Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Keep Great Teachers"

I've seen this TV ad a few times.

We are a coalition of parents, teachers and education advocates committed to guaranteeing the best, highest quality education for all of our children. Our goal is to educate the public about the potential risks that seniority-based layoffs pose for our students. Our teachers need to be held to high standards and rewarded for their accomplishments in the classrooms.
We believe that every student deserves a world class public education. That starts by ensuring we keep the best teachers in our classroomswhether they were the first or last person hired.

Do teacher unions want collaboration or conflict?

The same question could be asked of education reformers.  Although everyone seems to agree with the recent calls for civility, much of the rhetoric and actions we're seeing in the current debate is not amicable.

Some consider Wisconsin Governor Walker a bully for pushing an agenda to strip teachers of their rightful union rights.  On the other hand, the Governor says he will not be bullied by the teacher unions.

Big Government served up a list of antagonistic actions by teachers.  Here are a few:

• Last summer, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told union members, “When we join forces together with our parents, our students and our communities and fight smart – well, they haven’t seen a fight like this. Not in a long time.”
•Lewis ramped up the rhetoric at a rally last fall, telling union members, “I’m not wearing earrings because we’re in a fight, a real fight.”
•United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew attacked New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, saying “It’s apparent the mayor shares his definition of democracy with Hosni Mubarak.”
•In a recent letter to union members, Indiana Federation of Teachers President Rick Muir repeatedly refers to the state’s education reform efforts as a “war.” “Make no mistake about it,” Muir writes, “we will lose the war if we sit back and do nothing.”

It was disheartening to see all the negative posters on display during the teachers' march on the Wisconsin legislature.  Ann Althouse posted photos here and here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Teacher unions "facing the harshest political climate" in decades

The Department of Education recently sponsored a labor-management conference, called Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration, seeking ideas for collaborating to raise student achievement.
Education historians said the unions were facing the harshest political climate since states began extending legal bargaining rights to schoolteachers decades ago. 
The conference, convened by the Department of Education, drew school authorities and teachers’ union leaders from 150 districts across the nation to Denver to discuss ways of working together. To participate, each district’s superintendent, school board president and teachers’ union leader had to sign a pledge to collaborate in good faith to raise student achievement....
The conference comes at a time when thousands of districts are facing their most severe budget cuts in a generation, and union contracts calling for layoffs based on seniority could force many districts to dismiss their most energetic young teachers.
But changing these policies could also prompt some districts to remove more experienced, higher paid teachers to balance their budgets.
Role for Teachers Is Seen in Solving Schools’ Crises - NYT, 2/15/11
In Idaho and Indiana, legislation has been proposed limiting the role of unions in the design of education policies.  Given that the primary goal of unions is to protect the rights of its members, I see the wisdom of these proposals.  Should parents have a stronger voice than teacher unions in setting education policy?

In Wisconsin, legislative action to limit union rights has led to massive protests by teachers, shutting down Madison public schools two three days in a row.
In addition to eliminating collective bargaining rights, the legislation also would make public workers pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage — increases Walker calls "modest" compared with those in the private sector.
In Tennessee:
The Senate Education Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to abolish collective bargaining between teachers unions and school boards across the state.

CliffNotes for CliffNotes

Yup, CliffNotes "is now producing brief internet videos of its famous crib notes which will be shown initially on AOL, since 'everything in today’s world seems to be headed towards speedier and shorter ways to get information'."  The clips will be “humorous" and  “irreverent,” which I'm sure is desgined to engage today's disengaged students.

In the interest of trying to be concise and not bore any readers, all I will say in response is, "Arghhhh!".

Found at Joanne Jacobs' blog.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Massachusetts - a tax cap that works

According to this editorial in the Buffalo News, New York should look to the successful Massachusetts tax cap enacted in 1980.  In a state formerly known as "Taxachusetts", tax rate growth has been sharply curtailed without appreciably affecting government services.

This should be of particular interest to New York residents who believe that our small municipalities and "boutique" school districts could benefit from economies of scale:
The Massachusetts cap also appears to have sparked fire agencies and school districts to merge, and assorted local governments to consolidate or share services. In New York, local governments only nibble around the edges when it comes to sharing services, and outright mergers are rare.
I wonder if Massachusetts had to implement mandate relief when it imposed its tax cap?

