Posts tagged ‘Teach For America’

December 28, 2012

Thoughts on Reactions to the Sandy Hook Tragedy

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Teacher union leaders offer heat but no light after the mass murder in Newtown.

In the aftermath of the December 14th mass murder of 26 children and school staffers in Newtown, Connecticut, there has been the understandable finger pointing and a full range of suggestions for ensuring that such a horror doesn’t happen again.

On the lunatic end of the spectrum we have teacher union apologist Diane Ravitch, the formerly venerable education historian, who took up residence in the land of Bizarro several years ago.

Every one of the teachers was a career educator. Every one was doing exactly what she wanted to do. They’ve worked in a school that was not obsessed with testing but with the needs of children. This we know: the staff at Sandy Hook loved their students. They put their students first, even before their own lives.

Oh, and one other thing, all these dedicated teachers belonged to a union. The senior teachers had tenure, despite the fact that “reformers” (led by ConnCAN, StudentsFirst, and hedge fund managers) did their best last spring to diminish their tenure and to tie their evaluations to test scores….

Ravitch’s loopy rant is Rahm Emanuel’s “Never let a good crisis go to waste” philosophy taken to an obscene level. And when in response, Teach For America V.P. and self-described “lefty Dem” David Rosenberg took Ravitch to task, Chicago Teacher Union president Karen Lewis (perhaps shocked that someone could outdo her in the outrageous comment category) weighed in with,

There might have been a time where “politicizing” tragic events, especially mass shootings was thought to be in poor taste. That has changed with the 24/7 news cycle that continues to focus far too much time and energy on the perpetrator of the massacre than that of our precious victims. Rosenberg’s “false outrage” needs to be checked. That same false outrage should show itself when policies his [TEACH FOR AMERICA*] colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation. (Emphasis added.) We in Chicago have been the victims of their experiments on our children since the current secretary of Education “ran” CPS.

Yes, you read that correctly. Lewis is saying that TFA, an organization that places exceptional, idealistic young teacher-leaders in the most challenging schools in the country is responsible for killing kids. After uttering those shameful words, Lewis should resign in disgrace.

Then we have a rare joint statement issued by the leaders of the two national teachers unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. NEA’s Dennis Van Roekel and AFT’s Randi Weingarten came out with a press release with a sub-head which reads: “Focus Needs to Be on Investments in Mental Health Services, Reasonable Gun Safety Legislation.”

In the body of the brief statement they say,

Long-term and sustainable school safety also requires a commitment to preventive measures. We must continue to do more to prevent bullying in our schools. And we must dramatically expand our investment in mental health services. Proper diagnosis can and often starts in our schools, yet we continue to cut funding for school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists. States have cut at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. It is well past time to reverse this trend and ensure that these services are available and accessible to those who need our support.

While this may sound good, it has nothing to do with what happened in Connecticut. The shooter had been identified as having a type of autism, perhaps Asperger’s; he had been assigned to a high-school psychologist and there have been no reports that he was bullied. So this statement is really nothing more than a pitch to advance the teachers union agenda of spending ever more money on education.

The other part of the press release deals with guns:

Our duty to every child is to provide safe and secure public schools. That is the vow we take as educators. It is both astounding and disturbing that following this tragedy, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, Bill Bennett, and other politicians and pundits have taken to the airwaves to call for arming our teachers. As the rest of the country debates how to keep guns out of schools, some are actually proposing bringing more guns in, turning our educators into objects of fear and increasing the danger in our schools.

Guns have no place in our schools. Period. We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees.

Not surprisingly the union leaders are out of touch with reality, at least the current reality in California. When I was a classroom teacher in Los Angeles, my middle school had a gun carrying school cop on campus every day. And my school is hardly unique. In fact, the state education code allows for an armed presence on any campus on an “as needed” basis. Given the current mood, I’m guessing that more parents will start demanding that their kid’s campus have armed cops for security. In fact, in a recent Gallup poll, when asked if increasing the police presence at schools would be an effective way to stop mass shootings at schools, 87 percent said that it would be very or somewhat effective.

