Can LA Teachers Push Back on Corporate Ed Reform?

LA

Reposted from In These Times:

Nine months into the Union Power administration, the question is: Can Los Angeles teachers follow the lead of Chicago teachers and pull off a successful community-backed strike—and, in so doing, deal a blow to the corporate education reform movement?

Education reformers claim their goal is to improve public education for poor students. But education activists and teachers unions see a more insidious agenda: to render education a private good rather than a public right for all. Backed by uber-wealthy philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli and Edythe Broad and the Walton family (owners of Walmart), reformers ramp up high-stakes testing, villainize teachers and unions, close public schools and open non-union charter schools.

Few urban school districts have been spared. In Los Angeles, pinching pennies in the public school system has led to crowded classrooms, underfunded counseling departments and underpaid teachers. Meanwhile, more and more tax revenue is funneled into the for-profit education sector–effectively privatizing public education.

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Privacy Pitfalls as Education Apps Spread Haphazardly

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Reposted from the New York Times:

In the Fairfax County, Va., school district, technology experts have conducted their own security reviews of several hundred digital learning products, and failed a few of the most popular ones. In Houston, one of the largest districts in the country, administrators are testing their own rating system for digital learning products and developing a set of district-approved apps for teachers.

And in Raytown, Mo., Melissa Tebbenkamp, the school district’s director of instructional technology, vets every app that teachers want to try before allowing it to be used with students. Among other things, she checks to make sure those services do not exploit students’ email addresses to push products on them or share students’ details with third parties.

“We have a problem with sites targeting our teachers and not being responsible with our data,” Ms. Tebbenkamp said. For school technology directors around the country, she added, “it is a can of worms.” The new tools are being pushed by a rapidly expanding education technology industry. Some educators, entrepreneurs and philanthropists are particularly enthusiastic about adaptive learning products because they aim to tailor lessons to the individual abilities of each student.

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When School Leaders Empower Teachers, Better Ideas Emerge

empower teachers

Reposted from MindShift:

Teachers are increasingly being pushed into new roles as their ability to connect online opens up new opportunities. Educators are finding their own professional development, sharing lesson plans and teaching tips with colleagues around the world, and have often become ambassadors to the public on new approaches to teaching and learning. Easy access to information has empowered many educators to think and teach differently, but often those innovations remain isolated inside classrooms. Without a school leader who trusts his or her teachers, it is difficult to convert pockets of innovation into a school culture of empowered teachers.

One way of building that kind of unified school culture is through distributed leadership, the idea that no one person at the top of the hierarchy makes all the decisions that will affect the work lives of the adults in the building. Instead, the school principal or district superintendent empowers teachers and staff to run crucial aspects of a school, such as admissions, professional development and new teacher mentoring.

When teachers are part of the decision-making process, it also makes it harder to complain. And while not everyone in a school is going to agree on how to approach every problem, if the process is consistent, individuals can trust that even when they don’t get their way it will be OK. However, it is just as important for a strong leader to recognize when certain difficult decisions must be made solo — like layoffs, for example. In a community like SLA, Lehmann has to take responsibility for that decision to preserve the working relationships of the rest of his staff.

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Using Design Thinking to Create a New School

designthinking

Reposted from the Hechinger report:

Students don’t usually get to design their own high schools. Neither do parents or community members who lack experience in education. But, in what could become a national model, all of these people have been asked to weigh in on the plan for a new high school in San Jose, California. That’s because the school, soon to be the first high school in the Alpha Public Schools charter network, is using a process called “design thinking,” which puts the user’s needs first. In this case, the users will be students and parents. Design thinking is a method of problem solving developed largely by Stanford University professors who sought to codify a product design process that emphasized creative solutions to meet users’ needs. Eden first heard about design thinking in an undergraduate class on urban planning at the University of Virginia. As a teacher, he used the process with his students to develop a disciplinary system that made sense to them. When he was hired to launch Alpha’s first high school, in the heart of Silicon Valley, he decided to apply design thinking to the entire process.

