I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Some Good Articles on Education. Union Contracts, Class Size, and School Reform

As I sit here reading news from around the country on education topics that interest me, I have come across three pieces that are really significant in my opinion.

Recently, I voted not to approve the master contract between the teacher's union and our district--for numerous good reasons. We gave away merit pay, the language is very restrictive to management--but Most importantly, and I mentioned this before my "no" vote at the meeting--the contract puts too much emphasis on the teachers and what their rights are. Teachers shall not be required to do this, teachers shall be entitled to this, Teachers shall be given duty free this period, and that break, and this time for planning, and that time for professional development, and this right and that right, blah, blah, blah...... This contract, in my opinion, should be more centered around the children, and what is best for them. Good teachers, great teachers, know what is expected of them and do what is expected and get the job done. Contracts like the one the board just approved (without my vote) serve as a protection to underperformers--making overall reform much more difficult. I know teachers have rights, and there are valid reasons for work agreements-- but the language in our contract goes to far. When we have to codify the maximum number of after school events teachers must be required to attend per school year (contract says no more than (2) two) we are putting our priorities in the wrong places. How about language like this...

"In order to sustain student achievement and excellence, teachers are encouraged to fully participate in afterschool events, open-houses, PTA sponsored fundraising projects, school performances, recitals and similar after hours programs; These sorts of events are valuable components of each teacher's overall contribution to their individual school site, and teacher participation is encouraged to the maximum extent possible in each teacher's judgement"

let teachers decide on stuff like this---don't mandate and calculate it for them!

My point here is---how does telling teachers they are only required to attend only two (2) afterschool events per school year--how does that positively impact student achievement? I do not see that it does. Great teachers are involved and do not need a union to tally the number of events they are "required" to attend.

The opinion piece below from Santa Cruz hits many points that I am in total agreement with.

"An article by Stanford University professor Terry M. Moe published in the current issue of the American Review of Political Science delivers a withering rebuke of teacher unions and their impact on the quality of education, especially in large, minority districts like PVUSD. Moe found that the more restrictive a union's contract, i.e. the more management control concessions it won from the administration, the lower the level of student achievement. These findings were especially true in large districts over 20,000 with large minority student populations.." 'The bottom line is the interests of teachers and unions are not aligned with the interests of children, and the organizational arrangements [i.e. collective bargaining contracts] pursued by unions will ultimately diverge from those that are best for students,'"

full article from the Santa Cruz Sentinal here:

The next topic is class size. This is an extremely difficult issue to break down and anylize. On one hand, it seems counter-intuitive that the fewer students per teacher the better the student results, right? But the expense is astronomical--look at states like Florida and California that have implemented class size. I want to see the research that shows significant increases in student achievement--at an expense that does not bust the budget and fleece the taxpayers so that the unions can have more dues paying members. What is the real reason why the Unions push so hard for class size initiaves in state after state--knowing how expensive these rules become for the states that implement class size restrictions? I want to see more research on this topic. We have class size limitations in Florida, but in this budget environment it looks like many districts will be "sliding to the right" on class size targets. In the piece below, describing the intense effort underway by teacher's unions to get class size legislation passed in Alaska, some interesting data is presented from California's experience with class size laws dating from the mid 90s.

"Christopher Jepsen and Steven Rivkin in a recently published statistical analysis of California's CSR (Winter 2009 issue of the Journal of Human Resources) estimate that "the average long-run effects (are) 0.167 standard deviations in mathematics and 0.099 standard deviations in reading." Not bad, unless, of course, you translate that into English. The English translation tells us that on a scale of zero to 100 and after allowing for other effects, average mathematics scores improved by 4 percentage points, say from 60 to 64 points, and that average reading scores improved by 2 percentage points, say from 60 to 62 points...After 30 years, the vast majority of research shows that, at best, affordable reductions in class size yield only tiny results like those found in California..."

Full Article from Today's Anchorage Daily News here:

Reforming education in America is a huge priority--not just for (conservative) school board members like me at the local level, but also for our President, Barack Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, at the national level. What I think is really great is that President Obama supports education reform, including merit pay based on student achievement and finding ways to quickly remove underperforming teachers. (I know the unions hate this!)
The impetus for the urgent need for reform is, according to Morton Kondracke (in an op-ed piece in today's Williamson, W.V. Daily News), is that the cost of not making radical change to our system is killing us economically.

"President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are dedicated school reformers, and two new reports show how urgent it is that they succeed.The reports, by McKinsey & Co. and the America's Promise Alliance, show anew that the failure of American schools is hugely costly to children, the nation and local communities -- both morally and economically.McKinsey matched education scores to economic data and declared that the underperformance of U.S. schools "imposes the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession."If U.S. children had matched the top nations in the world on math and science tests over the past 20 years -- instead of ranking 24th or 25th -- McKinsey figured that U.S. gross domestic product would be $1 trillion to $2 trillion higher than it is."

Full article, from the Williamson Daily News, is here:

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