Archive for September, 2014

Money, Politics, and Public Education

September 25, 2014 Comments off

One of the education blogs I receive included a link to this chilling report from the NPR station in New Mexico. It seems that Kathy Korte, a school board member in Albquerque, New Mexico, launched a grassroots organization called Stand4KidsNM, “…a statewide movement and social media campaign to oppose what they see as corporate standardization and an overemphasis on testing.” Because education has become intertwined with politics in NM, the group has effectively endorsed the Democratic candidate for governor, who shares their concerns. As a result, Ms. Korte is being slimed by members of the Republican party in the state and the attention of a “GOP opposition research group” from Washington DC. Monica Youngblood, a Republican members of the NM House of Representatives,  has “…alleged that the Stand4kidsNM group is in violation of the campaign reporting act, stating that the group “Raises, collects, expends or contributes money or any other thing of value for a political purpose… advocating the election of (Democrat) Gary King”, all without registering as a political action committee.”  

There is one problem with Ms. Youngblood’s assertion: Stand4KidsNM has not made any campaign contributions to Gary King. There is another problem for Ms. Youngblood and the opposition research group: Ms. Korte is not easily intimidated:

“I’ll be damned if anybody tries to bully me into quiet and submission” she says. “If I am a voice for a lot of  people who are afraid  then so be it, I’ll be that voice, I don’t mind being that voice. There are a lot of people who are afraid ” she says.

“It’s like you know what, if you don’t agree with this then you ought to have the ability to say that, without being scared that you are going to be fired” she says.

The title of this post— “Money, Politics, and Public Education”— reflects what is happening more and more with “reform” opponents like Ms. Youngblood and, as noted in earlier posts, progressives like Bill diBlasio: the people with money are willing to do whatever is needed to marginalize or quiet those who oppose the testing and privatization movement… and, as witnessed in NYS, Democrats are as complicit in this as Republicans.

I read a recent editorial lamenting the difficulty in recruiting qualified people to run for public office. When  outspoken local school board members like Kathy Korte are the focal point of national political organizations it is not surprising that people want to avoid public service… and those national political organizations could not thrive without “dark money”. We need to get money out of politics if we want good people to run for office and if we want to have an informed and reasoned debate about public policy.


Deconstructing Reynoldsburg From a Distance

September 25, 2014 2 comments

Over the past several months I watched the conflict between the Reynoldsburg School Board and the Reynoldsburg Education Association unfold from a distance. At this juncture, I have a bad feeling about how this is all going to end for Reynoldsburg because it appears from blog posts I’m reading from 1,000 miles away that the conflict in the community MAY be a proxy for what is occurring at the State level… and if that is the case, “higher forces” may want to see a “victory” instead of a settlement. I am offering this unsolicited advice to both parties on the assumption that the Reyonldsburg community is not interested in being a proxy and wants to reach a settlement that will get children back into classrooms and get the Board and REA working harmoniously in the years ahead.

Thanks to Google, I was able to review news reports from the past several months. From those reports I identified areas where I believe the Board and the REA made some tactical errors… and an area where they both erred. After reading through this information, writing a draft of this post, and reflecting on it for a day, my conclusion is that the fastest way out of the woods would be to have the federal mediator to persuade the REA and Reynoldsburg Board to agree to binding arbitration.

Here’s where I believe the Board erred based on media reports and “best practices”:

