Make Roar Happen

First things first. Eduflack is a huge Katy Perry fan. I have purchased all of her albums. I have been known to use her songs as my ringtones. I have seen (with my wife) Katy perform a live show, and it was one of the best concerts I’ve seen in years. Yes, I am Eduflack and I am a Katycat.

As the son of a retired schoolteacher, I also know it is that time of year when my mother used to start dipping into her own pocket (I know it is an ongoing activity for teachers) to pay for materials for her classroom. I can’t even think the likely tens of thousands of dollars she spent over her career to have the best 10th grade English classroom she could.

So I was thrilled to see that Katy Perry has teamed up with Donors Choose and Staples to help direct $1 million to help support teachers. Dollars that can be used to make up for recent cute and fill the funding gaps that have persisted for far too long.

20140720-143314-52394348.jpg Then it hit me. The teachers unions are advocating a boycott of Staples stores across the country, showing solidarity with the postal workers union. The issue is that Staples is working with Congress to turn its stores into quasi-post offices, but non-union branches.

So it begs an important question. Can one support Katy and Donors a Choose in this important effort, even with Staples involved? Can we #MakeRoarHappen for teachers, and help send a million bucks to educators in need, without it betraying the union? I certainly hope so.


AFT Yells, “Game On!”

Some were wondering how AFT, at its annual assembly, would top NEA and its official vote calling for EdSec Arne Duncan’s ouster. Would AFT call for the same? Would they seek heads on pikes?

Well, AFT has responded, and they decided to do so in the most political of ways. First, they announce the formation of “Democrats for Public Education,” a new 527 that will seek to inject addition teacher unionism in political races. While details of the new org are still being worked out, it’ll be co-chaired by former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Dem political consultant Donna Brazile.

It is best seen as a direct counter to Democrats for Education Reform, a group that has grown more and more active in political campaigns. So,me traditional Dems in Los Angeles even tried to block them from using the “Democrats” word, questioning their allegiance to the party.

In welcoming the new group to the fold, DFER ED Joe Williams offered an appropriate Guns n Roses response, “Welcome to the jungle, baby!”

Then over the weekend. AFT also issued an email missive to rally the troops. Under the header of “Are You In?” AFT sent the following:

The promise of America isn’t disappearing by accident. We are being ripped off.

Today, I stood in front of 3,500 AFT members and leaders and asked them to pledge to push back and fight forward. Now I’m asking you.

Our students are suffering. Our families are being squeezed. Our communities are being starved. But it doesn’t have to happen this way.

Will you pledge to stand with us—in our communities, in our workplaces, and at the ballot box?

Our enemy is organized and motivated. They blame teachers for struggling schools. They blame public employees for budget deficits. They blame workers for the broken economy. They sell austerity as the solution while they buy elections, push radical legislation and fund court cases to strip us of our rights.

They use their wealth to build power. Our strength is people-powered. It’s in our members, our leaders and the communities we serve. Despite the vast challenges we face, our ranks continue to grow. Today, our union is 1.6 million members strong.

We work every day to create a better life for our members and the communities we serve. More and more, we’re fighting together to reclaim the promise that’s being stolen from us.

Take the pledge, and join us as we push back and fight forward.

This is the promise we believe in: If you work hard, you have a fair shot to get ahead. Your children can attend a great neighborhood public school, no matter where you live. You can get high-quality healthcare without going broke. Your tax dollars will help build and support a safe community for all of us. You’ll be treated fairly at work, and you’ll get a real raise once in a while. A lifetime of work will earn a retirement with dignity.

While we’re fighting for big things, no action is too small. We need you to do whatever you can. Commit to engage your colleagues in the fight. To build power at the ballot box. To share our work online and in person. To work hand in hand with the communities we serve.

Joe, it seems Randi Weingarten’s retort is “game on.” The big question is whether the new AFT response results in the sort of power they seek come Election Day. Will the new AFT call be a reason for folks to vote in coming elections, or will it be an also ran, as education issues have been for decades. Only time will tell.

Anti-CCSS “Tin Foil Hats”

There is little question that yesterday’s announcement from the National Education Association has issues with the Common Core State Standards and are calling for a “course correction“will be dissected and debated with enough electronic ink to drown a thousand digital ships.

