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Modern School

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Member since: Sun Dec 12, 2010, 01:09 PM
Number of posts: 794

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Big Surprise: Schools Hiring Fewer Nurses, Librarians

According to recent findings released last week by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), California is issuing fewer credentials for K-12 service positions like librarians, school nurses and administrators, and schools are hiring fewer service staff.

Between the 2006-07 and 2010-11 school years, CTC issued 11% fewer service credentials, while the number of people working in service positions dropped by 9%. The biggest decline was for nurse credentials—a 26.4% drop, while the number of nurses working in the public schools went down by 13.3%. The number of school social worker credentials fell by 18.9% and 10% for school psychologists.

There was an 8.3% increase in new teacher librarian credentials in 2010-11. However, the number of librarians working in the schools fell from 1,234 in 2006-7 to 895 in 2010-11, a 27% drop. There was also an increase in speech pathologist credentials and the number of speech pathologists working in schools declined.
(To read more, see the Bay Citizen: http://www.baycitizen.org/education/story/schools-hiring-fewer-nurses-librarians/)

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Mon May 21, 2012, 09:09 PM (5 replies)

California Judge Rules in Favor of Seniority

The current wave of Ed Deform is breathtaking for the diversity and quantity of ill-conceived and destructive demands being made by its proponents. Despite the fact that these reforms contribute to the demoralization of teachers and potential flight from the profession at a time of teacher shortages, while also deteriorating safety and learning conditions for students, it seems like legislators and the courts are perfectly content to support and promote the madness.

However, in a breath of fresh air, administrative law judges recently ruled that San Francisco Unified and Sacramento City Unified did not have the authority to ignore state seniority laws in their attempts to keep veteran teachers at low-performing schools. While state law allows for few exceptions to seniority-based layoffs, administrative law judges recently ruled that San Francisco Unified had not made a compelling case for ignoring seniority, while Sacramento City had done so only partially, according to Thoughts on Public Education, (TOPED).

Unfortunately for veteran Sacramento teachers, the rulings of administrative law judges are not binding and the Sac City school board voted unanimously to ignore the judge and exempt all teachers at all seven of the district’s “Priority Schools.” The consequence will be that many inexperienced teachers will have jobs next year, while many experienced veterans will not. The SFUSD board decided not to contest Administrative Law Judge Melissa Crowell’s decision, according to TOPED.

Fensterwald wrote that state law emphatically requires teacher layoffs to be based on seniority, but allows for two exceptions. The first is pretty obvious: a newer teacher with specific expertise cannot be bumped by a more senior colleague who lacks that expertise. For example, a 5-year veteran English teacher cannot replace a physics teacher with only 2 years of experience (unless that English teacher also has a physic credential).

The other exception, which allows districts to ignore seniority in order to protect students’ right to equal educational opportunity, is more open to interpretation and abuse. Districts like LAUSD have successfully argued (with the aid of the ACLU) that seniority causes low performing, low income schools to lose a disproportionate percentage of their teachers during layoffs.

There are numerous problems with this argument that have unfortunately been ignored or discounted by judges. First, layoffs hurt students at all schools, regardless of students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and their schools’ test scores. This is because layoffs lead to increases in class sizes and teacher workloads district-wide. This in turn decreases their ability to assign and grade meaningful assignments, monitor student safety, facilitate extracurricular activities and provide one-on-one attention. It also leads to declining course offerings.

It is also important to understand why low performing schools tend to have higher percentages of novice teachers in the first place and to critique the fairness of this for lower income students. The fact is that lower performing schools typically have a disproportionate percentage of lower income students. They also are among the most difficult schools to work in because of higher rates of absences and discipline problems and, more significantly, the burdensome punishments imposed by NCLB as a result of their lower test scores. In short, teachers at lower income schools are expected to work a lot harder and longer for the same pay as their colleagues at more affluent schools.

If we want to talk about equal educational opportunity and bias within the educational system, we need to end the Apartheid-like system that allows some schools to have as many as 80-90% of their students on free or reduced-cost lunch, while others in the same city or district may have fewer than 5%. Likewise, as long as we continue to allow a significantly more challenging workload for teachers at certain schools, those schools will continue to see an exodus of their more experienced teachers and a higher percentage of novice teachers.