Using design thinking to solve education problems may not come naturally, said Susie Wise, director of the K12 Lab at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, known on campus as the d.school. “Education is not that nimble,” Wise said. But she thinks it can be. Wise said she and her team at the d.school’s K12 Lab, which focuses on helping teachers apply design thinking in their classrooms, were already experimenting with the idea of expanding this training to school leaders when they heard about Eden’s school design project. At the time, Wise said she thought, “Oh, here’s someone already using it. I wonder what we can learn from him?”

Intrigued, Wise invited Eden to participate in a one-day d.school seminar for school leaders that her team conducted last October. Wise said Eden’s participation in the seminar may have helped the other Bay Area school leaders in attendance more than it helped him. He was already a year into his two-year planning process for Cindy Avitia High School, so he was able to explain to other principals how the somewhat esoteric methods of design thinking could be applied to real life issues at schools. Wise was so pleased with the response she received from school leaders at the October seminar, and at a few other one-day seminars held at the d.school, that she’s now expanding the program. A three-month fellowship, dubbed “School Retool” will launch this month with 20 Bay Area principals. The idea is to help leaders change the way their schools operate by making small, transformative changes, called “hacks” in d.school parlance, without overhauling the whole system at once—something Wise sees far too often.

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Fewer Top Graduates Want to Join Teach for America

TFAclassroom

Reposted from the New York Times:

Teach for America, the education powerhouse that has sent thousands of handpicked college graduates to teach in some of the nation’s most troubled schools, is suddenly having recruitment problems. For the second year in a row, applicants for the elite program have dropped, breaking a 15-year growth trend. Applications are down by about 10 percent from a year earlier on college campuses around the country as of the end of last month. The group, which has sought to transform education in close alignment with the charter school movement, has advised schools that the size of its teacher corps this fall could be down by as much as a quarter and has closed two of its eight national summer training sites, in New York City and Los Angeles.

When Haleigh Duncan, a junior at Macalester College in St. Paul, first came across Teach for America recruiters on campus during her freshman year in 2012, she was captivated by the group’s mission to address educational inequality. Ms. Duncan, an English major, went back to her dormitory room and pinned the group’s pamphlet on a bulletin board. She was also attracted by the fact that it would be a fast route into teaching. “I felt like I didn’t want to waste time and wanted to jump into the field,” she said.

But as she learned more about the organization, Ms. Duncan lost faith in its short training and grew skeptical of its ties to certain donors, including the Walton Family Foundation, a philanthropic group governed by the family that founded Walmart. She decided she needed to go to a teachers’ college after graduation. “I had a little too much confidence in my ability to override my lack of experience through sheer good will,” she said.

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Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions

pensions

Reposted from the National Council on Teacher Quality:

In Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions: How to Protect Teachers and Taxpayers, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) challenges the claims of pension boards and other groups about the cost-effectiveness, fairness and flexibility of the traditional defined benefit pension plans still in place in 38 states. The report includes a report card on each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia with a detailed analysis of state teacher pension policies.

Do the math on teacher pensions and it just doesn’t add up. In 2014 teacher pension systems had a total of a half trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities — a debt load that climbed more than $100 billion in just the last two years. Across the states, an average of 70 cents of every dollar contributed to state teacher pension systems goes toward paying off the ever-increasing pension debt, not to future teacher benefits. Yet despite the overwhelming evidence that current pension policies cannot be sustained and don’t meet the needs of the 21st century teacher workforce, state lawmakers, regulators and pension boards continue to deny or ignore the crisis.

Since 2008, the NCTQ has tracked the health of teacher pension systems in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The state-by-state report cards included in this report present comprehensive state data on pension funding and pension system rules.

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What Teachers Make and What It Buys Them [INFOGRAPHIC]

smart moneyWhat teachers are paid matters. Many factors play a role in making the decision to become a teacher, but for many people compensation heavily influences the decision not only to enter the profession but also whether to stay in it and when to leave. For teachers, knowing where salaries start and end isn’t enough; they must also understand the path they will take from starting salary to the top of the scale. This NCTQ infographic compares the career salaries for teachers from the east and west coast. The full report delves deeper into what teachers make, how long it takes and what it buys them.

Read the full report here.