Tag Archives: education

Why Jeff Sessions is Great for Public Schools

jeff_sessions_official_portrait

by Christopher Paslay

Jeff Sessions’ objective application of the law will be a positive change from the racial divisiveness of Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, whose race-based policies demoralized teachers and tied the hands of school administrators. 

According to a study published in the Washington Post in July of 2016, America is more racially divided than it’s been in decades.  Despite President Obama’s promise to bring Americans together (“. . . there’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America . . .”), the tone of his administration could be more aptly summarized by his statement, If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon.

The irony, of course, is that a bi-racial president was so racially polarizing.  This divisiveness was felt by many Americans, including our nation’s public school teachers.  Following the lead of Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan used the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to label public schools and their teachers as institutionally racist and hit them with suffocating regulations.

According to a 2012 study by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Black students were more than three times as likely as their White peers to be suspended or expelled.  That was noteworthy information, being that 84 percent of America’s public school teachers in 2012 were White.

The result of this report, of course, was not only the demoralization of public school teachers, but the implementation of regulations which made it harder to discipline students and maintain workable classroom environments.  Teachers were forced to rethink the way they approached their jobs, planning lessons which accommodated the unruly behavior of minority students who were no longer allowed to be removed from the classroom; these challenged children were forced to coexist with their functional hard working peers, and the integrity and quality of everyone’s education, Black and White alike, was compromised.

So how is our new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session going to remedy the situation?  By being a fair and objective arbiter of the law.  Throughout his confirmation hearing, Sessions insisted he would uphold and protect the United States Constitution, unlike Barack Obama and Eric Holder, who selectively enforced the law.  In other words, Sessions will not use race to set policy or interpret the Constitution — a simple enough premise.

In short, Sessions won’t play the part of an aggrieved activist, using skin color to either prosecute — or refrain from prosecuting — American citizens.  The new culture of “colorblindness” will hopefully set the tone for the rest of the DOE.  This would mean the race card might be put away for a while, and teachers will be free to teach once again.  Disciplinarians will be free to discipline, too.  Regardless of race.

Perhaps the morale of public school teachers may improve as well.  Not being labeled a racist — along with having a manageable classroom environment — will go a long way in terms of school performance.  In Sessions, teachers now have an Attorney General whom they can respect as a fair arbiter of the law, an attorney General who will work for everyone equally, not just those minority groups the government deems worthy of preferential treatment.

Unfortunately, though, the campaign to slander Sessions has been in high gear as of late.  His critics don’t want a neutral arbitrator of the law but a social justice activist like Holder and Lynch — someone who will selectively prosecute based on skin color, the way Holder did in 2009 when the DOJ dropped the case against the New Black Panthers for intimidating voters in Philadelphia.

The fact that Sessions will be colorblind is the main reason why his opponents label him . . . get ready for this, racist . . . and continue to use smear tactics and spread misinformation sessions-bridge-3-1024x683about him.  In the world of race-baiting and identity politics, being colorblind is akin to committing a hate crime.  Despite the disingenuous attacks from fellow senators, Sessions is a good man with a glowing record on civil rights.  During a march to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” Jeff Sessions held hands with civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

According to the Weekly Standard:

Sessions’s actual track record certainly doesn’t suggest he’s a racist. Quite the opposite, in fact. As a U.S. Attorney he filed several cases to desegregate schools in Alabama. And he also prosecuted Klansman Henry Francis Hays, son of Alabama Klan leader Bennie Hays, for abducting and killing Michael Donald, a Black teenager selected at random. Sessions insisted on the death penalty for Hays. When he was later elected the state Attorney General, Sessions followed through and made sure Hays was executed. The successful prosecution of Hays also led to a $7 million civil judgment against the Klan, effectively breaking the back of the KKK in Alabama.

Jeff Sessions is hardly a racist.  On the contrary, he’s an honest man with character and integrity, and will have a positive impact on both public school performance and teacher morale.

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Arne Duncan is Right: Protesters Shouldn’t be Blocking DeVos from Public Schools

duncan

by Christopher Paslay

Obama Education Secretary is right to condemn agitators for verbally assaulting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and for physically blocking her from entering a D.C. public school.    

On Friday afternoon, after Betsy DeVos was physically prevented from entering a Washington D.C. public school and verbally assaulted by a group of agitators (allegations that DeVos was physically assaulted are still being investigated), Arne Duncan tweeted out the following:

Agree or disagree w @BetsyDeVos on any issue, but let’s all agree she really needs to be in public schools. Please let her in.

Duncan, who served as Obama’s Education Secretary for seven years, should be commended for remaining above the fray and calling for civil treatment of DeVos, the newly confirmed United States Secretary of Education. Whether you agree with her stance on education or not, the all-out smear campaign on her background and character is inappropriate.

Vanity Fair film critic Richard Lawson actually likened DeVos to a murderer, tweeting that her policies “will kill children” and lead “queer kids” to “more suicides” because of a lack of access to supports in religious schools.

Interestingly, if you take a closer look at her agenda, you’ll find that many of her views aren’t that different from Arne Duncan’s, which might be why he went out of his way to defend her right to be heard. Duncan’s record as Obama’s education chief reveals he did quite a lot to dismantle traditional public education and attack schoolteachers, turning neighborhood schools into charters and trampling collective bargaining rights in the process.

