teachers and for teachers who were teaching outside their certification areas; this situation may be related to the No Child Left Behind act’s pressure for ensuring teaching staff meet its definition of “highly qualified.”
  • Other strong and significant factors included teachers’ relative satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the school’s: 1) mission, 2) perceived ability to attain the mission, and 3) administration and governance. Generally, teachers who left were also routinely less satisfied with: curriculum and instruction; resources and facilities; and salary and benefits. It appeared that teachers who were not satisfied were leaving or were being asked to leave.

These findings prove that experience does matter, and so does education and certification - contrary to many claims made by corporate education reformers. This study made the following recommendations for improving this serious rate of attrition

  • Efforts should be made to strengthen teachers’ sense of security as much as possible.
  • Efforts should be made to increase teachers’ satisfaction with working conditions, salaries, benefits, administration, and governance.

Efforts that could easily be achieved by organizing charter school teachers and the subsequent use of collective bargaining.

The National Center of School Choice, at Vanderbilt University produced a study in 2010, again finding the same results, with the same set of problems

The rate that teachers leave the profession and move between schools is significantly higher in charter schools than in traditional public schools.
  • Charter schools that are started from the ground up experience significantly more attrition and mobility than those converted from traditional public schools.
  • Differences in teacher characteristics explain a large portion of the turnover gap among charter and traditional public school teachers.
  • Dissatisfaction with working conditions is an important reason why charter school teachers are significantly more likely to switch schools or leave the profession.
  • Involuntary attrition is significantly higher in charter schools.

Taken one by one - conversion schools, those that might have had some collective bargaining history, or in a handful of cases, still do, are less affected than start up schools where teachers can be treated as temporary help. Experience and certifications matter, so too does poor pay and working conditions offered by most charter schools, and employees have little or no job security and work at will.

These are all serious problem which can be resolved easily through collective bargaining. The studies results prove it

The odds that a teacher in a charter school will leave the profession are 230 percent greater than the odds that a teacher in a traditional public school in their state will do so.

In the charter schools, nearly a quarter of the teachers ended up leaving by the end of the school year, 14 percent of them leaving the field altogether and 11 percent transferring to another school.

By comparison, the average turnover rate in the regular public schools in the same states was around 14 percent. Half the departing teachers were leavers and half were switchers.

So when corporate education reformers, and charter school boosters like Terry Ryan at the Fordham Institute claim "unionized charters would be a setback for Ohio’s school improvement efforts", they need to go deeper than simple rhetoric and address these serious problems of massive teacher attrition at the schools they are promoting. Bill Simms, CEO of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, need to stop pretending charter schools are some great place for predominantly young, inexperienced, underpaid teachers to be working, and instead begin to formulate ways in which working conditions can be improved in order to attract and retain great teachers for charter students to benefit from.

OEA has it right, it's time to organize some charter schools and see what impact improved conditions has upon charter quality - this kind of experimentation after all is what charter schools were designed to test. They certainly weren't designed to maximize profits as some proponents, operators and authorizers have come to believe.

Education By the Numbers


The Nation: Teachers Are Not The Enemy

It's hard to think of another field in which experience is considered a liability and those who know the least about the nuts and bolts of an enterprise are embraced as experts.

The attack has diverse roots, and comes not only from Republicans. Groups like Democrats for Education Reform have dedicated substantial resources to undermining teachers unions. With Race to the Top, the Obama administration has put its weight behind a reform agenda featuring charter schools, which employ mostly nonunion labor, as its centerpiece. A disturbing bipartisan consensus is emerging that favors a market model for public schools that would abandon America's historic commitment to providing education to all children as a civil right. This model would make opportunities available largely to those motivated and able to leave local schools; treat parents as consumers and children as disposable commodities that can be judged by their test scores; and unravel collective bargaining agreements so that experienced teachers can be replaced with fungible itinerant workers who have little training, less experience and no long-term commitment to the profession.

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The Intent to Leave: Impact of Eroding Teacher Salaries

After 1972, the level of teachers’ salaries declined not only relative to inflation but relative to salaries in other occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree. Even by 1987, starting teachers’ salaries lagged other salaries in various fields like computer sciences, math and physical sciences and business management.

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