  • The Board did not conduct a wide and public search for a Superintendent: The current Superintendent, Tina Thomas-Manning, was appointed by the board without any public input or engagement. As one who was on the receiving end of several searches and one who has conducted several searches, I am a strong believer in the need to have public engagement as part of the administrative search process. An administrative search that includes public engagement provides the Board with a sense of what the community and teachers are seeking in a leader and provides the incoming administrator with a greater understanding of the context of the assignment and the community, teacher, parent, and Board expectations. Public interviews, which are often a part of the public engagement process, can be problematic for the “recruit” since they often require the release of the applicant’s name and credentials which can create some turmoil in the applicant’s current workplace. But having been in that situation on several occasions I believe the trade off is worth it. While Thomas-Manning was a known quantity to the board and the school community, her credibility as the optimal applicant would have been strengthened had she been hired using a more open process… and some of the claims about her allegiances to State level politicians I’ve read in various blogs might not have as much traction.
  • The Board delegated too much authority to the Superintendent in the negotiations process: In the six states where I served as Superintendent, in my graduate courses in the 1970s, and in many negotiations seminars I attended over three decades, I learned that the Board should “own” the negotiations process and decisions and the Superintendent should play the role of intermediary. In some small districts I served as chief negotiator for the Board, but in those cases I made it clear that only the full board could make the final decisions regarding bargaining positions. In larger districts I worked with the Board and administrators to set negotiations objectives and conferred with the board negotiations team on an as needed basis. In many instances the board hired a professional negotiator, often an attorney with a strong background in state and federal employment laws. In all cases, the majority of the board members made the key decisions regarding the bargaining process and set the collective bargaining parameters. By giving the full authority to a newly appointed Superintendent with no previous collective bargaining experience (at least none that was referenced in article announcing her appointment) they acted irresponsibly and placed the Superintendent in a very difficult position since she will ultimately be responsible for unifying the district once the strike is over.
  • The Board is stuck on one form of performance pay: The traditional lock-step unitary pay schedule is imperfect but it DOES have a “merit” component! It defines “merit” as the accumulation of years of experience (steps) and graduate credits (tracks). The board and superintendent seem to be stuck on the notion that steps and tracks should be abandoned and standardized test scores should be used to define “merit”. This notion mirrors the “school reform” philosophy of the current leaders of the Ohio State Department of Education and the current USDOE leadership. As I’ve written repeatedly on this blog (see value added entries) the use of test scores to measure teacher performance has no statistical validity and has the effect of narrowing the curriculum. I’ve also written elsewhere on this blog that there are other ways to replace the traditional pay scale that would use a more holistic and research based means of measuring “merit”, ways that MIGHT gain traction with the REA if they were considered.
  • The Board was intent on keeping schools open at all cost: Authorizing the contract with Huffmaster, whose “Strike Services” division’s motto is “when strikes threaten, no one works harder for you” and authorizing the acquisition of $200,000+ of  laptop computers to “…support lessons given by substitute teachers paid to cross picket lines” was a signal that the Board was going to try to keep school open even if it required them to pay more money for poorer services. It had two other adverse effects: it undercut the sincerity of their binding arbitration offer and made it appear that privatization might be their ultimate goal.

Here’s where I believe the teachers erred based on media reports:

  • The REA did not emphasize their willingness to explore “merit pay”: One article from a weekly Reynoldsburg News reported that “(t)he district has studied merit pay for three years and has included REA members in the discussion. More than 20 volunteered to participate in a two-year merit-pay pilot program, and hundreds have received a “student incentive award” based on student performance, for the past 10 years.”  The REA should emphasize this as evidence of their openness to exploring “merit pay”, explain why the pilot program was deficient, and explain why they do not want this kind of compensation plan even though “hundreds” of teachers received “student incentive awards” over the past 10 years. The REA could also educate the public about the preposterous way test scores are being used to measure the performance of teachers in the district now as a means of demonstrating the impracticality of basing “merit” on tests.
  • The REA did not provide a clear explanation of their rationale for refusing binding arbitration: The GFA Blue Blog, which is evidently somewhat right of center in its politics, poses a question in this blog post from earlier this week that the REA should address: “Why did the REA Reject Binding Arbitration?”. If the answer is “we wanted to retain the right to strike”, if public will ultimately perceive the REA as “causing” the strike. If there is another answer the REA should provide it ASAP.
  • The REA did not link class size caps to open enrollment revenues: From all evidence on line, Reynoldsburg is gaining students from its open enrollment plan… and gaining corresponding revenue of $5700 per student as a result. Those funds could be used to limit the budget’s impact on taxes OR they could be used to ensure that teachers have a manageable class size. It appears that the open enrollment initiative and the increase in class sizes are linked… and… if that is the case the REA is missing an opportunity to make a stronger case for their “cap” demands.