During his seven year tenure, Duncan fought to:

  • Use performance pay to compensate teachers based on student performance on standardized tests.
  • End teacher seniority to give principals the autonomy to pick their own staffs.
  • Turn “failing” schools into charters.
  • Overhaul entire staffs of teachers and principals at failing schools.
  • Reduce suspensions and expulsions to deal with unruly and disruptive students.

Then there was his whole plan to shame teachers into improving performance, endorsing the public release of information about how well individual teachers fare at raising their students’ test scores.

This doesn’t sound like a man who respected teachers’ unions, traditional public education, or educational privacy rights, but other than an occasional editorial in the newspaper, not a whole lot was said about it. The Obama/Duncan “Reform Train” railroaded public schools, students, and teachers from coast to coast, for seven long years. And how many times did raving agitators, holding Black Lives Matter signs, block his entrance into schools?

Zero.

How many times did Chuck Schumer insist that Obama’s appointment of Duncan to office should “offend every single American man, woman, and child who has benefitted from the public education system in this country,” the way he did of Trump’s appointment of DeVos?

Zero.

How many times were Duncan’s policies accused of killing children?

Zero.

Why?

Politics as usual.

Take education in Philadelphia, for example. There’s this notion floating around that the appointment of Betsy DeVos marks the end of Philly public schools as we know them, that teachers’ unions—along with collective bargaining—will be irrevocably dismantled. I’ve heard it mentioned, in fact, that Betsy DeVos is the biggest threat to collective bargaining ever.

Ever?

Hardly.

Dwight Evans wins this title. In the late 1990s, he fought to pass the Pennsylvania Charter School Law, which opened the floodgates for school choice and took millions of dollars away from traditional public schools and pumped them into privately owned charters.  Evans also supported Acts 46 and 83, which enabled Harrisburg to take over the Philadelphia School District, and replace the local school board with a state-run School Reform Commission.

It also took away the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ right to strike.

Now, fast forward to 2017. The city doesn’t have a local school board, and contract terms can be unilaterally forced on the union by the SRC.  The school budget has been slashed by hundreds of millions, and staffs are running on bare bones.  Many schools lack adequate nurses and counselors. It’s been over 1,000 days since teachers have had a contract.  Their seniority has been cut, their degrees marginalized, and they haven’t received a raise in nearly four years.

Was Dwight Evans ever blocked from entering a school?

No. On the contrary, he’s been continually voted into office by establishment Democrats, many of whom are the same folks throwing a temper tantrum over Betsy “Doomsday” DeVos.

Why isn’t DeVos the biggest threat to collective bargaining to date in Philadelphia? Because under Act 46 and 83, there is no real power to collective bargain.   You can’t take away something you don’t technically have.

Yet somehow DeVos remains the ultimate boogiewoman, and has been relentlessly smeared before even being given a chance to develop her vision for American education.

Kudos to Arne Duncan for remaining above the fray and calling for the civil treatment of DeVos. You can agree or disagree with DeVos on any issue, as Duncan stated, but at least know she must be allowed to visit public schools so we can have an appropriate and responsible dialogue.

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Healthcare Reform Causing School Districts to Cut Jobs

Officials in school districts are voting to cut employee hours to avoid the healthcare mandate. 

Below is a must read article concerning school districts and healthcare reform by Elizabeth MacDonald:

Health reform is now causing job turmoil across the country in three key groups that the White House has depended on for support—local government, school workers and unions.

School districts in states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Utah, Nebraska, and Indiana are dropping to part-time status school workers such as teacher aides, administrators, secretaries, bus drivers, gym teachers, coaches and cafeteria workers. Cities or counties in states like California, Indiana, Kansas, Texas, Michigan and Iowa are dropping to part-time status government workers such as librarians, secretaries, administrators, parks and recreation officials and public works officials.

This growing trend comes as three major unions have written to Democratic Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid warning that, because health reform is helping to push the work week to below 30 hours, it will “destroy the foundation of the 40-hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.”

The federal law forces employers with at least 50 full-time workers to cover at least 60% of health-care costs for employees who work 30 hours or more per week. The law covers schools and state and local governments.

If they don’t offer affordable health insurance, schools and local governments could be fined $2,000 to as much as $3,000 per employee annually. The White House delayed the employer mandate for one year so employers can adjust, which the National School Boards Association (NSBA) applauded, as the mandate will hit schools hard.

Nearly three-quarters of government employers provide generous benefits to workers, funded by taxpayers, higher than any other industry, says the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But the quarter that do not are making rapid changes to the work week. To stop the wheels from coming off the school bus, school districts are doing the math, and are figuring out that cutting worker hours down to part-time status, or paying the mandate tax, or dropping part-time coverage is less expensive than offering health insurance benefits. “School districts across the U.S. are grappling to determine how they will respond to the requirement,” says National Insurance Services, a specialist in public sector employee benefits since 1969.

“Even some school districts on Long Island now contemplate putting school workers in the state health exchange to save money, while administrators and superintendents get paid huge six-figure salaries,” says a school administrator in Nassau County who asked to remain anonymous.

