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Posts Tagged ‘education’

Young Teachers Deserve Retirement Protections, Too

September 24th, 2014

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How does it feel to lose $11,000 and know you’ll never get it back? This past week I discovered that I lost just that amount in retirement savings because like roughly half of America’s young teachers, I taught for fewer than five years.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, made a startling admission on a recent segment of “Morning Joe.” She said fighting teacher tenure laws was pointless because most teachers in American classrooms today have less than two years of teaching experience. While that figure is a slight exaggeration toward the low end, Weingarten is right in recognizing that the teaching profession looks drastically different — and newer — from before.

Despite this, most teachers still find themselves paying into a pension system that is a relic left from a time when educators stayed in the same job in the same place for an entire career. Teachers in most states receive defined benefit pensions that are based on a backloaded formula that factors in salary and years of service: teachers receive minimal benefits in their early years, but are rewarded quickly and heavily as they near retirement age. The rules of these defined benefit plans reward longevity and punish mobility — even mobility within the profession between school districts or states. It works if you stay in one place and keep teaching, but doesn’t if you switch careers or move out of state, which is what I did.

When I left a Los Angeles Unified School District classroom after three years and moved to Washington, D.C., I learned that three years of employer contributions to my retirement became three years of donations to someone else’s. Since California requires five years of teaching to vest in a pension (19 states require 10 years), I was only entitled to recoup the 8 percent annual contribution that was deducted from my paycheck each pay period. I was forced to cede back to the pension program the 8.25 percent of annual contributions that were made — ostensibly on my behalf by my employer — an amount totaling more than $11,000. Invested very conservatively, this money would be worth at least $35,000 when I get ready to retire one day — but realistically several times that based on historical returns or what state pension funds expect to earn.

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What Are Our Teachers Learning?

March 25th, 2014

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You don’t get a medal for 19th place. Yet when America’s 15-year-olds took an international test to discern how much they’d learned, 18 countries outranked them. American teens were even further from the medal stand in math and science, scoring well below the international average and sitting in the back row with Lithuania. This has become an old story.

So why aren’t we even in the competition for global academic gold? Maybe we should take a closer look at our teacher preparation, all the way from college training to professional development for existing teachers and principals. As students have languished further behind, we’ve done almost nothing to ensure today’s teachers will get the training they need to better reach students in the classroom.

Think about all of those professional development days that teachers take which leave kids home for the day. Are they improving teacher outcomes? As it turns out, all too often professional development for teachers is ham-handed at best, and at worst it’s a complete waste of time. Just ask those teachers in Chicago who were caught on video last month robotically repeating directions as part of their required instructional training.

All of this “professional development” is coming at a cost to the taxpayer — around $1 billion each year at the federal level.

That’s an issue a pair of prescient members of Congress are now seeking to address. Last week, Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Donald Payne Jr., D-N.J., teamed up to introduce bipartisan legislation to ensure that professional development for teachers and principals actually leads to increased student learning. If successful, the Great Teaching and Leading for Great Schools Act would mean no more blank checks for useless workshops. Instead, they would be replaced with training for teachers that actually has research behind it to show its effectiveness.

It seems so obvious as to be unnecessary, but it would actually be a stark change from the status quo, since almost no empirical evidence currently exists to determine if any of the current professional development programs do anything other than keep kids home from school a few days each year.

Measuring whether a professional development program is working won’t be that hard, thanks to the president’s Race to the Top initiative and other education reforms that now connect teachers to their students’ achievement. With these accountability measures in place, we can see which teacher development efforts directly improve student results. And this is one of the rare happy places in the education debate that doesn’t pit reformers against unions. For the first time, the largest teachers’ union is on board for using student achievement data to measure the effectiveness of professional development programs for teachers, as the National Education Association has endorsed the Polis-Payne plan. The National Education Association knows that teachers deserve more too, including individualized development and skills-building, not the one-size-fits-all training found in most schools today.