Layoffs should also be recognized as an artifact of the class war being waged by the rich against the rest of us, in which the wealthy contribute less and less in taxes and rob the state of revenue for education. In other words, if the rich were paying more in taxes—possibly only what they were paying prior to the Reagan era—there would be no need for layoffs.

However, this dynamic hurts students’ educational opportunities in far deeper ways than increased class sizes and losses of popular teachers. The declining tax base also results in shrinking public health, nutritional and other services that benefit low income families, thus exacerbating many of the effects of poverty like higher rates of learning disabilities, cognitive impairment and absenteeism.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu May 17, 2012, 10:36 PM (0 replies)

VAM Bashing From the Right

Jay Mathews, the conservative foil to Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post, admits he likes Value Added Measures (VAM) in theory, but concedes that the reform is misused and abused and likens it to an action film monster that must be destroyed.

The “best” criticisms he has seen came from teacher trainer Grant Wiggins who points out that VAM “models accurately predict over a three-year period, performance at the extremes.”

In other words, if you average VAM scores over three years, you can identify the really great teachers and the really lousy ones.

Assuming this is true, the vast majority of teachers—who fall somewhere in the middle—would be getting inaccurate VAM scores and potentially bad evaluations as a result. Furthermore, because most school districts that use VAM are using them to evaluate teachers on a yearly or biyearly basis, even those falling at the extremes may be getting inaccurate VAM scores. Thus, no one is being accurately assessed by VAM.

While this is a compelling argument against VAM, there are a host of other compelling criticisms.

One of the assumptions of VAM is that a good teacher can help low income students improve as much as higher income students. This is not necessarily the case. Wealth does not simply cause students to earn higher test scores, but provides a variety of advantages that benefit affluent students throughout their lifetimes, including better health, greater access to enriching extracurricular activities, and a significantly lower risk of low birth weight, malnutrition and environmentally-induced illnesses. This decreases the chances that an affluent child will develop learning disabilities or impaired cognitive development and may increase how quickly they can learn and how much of the learning is retained. In other words, teachers at affluent schools may see greater gains in student learning because of their students’ socioeconomic backgrounds.

How much a student improves from year to year is also dependent to some extent on their previous teachers. For example, a chemistry student who had a bad math or science teacher the previous year may be lacking so much of the prerequisite knowledge and skills that their growth in chemistry is severely limited.

What Does it Mean to Be a “Really Good” Teacher?
Most would argue that there are certain easy to identify practices that characterize a “good teacher” like having a strong background in the content, creative and effective lesson design, good classroom management and a positive rapport with students.

While any teacher who has these qualities ought to be considered a “good teacher,” in reality the teachers identified by administrators as “great teachers” are often the ones who come in at 6 or 7 and stay until 6 or 7. They may in fact be excellent teachers, too, or their VAM could be a reflection of how many extra unpaid hours they are putting in.

Some would likely argue that this is a legitimate use of VAM: A teacher who puts in long hours for her students and gets them to perform better deserves a good evaluation, promotion, bonus pay, etc. However, it is not fair or reasonable to evaluate teachers on whether or not she puts in unpaid volunteer time over and beyond that required by her contract. Under this scenario, an excellent teacher who works the contractual hours or, as most of us do, who works more than the contractual hours, might still get a lower VAM score than a martyr who puts in 70-80 hour weeks.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Wed May 16, 2012, 10:27 PM (1 replies)

Gimme an A or I’ll Get You Fired—Student Blackmail, Latest in Ed Deform

Hot off the wire from Good Education and the Hechinger Report: a new K-12 pilot program in Georgia has students at every grade level evaluating their teachers, evaluations that will determine whether a teacher keeps her or his job.

Sounds crazy, but it is becoming more and more common for administrators to demand evaluation reform that includes student test data, evaluations of teachers by their students (and/or students’ parents), and even evaluations by other teachers.

This new trend is particularly dangerous and should be vigorously opposed by all teachers.

As I have written ad nauseum in this blog, student test scores primarily reflect their socioeconomic backgrounds, not their teachers’ skill. Value Added scores are notoriously inconsistent, with teachers being rated good one year and bad the next, primarily due to fluctuations in student ability from year to year and the inconsistency of the algorithms used to assess them.