On top of that, cities across the nation are discovering that the extra expense from health reform will trigger layoffs and cutbacks in city services like public works, city jails, government workers in nursing homes, parks and libraries if they don’t push government workers down to part-time status. Some plan to hire even more part-time employees to make up for the lost hours, city officials have said.

A record high 28.1 million workers are now part-time, though the recession officially ended four years ago. Since the 2008-09 recession, part-time employment rose by 2.8 million (almost all of the gain was involuntary). Full-time work fell by 9.4 million from 2007 through 2010, the Census Bureau says. During that time, the ratio of part-timers rose to 20%, vs. 13% in 1968, and 17% in 1980. The economy has created just 130,000 full-time positions so far in 2013, versus 557,000 part-time jobs.

The irony is, health reform could fix the soaring pension and retiree health benefits owed by government agencies across the country, as numerous municipalities consider moving to a part-time workforce, analysis shows.

With the help of FOX analyst Mark Rigby, here’s what we found happening across the nation.

SCHOOL DISTRICTS

Schools throughout Indiana are cutting back the hours of teacher assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and coaches to avoid having to offer them health insurance under the new federal employer mandate.

“We cannot go out and raise the price of our product to assist us covering this. We would have to go to the taxpayers and ask for some type of increase, and I just don’t see that happening,” said Les Huddle, superintendent of the Lafayette School Corp. This school district has cut the hours for about 600 full-time, non-certified employees in more than 150 schools to part-time status.

Indiana’s Shelbyville Central School System also is cutting back full-time hours of about 100 teacher aides, bus drivers, coaches and substitute teachers.

The Wake County Public School System in North Carolina is considering restricting its 3,300-plus substitutes to working less than 30 hours a week, effective July 1. The school district figured that, if just a third of these subs got employer health insurance, it would cost it about $5.2 million.

The Southern Lehigh School District in Pennsylvania voted to cut the hours of 51 part-time secretaries, custodians and cafeteria workers to avoid the health care mandate.

“We are always looking to meet our obligations to students, the community, taxpayers, our employees and our staff, and this vote will have a direct impact on some of our employees,” South Lehigh School Board President Jeffrey Dimmig told the Lehigh Valley Morning Call, saying he was “troubled” by having to make the move.

In Nebraska, public school districts have been contemplating cutting worker hours to avoid the extra expense of health reform. Attorney Karen Haase who represents roughly 150 school districts in the state, estimates thousands of non-teaching jobs, such as bus drivers, cafeteria cooks, teacher aides, janitors, and administrative workers, may see their hours cut, layoffs and hiring freezes.

Between 1,000 and 1,200 of teacher aides, substitute teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and security officers and other workers in the Granite School District outside Salt Lake City, Utah, will see their part-time hours reduced due to the costs of health reform.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell recently said he would limit state part-time employees to a 29-hour maximum work schedule to save the state $61 million to $110 million per year. That includes schools.

Virginia’s Chesterfield County Public Schools and the Chesterfield County government have set 28 hours as the maximum work week for school and other government workers who are not full-time. A school district memo says “this legislation has the potential for serious financial implications for the school division.”

The memo is blunt on how the new law redefines work hours. “The Affordable Care Act redefines full-time employees from people working 40 hours a week to people working 30 hours a week,” it says. “Failure to comply with health-care reform requirements would result in severe penalties — potentially millions of dollars.” The memo says the move will avoid extra costs of about $14 million.

Complaints from school workers about the new law are rolling in. “This healthcare reform is going to make me pay higher preminums (sic). It will make the schools pay more & cut jobs, & programs,” said one complainant on the American Federation of Teachers’ website.

Already, colleges and universities have been cutting back hours of adjunct professors. Youngstown State University in eastern Ohio will limit the hours of non-union part-time employees like these professors to 29 hours a week or less to make sure that the university is not required to provide them with health insurance coverage under the new law.

Part-time professors at Piedmont Virginia Community College and other community colleges in the state could see their hours cut because of Virginia’s response to the new federal health reform law, officials said.

Some 200 adjunct faculty members at Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania will see their hours cut so the school can avoid paying for their health insurance coverage. “While it is of course the college’s preference to provide coverage to these positions, there simply are not funds available to do so,” David Hoovler, executive assistant to the president of CCAC, has said. Another 200 additional part-time employees, such as administrators, computer, seasonal and other positions, will be limited to working 25 hours per week.

And the Haysville school district outside Wichita, Kansas, now says part-time employees who work fewer than 30 hours will no longer receive health benefits they used to get.

MUNICIPAL WORKERS

Officials in Floyd County, Ind., recently announced plans to drop the hours of part-time government workers to below 30 hours a week from 34 because of health-reform mandates.

Butler County outside Wichita, Kansas, now classifies part-time municipal workers as those who work fewer than 30 hours a week.

Long Beach, Calif., is restricting most of its 1,600 part-time employees to on average fewer than 27 hours a week. City executives warn that without the move, their budget would soar $2 million due to higher health benefit costs. The city calculated that the federal penalty for dropping coverage completely for its 4,100 full-time employees would have been about $8 million, so instead, it’s opting to cut the hours.