Recent state changes might lower per pupil special education spending in Westchester County

In December, the New York State Board of Regents approved a special education cost-containment proposal from the state Department of Education that allows for some changes in special education services.
There are two provisions that worry parents the most. One would allow a school to increase the maximum number of special education students in an integrated class from 12 to 14, under certain circumstances.
The other provision repeals the requirement that a school provide a minimum of two 30-minute language or speech therapy session a week. Instead, the “frequency, duration and location of each service shall be in the IEP [individual education plan], based on the individual student’s need for the service,” according to the amended rules.
Many parents believe these amendments represent a “slippery slope” that will lead to more changes in services.
The Bronxville-Eastchester Patch reports that our local school's special education per student costs are $49,770, highest among all the schools listed.  However, our school attracts special ed students from other districts who pay tuition for the services provided.  Information provided by the Assistant Superintendent of Business explained that the actual cost is $38,817, which seems to be in the middle of the pack for the list.

Local School
Special Ed
Instructional Expenditures
Instructional Exp. Per Pupil

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Current events in the Internet Age

Last week when a eighth-grade English teacher at our local middle school asked his class if anyone knew what was going on in Egypt, only three students raised their hands.  This was reported to me by a student in the class.

This in the "Internet Age".  I'm unsure if I'm surprised or not.  Wait. . . . I'm not surprised.


A senate hearing Wednesday revealed that top US intelligence agencies are largely ignorant about the current situation in Egypt and unfamiliar with the agenda of the country’s radical Islamists. 
(Cross posted at Kitchen Table Math)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tiger moms at our local school?

When I attended our local middle school's drama club performance recently, I saw only one or two Asian faces among the actors on stage.  On the other hand, I have always noticed many Asian musicians performing in our school orchestra concerts.  Could it be that tiger mothers are alive and well in our town?

"Tiger Mother" Amy Chua on her parenting approach:
Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
not play the piano or violin.
Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, WSJ 1/8/11

Khan Academy on iTunes

Free, of course.  You can go to iTunes for more information.  My college son has just started using KA for help on some of his calculus topics.

Glenn Reynolds posted some comments about how Rick Perry's proposal for a $10,000 college degree could incorporate Khan Academy lessons.  I definitely see the possibilities.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Westchester school tax groups aim for "critical mass"

As the economy has tanked over the past few years and property taxes in many communities have grown well into the five figures, taxpayer groups and individual advocates have increasingly been raising red flags over school spending and organizing to push for flat budgets.
Citizen groups have organized in the Bedford, Blind Brook and Chappaqua school districts. 
Until now, said Elinor Griffith, one of the leaders of the group, "it's sort of like everyone's inventing the wheel on their own." Now the groups are sharing information on things like New York labor law and strategies for getting information out. New Castle Citizens for Responsible Education recently started its Freeze the Budget blog after seeing the one in Blind Brook....
Albany also comes under fire for setting pension policy and, through the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law, allowing contract provisions to stay in place during negotiations. But the groups are encouraged now by the talk of passing a property tax cap. They're also encouraged they've found each other."If we can get critical mass," Marcus said, "I feel our voice becomes louder across the county and also locally." 

Here are some websites:

Blind Brook -

Chappaqua -

“The kids have taken over the e-readers,”

This seems like a good trend.
But now that e-readers are cheaper and more plentiful, they have gone mass market, reaching consumers across age and demographic groups, and enticing some members of the younger generation to pick them up for the first time.
“The kids have taken over the e-readers,” said Rita Threadgill of Harrison, N.Y., whose 11-year-old daughter requested a Kindle for Christmas.
In 2010 young-adult e-books made up about 6 percent of the total digital sales for titles published by St. Martin’s Press, but so far in 2011, the number is up to 20 percent, a spokeswoman for the publisher said. . . .
Kids are drawn to the devices, and there’s a definite desire by parents to move books into this format,” Ms. Vila said. “Now you’re finding people who are saying: ‘Let’s use the platform. Let’s use it as a way for kids to learn.’ ”
Some teachers have been encouraging, too, telling their students that they are allowed to bring e-readers to school for leisure reading during homeroom and English class, for example.