How do the NEA and AFT pullbacks affect the notion that CCSS advocates are part of a big tent?  What does this mean for union-friendly states that are already having concerns about CCSS and their related assessments?  Are we again at that stage where we are asking if this is the beginning of the end for the Common Core?
The talk on delays or slowdowns of implementation on Common Core are not likely to go away.  But through all of the concern and consternation, no one seems to be offering a viable alternative.  Are we to return to the Old West days of the 1990s, when it was virtually every SEA or LEA for itself?  Are we suggesting that we shouldn’t have standards and accountability at all?
Yes, the CCSS standards movement should be focused on constant improvement.  We should be looking at ways to improve implementation, improve learning materials, improve related PD, and, yes, improve the testing that goes with it.  But at some point, we just need to accept that CCSS is a positive step forward for our public schools and focus on how to make sure all of our students are meeting expectations and learning to those standards.
But if we are going to continue to believe in the urban legends and grand conspiracy theories and of things that bump in the Common Core night, then maybe we need to consider what a committee chairman in the Missouri State House finally did.  According to the Associated Press (and courtesy of Politico’s Morning Education), in response to all of the “sky is falling” chatter about CCSS, Mike Lair, a Republican and retired teacher offered an $8 appropriation for “tin foil hats.”
Or more specifically, according to the AP, “two rolls of high density aluminum to create headgear designed to deflect drone and/or black helicopter mind reading and control technology.”
I’m all in.  I’ll even splurge on the first two rolls for all of the CCSS deniers and haters here in Eduflack’s home state.

If Not VAM, Then What?

Yesterday, Libby Nelson and the good folks over at Politico Education reported a new American Federation of Teachers campaign, flying under the banner of “VAM is a sham.”  The target is the latest generation of educator evaluation models intended to increase accountability and ensure that every child has an effective teacher leading the classroom.

According to Politico, the impetus for such an effort was that AFT President Randi Weingarten, after negotiating and agreeing to a number of teacher evaluation systems that depend on value-added measures, or VAM, “found the process corrosive: The VAM score was just a number that didn’t show teachers their strengths or weaknesses or suggest ways to improve.  Weingarten said the final straw was the news that the contractor calculating VAM scores for D.C. teachers made a typo in the algorithm, resulting in 44 teachers receiving incorrect scores — including one who was unjustly fired for poor performance.”
Of course, supporting VAM only to later oppose it shouldn’t come as any big surprise.  Last spring, Governing magazine wrote about how an NEA-led lawsuit against Florida teacher evals was going to spread nationwide.  In New Mexico, the AFT has already filed suit against a system that isn’t even fully up and running.  In Boston, a district with nearly 5,000 teachers, the AFT recently filed suit to block BPS from taking action against the 30 lowest performing teachers, according to the evaluation system in place.
At the heart of opposition to VAM is including student performance — or test scores — in a teacher evaluation.  While no teacher evaluation system relies 100 percent on test scores, it is indeed a factor in every such evaluation.  After all, if an educator’s job is to teach, isn’t one of the measures of effectiveness whether the student has actually learned what has been taught?
Yes, we can argue about the fairness of one single summative test in a teacher evaluation.  But that can be navigated through the adoption of formative and interim measures into the process.  Simply saying that the outcomes have no place in the evaluation process just doesn’t make sense.
But Eduflack will set all that aside for a moment.  If we believe that “VAM is a sham” (a line actually used by Diane Ravitch last year), what should replace VAM when it comes to accountability and educator evaluation?  How do we truly measure if a teacher is effective or not without looking, in part, to student performance?
On its website, the AFT offers up a number of “standards” that should be included in the process.  Standards for a common vision of teaching.  Standards for professional context.  Standards for systems of support.  But these all seem to be about the inputs that go into instruction.  That’s fine and good.  But what about the outcomes?
When Eduflack was on the front lines of the education reform battles in Connecticut, the unions were strong opponents to any changes to the evaluation system or to increased accountability.  Ultimately, all sides agreed to test scores being 40 percent of the evaluation.  
Interestingly, one of the strongest arguments against the new model was that teachers were opposed to principal evaluation in the process.  They felt such observations were subjective and allowed administrators to play favorites.  It got so heated that one legislator actually suggested forgoing scores and supervisor evaluations to bring in teacher SWAT teams from other states who would know good teaching when they saw it.  Fortunately, such an approach went nowhere.  But are we now saying that test scores and supervisor evals are both off the table?
As we now see VAM in place in states like Illinois and Florida, Colorado and Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Mexico, what is the better mousetrap?  If AFT, NEA, and others don’t want a VAM reliant on a summative test score, then how do we effectively evaluate educators (and I mean both teachers and principals) by both the inputs they bring and the outcomes they achieve?
Sure, one has a right (and many feel an obligation) to stand up and oppose VAM.  But without a viable alternative, what are we saying?  Effective teaching can’t be quantitatively measured?  Good teaching doesn’t necessarily translate to student learning and mastery?  Or that we just don’t want to know the answer?

“A Day of Action”

Yesterday, educators across the country participated in “A Day of Action,” a series of events across the country that, according to Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post, “sponsors hope will draw national attention to the problems of corporate-influenced school reform and to build a national movement to change the public education conversation and to increase funding for schools.”