“I understand there are costs to healthcare reform, but it is surely not the intent of the law for employees to lose hours,” part-timer Tara Sievers, an outreach coordinator at a nature center in Long Beach, is quoted as saying.

The city of Plano, Texas, says it will cut the hours of up to 70 employees who work 30 hours, but currently don’t get health insurance. Offering coverage would have cost about $1 million.

Dearborn, Michigan, is cutting the number of hours for its part-time and seasonal employees to no more than an average of 28 hours per week. Mayor John B. O’Reilly, Jr. said the policy was drafted due to changes in the federal government’s definition of a “part-time” employee.

City officials in Cedar Falls, Iowa, also say they’re being proactive by cutting hours of part-time workers starting Dec. 1. That means 59 part-time employees who now work 32 hours a week in public works public libraries and the parks department, will be scheduled for 29 hours per week starting Dec. 1.

UNION OPPOSITION

The trend in school and government workers getting hours cut comes as the number of unions opposed to health reform grows. The list includes: The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; International Union of Operating Engineers; United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers; Sheet Metal Workers International Association; UNITE HERE; and Laborers International Union of North America.

Union leaders James Hoffa of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Joseph Hansen of The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and D. Taylor of UNITE-HERE recently sent a letter to Reid and Pelosi warning: “The law creates an incentive for employers to keep employees’ work hours below 30 hours a week. Numerous employers have begun to cut workers’ hours to avoid this obligation, and many of them are doing so openly,” adding, “the law as it stands will hurt millions of Americans including the members of our respective unions.”

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Ending the Myth That Seniority Protects Bad Teachers

by Christopher Paslay

High teacher attrition rates show that tenure is not preventing the bad apples from being weeded out.        

There’s a very real belief in the United States that tenure and seniority are keeping large numbers of burned-out, incompetent teachers in classrooms where they rob students of their right to learn.  The National Council on Teacher Quality’s new report “Teacher Quality Roadmap: Improving Policies and Practices in the School District of Philadelphia” is a case in point.  According to the Inquirer, the report stated:

Tenure and satisfactory evaluations are virtually meaningless for Philadelphia educators, and bad teachers can linger in the public school system too long. . . . Teacher pay ought to be revamped to keep strong performers, and effectiveness, not start date, should guide layoff decisions.

Does tenure provide lousy teachers with a lifetime appointment in the classroom?

Hardly.

The truth is that it’s extremely difficult for an incompetent teacher to remain in the classroom for an extended period of time in the 21st century.  The idea that American public schools are housing a significant population of burned-out educators milking the system just isn’t true.

A closer look at teacher attrition rates—as well as the profiles of America’s teachers—yields interesting results.  Here are some statistics from the 2007 policy brief “The High Cost of Teacher Turnover” and the report “Profiles of Teachers in the U.S. 2011”:

  • Teacher turnover is costing America $7.3 billion annually
  • 17% of all of public school teachers quit every year
  • 20 percent of urban teachers quit yearly
  • Over half of America’s new teachers (56%) quit within five years
  • In Philadelphia from 1999 to 2005, the teacher turnover rate (70%) was higher than the student dropout rate (42%)
  • In 2011, over a quarter of America’s public school teachers (26%) had five years experience or less
  • 21% of America’s public school teachers are 29 years old or younger

Teacher attrition is similar when it comes to alternative certification programs and charter schools.  Over 50% of Teach for America educators leave their assignments after two years.  A study tracking teachers working for KIPP schools (Knowledge is Power Program) in the Bay Area revealed annual turnover rates which ranged from 18 percent to 49 percent from 2003-04 to 2007-08.

The truth is, despite teacher tenure and seniority, public schools are not overpopulated with long term educational louses hiding in the cracks.  In fact, the notion that tenure creates a lifetime appointment for teacher incompetence is greatly exaggerated.

America’s public school system is self-regulating.  In other words, incompetent teachers don’t last very long, as the above data shows.  The biggest factor driving bad teachers from the classroom are the kids themselves.  If teachers can’t connect with their students, if they argue, butt heads, and create a toxic learning environment, the odds are they won’t survive.  It’s too draining a situation—physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The same is true for parents and school administrators.  Incompetent teachers are in constant disharmony with the mothers and fathers of their pupils and spend the majority of their energy battling principals.  Couple this with more rigorous classroom observations and school overhauls at the hands of No Child Left Behind, and most so-called “lousy” teachers are at the breaking point; it is all but impossible for them to hang on to their jobs for “life”.

Bad teachers do exist, of course, but in no greater quantity than in any other profession.  You can argue test scores prove the existence of bad teachers—that an unacceptable percentage of students aren’t reading or doing math at grade-level—but does this prove teachers are lousy or incompetent?  Does the fact that homicide rates in big cities are unacceptable prove our police force is loaded with deadwood?  Is our country’s unacceptable obesity rate an indictment of American nutritionists?

