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Posts Tagged ‘teachers’

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.