In order for the U.S. to once again lead the world in education, we must take the necessary steps to improve how we develop those tasked to lead our schools on a daily basis. In Shanghai, where students have dominated on international benchmark exams in recent years, they emphasize using their teacher evaluation system to provide professional development that is laser-focused on improving instruction. A similar approach in the U.S. would be a vast improvement for teachers over today’s “throw everything against the wall and hope something sticks” mentality.

Teachers in the U.S. spend significantly less time engaging in professional development than their international peers (a recent study found that teachers in the U.S. spend 80 percent of their time teaching, compared to an average of 60 percent for teachers in other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries), requiring us to make every dollar and every hour count. After all, if teachers are going to be held accountable for how well their students perform, then the programs we use to train them should be held accountable, too.

This piece was originally published via U.S. News & World Report.

The Election Results No One is Talking About

November 12th, 2013

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Which is the most important result of Tuesday’s election?

A. A Republican governor won a landslide election in a blue state.

B. A Democrat was elected governor in a purple state during intense criticism of a new federal government program.

C. An outspoken liberal Democrat was elected mayor in a big city — where opposition parties had been in power for 20 years.

D. An education funding amendment lost in a mountain state.

If you said D, you’re correct.

On Tuesday, Amendment 66 was defeated in Colorado, with preliminary results suggesting a drubbing of two-to-one opposed. It would have improved education funding with slight tax increases and changed Colorado’s flat tax to a two-tiered, progressive structure.

The goal was a major overhaul of education finance, with reduced disparities at the local level and increased spending — including funding for early childhood programs, rural education and at-risk youth programs.

Millions of dollars poured into the state to support the amendment. High-profile backing came from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Melinda Gates. But the more than $10 million spent in support of the amendment wasn’t enough to convince skeptical voters.

The defeat of Amendment 66 should worry Democrats. This is about as close as you can get to the main thrust of the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda: raise taxes on wealthier people to fund investments in the future.

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The Middle Class Gets Wise

October 21st, 2013

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Perhaps we underestimate ourselves. Five years after the Lehman collapse triggered the deepest recession in eight decades, the middle class may be solving the vexing problems of income inequality and stalled wages on its own.

Faced with unemployment and dim job prospects, Americans made one significant change that should alter their fortunes and those of the middle class for decades: they went back to school. During the recession, there has been a sharp surge in the number of Americans who are getting a college degree. Read the rest of this entry »

More About What Makes a Middle Class School

September 21st, 2011

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The goal of our recent report “Incomplete: How Middle-Class Schools Aren’t Making the Grade” was to jumpstart a national conversation around the state of middle-class schools. Given the response, it looks like we’re off to a good start.

We’ve received a wide range of feedback from educators, policymakers, and thought leaders who share a common purpose—getting our kids ready to succeed in the 21st century. Since a portion of the response has focused on our definition of “middle-class” or our approach to school-by-school data, we wanted to take a moment to tackle some of the issues that have been raised.

It seems that the main point of contention that some have with our report has to do with how we define a middle-class school.

To sum up their argument, they find our use of eligibility statistics for free or reduced school lunch to be either arbitrary or too sweeping. Let us be clear: Our decision to use this criteria was a deliberate choice, grounded in established procedures and data.

With the current education reform debate almost entirely focused on low-income schools and students, we wanted to shed light on the schools in the middle that serve a majority of Americans. We paralleled the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of high poverty schools and districts as those with more than 75% of students qualifying for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Schools and districts with 25% or less of their students eligible for free or reduced lunch are the upper-end of the income spectrum. In essence, the middle two quartiles of schools are middle-class schools.  Read the rest of this entry »

“Why Sputnik?”

January 27th, 2011

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“This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” President Obama declared in his State of the Union speech Tuesday evening. Interesting metaphor. I was around for the launching of Sputnik in 1957. He wasn’t. Sputnik created a huge wave of shock and paranoia in the United States. The Soviets were beating us! We were losing the Space Race! And maybe the Cold War.

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