The National Council on Teacher Quality’s new report, in fact, recycles an old argument, one that Michelle Rhee, former Washington public schools chief, has been pushing for some time.  In a November 2011 Inquirer commentary headlined “Experienced teachers aren’t the problem,” I refuted her claim:

Rhee insisted that Last In, First Out laws are getting rid of our best teachers, arguing that layoffs should be based on job performance instead of seniority. . . . The authors [of the study Rhee quotes] do admit, however, that first-year teachers are generally ineffective, and that it takes a teacher an average of five or more years to become skilled. This is not surprising: New teachers tend to struggle with classroom management, they lack experience and objectivity, and they have yet to perfect their instruction methods.

. . . If all the teachers in a particular school are rated effective, what’s to stop a principal from balancing the budget by laying off the highest-paid teachers and keeping the least expensive ones? What would protect experienced teachers from politically motivated reprisals if they encourage their students to think critically about school reform and other public policies? And what will keep the new teachers we’re relying on from constantly leaving the system? In my 15 years with the Philadelphia School District, I’ve watched at least a dozen Teach for America educators leave after fulfilling their two-year contracts, off to use their urban teaching experience as resumé padding.

“Last in, first out” isn’t causing us to lose our best teachers. Far from it. Ending seniority-based layoffs might occasionally save a young talent. But it would also harm teacher morale, leave experienced teachers vulnerable to budget cuts and experimental reforms, and populate our schools with inexperienced teachers who are likely to leave.

Scrapping seniority isn’t going to improve the quality of America’s teachers, although it may do irreparable harm to our city’s best educators.

*This blog post is an adaption from a 3/20/12 post titled, “Ending the Myth that Tenure Protects Bad Teachers.”

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10 Questions for Camden’s Next Superintendent of Schools

by Christopher Paslay

“Poverty” has more to do with culture and values than it does money. 

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says not taking over Camden public schools would be “immoral.”  Christie’s plan is to hire a new superintendent and do what he can to fill teacher vacancies.  According to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Once the takeover begins, the state “will ensure that every child has the books, instructional materials, and technology necessary for a high-quality education, many of which are currently not reaching the classroom,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.

Books, instructional materials, and technology.

And we can’t forget money.  School reform advocates will also insist poor urban districts across America need more funding.  Noted education scholar Diane Ravitch recently published the post “Do Americans Believe in Equality of Opportunity?” on her blog:

Governor Jerry Brown of California gave a brilliant state of the state speech in January, where he pledged to change funding of public schools so that more money went to children with the greatest needs. . . .

But a Los Angeles Times poll finds that only half of the public support the idea of spending more for those with the highest needs.

This raises the question: Do we really believe in equality of educational opportunity? Or do we feel that it is okay that schools for children from affluent families have more resources than those for children of the poor?

Interestingly, Camden public schools spend over $20,000 per student, yet have some of the lowest SAT scores in New Jersey and a graduation rate of only 49 percent.  According to an article in the Notebook:

Camden, the poorest city of its size in America and the most violent — with nearly 70 homicides last year in a population of less than 80,000 people — has a graduation rate below 50 percent. At the same time, due to landmark New Jersey court decisions on school funding, the city spends more than $20,000 per student, close to the amount spent in some of the area’s wealthy suburbs.

According to an article in the Delaware County Daily Times, per-pupil spending and achievement are not correlated:

If spending were an important factor in education we’d expect Lower Merion’s $26,000 per-student spending to rocket their academic performance far above neighboring Radnor’s at $19,000 per student. Yet Radnor is ranked No. 4 by the Business Journal and Lower Merion is ranked No. 7.

But for a stark comparison we should look to Central Bucks where they spend $13,000 per student — less than half of that spent by Lower Merion. And their ranking? Just behind Lower Merion at No. 8!

What folks like Ravitch rarely address, however, is that “equality of opportunity” has more to do with values and culture than it does with money.  What does “poor” mean, exactly?  My father grew up in a 900 square foot row-home in Southwest Philadelphia with nine siblings, and the only source of income was my grandfather’s salary as a Philadelphia firefighter.  Was my father poor?  Financially, maybe, but not in terms of his values and character.  He learned responsibility, respect, work ethic, honesty, integrity, and the importance of family nonetheless.  He went on to become a well-respected teacher and administrator, and eventually earned his Ed.D.

In a 2009 Educational Testing Service policy report titled Parsing the Achievement Gap II, national trends between students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds were tracked.  The report listed 16 factors that have been linked to student achievement.  Of the 16 factors, nine were directly related to a child’s home environment.

Camden is over 85 percent minority.  If its public schools are going to make any real progress, the next superintendent should have a plan in place to address the following 10 questions (these questions apply to any major urban school district in America):

1.  How are you going to get Camden parents involved with school?  According to ETS, Black students’ parents are less likely than White parents to attend a school event or to volunteer at school.  Children whose parents are involved in their schooling have higher levels of achievement.

2.  How are you going to get Camden men to father their children?  Minority students were less likely to live with two parents, and 77 percent of Black children in America are born out-of-wedlock.  Children who live with two married parents do better both behaviorally and academically.

3.  How are you going to keep Camden families from frequently moving and changing schools?  Minority students are more likely than White students to change schools frequently.  There is a high correlation between frequently changing schools and poor test scores.

4.  How are you going to increase the low birth weight of Camden newborns?  The percentage of Black infants born with low birth weight is higher than that for White and Hispanic infants.  Studies show children with low birth weight do worse in school.

