Ed Reform Is a Path to Economic Success

While we all know about the importance a strong public education system plays in preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s success, we speak far too infrequently about the specific ties between our nation’s economic success and the educational policies that help us achieve it.

At the Democratic National Convention, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel told a gathering that “there’s no denying connection between economic growth and education.”  Mr. Van Roekel is absolutely correct. 
That growth comes requires the ability to adjust and adapt to the changing conditions of our society.  It requires an ability to reform.  Our economy recognizes that, and has demonstrated it over the history of this great nation.  So why are we so resistant to public education adjusting and adapting to those same conditions and expectations?
Over at the ConnCAN blog, I have a blog post exploring how education reform equals economic growth.  From that post:

But why are we so resistant to similar change in education? With such a strong connection between economic growth and education, we’ve seen our economy transform as we try to teach our kids using the same systems, approaches, and expectations as we did nearly a century ago.

Our consumer-driven economy should yield a consumer-driven educational system. A system where families have a choice in the schools their kids attend. A system where moms and dads are assured their kids have great teachers in the classroom and a great principal leading the school. A system where all students are funded equally, rejecting the establishment of two classes of public school students in the same city.

We cannot and should not continue a public education framework just because it is the way we have always done it. Those who continue to defend a model that has failed so many of Connecticut students for decades must ask what they are defending.


Choosing Reform in CT’s Largest City

Yesterday, the voters of Bridgeport reiterated the need for the continued push for reform in the Bridgeport Public Schools. With Hernan Illingworth, Jacqueline Kelleher, and Kenneth Moales now CONTINUING THEIR SERVICE on the Bridgeport Board of Education and with John Bagley joining the Board, the city can continue to move forward, ensuring that all Bridgeport kids receive a world-class education.

Without question, there has been a great deal of vitriol surrounding the progress made in Bridgeport over the past 10 months. Those seeking to protect a broken system, a system that simply was not serving the families of Bridgeport, have been quick to lob any charges (no matter how baseless) to try and slow or outright derail the improvements recently adopted in Bridgeport.

DURING THE PAST YEAR, we have seen the cost of the Bridgeport Public Schools’ central office greatly reduced, ensuring that the community’s tax dollars are going where they need to – toward the education of kids.

During the past year, we have seen the school district right its financial ship, restoring a trust in the stewardship of Bridgeport schools.

During the past year, we have seen an unprecedented focus on student learning, with educators and advocates, parents and policymakers joining together to improve the quality of local schools.

During the past year, we have seen all corners of Bridgeport join together to help turn around the James J. Curiale School, demonstrating a real community commitment that no child should have to attend a failing school.

During the past year, we have seen the city pledge to ensure that all Bridgeport kids have exemplary teachers lead their classrooms, as the city joins in the state’s groundbreaking student learning-focused teacher evaluation efforts.

And the during the past year, we have seen city residents embrace the possible and the hopeful in Bridgeport Public Schools, trusting in the leadership of Superintendent Paul Vallas and his plans for restoring Bridgeport schools to glory.

Let there be no mistake, change is hard. Change is particularly hard when it means breaking practices and behaviors that have ruled the roost for decades, leading folks to believe that change is impossible. But Mayor Bill Finch has demonstrated that change is possible, is necessary, and is achievable. Superintendent Vallas has PROVIDED THE BLUEPRINT for achieving that change. And now the voters of Bridgeport have reaffirmed the execution of that blueprint.

Every child in Bridgeport, and every child in Connecticut, deserves a world-class public education. Cities like Bridgeport are now working to make that happen, with no excuses.

(The above blog post, authored by Patrick Riccards, was originally posted on the ConnCAN blog — www.conncan.org — on September 5, 2012.)

Fun? Striking is Supposed to Be Fun?

“Y’all continue to have fun.”
– Chicago Teachers Union President President Karen Lewis addressing striking teachers in the Windy City.  Approximately 400,000 students are unable to enter the classroom in Chicago, as Lewis encourages those on the picket lines to “have fun” and then complains that having to go back to the negotiating table to reach a deal on salary and benefits for more than 25,000 educators and get those 400,000 kids back to learning is “the silly part of my day.”
A 16-percent raise already secured, day three of a strike that is disrupting the lives and learning of hundreds of thousands of Chicago families, and out-of-work teachers should have “fun” and negotiating a settlement is the “silly part” of all of this?
Priorities, Ms. Lewis, priorities …

Breakfast: The New Collective Bargaining?

“Collective bargaining.  noun.  The process by which wages, hours, rules, and working conditions are negotiated and agreed upon by a union with an employer for all the employees collectively whom it represents.”

