Unworkable "solutions"

This letter is in response to a Dispatch Op-Ed column published Wednesday, January 25th.

Dear Ms. Smith,

Your January 25 Dispatch column starts by lamenting “More and more money, a lot of tinkering, constant reforms and so little change,” and worrying because “The recession and state budget woes set off alarms, warning that many education needs can’t be met if we keep this up.” But then your suggestions are in large part old suggestions, unworkable, or expensive.

Year-round school, four-day school weeks, education via technology, state-leveraged purchases (buses, etc.), “best practices”/reports, and prefab buildings (“trailers”) have all been around for a while. And who will pay for the air conditioning needed for year-round school? How much expensive investment will techno-ed require if it is broadly applied in all schools? And many schools already temporarily use prefab classrooms to address population fluctuations.

You mention exempting prevailing wage. So, is it a new idea to pay for tax cuts by taking it out of working people’s income? You complain about “More and more money,” but apparently money taken from workers doesn’t count. Your suggestions don’t really seem to be against spending money. How will orphanages be paid for? Don’t you think that eliminating grade levels would require greater expenditures on personnel, software, and planning/ oversight? Do you agree with the governor that this could all be paid for by effectively eliminating collective bargaining for educational employees?

Statewide collective bargaining for salary or salary and fringes would be interesting. Do you actually think the well-to-do suburban schools would reduce their present levels to some overall average? Would the state raise all poor schools to the level of Upper Arlington, or even to a state-average level? We already have a ridiculously low minimum salary schedule.

Moreover, collective bargaining involves many more IMPORTANT aspects beyond salary, such as working conditions, fair and professional treatment, due process in discipline, sensible educational policy, and more. How would a state-level bargaining entity deal with such questions coming from over six hundred districts? Either the local boards would have to deal with this – eating up much of the “savings” – or you intend that such matters would no longer be considered. If the latter, then you would diminish the profession.

Without these options teachers have no way to demand respect, no real way to help mold policy, no way to counteract prejudice, nepotism, vendettas, foolish board policy, and other matters that harm teachers, students, and the educational process.

You end with: “Ohio can either greatly increase systemwide productivity or continue to rely on more local taxes, more district cuts and doing less with less.” Are those the only options? Why are you willing to frame the options as increase local taxes and make district cuts versus taking needed funds out of workers’ standard of living (I know: part of it – you think – would come from “productivity”)– but you don’t even mention calling for higher, progressive taxes to “stop the cuts in important areas such as preschool, the arts and foreign languages”? Is this any different from Tea Party types who MUST balance the budget by cutting the safety net but won’t touch taxing millionaires?

Finally, I am shocked by your asking a Republican governor and legislature, which supposedly hates “big government,” “Tzars,” and the federal Department of Education, to set up a “a board, which would have authority over early childhood, elementary, secondary and higher education, and could make the system function more cohesively.” What happened to “local control”? And even if local boards continue to exist in some form, isn’t this super board, as conservatives like to say, “just another level of worthless, expensive bureaucracy”?

All in all, I don’t think Einstein would be pleased with your column. It doesn’t seem that different from the same old easy (to say) fixes and politically oriented silver bullets. Much of it is entirely impossible to implement - for political and economic reasons; some cannot be universally or properly implemented; some is destructive of a valuable profession.

And your selection of types to serve on the “expert panel” is astounding: “certified public accountants, economists, futurists and technologists and perhaps be chaired by Ohio’s state auditor.” These are the “experts” – not one of them is connected to education in any way. None of them is qualified to understand education! Clearly, you are looking at money, not the education of kids. Would you make the same recommendation regarding a medical practice “expert panel” and keep everyone connected to medicine off the panel? Maybe, if you worked for a health insurance company.

Education doesn’t change because the power structure won’t deal with the real problems and people who have a public platform make proposals like yours that serve the power structure.

Yours - Tom Harker
Retired School Teacher.

Schedule Conflicts

As most people know, the majority of public school teachers are paid based on salary schedules. Most (but not all) contain a number of “steps” (years of experience) and “lanes” (education levels). Teachers are placed in one lane (based on their degree) and proceed up the steps as they accrue years on the job. Within most districts, these two factors determine the raises that teachers receive.