5.  How are you going to keep Camden children from getting lead and mercury poisoning?  Minority and low-income children were more likely to be exposed to environmental hazards, which harms brain development.

6.  How are you going to get Camden children to eat healthy?  Minority and low-income children were more likely to be food insecure, which can lead to concentration problems and issues with development.

7.  How are you going to encourage Camden parents to get their children to school?  Black and Hispanic students have the highest rates of absenteeism.  There is a high correlation between truancy and low academic achievement.

8.  How are you going to get Camden parents to read to their children?  Minority and low-income children were less likely to be read to daily as infants, which studies show impacts a child’s vocabulary development and intelligence.

9.  How are you going to get Camden parents to turn off the television? Minority and lower-SES children watch more television.  Excessive television watching is associated with low academic achievement.

10.  How are you going to keep Camden children from regressing academically over the summer?  Minority and low-SES students grow less academically over the summer, and in many cases, lose knowledge.

Until these awkward but important issues are adequately addressed, Christie’s takeover of Camden public schools—along with a new superintendent—isn’t going to make a significant amount of difference.

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Advice to Future Teachers: Stay Away from Philly

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District’s recent contract proposal offers a dismal future for new teachers. 

In light of the recent contract proposal the Philadelphia School District made to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, I have some advice for college graduates considering teaching in the city next fall: don’t bother.

Documents recently circulated by the PFT about the proposal paint a dismal picture for future Philadelphia teachers.

First, pay.  Under the current contract, first year teachers make $45,360.  Under the proposed new rules, however, first year teachers will be required to take a 10 percent cut in pay, and contribute 10 percent to their health benefits, bringing their salary down to about $39,000.  Because there is a pay freeze in place under the new contract, this will be their salary for the next four years until 2017.

“Benefits” under the new proposal, for the record, no longer include dental, eye, or prescription, as the PFT’s Health & Welfare Fund would be eliminated.

After 2017, teachers will be eligible for a raise based on a performance evaluation from their principal.  But because of the budget, they’ll most likely be responsible for buying things like paper, paying for their own copies, and using outdated textbooks and technology.

They’ll also be responsible for safety, as school security has been cut.  According to the Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize winning series “Assault on Learning,” from 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents.  There were 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug and alcohol related violations, and 1,186 robberies.  Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs in the hall.  Teachers were assaulted over 4,000 times.

The ways in which this could impact a teacher’s performance evaluation are many.

Statistics show over half the teachers who start in 2013 won’t even be in Philadelphia by 2017.  But those skilled and strong enough to remain in service, the new contract will ensure that they will have no protection to keep the programs they’ve worked years to build in place at their schools; the elimination of seniority will leave them vulnerable to be separated from their students and transferred anywhere in the entire city.

Conversely, those teachers struggling at a particular school and who are not a good fit with their students will be stuck there; the new contract no longer allows teachers to voluntarily put in for a transfer.

The proposal lifts the limit on the number of classes taught outside a teacher’s area of certification and on the number of subjects taught.  In other words, an English teacher could be required to prepare and teach algebra, social science, Spanish, chemistry, and British literature, all in the same day.

The new proposal lifts class size limits and opens the door to mass lectures, like in college. Imagine 50 plus teenagers in one big room listening to a teacher lecture about the Pythagorean Theorem, or the periodic table of elements, or iambic pentameter in a Shakespearean sonnet.  A winning formula for sure.

Teachers, under the new proposal, will work unlimited evening meetings without pay, and cannot leave the building without principal approval.

Because the district wants flexibility, the new proposal includes no specific grantees for teachers’ lounges, water fountains, parking lots, accommodation rooms for disruptive students, clothing lockers, or desks, among other things. Just because these things aren’t specifically mentioned in the contract, as Superintendent Hite recently noted, doesn’t mean the School District won’t provide them.

Of course, there’s no guarantee the School District will provide them, either.  That’s the catch.  When an organization is strapped for cash, like the School District currently is, there’s no telling what they’ll do.

“We believe teachers are professionals, just like architects, lawyers, doctors,” Superintendent Hite said. “We want a contract that reflects that.”

The only problem is, architects, lawyers, and doctors don’t make $39,000 a year with no chance for a raise until 2017, and aren’t subject to assaults, sub-par working conditions, and outdated materials and technology.

Hence my advice to future teachers: stay away from Philadelphia and seek a district that respects its educators.

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Filed under Dr. William Hite, PFT

District’s Contract Proposal to PFT Not Insulting Enough

by Christopher Paslay

 To demoralize Philadelphia’s hardworking teachers even further, the District should consider ten addendums to its recent contract proposal to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. 

Last week, the Philadelphia School District made a preliminary contract proposal to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.  Noted education scholar Diane Ravitch called the proposal “the most insulting, most demeaning contract ever offered in any school district” to her knowledge, and added that “the terms seem more appropriate to a prison than to a school, although it seems that both teachers and students are treated as wards of a cruel, harsh state.”

According to documents circulated by the PFT (I urge everyone reading this to click here to read them for yourselves), the District wants to: cut teacher pay by 13 percent; eliminate all raises including “step” increases and raises for educational attainment; eliminate counselors and librarians; raise class sizes and the length of the school day; and nix teachers lounges and water fountains, among other bizarre, draconian measures.