Asking students to evaluate their teachers’ curriculum, pedagogy and rapport can be a useful exercise for teachers to initiate themselves in order to improve their practice. However, having administrators ask students to evaluate their teachers and use this data to determine if the teacher will be retained creates a dynamic in which students can blackmail their teachers (e.g., “Give me an A or I’ll write a bad evaluation.”) Even if students do not blackmail teachers, the dynamic will still encourage teachers to have softer disciplinary policies, allow students to break rules, assign easier and fewer homework assignments and make it easier to get As in hopes of bumping up their ratings with students.

Furthermore, students are not reliable evaluators of adults. They lack the experience and maturity to understand why teachers do many of the things they do and many lack the communication skills to provide meaningful evaluations. This is true even at the high school level, but especially in the K-5 grades. At the end of the year when I ask students to reflect on the course and my teaching, I routinely get comments like, “It was fun,” or “It was boring,” while I rarely get any kind of concrete suggestions or criticisms, like “you should pause more during lectures to give us time to digest what you have said.”

What student evaluations do provide is an opportunity for administrators to collect teacher data without doing any work (or by doing much less work). Shift one more of their job responsibilities onto someone else.

The biggest problem with the current evaluation system is not that it cannot work or that too many bad teachers are slipping through the cracks. The biggest problem is that administrators are biased, poorly trained and lack the time to adequately observe their teachers.

To obtain accurate assessments of teachers, the evaluator must be an objective, well-trained 3rd party, who lacks the power to fire teachers and does not work for the teachers’ district. Ideally, the evaluations should be done blindly, without the evaluator even knowing the teachers’ names. And their caseloads must be easily manageable. Currently, high school administrators may have 20-40 teachers on their caseloads, making it impossible for them to get in more than a short observation or two per year or to write any detailed and meaningful comments.

According to the article in Good Education, student surveys already count for 5% of teacher evaluations in Memphis and will soon count for 10% in Chicago.
Posted by M

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Wed May 16, 2012, 09:25 PM (2 replies)

Science News: Victory for Peppered Moth

For decades science teachers have used the Peppered Moth (Biston betularia) as a prime example of natural selection. Prior to the Industrial Revolution in Europe, the Peppered Moth population in England consisted of a high percentage of light-colored salt and pepper moths (known as typica) and a low percentage of dark moths (known as carbonaria). At that time, the majority of trees were also light-colored due to the growth of lichens on their bark, providing typicas camouflage. Dark moths, it was presumed, were disproportionately spotted by birds and eaten, thus keeping their population low.

As the Industrial Revolution progressed, the lichens began to die and the tree trunks became darker as they collected soot from the growing number of factories. At the same time, the percentage of light moths began to decline, while carbonarias increased and became the majority. The assumption of scientists was that now the darker moths had better camouflage and the best adaptation to avoid predation, while the lighter moths were now easy prey.

This is classic Natural Selection: A given population (members of the same species living in the same place and time) always contains a variety of phenotypes (traits), some of which are better than others at helping an organism survive long enough to reproduce and pass the adaptation to their offspring. However, environmental changes (like pollution) can alter the balance, shifting greater fecundity to organisms with a different phenotype, causing their proportion in the population to increase.

The example was so classic, so cut and dry, so obvious, that few scientists and even fewer science teachers ever questioned its validity. The hypothesis was proposed as early as 1896, according to The Scientist (May, 2012) and validated in the 1950s by Bernard Kettlewell, who collected compelling evidence that bird predation was in fact the selective force at work and that moth camouflage was affected by pollution, by placing light and dark moths directly on trees in polluted and unpolluted tracts.

However, in the 1980s, Peppered Moth experts started to identify flaws in Kettlewell’s experiments. Perhaps most compelling was their finding that tree trunks might not be the moths’ preferred resting place, thus calling into question the whole camouflage/bird predation hypothesis. It also threatened to make fools of the thousands of science teachers who were still using the Peppered Moth as a prime example of Natural Selection. Worse than this, however, was the field day it created for creationists, who called the Peppered Moth story a fraud and an example of scientists’ fallibility.

Enter Michael Majerus, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Cambridge, and a 50-year expert on Biston betularia. Starting in 2001, according to The Scientist, he set out to confirm Kettlewell’s findings using a more robust and convincing protocol. First, through years of direct observation, he discovered that the moths’ preferred resting site was the lateral branches of trees (not their trunks). Then, rather than artificially placing moths in a desired setting as Kettlewell did, he released thousands into an unpolluted tract covered with nets (so they couldn’t escape and confuse migration with predation).