Salary schedules receive a great deal of attention in our education debates. One argument that has been making the rounds for some time is that we should attract and retain “talent” in the teaching profession by increasing starting salaries and/or the size of raises teachers receive during their first few years (when test-based productivity gains are largest). One common proposal (see here and here) for doing so is reallocating salary from the “top” of salary schedules (the salaries paid to more experienced teachers) down to the “bottom” (novice teachers’ salaries). As a highly simplified example, instead of paying starting teachers $40,000 and teachers with 15 years of experience $80,000, we could pay first-year teachers $50,000 and their experienced counterparts $70,000. This general idea is sometimes called “frontloading,” as it concentrates salary expenditures at the “front” of schedules.

Now, there is a case for changes to salary schedules in many places – bargained and approved by teachers – including, perhaps, some degree of gradual frontloading (though the research in this area is underdeveloped at best). But there is a vocal group of advocates who assume an all-too-casual attitude about these changes. They seem to be operating on the mistaken assumption that salary schedules can be easily overhauled – just like that. We can drastically restructure them or just “move the money around” without problem or risk, if only unions and “bureaucrats” would get out of the way.**

Salary schedules aren’t just one-shot deals. When teachers and districts negotiate salaries, they don’t start with a blank slate. Schedules are, in many respects, evolving systems, which emerge over time as a result of continuous negotiation (and, in bargaining states, approval) by both parties.

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A Nationally Board Certified Teacher on Merit Pay and SB 5

This is a guest column from a Nationally Board Certified Teacher.

Ten years ago I undertook the daunting task of applying to become a Nationally Board Certified Teacher. I wanted to prove to myself that I had what it takes to be an outstanding teacher. According to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), fewer than 3,000 out of the 100,000+ teachers in Ohio have attained this status. It is the pinnacle of achievement for a teacher. As ODE states, “National Board Certification is the highest credential in the teaching profession.”

This is what merit pay is all about, right?

Originally when I started the process, the state of Ohio supported these tasks. The assessment fee to submit your materials for consideration is $2,500. I was able to have the state pick up all of the costs for applying by attending some professional development sessions ODE provided.

Today the State of Ohio provides ZERO funding for teachers wishing to prove their ultimate teaching merit. There is now a federal subsidy that is available for Ohio teachers, but it covers only half of the assessment fee. Ohio lawmakers turned their backs on teachers seeking to prove their merit.

The process I undertook was indeed rigorous. I have heard others aptly describe the National Board process as considering all the work for Master’s Degree that may take three or more years and compressing it into a semester. It was very true.

  • I had to submit lesson plans, but not simple sketches of the day’s activities. Lesson plan submissions included detailed descriptions of objectives, processes, activities, sequencing and assessment.
  • I had to submit video tapes of these plans in action. This was not a few minutes of a lesson that an administrator might wander in and observe, but full period lessons in action.
  • Student sample work was also submitted, but of all types of learners and not just cherry-picked straight-A student work.
  • I submitted reflective writings that showed that I not only delivered a lesson, but reviewed how it went and how I would make it better.
  • And finally I took a lengthy examination over the content of my teaching field that took several hours to complete.

Notice that at no time was my candidacy for the highest achievement in education based upon student results of a single two-hour standardized test. This does not prove teacher merit. I can personally attest to how socio-economic factors play greatly into student test results and why the state should NEVER consider this for teacher evaluation.

In 1997 I taught in a school were my students were struggling learners from homes that generally did not support the school through activities, PTA (there wasn’t one) or tax levies (11 failed levies in 7 years). That year I was fortunate enough to be selected as the Outstanding Educator of the Year, but my state test results were not very much different than my colleagues in the same area.

The following year I changed school districts, thanks in part to a resume that now included Teacher of the Year. My new district is a wealthier, suburban school that has not failed any levies in my time and has active parents in the schools. Essentially I taught the same content in my final year at the old school and first in the new, but the test scores of my students went up by dramatically large percentages. Did I suddenly become an excellent teacher? No. Ohio’s standardized testing simply does not assess the merits of teachers in the classroom.

Regarding Senate Bill 5 I have had a few people say to me: “I would think you would love this idea because you could make so much money being such a great teacher.” While nice to hear, I have no trust that Ohio really wants to “reward” their best teachers through a merit system. Why do I feel this way? Because Ohio lawmakers turned backs on me several years ago.