My response?  Is that all you got, guys?  You can sink lower than that!  Here are 10 addendums to the District’s already absurd and farcical proposal to make it that much more demoralizing to Philadelphia’ hard working educators:

  • Use of Air

School District-owned air, e.g. air circulated through District-owned furnaces and/or air conditioning units, shall be breathed by teachers free of charge during school hours and District sponsored conferences, such as Report Card Night; teachers, however, shall contribute $20 per hour for consuming District Provided Air (DPA) during non-school hours.

  • Dental Plan

Any veteran teacher with 35 or more years of service, and who has a gold and/or silver filling in his or her teeth, shall have it extracted by the District, without the use of Novocain, with a rusty pair of pliers.

  • Doctor Visits

Teachers shall be required to take the place of parents and take each of their students on three (3) annual doctor visits, including: a comprehensive yearly physical; a diabetes screening; and a tuberculosis test.  Each visit shall be paid for by the teacher.

  • Gas “Reimbursement”

Any teacher who uses his or her own gas to transport children to a school-sponsored event shall no longer get reimbursed for fuel.  Rather, the teacher shall be required to report to 440 N. Broad Street on Saturday and Sunday mornings and on national holidays, and instead pump (“reimburse”) the gas of District administrators.

  • Pay Raises

Teachers shall receive an annual cost of living raise, step raise, and educational attainment raise; as used herein, the term “raise’ shall mean being physically “raised” off the ground by the neck with a rope or piano wire.

  • Phones

Landline based phones, as well as cellular phones, shall no longer be provided to teachers by the District.  Campbell’s Soup cans, tied together with fishing line, shall replace traditional District phones, but will be purchased and assembled by teachers.

  • Toilets

Teachers who need to urinate and/or move their bowels during school hours will be limited to one (1) bathroom break per day, subject to RRAT (Rest Room Accrual Time); there will be one toilet per 50 staff members; the rule If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down will also be in effect and enforced via bathroom security cameras.

  • Unsatisfactory Records

Teachers with an unsatisfactory record shall be required to fasten his or her employee file around his or her neck with either 1—an iron staple; 2—garlic cloves; or 3—sheep intestine.  The file shall remain around the employee’s neck for a minimum of five (5) years.

  • Use of Reasonable Force

Teachers may use reasonable force in the event of a physical attack by a student or hostile staff member so long as they lead with their face and use either their head, chin, cheek, nose, eyes, and/or mouth to launch the counterattack.

  • Work

As used herein, the term “work” shall refer to all the physical, social, and emotional labor required to effectively run District schools; as such, teachers shall be required to do all of the “work,” and the District shall be required to do none of the “work.”

As Sinclair Lewis once said, “There are two insults no human being will endure: that he has no sense of humor, and that he has never known trouble.”

The District’s recent proposal to the PFT is both: laughable, and full of trouble.

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Tide Seems to be Turning Against Charters

by Christopher Paslay

The state’s forced reassessment of charter school performance data indicates the charter school movement may be losing its momentum.   

After the Pa. Department of Education was forced to reassess the performance rates of charter schools on standardized tests, dropping the controversial calculation method it used last fall, the number of charters making adequate yearly progress across the state in 2011-12 went from 49 percent to 28 percent. All that math and science and literature parents thought their children knew, well, now they apparently don’t know it.

Or so says the new calibration of the testing data.

The whole notion that such a large portion of the state’s charter school students can go from smart to not-so-smart, or vice versa, with one punch of the calculator is disturbing.  Those who oppose the expansion of charters are undoubtedly delighted by this new information, and will highlight the fact that charters indeed play by their own rules.

Not so much anymore.  The tide seems to be turning against charters, especially here in Philadelphia. City Council recently approved a nonbinding resolution calling for a one-year moratorium on the closings of 37 public schools, some of which could be replaced by charters.  The newly formed Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) is now fighting to stop the expansion of all charters in the city that are not proven to be educationally innovative and superior.

Even Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite understands that charters may be at a natural saturation point in the city. “We have to rethink using charter seats that may not be adding value,” he said in a recent interview, “and how we re-craft those charter seats into something different.”

The crazy part is how things in education can change so quickly.  As recent as three years ago, with the release of the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” charters were the answer to all of our nation’s educational woes.  Remember the Harlem Children’s Zone and Jeffrey Canada’s plan to revitalize poor neighborhoods through a holistic system of charter schools?  Remember the praise charters received from people like Oprah Winfrey and noted education scholar Diane Ravitch and the editorial boards of our local newspapers?

Well, forget all that now.  The new word on the street is that charters are bogus, just like their test scores.  They play by their own rules, fail to serve an adequate number of English language learners and special needs students, and take away valuable resources from struggling neighborhood schools.  But most of all, they are moving in on other people’s political capital.

That’s what the recent local uprising against charters, and the forced recalculation of their performance data, is really about: politics.  It’s a flat out turf war, and the education of our city’s children is caught up in the mix.  On one side you have charters, capitalists, and “school choice” conservatives looking to set-up shop in enemy territory. On the other side you have neighborhood public schools, teachers unions, and the traditional liberal urban education establishment fighting to hold on to their own.