Up until now, Eduflack thought he understood the meaning of the term collective bargaining.  The grandson of a Teamster and the son of an NEA teacher who walked the picket lines to increase those wages and work conditions for her fellow teachers, collective bargaining is a concept I believe is essential to having a strong and protected workforce and middle class.
But it was a real head scratcher when Eduflack was reading the latest out of Los Angeles.  Seems LAUSD enacted a new school breakfast program that is serving 84 percent of LAUSD’s students.  The same students that many defenders of the failed status quo say can’t learn because the come to school without breakfast.
At any rate, the local union is taking issue with the breakfast program.  They weren’t consulted in its implementation.  They find the food and trash a distraction.  So they are now demanding that the new breakfast program be part of the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the district.
Over at the ConnCAN blog, I share LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy’s view that the union’s stance here is just “incomprehensible.”
From that blog post:

Incomprehensible is putting it kindly. For years now, ConnCAN has fought to ensure that the needs of students were included in any arbitration decisions involving teacher contracts. Yet it is still illegal for Connecticut to consider the interests of the child in any such decisions. After all, those status quo defenders contend, collective bargaining agreements are all about protecting the rights and interests of the adults in the system.

Fair enough. But then how can one possibly insist that contracts governing the pay and benefits for teachers should act as a forum for unions to negotiate whether or not a community can provide breakfast to its poorest children?

It is just another example of public education being all about the adults in the room, with no real concern for the children we are supposed to be serving. Such logic is indeed incomprehensible … and unconscionable.

Happy reading, and enjoy your breakfast.  A little ed reform and eggs this AM.

In Ed Advocacy, It’s All About the States

How do you raise awareness about educational improvement in the United States?  That is the big question this week over on the National Journal’s Education Experts blog.  Riffing off of some of the education reform activities at the recent political conventions, the folks over at NJ are actually hypothesizing that there is no disagreement on our need to improve.  

Those seeking change and improvement know that is far from the case.  Those forces seeking to defend the status quo, those looking to protect a system that fails millions of kids (particularly kids who are black or brown or poor), will resort to almost anything to stand against those seeking to bring a better public education to all kids.
Dear ol’ Eduflack weighs in on the discussion, focusing on the importance of state-led advocacy, as opposed to national advocacy, to bring the real change we need while respecting our nation’s history of local control in the schools.

At the end of the day, lasting education reform is not going to happen at the national level. As a country, we have too much pride in local control and community involvement in public education. Instead, those changes we seek and need will come because of advocacy at the state level, where the voices of diverse communities can come together and demand common change. One where those diverse voices can leverage their power to demand real change from their governor and legislature, change where the haves and have-nots in the state have access to the same excellent public schools, regardless of race, family income, or zip code.

In Connecticut, we are just now, after nearly a decade of work, starting to see the policy results of such a state-based advocacy approach. The real challenge now is not letting up on the gas, and continuing to speed toward the reforms we need. It means finding common ground with groups we have previously sparred with, and partnering with individuals we have once stood against. It means continue to do what is right, even if that means facing the vitriol and assaults from those who currently benefit from a failed status quo.

Happy reading!

Chicago on Strike!

This morning, 25,000 Chicago Public Schools teachers headed to the picket lines, as the Chicago Teachers Union declared a strike after failing to reach a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement with leaders of the nation’s third-largest public school district.

