Ratting Out Bad Teachers
A Washington-based anti-union group has launched a unique contest to "jump-start a conversation" about the difficulty schools have in getting rid of bad teachers - and it's doing this by paying the worst ones to quit.
The Center for Union Facts is asking parents, students and other teachers to nominate the "worst unionized teacher in America,"and the 10 the center chooses will each receive $10,000 in return for leaving the profession and agreeing never to teach again. The "winners" must also allow the center to publish the gory details about them on its Web site.
Critics have long held that collective bargaining agreements in school districts make it very difficult to fire poorly performing or misbehaving teachers. Even with opposing studies showing that such contracts do in fact give district administrators a fair measure of flexibility in firing poorly performing teachers, Sarah Longwell, the center's director of communications, says that administrators are often "too afraid [of unions] to act."
Longwell charges teachers unions with "protecting bad teachers, holding back good ones, and blocking systemic reform efforts."
Rick Berman, a former labor attorney known for his attacks on consumer, safety and environmental groups, is heading up the project, describing it as a "severance package" idea for education advocates to adopt as a school improvement strategy. "Maybe we wouldn't have to fund charters if the public schools were pristine models of excellence on their own," he says.
Edward McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the country's largest teachers unions, says Berman "has a record of using hidden funders to attack groups that contribute a great deal to society." McElroy says the AFT "has been a longtime advocate for sound, commonsense public education policies, including high academic and conduct standards for students, and greater professionalism for teachers and school staff ."
The contest, which is being hosted on www.teachersunionexposed.com, will end on May 15, and shortly thereafter the center will announce the "winners."
Smaller Classes Don't Close Achievement Gap, Study Says
A new study from a Northwestern University researcher is challenging the conventional wisdom that reducing class size helps to narrow the learning gap between rich and poor students.
Based on a re-analysis of the Tennessee STAR project, the landmark longitudinal study launched in 1985 long considered the most authoritative justification for reducing class size. The new findings conclude that while smaller classes might increase achievement on average for all types of students, high achievers benefit more from small classes than low achievers.
"It is likely that high achievers are more engaged in learning opportunities and take advantage of the teaching practices that take place in smaller classes, or that they create opportunities or their own learning in smaller classes," Spyros Konstantopoulos, assistant professor at Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy, said in a statement released by the university.
The study appeared in the March issue of The Elementary School Journal.
Georgia County Nixes Single-Sex Plan
The Greene County (Ga.) School District has decided to drop its measures to adopt separate classrooms for boys and girls after waves of controversy broke out from outraged parents who were not consulted ahead of time, says district spokeswoman Judi Collins.
Hailed by school officials as a "research-proven" way to fix the district's rock-bottom test scores, plummeting graduation rates and high numbers of teenage pregnancies, the move would have made it the first public school system in the country to go entirely single sex.
"We just got so excited about how single-gender education could help our kids that we got ahead of ourselves," said superintendent Shawn McCollough at a meeting in late March of parents, teachers and community members from Union Point Elementary, Greensboro Elementary, and Carson Middle Schools. "We should have our parents and teachers more involved in the process," he added.
The rural four-school district is not giving up on the concept of separation by gender, but is now using feedback from school stakeholders to inform its decision.
The district recently held a series of voting sessions in which parents, teachers and community members were asked to complete a survey indicating their level of interest in having singlegender education as a choice in their child's school.
Parents' votes will be given the most weight, and the high school is not being considered for any number of single-gender classrooms, says Collins.
McCollough and a leadership team developed a plan based on the survey results and at press time had presented it to the Board of Education for review and approval. Only after any single-sex classes are offered for 2008-2009 will parents decide whether to actually register their children for them.
The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) just launched a new free leadership initiative, "Empowering the 21st Century Superintendent," designed both to provide superintendents and other school leaders with the latest tools and resources to understand the transformative role of education technology, and to lay out a blueprint for technology leadership and action.
"Innovation and new ideas for enhancing the educational experience come from educators at all levels, but often some of the most effective efforts begin with a visionary perspective from the top," explained CoSN CEO Keith Krueger during the initiative's launch at the National School Boards Association conference in March.
The set of resources includes a detailed toolkit for technology leadership (available at www.superintendentempower.org) and a video presenting superintendents' personal thoughts on 21st century learning (available at sponsor site www.pearson foundation.org). State superintendent associations have already joined in the effort and embedded the resources into conferences and publications.
Third-World Laptops Come to Alabama Schools
First- through eighth-graders in Birmingham City (Ala.) Schools will soon each have their own computer, and it will be a laptop designed for children in third-world countries.
Under a purchase agreement signed by Mayor Larry Langford, the 30,000-student district will receive 15,000 of the computers from the nonprofit foundation One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) by the start of the 2008-2009 academic year.
Called the XO laptop, the rugged, waterproof machines don't run standard Mac or Windows programs but rather a free, open-source version of Linux that features wireless capabilities and a "mesh networking" system that will allow classmates to collaborate on group projects and build off of each other's work. The computer's use of open-document formats will also allow students to program, reinvent, and reapply the software and content, which has been designed to teach math, science, reading, social studies, and art and design.
To utilize the laptops' Web browsers and Wi-Fi system, the district is beginning a major technology upgrade with a portion of the $300 million it received from a 1 percent sales tax increase, chief curriculum officer Claudia Williams told The Birmingham News.
Although originally targeted for the developing world where per capita education spending is less than $200, OLPC spokeswoman Jackie Lustig says people in the United States are "blown away" by the laptop's capabilities and low cost, and the group is in discussions with several other states and cities about pilot programs.