One of the incentives for attaining National Board status is that Ohio was one of several states that rewarded their NBCT’s with an annual stipend. When I applied for NBCT status, Ohio said they would give NBCT’s a $2,500 stipend each year of the 10-year certification. A few years after becoming an NBCT, Ohio reduced that amount for any new NBCT’s to $1,000. Two years ago Ohio completely de-funded the program, removing all stipends for all NBCT’s at the same time they quit subsidizing the application process.

So when I hear TV ad’s that say that Ohio wants to get rid of the bad teachers and to “reward” their good teachers, I shake my head. By their own standards, I am supposed to be one of their best teachers. So how will they reward me?

By removing experience (seniority) as being important to salary, it will encourage my school – or any other school – to disregard my degrees and certification. Ask yourself, if you were going into surgery would you prefer your doctor was experienced with this procedure or not? Will it matter to you if the doctor is excellent, but has little experience with this procedure? So why is acceptable then to ignore experience with your children’s education?

Issue 2 proponents like to argue that SB 5 does allow for negotiating salary. This is deliberately misleading, because while my union can make an offer on salary in whatever form it likes, SB 5 mandates that if the two sides disagree that the Board of Education’s final offer becomes the contract. Why would any school then take any salary negotiations seriously? Consequently, don’t look for the salaries of “best” teachers to rise. They may be the best salaries within their schools, but SB 5 allows a local Board of Education to reduce salaries by whatever they please. 10%? Yes. 25%? They could. 50%? SB 5 doesn’t stop this.

The Governor is contending that all SB 5 is really about is getting us to pay 10% of pensions and 15% of insurance costs. I have paid 10% of my pension costs for as long as I can remember. My health care contributions have gone up well over 15% from the first contract I signed in my current school district. So campaigning on these two accounts are deliberately misleading as to what the entire bill does.

But the bottom line is really this. If we want the best teachers in our classrooms, there is already a process to do that with National Board Certification. If we want premier teachers in the classroom, then we need to provide evaluations that mirror what the best system does.

Despite a resume that looks really good, I only became a Nationally Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) by less than 5 points. A colleague that I considered my mentor and an incredible teacher failed to meet this mark three times, coming as close as within two points. There are only seven National Board Certified teachers in my district and only three in my building. I was the last to attain this honor, nearly 10 year ago. My district does not reward NBCT’s with supplemental. Only 36 of the 600+ school districts in Ohio offer “merit” rewards for their NBCT’s, with only 11 (less than 2%!) offering continuing stipends. If SB 5 passes, do you really think schools will include such incentives for their best teachers? I doubt these 11 schools would keep what financial incentives they have now for NBCT’s.

So when you hear the ads that SB 5 would reward the best teachers, remember this. Ohio has already neglected their best teachers and few local districts have stepped in to provide real “rewards” for the best teachers they have now. What trust do you have that suddenly now they will live up to their word?

Jay Wise, NBCT (2002-2012)

Innovation Ohio highlight Issue 2 Pay, Perks and Hypocrisy

Innovation today released documents showing the hypocrisy demonstrated by those supporting SB5.

  • Gov. Kasich, whose annual salary is $148,165 (over $10,000 more than his predecessor received), is exempt from the “performance pay” provisions of SB 5, and is still eligible to receive automatic annual 3% “step increases” that SB 5 would terminate for other public workers;
  • Gov. Kasich, while repeatedly calling for cuts in the pay and benefits of state and local government workers, pays his own senior staff an average salary of over $110,000. And he has repeatedly fudged the numbers on what he pays all workers in his office. In April, he told the General Assembly that the Governor’s Office payroll was just over $4.8 million. But as of May 7, the actual figure was just over $5.4 million —12% more than what the Governor claimed;
  • Gov. Kasich’s 27 Cabinet members earn an average base pay of more than $131, 000 and at least 22 of them each receive an additional $6,600 per year in “car allowances.” At least 7 Cabinet members are also ‘double dippers” who receive state pensions in addition to their government salaries;
  • All Members of the Ohio General Assembly earn a base salary of $60,584 for working a part-time job (the average annual salary for all Ohio workers is just over $40,000). But among the 70 Representatives and Senators who voted for SB 5, just 8 earn that “minimum.” The other 62 receive “leadership bonuses” ranging from nearly $34,000 per year to $5,000 annually, with the average bonus being over $8,600. Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati —the only current member of the Senate who does not receive a bonus and was in the Senate when the SB 5 vote took place —had his bonus taken away when he refused to support the legislation;
  • Though fiercely critical of “double dipping” by other public workers, 12 House and Senate members who support SB 5 are themselves double-dippers (one is a triple-dipper), and collect legislative salaries in addition to state pensions. Perhaps the biggest single double-dipper in Ohio is House Speaker Bill Batchelder, who receives over $100,000 in a PERS pension, on top of his $94,500 annual legislative salary;
  • Unlike regular Ohioans, who are prohibited by law from claiming “mileage reimbursements” for car travel to and from their principal places of work, Ohio House and Senate members voting for SB 5 collect an average of $3,361 per year for driving to the State House to do their jobs;
  • Under SB 5, paid sick leave and vacation days would be reduced for average public workers. But General Assembly members enjoy unlimited paid leave for any reason whatsoever, subject only to the “approval” of the House and Senate leadership, whose approval is rarely, if ever, denied;
  • Other perks for legislators abound, including thousands of dollars worth of free tickets to athletic events like football, basketball and baseball games, free meals, and other gifts.