In between you have the 55,500 students attending city charter schools because they are safer and cleaner and in many cases, have a higher level of parental involvement.  You also have the 149,500 students attending traditional neighborhood schools, kids who are often robbed of resources at the hands of charters, kids who are forced to attend classes with violent and unruly students because the Philadelphia School District’s discipline policies have no teeth, and because the rights of the wayward few outweigh the rights of the hard working many.

As for the quality of education students receive in charters as opposed to neighborhood schools?  This depends on which politician is requiring which test, and on how that politician decides to calculate—or recalculate—the performance data.

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A Look at the Philadelphia School District’s Top Earners

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District’s top 655 earners (less than one-third of 1 percent of employees) make a combined $88 million in annual salaries.    

According to a Phillymag.com article by Larry Mendte published last June, there were 655 individuals working for the Philadelphia School District in 2011-12 making over $100,000.  Surprisingly, there were 98 teachers on the list.  Principals, who on average make $106,046, flooded the list and accounted for five of the District’s top 10 earners.

Not included on the list are this year’s newly minted one percenters, such as Superintendent Dr. William Hite ($300,000 annual salary), Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn ($210,000 salary), and newly appointed Chief of Family and Community Engagement Evelyn Sample-Oates ($129,162 salary); Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen who was receiving $25,000 a month in 2012 (for a grand total of nearly $300,000), did make the list although is not listed in the top 25 below because he’d only racked-up a nifty $122,988.48 when Mendte published the article last June. 

When totaling up all the 655 salaries over $100,000, it comes to $88 million.  This means one-third of 1 percent of the workers (the School District has 20,309 employees) gobble-up over 10 percent of the money (the District’s 2013 adopted operating budget allocates $879 million for salaries and wages).

Here were the top 25 earners working for the School District in 2011-12 according to the article by Mendte:

  1. Arlene Ackerman, Superintendent of Schools: $804,668.67
  2. Leroy Nunery, Special Advisor: $206,283.52
  3. Michael Davis, General Counsel: $171,247.48
  4. Penny Nixon, Chief Academic Officer: $170,096.13
  5. Michael Masch, Special Advisor: $168,840.82
  6. Debora Borges, Principal Empowerment School: $157,102.79
  7. Renee B. Musgrove, Principal Empowerment School: $151,776.93
  8. Donald j Anticoli, Principal Renaissance School: $151,161.70
  9. Edward Penn, Principal Renaissance School: $150,531.86
  10. Ethelyn Payne Young, Principal Renaissance School: $150,319.66
  11. John W. Frangipani, Principal Empowerment School: $149,645.96
  12. Otis Hackney, Principal Renaissance School: $149,147.04
  13. Charles Staniskis, Principal Empowerment Schools: $147,765.82
  14. Thomas Koger, Principal Non High Needs School: $147,687.99
  15. Mary Dean, Principal Renaissance School: $147,529.67
  16. Michelle Byruch, Principal Non-High Needs: $147,049.39
  17. Christophe Johnson, Principal Renaissance School: $146,809.37
  18. Amish Shah, Teacher: $145,743.55
  19. Woolworth Davis, Principal Renaissance School: $145,652.42
  20. Karen Kolsky, Assistant Superintendent: $145,423.45
  21. Lissa S. Johnson, Assistant Superintendent: $145,423.45
  22. Benjamin Wright, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45
  23. Francisco D. Duran, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45
  24. Linda Cliatt Wayman, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45
  25. Emmanuel Caulk, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the 2,700 workers represented by SEIU 32BJ Local 1201, who provide cleaning, maintenance, and transportation services to the School District.  Nearly all of these workers make less than $40,000 annually—some as little as $25,000 a year.  The School District recently shook-down these hardworking blue-collar folks for an estimated $100 million in labor concessions over the next four years.

According to the new contract between the Philadelphia School District and SEIU 32BJ, which extends to August 31st, 2016, SEIU 32BJ members will contribute between $5 and $45 (depending on salary) to the School District each week, and agree to forgo planned wage increases in the future and freeze wages for the life of the contract.

This, of course, didn’t stop the School District from recently giving 25 non-union workers $311,351 in increases, which average $12,454 per year.  31-year old Christina Ward was given a 17 percent raise and promoted to Deputy Chief Financial Officer, and will earn $138,420 a year. Joseph D’Alessandro, now the Chief of Grants Development and Compliance, was given an $18,000 raise (16 percent) and currently makes $130,270.  And newly appointed Chief of Family and Community Engagement Evelyn Sample-Oates, who earns $129,162, was given a whopping 49 percent salary increase.

How will the School District cover the pay raises?  No one knows.  Not even the $100 million in labor concession squeezed from the District’s janitors and bus drivers will cover the tab.  According to projections in Dr. William Hite’s Action Plan v1.0, “The District has recurring expenses that exceed its revenues by over $250 million per year, amounting to a $1.35 billion dollar deficit over the next five years.”

And I thought only big corporations and greedy Republicans maintained wage gaps and pimped the working class.

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Filed under Dr. William Hite, School Budget