Don’t blame the unions … blame the lawmakers in Harrisburg

Letter by David W. P. Jones, Daily Local News, 7/11/14

Mr. Thomas Haas … you stated that you were taught “if we make a mistake, to correct it.” Well, you made a few mistakes in your article.

First and foremost, taxpayers have no claim to the private payments and accounts made by teachers. This is not taxpayers’ money, this is the money workers paid from their wages and it belongs. Second, your taxes are not going up “just” because of the pensions. Other issues, like construction, special education, medical benefits and for-profit private school payments are also contributing to the escalation. Next, if the solution were as simple as you suggest it would have been done by now, but one of the things you overlook … which is extremely important … is that the legislators are part of this same system. So, the difficulty is not getting legislators to vote to change employees benefits, but rather, that they must change their own benefits at the same time.

You referred to pensions in the private sector that had to be modified because they were “overly generous.” The private sector pensions were not overly generous, they were underfunded in the exact same way the public sector pensions have been underfunded. In the private sector many companies simply shifted to pay profits before they paid their obligations and then claimed they didn’t have enough funds left to pay their obligations. Many of these pension systems went bankrupt and then the taxpayers had to bail them out with the federally funded pension insurance.

You also blame the “generous formula” the unions pushed for as part of the problem. Well, that generous recalculation in 2002 under the Ridge administration was part of the problem, but it was not generated by the unions, it was pushed by the Legislature and the administration. Just to be clear, while the employees did get a generous recalculation of 25 percent, the legislators actually doubled that to 50 percent for themselves. So don’t blame that one on the unions, please….

read more at Daily Local Newsbenefits


Finnish Schools Not Relying on Ed Tech

by Diane Ravitch, 5/31/14

Caitlin Emma of paid a visit to Finland and was surprised to discover that teachers are not depending on educational technology. By contrast, American schools are spending billions of dollars on tablets, laptops, and other devices.

She writes:

“Finnish students and teachers didn’t need laptops and iPads to get to the top of international education rankings, said Krista Kiuru, minister of education and science at the Finnish Parliament. And officials say they aren’t interested in using them to stay there.

“That’s in stark contrast to what reformers in the U.S. say. From President Barack Obama on down, they have called education technology critical to improving schools. By shifting around $2 billion in existing funds and soliciting $2 billion in contributions from private companies, the Obama administration is pressing to expand schools’ access to broadband and the devices that thrive on it.

“School districts nationwide have loaded up students with billions of dollars’ worth of tablets, laptops, iPods and more on the theory that, as Obama said last year, preparing American kids to compete with students around the globe will require interactive, individualized learning experiences driven by new technology.”

(Since the research on the benefits of technology is sparse, it is likely that the heavy U.S. investment in technology is driven by something other than research.)

The Finnish secret: recruiting excellent students into the teaching profession, which is respected and prestigious; according the teachers professional autonomy; working closely with the educators’ union to promote better education; no standardized testing until the end of high school; no charters; no vouchers.

Read more at Diane Ravitch

Tennessee Legislature Rolls Back Test-Based Teacher Evaluation Law

Diane Ravitch, 4/24/14

In a stunning reversal,the Tennessee Legislature overwhelmingly repealed a law to evaluate teachers by test scores, and the law was swiftly signed by Governor Haslam. On a day when Arne Duncan withdrew Washington State’s failure to enact test-based teacher valuation system, this is a remarkable turn of events.

Joey Garrison of The Tennessean reports:

“Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law a bill that will prevent student growth on tests from being used to revoke or not renew a teacher’s license — undoing a controversial education policy his administration had advanced just last summer.

“The governor’s signature, which came Tuesday, follows the Tennessee General Assembly’s overwhelming approval this month of House Bill 1375 / Senate Bill 2240, sponsored by Republicans Rep. John Forgety and Sen. Jim Tracy, which cleared the House by a unanimous 88-0 vote and the Senate by a 26-6 vote.

“That marked a major repudiation of a policy the Tennessee Board of Education in August adopted — at Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s recommendation — that would have linked license renewal and advancement to a teacher’s composite evaluation score as well as data collected from the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, which measures the learning gains of students.

“The bill to reject the policy had been pushed chiefly by the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ organization, which engineered a petition drive to encourage Haslam to sign the legislation despite it passing with large bipartisan support.