We can set aside the fact that organizers were hoping to accomplish an incredible number of goals from a series of public demonstrations.  And we will forget what Eduflack has written here previously, that too many people are fighting a false battle against the “privatization” of our public schools, when no one is actually looking to flip public schools private.
And I’m even willing to save for another day the important discussion on school funding.  Yes, I agree wholeheartedly that we need to look at our funding models for our public schools, ensuring that all schools are equitably funded.  But we also must look at how we are spending those dollars, and admit that our priorities are off when some of our lowest-performing schools are also those with some of the highest per-pupil expenditures in the nation.
Instead, today Eduflack turns your attention to the guiding “principles” behind “A Day of Action.”  Organizers are absolutely right in needing a call to action, a basis that all participants can latch on to and believe in.  So for this week’s festivities, seven principles were offered in an effort to “reclaim the promise of public education.”
They include:
* Public schools are public institutions.
* Our voices matter.
* Strong public schools create strong communities.
* Assessments should be used to improve instruction.
* Quality teaching must be delivered by committed, respected and supported educators.
* Schools must be welcoming and respectful places for all.
* Our schools must be fully funded for success and equity.
All noble goals.  All well meaning.  And all principles that EVERYONE should be able to get behind.  I recognize the importance of trying to win over hearts and minds.  But these same principles (maybe with an edit to the final one) are principles that any education reformer worth his or her salt could get behind.  
Just think of the following:
* Public schools, including our public charter schools, are public institutions.
* Our voices (not just those of the unions or veteran educators) matter.
* Strong public schools create strong communities.  Just ask those whose lives and neighborhoods have been transformed by an institution like Democracy Prep.
* Assessments should be used to improve instruction, with test scores utilized to ensure our schools, our teachers, and our students are achieving. 
* Quality teaching must be delivered by committed, respected and supported educators. It isn’t what ed school you attended or that you received the proper pedagogy in your prep, it is about what you do in the classroom.
* Schools must be welcoming and respectful places for all.  That includes parents and community members who seek improvement or choice.
* Our schools must be fully funded for success and equity.  That begins by ensuring all public schools, including charters, in the same city are spending the same per pupil.
There is no question we are in need of a day, a week, a month, a year of action to improve our public schools.  And while I still maintain that sides agree on far more than they disagree when it comes to school improvement, can’t we have a real, respectful conversation about the areas of disagreement instead of trying to “own” some basic platitudes on which we all should agree?

The NEA and the Common Core

We are living in a CCSS world.  We all know that.  As of this morning, 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted Common Core State Standards.  Come the next academic year, most students outside the state of Texas will be part of a CCSS-focused approach to teaching and learning.

While we can argue about the urban legends behind the creation of CCSS, the shadowy creatures who supposedly worked in back rooms to develop a comprehensive set of standards for reading and math that were publicly flogged all in some grand scheme to privatize the schools, profit off the system, move all our jobs to India, and signal the black helicopters where to land, we simply can’t argue that we are living a CCSS life.
But that hasn’t stopped some from thinking if they close their eyes real hard, click their heels together, and loudly wish for a different hand, then we might rid our schools of CCSS and all the alleged evils that will follow it.
The anti-CCSS rhetoric seems to get more heated by the day.  We have those on one extreme attacking CCSS for being a ploy of Bill Gates and part of a grand conspiracy to take over our schools.  On the other extreme, we have those who think CCSS will hand over our public schools to the United Nations, robbing our classrooms of the good ol’ local common sense they need to “succeed” as they have all these many decades.
All this seems to be squeezing out efforts to ensure that the CCSS are implemented effectively and with fidelity.  It is drowning out efforts to ensure that classroom materials and PD are truly aligned, and not merely given the lip service they were during the Reading First fights.  
So credit needs to go out to the National Education Association.  NEA represents 3 million educators, and has chapters in every state (including the 45 who adopted CCSS) and in 14,000 communities across the United States.  Any reader of Eduflack knows that the union has a very strong point of view when it comes to many policy issues.  And in a previous life, I had my own issues with NEA and its stances on needed school reforms.
At any rate, last week, NEA posted a great article on its NEA Today website.  The title?  10 Things You Should Know About the Common Core.  Written for its members, the article seeks to poke some holes in the urban legends around CCSS, while providing educators with some meaningful information as each of them prepare for CCSS implementation in their classroom.
Kudos and bouquets to NEA providing needed information.  NEA has long recognized that even if it disagrees with policy, it needs to ensure that its members are getting the supports necessary when it comes to practice.  Look back at NCLB and Reading First, two policies very unpopular with NEA. Yes, the organization advocated against those laws and continually pushed to have them changed.  But it also provided tools, guides, info, and PD to teachers to ensure that every child received the education they deserved.
And what was the response?  From the looks of the NEA Today website, nothing but a whole lot of vitriol.  Accusations about motivations and of being bought.  Disgust dripping from many a poster.  And lots and lots of anger.
What was so offensive in the original article?  Well, let’s take a look at some of the items that NEA called out:
* Because of CCSS, “drill and kill” curriculum could be history
* High-quality fiction, such as Shakespeare and American literature, should be taught under CCSS
* “Common Core promotes curricular learning”
* “Implementation is a work in progress”
* “Teacher leadership is essential”
Yes, I can see why so many educators would be angry with that.  But the most frustration is actually focused on a single bullet point — “Most NEA Members Support the Common Core.”  Here, NEA reiterated a poll conducted in July of this year by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research that “found that 75 percent of its members — teachers and education support professionals — supported the standards outright or supported ‘with reservations.'”
Yes, one could say that 100 commenters from an organization of 3 million is nothing worthy of a second thought.  It is the very definition of statistically insignificant.  And quantitatively, one would be correct.  
But qualitatively, the level of anger and vitriol is just too hard to ignore.  With some professional rabble rousers doing everything they can to turn back efforts on accountability and assessment and school improvement, too many well meaning efforts get caught in the crossfire.  Eduflack just never thought it would be NEA itself getting trapped.
Perhaps it is time for us all to take a collective breath and take some time to reflect on how we move on from here.  Instead of ranting and raving and railing, maybe, just maybe, it is time for us to pursue a new field for a meaningful dialogue on the issues that affect our schools and our kids the most.  We put the fighting words aside, instead focusing on what is working, what is promising, and how we keep focused on learning.
While not everyone in education agrees on everything (though we agree on far more than we disagree), we should all be able to recognize common sense approaches to sensitive issues.  NEA should be commended for trying to help educators navigate the herculean task of getting CCSS online and for dispelling some of the more egregious urban legends surrounding the standards.  They don’t deserve what they seem to be getting in response.
Sometimes, though, haters just gotta hate.  True in life, and definitely true in education.