And I think we need to go one step further. I would like to see a few armed teachers at every school. These volunteers would go through a rigorous background check and proper police-type training and then should be allowed to anonymously carry a concealed weapon on campus.

Despite the union leaders’ comments, there is no way to effectively keep schools as “gun free zones.” As David Kopel writes, these are nothing more than “pretend gun free zones.”

Real gun-free zones are a wonderful idea, but they are only real if they are created by metal detectors backed up by armed guards. Pretend gun-free zones, where law-abiding adults (who pass a fingerprint-based background check and a safety training class) are still disarmed, are magnets for evildoers who know they will be able to murder at will with little threat of being fired upon.

Kopel’s point was demonstrated in the Aurora, CO movie theater shooting. As John Lott explains,

So why did the killer pick the Cinemark theater? You might think that it was the one closest to the killer’s apartment. Or, that it was the one with the largest audience.

Yet, neither explanation is right. Instead, out of all the movie theaters within 20 minutes of his apartment showing the new Batman movie that night, it was the only one where guns were banned. (Emphasis added.) In Colorado, individuals with permits can carry concealed handgun in most malls, stores, movie theaters, and restaurants. But private businesses can determine whether permit holders can carry guns on their private property.

The perspective that has been lost in the aftermath of this tragedy is that guns are used to keep our most important things safe – our cities, banks, courthouses, etc. In fact, armed marshals are placed anonymously on many airplane flights to safeguard us and our children. So why do many insist that our most important and precious assets – our children – be completely defenseless?  President Obama’s kids have armed protection at school. Don’t all our kids deserve the same?

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

November 27, 2012

More Money for Business as Usual

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Throwing ever more funds at education without making substantive changes to the system is a horrible waste of money, not to mention children’s lives.

California Democrat Congressman Mike Honda and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel recently collaborated on an op-ed that played up just about every bit of feel good, cliché-riddled drivel ever written about education. If this piece was a drug, the FDA would have banned it years ago. A few examples:

Lamenting the fact that many teachers leave the classroom within the first few years, they say,

According to research estimates, one in four beginning teachers will leave the profession within their first three years in the classroom, and in urban areas, close to 50 percent will leave within five years.

This is totally misleading. The implication here is that teachers are leaving the profession in droves because they are overworked, underappreciated, overwhelmed and underpaid. But the reality is that they leave for a wide variety of reasons, including taking an administrative position, personal or family reasons, pregnancy, health, change of residence, etc. A survey from North Carolina, for instance, reveals that only 2.24 percent said they were leaving the profession due to dissatisfaction with teaching.

Another fiction the authors use to sway the unknowing public is the “competitive teacher salary myth.”

…the lack of competitive salaries for classroom teachers compared to other professions diminishes the consideration of teaching as a viable long-term career option. All of these issues rob children of the diverse, committed, capable teachers they need and deserve.

Before reaching for the Kleenex, please consider the following: Andrew Biggs, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, conducted a study on teacher pay, the results of which were released just a year ago. They found that when perks like healthcare and pension packages are taken into consideration, teachers are in fact overpaid. Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, the authors make a very good case for their thesis. For example, they claim,

Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.

When retiree health coverage for teachers is included, it is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages, whereas private sector employees often do not receive this benefit at all.

Teachers benefit strongly from job security benefits, which are worth about an extra 1 percent of wages, rising to 8.6 percent when considering that extra job security protects a premium paid in terms of salaries and benefits.

Taking all of this into account, teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels. (Emphasis added.)

Honda/Van Roekel then delve into professional support:

The educational career ladder should entice quality teachers to remain in the classroom by developing positions of teacher leadership.

The book on this subject has already been written by Teach For America, a very successful outfit that recruits high performing college students who exhibit leadership qualities. TFA then gives them a five week intensive teacher training and ongoing professional support. So maybe NEA should hitch a ride with TFA? No. After years of trashing the organization, NEA recently offered TFA a twig-sized olive branch, but even that is rejected by many local unions because an army of bright, young, idealistic teachers poses a threat to the old guard.

On Election Day, Californians sadly bought into the union propaganda and voted to further “invest” in education by passing a controversial ballot initiative. With the passage of Prop. 30, California now has the highest sales tax and top marginal income tax rate in the country.