“Huge, huge win for teachers,” the TEA wrote on its Twitter page, thanking both bill sponsors as well as Haslam for “treating teachers as professionals.”

“Eyeing a 2015 implementation, the state board in January had agreed to back down from using student learning gains as the sole and overriding reason to revoke a license. Composite evaluation scores, in which 35 percent is influenced by value-added data, were to centerpiece.”


Two interesting points here: one, Duncan has been hailing Tennessee as a demonstration of the “success” of Race to the Top, in which test-based evaluation of teachers is key. What happens now?

Second, state Commissioner Kevin Huffman is so unpopular that anything he supports is likely to be rejected. His enemies hope he doesn’t leave Tennessee because whatever he recommends generates opposition, even among his allies.

Breaking News: Randi Says AFT Will No Longer Accept Funding from Gates Foundation for Innovation Fund

[n.b. Phillips, of the Gates Foundation, was Secretary of the PA Department of Education from 2003-2004]

by Diane Ravitch, 3/10/14

This exclusive news appeared this morning on’s education site. When Randi spoke at the Network for Public Education conference in Austin, she told the audience for the Common Core panel that she would ask the AFT executive board for permission to do exactly what is described here. She understands that many members of the AFT do not trust the Gates Foundation, do not like Bill Gates’ public statements such as encouraging larger class sizes, or his unwavering commitment to measuring teacher quality by student test scores, despite the lack of evidence for its efficacy. I welcome this change and thank Randi and the AFT for severing ties with the Gates Foundation. Gates and Pearson have bought most of American education. Those who represent teachers should be free of their influence.

Exclusive: AFT shuns Gates funding …
By Caitlin Emma, Politico Morning Education, 3/10/14

With help from Stephanie Simon

EXCLUSIVE: AFT SHUNS GATES FUNDING: The American Federation of Teachers ended a five-year relationship with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation after rank-and-file union members expressed deep distrust of the foundation’s approach to education reform. AFT President Randi Weingarten told Morning Education the union will no longer accept Gates money for its Innovation Fund, which was founded in 2009 and has received up to $1 million a year in Gates grants ever since. The Innovation Fund has sponsored AFT efforts to help teachers implement the Common Core standards – a Gates priority – among other initiatives.

– Weingarten said she didn’t believe Gates funding influenced the Innovation Fund’s direction, but still had to sever the relationship. “I got convinced by the level of distrust I was seeing – not simply on Twitter, but in listening to members and local leaders – that it was important to find a way to replace Gates funding,” she said. Weingarten plans to ask members to vote this summer on a dues hike of 5 cents per month, which she said would raise $500,000 a year for the Innovation Fund.

– The Innovation Fund isn’t the only AFT initiative funded by the Gates Foundation. Since 2010, the union has received more than $10 million. The AFT’s executive council hasn’t formally voted to reject Gates funding for other projects, but Weingarten said she would be very cautious about taking such grants. “I don’t want to say ‘never never ever ever,'” she said, but “this is a matter of making common bond with our members and really listening to the level of distrust they have in the philanthropies and the people on high who are not listening to them.”

– Vicki Phillips, who runs the Gates Foundation’s education division, said her team is “disappointed by Randi’s decision.” She called the AFT “an important thought partner” for the foundation. “We continue to applaud the work of the Innovation Fund grantees to engage teachers in improving teaching and learning in their local communities,” Phillips said.

GOP’s Enron-esque higher ed plan: Fire tenured faculty to fund student dorms

by James Cersonsky, Salon, 1/14/14

In Gov. Tom Corbett’s Pennsylvania, if it’s public and it’s education, burn it down!

The tenure system in American higher education is a limitless source of debate: Critics say it leaves younger scholars to publish or perish, or decaying professors to cash in on mediocrity; advocates note its importance in protecting academic freedom, risk-taking and, insofar as professors are workers, job security.

In Pennsylvania, it’s all moot. Now, under the stewardship of Jeb Bush’s former sidekick, tenured faculty are being laid off in droves. The response has been student sit-ins, faculty mobilization and investigations of Enron-style accounting. It’s a real-time, rolling image of higher education shock therapy — and a threatening signal to public universities nationwide.

Subject A: Edinboro University.