And here’s where I believed BOTH parties erred: they wanted a victory instead of a settlement.

One possible way to get teachers back into the classrooms without either party “losing face”: have both parties agree to binding arbitration. This would clearly require a concession by both parties, but concessions are necessary for a settlement to be reached and having an impartial third party resolve the conflict in this case seems to be the best way out of the woods.

The REA apparently didn’t want to enter into binding arbitration because it would prevent them from striking… Well… they’ve had a strike and from what I’ve read in some alternative media sources, the results aren’t good. The REA could “save face” on this issue by accurately claiming that their members are dismayed at what they are witnessing in the schools during the strike and want to get back into their classrooms and spend time with their teachers. After proving their point about the right to strike they are now prepared to let an arbitrator decide who is right. If, on the other hand, the REA remains closed to the idea of arbitration to “save face” they could appear to be stubborn and unyielding and, as note above, be perceived as causing the strike in the first place.

By agreeing to re-offer arbitration offer to the REA, the Board would “save face” by using that action to demonstrate its desire to achieve a settlement quickly so that teachers and administrators can get back to work educating the children in the community. If, on the other hand, the Board wants to withhold its binding arbitration offer because of the REA’s vote to strike, they would effectively be advocating that what is happening now in the classrooms is OK and insisting that the REA be punished for striking.

Will a settlement occur after Sunday’s scheduled session? Has the strike softened positions or annealed them? I would hope that the majority of the public would be on the side of the students who want their teachers back in the classroom and, sensing that community will, BOTH sides will soften their positions… forget about “winning”… and get a settlement.

Why Rank High Schools?

September 24, 2014 Comments off

Vox recently posted an article titled by Libby Nelson titled  “Ranking High Schools Tells You Which are Rich or Selective“, a title that reveals the content of the article and reveals what any educator in America can tell you even though no politician or major media outlet will never admit as much. As the article demonstrates, the great majority of the highest ranking high schools in America based on metrics devised by the Daily Beast, have two commonalities: they have selective enrollments or they are located in affluent communities with few students on free and reduced lunch. Vox ultimately poses and answers the question at the end of the next paragraph:

Publications know they’re mostly ranking on wealth and selectivity. It’s why there are separate lists for schools that actually enroll low-income students in both the Daily Beastand Newsweek rankings. So why do it?

Because everybody loves rankings. And because nearly everybody went to public high school. And because most people are friends with high school classmates on Facebook, where they will eagerly share lists of where their alma mater is ranked. For all of their complex statistical methodology, high school rankings are really just sheer entertainment.

In other words, nobody should take these rankings seriously — and nobody should expect them to go away any time soon.

I think Vox missed one important point in their response to this question, a point they made in justifying college rankings: when something is ranked one assumes it can be acquired on the open market. Nelson writes:

College rankings, at least in theory, are responding to a need in the market. Students applying to prestigious, selective colleges — particularly students who have the academic qualifications and the financial means to go to college anywhere — have quite a few to choose from. Enter rankings, a way to sort through it all. 

Later in the same section of the article she notes that this isn’t applicable to high schools because:

…knowing what the best high school is doesn’t matter if you can’t afford to live in its attendance area or if you don’t have the test scores to get in.

From my perspective, the idea of ranking public schools is a way to subtly reinforce the notion that if parents had a choice they could get their child placed in one of these schools… and the whole issue of providing an equal opportunity for learning is solved.

In a perfect world, politicians, businessmen, and voters would look at the rankings, look at the correlation between poverty rates and rankings, and conclude that schools serving children raised in poverty need more funds. But, to paraphrase the concluding sentence of the blog post, nobody should expect this to happen any time soon!