According to media reports, CPS negotiators have offered 20 proposals to union officials.  Agreement seemed to be reached on a 16-percent pay raise for teachers, while disagreement remained over teachers’ share of health care costs and an evaluation system that would include measures of teacher effectiveness.
CPS is now enacting contingency plans for district operations.  The city’s 118 public charter schools, though, will remain open, with teachers and students continuing the learning process that only began a week or so ago.
Today’s actions has dear ol’ Eduflack reflecting on March of 1990, when public school teachers in the State of West Virginia went on a statewide strike (80 percent of counties participated).  For two weeks, edu-Mom walked the picket lines with virtually all of her fellow teachers.  Then, the strike was over pay, with Mountaineer teachers being paid among the lowest salaries in the nation for public school educators.  Following legislative and legal interventions, the strike ended after two weeks.  Then-Gov. Gaston Caperton agreed to boost teacher pay, moving West Virginia into the center of the pack for teacher salaries.  The move transformed Caperton into the “education governor” and moved West Virginia away from competing with Mississippi for the worst teacher pay in the nation.
What was particularly interesting about that West Virginia strike was the enormous support that teachers had from citizens across the state, particularly in that first week.  Visiting my mother and her colleagues on the picket lines, I saw parents and non-parents honk in support, drop off food and drinks for the picketing teachers, and generally check in to see how the teachers were doing.  It energized the teachers on the lines, and showed the media and the politicians that there was strong public will for this exercise of their labor rights.
As the West Virginia strike headed in double-digit days, though, that public support started to wane.  Parents didn’t know what to do with their kids, and couldn’t afford to continue to take days off of work or pay for babysitters.  Public will started to shift, as local school districts filed lawsuits to get teachers back in the classroom.  After 12 days,  teachers returned to work with a pledge from the governor and legislature for better pay and better respect.
Then, it was a simple narrative.  West Virginia teachers wanted to be paid fairly.  In a state with a strong union history and a respect for public education, the strike made sense.  Pay our teachers better than 48th or 49th in the country.  After all, we all understand what it means to be underpaid and under-respected.
The Chicago experience, though, is a little more complicated.  Currently, Chicago has an unemployment rate of 10.5 percent.  According to CBS Chicago and other sources, the average Chicago school teacher is making more than $70,000 per year, while the average Chicago worker is making slightly more than $30,000 per annum.  So a 16-percent raise seems more than reasonable, and seems to be a pay increase both sides have already agreed to.
If the strike is over a teacher’s share of health care benefits, most American workers are seeing their personal health insurance costs increase.  Gone are the days when healthcare is covered 100-percent by the employer.  As costs rise, workers across the nation fortunate enough to have coverage are paying more for it.
And if the strike is over evaluation, it becomes more and more challenging to secure a 16-percent raise in tough economic times, and then say one doesn’t believe in greater accountability for those educators serving in the system and demanding those raises.
Yes, it is a complicated narrative that CTU is trying to sell.  If the media reports are correct, this is no longer about salaries and paying teachers fairly.  Instead, it is whether teachers should be treated like other professionals, bearing additional healthcare costs and being held to a greater level of accountability than in years past.  That is a narrative that is going to be very difficult to sell to Chicago families, many of whom are experiencing unemployment, reduced benefits, frozen pay, and other financial challenges.
Of course, the strike isn’t just about the salaries and benefits being negotiated as part of the a new CBA.  No, the CTU is using this strike to speak out against the needed reforms being pushed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration.  Since becoming mayor, Emanuel has embarked on a bold reform agenda.  He extended the school day (ridiculously, Chicago had one of the shortest school days in the nation).  He established specific efforts to drive improvement in schools across the city.  He sought to reward teachers willing to hold themselves to greater levels of accountability than the CBA called for.  And he did all that facing a sizable budget deficit in a district with needs growing by the day.
Last night, Mayor Emanuel said, “The kids of Chicago belong in the classroom.”  He is absolutely correct.  While some defenders of the status quo may take issue with the sentiment or see it as some sort of punchline to a reformer joke, the ones most hurt by this strike are the kids.  The kids are losing out on instructional days.  The kids are now being shuttled around as part of “contingency plans.”  After just returning to school, the kids are being denied their rights to a public education.
As Emanuel continued, “This is totally unnecessary.  It’s avoidable and our kids don’t deserve this … This is a strike of choice.”
The mayor is correct.  Here’s hoping that both sides figure out how to choose to end this strike quickly, and get our kids back in the classroom.
UPDATE: To further complicate the narrative here, CTU has now released a one-pager articulating what they are looking for from Chicago Public Schools.  The challenge?  Can one really address “educate the whole child,” “address inequities in our system,” “teach all children,” “partner with parents,” and “fully fund education” as part of a collective bargaining agreement intended to focus on salary, benefits, and working conditions of the adults in the system?

“We’ve Done Things Wrong …”

“I know we’ve done things wrong both as a union movement as well as a teachers’ union …

I know sometimes my members get really upset at me when I say this, but you have to look at yourselves and say, ‘How can you change?  How can you do things better?  And what we’ve done as a movement as a movement, we focused, we fixated on fairness.  We thought, like, when they talk about justice and teachers unions, we would say, ‘That’s the boss’s job to fire somebody.  That’s not our job.”
– AFT President Randi Weingarten at the Democratic National Convention (courtesy of Huffington Post), reminding us with this acknowledgement that AFT can continue to be a major lever for real reform in public education.

Education: Dem Convention Edition 2012

Earlier, Eduflack highlighted the strong edu-language uttered at the Republican National Convention by folks such as Jeb Bush and Condi Rice.  Today, we look at the Democratic response, provided at this week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC.

Interestingly, until last evening, the edu-talk just wasn’t that strong.  Most of it centered around dollars, and what would happen to everything from preK funding to Pell under a Romney/Ryan administration.  A few speakers — including San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro — spoke eloquently on the personal importance of a strong education.  But there was little policy discussion — until President Barack Obama himself spoke last evening.

You can choose a future where more Americans have the chance to gain the skills they need to compete, no matter how old they are or how much money they have. Education was the gateway to opportunity for me. It was the gateway for Michelle. And now more than ever, it is the gateway to a middle-class life.