Edinboro, an 8,000-student campus in northwestern Pennsylvania, is one of 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, or PASSHE. Last September, in the name of “strategic investment for the future vitality of the University,” president Julie Wollman announced that 42 teaching staff, including 18 tenured faculty, would be laid off, or “retrenched.”

“At first, the students were outraged,” says Crystal Folmar, a senior communications major — especially, she says, over the wholesale elimination of the school’s music program. One hundred and fifty students, faculty and staff rallied outside Cole Auditorium. Later, students delivered a 1,200 signature petition to the president’s office.

President Wollman wasn’t available, so they sat in. After a little over an hour, she emerged.

“I don’t think the reputation of Edinboro has to be damaged,” she said. “I think it will be damaged if the word goes out that this is a negative thing.” Because of state cuts, enrollment declines and hiring costs, she added, “we don’t need all the faculty members that we have.”

A student replied, “We have freshmen that are calling us, and on the 2018 Facebook that are asking, should we even come to Edinboro?”

“Well, the answer should be yes!”

Another asked, “Why are we spending so much money on buildings when we can’t pay the faculty?”

“The money has not come out of the general budget,” she said, echoing a common belief. “I think I’ve explained this a number of times. That’s incorrect. It’s true that in many states, there are two separate pots of money.”

The situation at Edinboro — layoffs, uproar, blithe financial entreaties — repeated itself at four other PASSHE schools. …

read more at Salon

Why VAM Is a Sham

Diane Ravitch’s blog A site to discuss better education for all, 1/19/14

The centerpiece–and the most destructive element–of Race to the Top is the insistence that teachers must be evaluated to a significant degree by the test scores of their students, whether they go up or down.

It is destructive because it makes standardized tests the purpose of education.

The tests cease to be a measure and become the aim.

That is wrong.

It leads to a narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test, and cheating.

And the measure itself is fraught with error. The teachers with high ratings one year may get low ratings the next year. Some with low ratings may get high ratings the next year. They did exactly the same things but their ratings shifted. One gets a bonus, the other gets fired. It is wrong to make the tests so consequential.

Here, if you have not read it, is an excellent summary of the VAM research, explaining why VAM is misused, by the distinguished psychometrician Edward Haertel, presented in a lecture to ETS.

You should also follow VAMboozled, which is testing expert Audrey Amrein-Beardsley’s blog. She will publish a book this spring, showing the invalidity of VAM. She points out that more than 90% of researchers in the related field agree that VAM is misused by federal policymakers….

keep reading at Diane Ravitch’s blog A site to discuss better education for all

D.C. Teacher Evaluation Scores Flawed

by Diane Ravitch, 12/23/13
Last Friday, officials at the central office of the District of Columbia Public Schools quietly released the news that the teacher ratings on its highly touted IMPACT system contained errors. It was not clear how many teachers were affected. If you want to bury a policy disaster, the best time to announce it is on a Friday before a long holiday, on the assumption it will be ignored and forgotten.

Researchers have warned for the past three years that grading teachers by the test scores of their students is error-ridden, inaccurate, and unstable. Earlier this year, the distinguished psychometrician Edward Haertel of Stanford warned in a major lecture that value-added scores should not be used as a fixed percentage when evaluating teachers and should have multiple safeguards to avoid error. Did anyone at the U,S. Department of Education or anywhere else take heed? Of course not.

As Valerie Strauss notes in the linked article, this inherently flawed and demoralizing process has been widely accepted (it is a major element of Race to the Top; in addition, states that want waivers from the impossible mandates of NCLB must agree to adopt this procedure, no matter how ill-conceived it is.)

Strauss writes:

“Testing experts have long warned that using test scores to evaluate teachers is a bad idea, and that these formulas are subject to error, but such evaluation has become a central part of modern school reform. In the District, the evaluation of adults in the school system by test scores included everybody in a school building; until this year, that even included custodians. In some places around the country, teachers received evaluations based on test scores of students they never had. (It sounds incredible but it’s true.)”

Only a few weeks ago, Audrey Amrein-Beardsley wrote on her blog that the ratings on the D.C. IMPACT system made no sense.

Now the company that created the rating system has acknowledged the errors.

Let’s see if some enterprising journalist digs into this fiasco.