A nearly $6 billion infusion from Proposition 30 and a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature are a welcome pre-holiday gift to public education from voters, but it also could set the stage for battles between those laboring for education reform and suddenly fortified unions protecting teacher interests.

“Proposition 30 is a bandage on the current system,” said former state Sen. Gloria Romero, an outspoken education reform advocate. “We got no reform for the investment.”

She and others cite the urgent need to raise student achievement, modify the rule of teacher seniority, dismantle the Byzantine school finance system and ensure the teacher pension fund stays solvent.

Romero hits the nail on the head. Continuing to throw money at a failing system will result in nothing more than a more expensive failing system. If you are hungry, spending more money on rancid food won’t solve your nutrition problem.

Stanford Professor Erick Hanushek, who has studied student achievement and education economics, adds,

I’m concerned now that we’ve gotten past the fiscal cliff, we’re going back to business as usual. To improve student performance, he said, schools need an effective teacher evaluation system and need to be able to get rid of the worst teachers and to reward the best ones. But he said there’s no movement toward either of those.

…Everybody in the state would like major changes without really changing…. the cost is that California is at the rock bottom in student performance, and it’s dragging down the nation.

Responding to the reformers, California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel snapped,

We’re not opposed to education reform…. We’re opposed to stupid reform.

…teachers believe before adjusting funding formulas, the state needs to ensure adequate — meaning more — funding for schools….

But as Heritage Foundation policy expert Lindsey Burke reported recently,

Students headed back to school this fall will have historically high levels of dollars spent on them in the public school system. (Bold added.) Nationally, average per-pupil spending exceeds $11,400 this year….

To put this into perspective, just 10 years ago we spent $9,482 per pupil (in constant dollars). Thirty years ago we paid $5,718 and 50 years ago just $2,808 per student! In California, spending has doubled over the last 40 years and what do we have to show for it? Our National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores speak volumes. For example, on the most recent 4th grade math test, California students came in 45th nationally; in science, the same 4th graders scored higher than only Mississippi.

Internationally, of the world’s 28 major industrial powers, the U.S. is second in spending, slightly behind Switzerland. Yet when it comes to achievement, our performance is middling at best. Education Next recently reported,

A new study of international and U.S. state trends in student achievement growth shows that the United States is squarely in the middle of a group of 49 nations in 4th and 8th grade test score gains in math, reading, and science over the period 1995-2009.

Students in three countries – Latvia, Chile, and Brazil – are improving at a rate of 4 percent of a standard deviation annually, roughly two years’ worth of learning or nearly three times that of the United States. Students in another eight countries – Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania – are making gains at twice the rate of U.S. students.

A fitting coda to this dreary ongoing saga, came from a recent Wall Street Journal editorial,

No reform effort is too small for the teachers union to squash. In this month’s election, the National Education Association descended from Washington to distant Idaho, spending millions to defeat a measure that limited collective bargaining for teachers and pegged a portion of teachers’ salaries to classroom performance. In Alabama, Republican Governor Robert Bentley says he’s giving up on his campaign to bring charter schools to the state after massive resistance from the Alabama Education Association.

Unions fight as hard as they do because they have one priority—preserving their jobs and increasing their pay and benefits. Students are merely their means to that end. Reforming public education is the civil rights issue of our era, and each year that passes without reform sacrifices thousands more children to union politics.

Thousands? More like millions. It is a national disgrace. We the people need to wrest control from the teachers’ unions and demand serious reform immediately.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

March 13, 2012

Seattle Teachers Union Seeks to Ban Teach For America

Teachers unions, known for fighting to keep pedophiles in the classroom, try to get rid of good teachers in Seattle.

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Last week, I wrote about the particularly egregious case of a teacher in Rochester, NY who sent sexually charged emails to her principal and was subsequently jailed for ignoring a restraining order. Upon her release, she returned to the classroom, and in short order was accused of fondling her middle school students. But due to her union’s pressure tactics, the school board cannot get rid of this tenured teacher.

Across the country in Seattle, we now have a situation where it would appear that the local teachers union may have success in getting six teachers removed from the district.