For the first time in a generation, nearly every state has answered our call to raise their standards for teaching and learning. Some of the worst schools in the country have made real gains in math and reading. Millions of students are paying less for college today because we finally took on a system that wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on banks and lenders.

And now you have a choice_ we can gut education, or we can decide that in the United States of America, no child should have her dreams deferred because of a crowded classroom or a crumbling school. No family should have to set aside a college acceptance letter because they don’t have the money. No company should have to look for workers in China because they couldn’t find any with the right skills here at home.

Government has a role in this. But teachers must inspire; principals must lead; parents must instill a thirst for learning, and students, you’ve got to do the work. And together, I promise you_ we can out-educate and out-compete any country on Earth. Help me recruit 100,000 math and science teachers in the next ten years, and improve early childhood education. Help give 2 million workers the chance to learn skills at their community college that will lead directly to a job. Help us work with colleges and universities to cut in half the growth of tuition costs over the next 10 years. We can meet that goal together. You can choose that future for America.

And with that, the Gentleman from Illinois drops the edu-microphone …

We Should All Be Ed Reformers!

We should all agree that every child deserves a world-class education.  We should all agree (based on NAEP data and a plethora of information from groups like Education Trust) that there are serious achievement gaps we, as a nation, must overcome.  We should all agree that every classroom should be led by an exemplary teacher, and that teacher should be supported to continue her successes.  And we all should agree that we must constantly improve our public schools, ensuring they are adapting to the times and the needs of our kids and communities.  

We should all be education reformers. 
Over at the ConnCAN blog, Eduflack has a new blog post on making this point.  After clarifying the record on attacks made by many of those looking to prevent reforms and protect a failed system, I note:
At the end of the day, every single Connecticut resident should be a champion for education reform, one who demands real, meaningful school improvement. While we may disagree on the best path to achieve that improvement, we all should agree that reform is needed. And for those who stand in the way of reform, those who defend the status quo, we must ask: Who benefits from protecting a system of haves and have-nots, a system where educational quality is dictated by one’s race, family income, or zip code?
It is all the rage to question the motives of those who are looking to reform the schools, and it is even more en vogue to answer those questions with vitriol lacking in even the basest of facts.  Why not ask the motives behind protecting a system where fourth graders struggle to read at grade level, more than a third of Black and Latino students drop out of high school, and the majority of students who do get to college require remedial courses?

Education: GOP Convention Edition 2012

Last week, the Republican National Convention met in Tampa, Florida to nominate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (WI) as its presidential ticket for this November.  While education was a not a major focus of the convention, there were some real gems offered up.

No, Eduflack is not talking about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “stand” on teacher tenure and collective bargaining.  I’m talking about the remarks delivered by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Secretary of State Condi Rice.
From Jeb:
We say that every child in America has an equal opportunity, but tell that to a kid whose classroom learning is not respected.  Tell that to a parent stuck at a school where there is no leadership.  Tell that to a young, talented teacher who just got laid off because she didn’t have tenure.  The sad truth is that equality of opportunity doesn’t exist in many of our schools.  We give some kids a chance, but not all.  That failure is the great moral and economic issue of our time and it is hurting all of America.

I believe we can meet this challenge.  We need to set high standards for students and teachers, and provide students and their parents the choices they deserve.

The first step is a simple one.  We must stop prejudging children based on their race, ethnicity, or household income.  We must stop excusing failure in our schools and state removing — start rewarding improvement and success.  We must have high academic standards that are benchmarked to the best of the world.  You see, all kids can learn.  Governor Romney believes it, and the data proves it.
And from Condi:
We have been successful because Americans have known that one’s status of birth is not a permanent condition.  Americans have believed that you might not be able to control your circumstances but you can control your response to your circumstances.

And your greatest ally in controlling your response to your circumstances has been a quality education.  But today, today when I can look at your zip code and I can tell whether you’re going to get a good education, can I honestly say it does not matter where you came from, it matters where you are going?  The crisis in K-12 education is a threat to the very fabric of who we are.

My mom was a teacher.  I respect the profession.  We need great teachers, not poor ones and not mediocre ones.  We have to have high standards for our kids, because self-esteem comes from achievement not from lax standards and false praise.

And we need to give parents greater choice, particularly poor parents whose kids, very often minorities, are trapped in failing neighborhood schools.  This is the civil rights issue of our day.
Some pretty powerful words from those who know what they are talking about.  Just take a look at Bush’s record in Florida, particularly his efforts to boost reading proficiency in our youngest students.  And Rice is now back at her perch at Stanford University, most likely the top higher education institution in the United States.
This week, it will be the Democrats’ turn in Charlotte.  Who will step up and out-education Jeb Bush?