Over the course of seven years he found a 9% lower survival rate for carbonaria moths, indicating that they indeed had a lower fecundity in an unpolluted setting and suggesting that they were in fact being consumed at a higher rate.

Majerus died in 2009 from an aggressive mesothelioma before his results could be published. However, a detailed account of his work was published this year in Biology Letters (February 2012) by some of his peers.

The lesson for K-12 science teachers is that they need to stay up to date on scientific discoveries and debates. In my experience, this does not happen often enough. Many (if not the majority) of those who teach science have little, if any, practical experience doing science in a real-world setting and few read scientific journals with any regularity. Furthermore, it is very rare that they have time to meet with colleagues to discuss new discoveries, review journal articles, analyze methodologies, or debate controversies, something that is an important cornerstone of university research.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Tue May 15, 2012, 09:00 PM (3 replies)

Channeling L. Ron Hubbard, The Latest in Ed Deform

Fox News is not normally one to criticize education reform, not unless a religious cult is profiting from it. In this case, Washington, D.C. schools has approved Applied Scholastics International (ASI) to provide Supplemental Educational Services (SES) to failing schools—one of the consequences of repeated failure under No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—and ASI is connected to the Church of Scientology. (For more on SES, see here and here).

To see the Fox News broadcast on YouTube, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=AbQ86uBsZe0

According to the ASI website, the organization emphasizes “Study Technology," a system developed by L. Ron Hubbard. The system, which proponents tout as secular, has been criticized for relying on core Scientology methods and ideology and for suppressing freedom of thought. Critics argue that both Study Tech and ASI are front groups for the Church of Scientology. Indeed, Hubbard said that Study Tech was directly affiliated with Scientology and the church’s “primary bridge to society” (Hubbard, Ethics and Study Tech, Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letters of 4 April 1972, and Wikipedia).

Study Tech is also based on a lot of quackery, like the notion that when a student yawns it is because he doesn’t understand one of the words, or the idea that misunderstood words are the cause of all student confusion.

FOX 5 reported that D.C. Public Schools paid the group a total of $12,000 in federal funds for tutoring services provided for the 2009-2010 school year at the same time the district was laying off teachers and making other deep program cuts. ASI licenses its material to schools and demands 4% of the school’s gross income in return.

This is not the Church’s only attempt to cash in on the education reform mania sweeping the nation. Fox News reported that according to ASI’s latest IRS records, it sold its services to 248 school districts throughout the U.S. in 2010. In that same year, the organization made $1.3 million from its education and literacy programs. Study Tech and other Hubbard methodologies are also at the core of the World Literacy Crusade.

Huffington Post reported that a charter school in Clearwater, FL, The Life Force Arts and Technology Academy, was heavily influenced by the Church of Scientology, including the use of Hubbard’s “Study Technology.” The school even held its Christmas party at a Scientology church in Tampa and students were given Scientology books and DVDs.

ASI also took advantage of the chaos following hurricane Katrina to make inroads in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Prescott Middle School adopted Study Tech and purchased ASI services, in part due to the urging of Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, who had met John Travolta and Isaac Hayes and heard recommendations of the program from these two famous scientologists, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Travolta also provided seed money to get the program up and running.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Tue May 15, 2012, 08:58 PM (2 replies)

More Cuts for Cali, Even With Tax Increase

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown told Californians that if they didn’t pass his tax increase initiative in November, he would have no choice but to slash over $5 billion from public education. Since then, tax revenue has been much lower ($3.5 billion) than anticipated, prompting Brown to threaten much deeper cuts, even if his tax initiative passes.

The tax initiative would impose a regressive sales tax on all Californians, including the poor, in addition to a short-term tax increase on incomes of $250,000 or more. It is projected to generate $9 billion, which would have barely maintained the status quo before the latest projections, and hardly made a dent in the $20 billion cut from public education over the past 3 years.

The new round of cuts will likely target health and welfare programs. However, Brown is also expected to squeeze unions. According to the Los Angeles Times, he has already been meeting with Yvonne Walker, president of SEIU local 1000, and he has been actively lobbying for cuts to public sector pensions. But the details of his proposed cuts have not been released, nor has the true size of the deficit, which some believe may be as high as $15 billion. However, one can predict some of his likely demands on the public sector unions: more furloughs, cuts to health care and pensions, layoffs and decreases in certain public services.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Mon May 14, 2012, 09:08 PM (6 replies)

Illegal Strike Looming in Detroit?