Pedophiles? Of course not. They are talented Teach For America teachers who have received good reviews from their principals. In what could be a new low for teachers unions – and that’s really saying something – it would appear that through heavy pressure from the Seattle Education Association, the Seattle School Board may terminate the contracts of the six teachers for absolutely no good reason.

Founded in 1990 by Princeton graduate Wendy Kopp, TFA chooses the best and the brightest – only one in eight are accepted into the program – and trains them to work in the nation’s worst schools. These committed and enthusiastic college graduates get five weeks of teacher training, ongoing support once in the classroom, and must commit to teach for two years.

The program has been very successful. But there is an anti-TFA animus among those for whom the status quo is next to godliness. The “problem” with TFA teachers is that they tend to be very idealistic and don’t fit into the cookie cutter mold that teacher unions so need and insist on. TFA teachers really care about teaching and frequently can’t abide the straitjacket rules inherent in every union contract.

On its website, SEA does its best to “inform” the public by posting nine reasons to oppose Teach for America’s intrusion into Seattle Public Schools.

For example, they say that TFA grads are not qualified and should be made to undergo traditional educational school training. But anyone who has set foot in an ed school knows that is ridiculous. I wrote about the problems with ed schools here, and Walter Williams, in a follow up to my piece, referred to ed schools in America as “the academic slums of most any college. American education can benefit from slum removal.” (He’s right. I became a better teacher after I forgot everything I learned in two wasted years getting my required teaching credential at Cal State Los Angeles.)

Another stated reason for the union’s desire to get rid of TFA is that its teachers “do not stay in the classroom.” But according to a recent Harvard study,

  • 43.6 percent of TFA corps members voluntarily remained in their initial low-income placement schools for more than two years and 14.8 percent stayed in those placements for more than four years.
  • 60.5 percent voluntarily remained in the teaching profession for more than two years and 35.5 percent stayed in teaching for more than four years.

The union then goes on to say that TFA does not improve student achievement. However, Liv Finne, Educational Director of Washington Policy Center, in testimony before the Seattle School Board on March 7, made the point that studies have consistently shown that TFA teachers are indeed highly successful. A few examples:

  • “The Effects of Teach for America on Students” (Mathematica Policy Research, 2004). Using random assignment of students to teachers, the gold standard for research methodology, this national study found that students of Teach for America teachers made more progress in a year in both reading and math than would typically be expected, and attained significantly greater gains in math compared with students of other teachers, including veteran and certified teachers. (Bold added.) This study also found that Teach for America teachers were working in the highest-need classrooms in the country, with students beginning the year on average at the 14% percentile against the national norm.
  • Tennessee: “Teacher State Report Card on Teacher Effectiveness” (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, 2011). The study found that Teach for America is the top teacher preparation program in the state of Tennesseethe average Teach for America teacher had greater impact on student achievement than the average new 4th – 8th grade teacher in Tennessee. (Bold added.)
  • North Carolina: “Impacts of Teacher Preparation on Student Test Scores in North Carolina: Teacher Portals” (Gary Henry and Charles Thompson 2010).  Teach for America teachers did as well as or better than traditionally prepared UNC graduates. (Bold added.)
  • Louisiana: “Louisiana Value-Added Teacher Preparation Assessment Study (Louisiana Practitioner Teacher Project, 2009) Teach for America teachers perform like veteran certified teachers, better than new traditionally trained teachers. (Bold added.)

(For more TFA myth busting, read Andrew Rotherham’s excellent “Teach for America: 5 Myths That Persist 20 years On”)

The vote on whether or not to cancel the TFA contract will be held on March 21. There is hope in some quarters that the school board may show some spine and not cancel the contract. However, after the way the six teachers have been treated (some local “activists” posted personal information about them on a blog; shortly thereafter one of the teachers whose address was posted was burgled), it will hardly be a shock if the school board caves. Union bullies often employ very convincing methods to achieve their goals.

According to Finne, “The union’s effort to ban these teachers helps explain why Washington has been called an education reform backwater.” In fact, just about anywhere there is a strong teachers union, you will find great resistance to any meaningful educational reform. Too bad they don’t teach this simple fact in ed school.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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