The Power of Teachers Unions

With just about a week to go before the 2012 presidential elections, all eyes are turned (at least once Sandy passes into the history books) into Get Out the Vote efforts and how successful folks are in getting folks to the polls.

In past presidentials, we have seen the power of the teachers’ unions — the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association — in getting their candidates elected.  When dear ol’ Eduflack was in electoral politics, there were few organizations as important to the win than the teachers’ unions.
Today, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now released a new study that scores states based on the strength of their respective teachers unions.  
According to Fordham, the top 10 teachers’ union states are, in order: Hawaii, Oregon, Montana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, California, New Jersey, Illinois, New York, and Washington.  For those counting, just one, Pennsylvania, stands a swing state for next week’s balloting.
In Tier Two, we see two swing states, Ohio (12) and Wisconsin (18).  Then we see states like Nevada (25), New Hampshire (30), Colorado (35), Missouri (38), Virginia (47), and Florida (50) rounding out the list.
The full report, How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions?, can be found here.
Over at my Yes Conn, We Can blog, I take a closer look at Connecticut and its number 17, Tier Two ranking.  There, I wrote:
All told, Fordham paints an interesting picture of the power of Connecticut’s teachers unions and their impact on policy.  When we see those states ranked ahead of Connecticut, we see that AFT and CEA enjoy a strong reputation without fully demonstrating the muscle to back it.  Through a strong membership base and state law that fully embraces collective bargaining, the unions are able to enjoy a power that their involvement in politics or perceived influence warrant.

Regardless of the rankings, Connecticut’s teachers’ unions will continue to enjoy their reputation for being a major power in Connecticut politics.  And it is a reputation well deserved.  But if this year has taught us anything it is that one voice alone should not and must not dominate the discussion on how to fix our schools.
Happy reading!

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.


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.

Should Teacher Eval Mean Something?

In the fight to close the achievement gap and ensure all kids have access to great public schools, what is the role of the teachers’ union?  I’m not talking teachers, we know how essential great teachers are to learning and achievement.  But when we talk about reform, shouldn’t the unions be part of the solution, rather than an obstacle protecting the problem?

Dear ol’ Eduflack addresses this issue in this morning’s New York Post, reflecting on school improvement efforts in Connecticut, the unions’ initial rhetoric that they were supportive of reforms, and how they have now balked at the process of real accountability and improvement.
From my piece:

The CEA claimed that linking evaluations and staffing decisions was “beyond [its] wildest nightmare”; it’s mounting a full-fledged campaign against any attempt to establish the link. It’s convinced some teachers to fear any linkage — so teachers have been shouting down the governor at town-hall meetings and even calling him a liar when he tried to correct the misconceptions.

What of the AFT? The national union, led by former New York City teacher-union chief Randi Weingarten, has been a key player in the development and early implementation of similar evaluation systems in states and cities across the country. The Connecticut chapter will be at odds with its national affiliate if it blocks key reforms — yet Weingarten’s silence has been deafening so far.

Happy reading!