Public sector workers in Michigan are forbidden by law from striking, yet several Detroit municipal unions are considering strikes as Mayor Bing plans to eviscerate them by extracting devastating concessions and cutting more than 2,500 city jobs (25% of the total), according to the Daily Finance. His goal is to avoid being taken over by an emergency financial manager who would have the ability to rip up collective bargaining agreements and fire the mayor and city council. The concessions could include job outsourcing, no automatic reinstatement of higher pay levels, as well as health care and pension givebacks.

Despite the illegal status of strikes, Detroit workers have a long history of defying the ban and striking anyway. In November, bus drivers walked off the job for a half-day over safety concerns and in May of 2007 over similar safety issues. Garbage collectors and bus drivers
shut down service for 19 days during a 1986 strike and 1,700 workers held a three-day strike in 1978.

In March, 30 of the city’s unions sold out their members by giving away major concessions to the city, including a 10% pay cut, layoffs, and changes to their pensions. It will be interesting to see if any of these unions strike. It will be interesting to see if any of these unions go on strike. Considering what they are up against, they have little to lose.

It is important for workers everywhere to remember that ALL strikes were once illegal and workers were routinely assaulted by thugs, goons, vigilantes, police and federal troops. (For a partial history of the violence unleashed on the labor movement, please see Modern Schools Labor Timeline). Workers have made all of their most significant gains, (including moribund ones like the 40-hour work week, weekends, and overtime), through sacrifices and risks such as refusing to work even when work stoppages were illegal.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Fri May 11, 2012, 08:17 PM (0 replies)

Wobblies Lose Free Speech Fight at Starbucks

The Industrial Workers of the World (AKA IWW or Wobblies) have been trying to organize Starbucks for much of the past decade and many baristas have become dues-paying members of the union as a result of these efforts. At least one barista was coming to work wearing several pro-IWW buttons. Starbucks argued that by wearing more than one button they were converting themselves into “personal message boards” for the union. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in Starbucks’ favor, according to MSNBC.

The court ruling overturned an earlier National Labor Relations Board decision that allowed the wearing of multiple buttons as free speech, saying the "board has gone too far in invalidating Starbucks's one-button limitation."

Very few (if any) of the thousands of Starbucks outlets are currently unionized.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Fri May 11, 2012, 08:17 PM (3 replies)

RIF is Gonna to Git Yo Mama

The 4LAKids Blog suggests that a new term has taken hold in California schools: "the RIFing season," which refers to the time of the year in which "reduction in force" letters are sent out notifying teachers they may be laid off at the end of the school year.

Lately the numbers have grown ridiculously high. In March, 20,000 RIF letters went out to California teachers. Yet in the previous three years, only 25% of those receiving RIFs actually lost their jobs. While this is still a large number of layoffs (11% of the state’s entire teacher workforce) and it is certainly anxiety-provoking for those who receive RIFs, it seems excessive, cruel and unnecessary to send out layoff notices to 3 times more teachers than will actually be laid off.

The layoff notices destroy teacher morale and create uncertainty in school communities that negatively impacts students. The process is also costly to schools, costing around $700 per noticed teacher ($14 million for the 20,000 RIFfed teachers), when one factors in the expenses of having to send RIF notices by certified mail and the appeal hearings before administrative law judges.

To make matters worse, some districts may be using the fear and uncertainty of the RIF process to pressure teachers into accepting furloughs, pay cuts and other concessions and it is regularly brought up by Ed Deformers as justification for doing away with seniority and even tenure.

Of course the most immediate and logical solution to the problem is to increase revenue by increasing taxes on the wealthy and their corporations, something Jerry Brown and the CTA hope to do in November with their “Millionaires Tax Initiative.” However, this tax increase will barely maintain the status quo and restore virtually none of the $20 billion that has been looted from California K-12 public education over the past 4 years. There are also attempts in the works to create legislation that would delay the RIFfing season by a few months.

Modern School
Posted by Modern School | Thu May 10, 2012, 09:25 PM (2 replies)
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