The full litanty of hypocrisy can be found over at IO, here.

Courtesy of Ohio Capital Blog, here's video fo the press conference

We're not saying it is hypocritical, but

We're not saying it is hypocritical, but when you pass legislation saying that teachers are to be evaluated on their ability to do the job, then you turn around and hire your own partisan political appointees for a job they have no experience to do, it does make one wonder.

After a months-long search for someone with regulatory experience to ride herd on Ohio’s four casinos, a state panel yesterday chose someone with none.

Matt Schuler, chief of staff for the Republican president of the Ohio Senate, was appointed executive director of the Casino Control Commission. Commission members recruited the 44-year-old Gahanna resident after having trouble enticing regulators from other states to take a similar job in Ohio.

Maybe Mr. Schuler ought to at least take a test?

Matt Schuler was recently at the center of the controvesy over Senate staff getting massive retroactive pay rises.

Every member of senior staff in our caucus was approached about leaving, and we almost lost several other key staff members, Niehaus said. "It became obvious when I heard what some of the offers were that they were in part leaving because of money, so I asked our chief of staff, Matt Schuler, to do a review of salaries."

We guess after his salary review Matt Schuler decided he needed a wee bit more, but even that doesn't appear to be enough as he's now headed for the door to collect what is expected to be a windfall salary of $146,286. He may want to talk to his wife, school board member Jill Schuler. Mrs. Schuler has been a very vocal proponent of "sared sacrifice"

Board member Jill Schuler said she struggles with placing the tax request on the ballot unless all employees make a commitment. She cited no flexibility with personnel costs that make up 80 percent of the district's budget.

"The sacrifices some are making need to be made by the whole," Schuler said.

Like we said, We're not saying it is hypocritical, but...

What teachers are telling the Governor: Day 4

Previous days comments can be found here:

Day 4 in our series has representatvive comments from Republican teachers

Subject: Input on merit pay
Dear Governor Kasich,
I am responding to your request about input for merit pay. First of all, I want you to know that I am a registered republican voter, as well as a high school math teacher. Next, I want to let you know that my input on merit pay is that I will be voting for the referendum to revoke Senate Bill 5 in November. Also, I want you to be aware that you will NOT get my vote, nor any of my family members votes at the next election due to your involvement with the Senate Bill 5.

This next letter is longer, has some confusion, but a number of interesting sentiments, and is again from a Republican teacher

Dear Governor Kasich,
First of all, I want to state that I have always believed myself to be a Republican. I value honesty and fiscal responsibility, but I also see the need for compromise and rationale decision making. Know that teachers understand that changes need to be made for the good of all tax payers (who are taxpayers as well).

Now in regards to merit pay, my true feeling is that it should be stripped from the budget bill. It is not a solution and I will share why I feel this way below. There are better ways to make these decisions and each district should be allowed to do what is best for their employees and communities. The state should not be forcing their policy on local communities. SB5 did enough stripping the collective bargaining rights away from teachers and communities don't need more policy thrown at us. I am okay with a more fair salary system. I agree that step increases are not the best way to go. But why give teaches the right to negotiate salary and then take it away with merit pay legislation.

As I sit here watching teachers being made the primary focus, and then see company after company getting tax breaks, I get frustrated at the lack of fairness in it all. History shows that giving benefits and breaks to those in power with the hope of that trickling down to the middle class does not work. Look at the Great Depression and the 80's as examples of this failed policy. The jobs it will provide us will never out weigh any tax money generated to help provide strong schools for our communities. We are being held hostage by companies looking to line their own pockets.

Merit pay should not be any where near the drastic cut to 50% of teachers pay being proposed. For someone making $50,000 right now that means you will only give them $25,000 of certainty. You are now placing teachers near the poverty level. This putting teachers who have gone to college and have many student loans to repay in a lose lose situation. Pay certainty should at minimum be 90% of current salary. I can't think of one white collar professional position in any industry where 50% of your income is unknown from year to year. We are homeowners, purchasers of goods and services, parents, and tax payers. My wife and I have been teachers for 11 years and there will be no recovery from this. We have lived at the same level for the last 12 years. We do not live the high life, but if you cut the salary you make all we have worked so hard to attain unsustainable. We will lose our home. There will be no doubt about that. We will be forced from not only our jobs but our profession. We will foreclose like many others and public assistance will be needed. Is that what this state needs? The affects would be dire. We have built our simple life around hard work, but no one can sustain a double hit like this.

I like the word bonus better then merit pay since I think that does a better job of describing the hard work a teacher does day to day. I am all for freezing salaries at current levels so districts have costs certainties from year to year. There is no reason why salaries need to go up and up year to year once we reach a certain level. From that point on teachers can attain bonuses (like in the business world) based on performance like we see the business world does. The problem is though when we tie performance to a test grade is that you no longer have control over what happens. Say a student came into school hungry the day of the test. They got into a fight with the parents. Their parents work after hours and can't be there to help their child with their work at home. They don't speak English as a first language at home. Their home life is in flux due to the economy. These are all factors outside of a teachers control and unique to our profession.

Other professions who receive bonuses have you complete control over their success. The harder you work the more you are rewarded. Merit pay as it is being discussed now allows for all that hard work possibly It talks to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. If a person's basic needs can't be met, learning cannot take place. Then to tie someones bonus "merit pay" to something so unpredictable as to one test is asking for economic disaster to the families that give so much to their profession. What if we said to state representatives, senators, and the governor you will make $25,000 but we will give you merit pay based on your constituents evaluations of how you are doing, how many jobs you bring into your community, etc...? Does that sound fair?

Merit Pay should include the following...
1. Multiple assessment data points (OAA scores should be just one assessment factor)
2. Teacher evaluations by parents are fine as long as 1 bad review doesn't end the chances of a teachers ability to be awarded.

On a side note, I do feel that the true indicator of success is the level of parental involvement in their child's schooling. My parents always were there to help my sisters and myself. They were the ones solely responsible for making sure their children were brought up right, followed the rules, worked hard, and they never allowed us to make excuses to poor performance. Unfortunately seem to have lost that sense of responsibility. Student success is being thrown squarely on the shoulders of teachers who are now the sole bearer of responsibility. Parents need to parent! When do we hold parents accountable for what their children do and not do?

So I propose that parents need to be responsible for getting their child to school, making sure their work is brought in each day, their child listens and obeys the rules of the school so they are not distracting themselves or others. Parents should not take kids out for week long vacations in the middle of the school year for vacations forcing the teacher to make up the content lost while others are moving on. Should we have absentee parents or those who allow their children to do as they please, this should be factored into a teachers overall evaluation for "merit pay".

3. Increase the school year. Make teachers and students go 200 days a year like other countries. No extra money given to teachers for the additional time, we already are paid. Though many of us work summers anyways there really is no difference to most of us whether the year is increased. It is better for the students. Trust me parents would like this to since it takes away the need for day care and that added expenses.

4. Do not decrease salaries... just don't increase them. Let districts call for pay freezes for five years or more so they can get their houses in order. Cost certainty for district and financial stability for teachers.

5. Teachers who have state tests should be held to a different level. I give three major tests every year, others do not give any assessments. This is a major flaw of merit pay and needs to be addressed. There is no fair way to address this.

Thank you for your time in listening to my thoughts. I really would like to talk to someone in the Governor's office more on this issue or even the Governor himself. I am a citizen of Ohio, a teacher, a parent, and a Republican and I have a vested interest in making sure this process works out for all involved in a common sense way.