Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Part 2 Executive Summary

Now for Part 2 of the DSEA Executive Summary, Comments on Race To The Top (RTTT)

Performance Zones
DSEA believes that the Performance Zone concept for low-performing schools included in DOE’s strategic plan should be used only where other well implemented strategies have failed. DSEA favors the creation of a performance zone only under the following conditions:
• Schools within the zone will be part of a “reform network”, but the district retains oversight of the schools.
• DOE oversees the “reform network”, including technical assistance and resources.
• DOE will develop capacity within the districts to support their zone schools.
• School improvement plans will be developed within a collaborative, collective bargaining environment. Other stakeholders such as parents and community groups will be involved in the development of the plan.

DSEA believes that sustainable funding must be a part of any reform effort in order for Delaware to avoid the “funding cliff” when federal stimulus money is no longer available and improvement efforts are left without funding.

Standards and Assessments
While the Common Core Standards have the potential to provide educators with far more manageable curriculum goals to promote student success, the standards alone do not guarantee student achievement. Delaware must provide effective teachers and the necessary educational and community resources to ensure quality education.
DSEA also favors the state’s effort to develop a student assessment instrument that is both formative and summative in nature, commonly referred to as growth model testing. To ensure the success of the new instrument, the DOE should determine its validity and reliability and align it with the proposed “Diamond State Curriculum” before moving to statewide implementation.

Data Systems to Support Instruction
A data system needs to provide educators with timely and relevant information to impact instruction; provide parents with the information to be active in their children’s education; and provide colleges and universities with information to make teacher preparation programs relevant to today’s classrooms. DSEA does not support the use of data systems that link student tracking information to individual teachers for the purpose of performance evaluations.

Effective, Efficient Service Delivery

Regional Centers
DSEA supports the experimentation with regional centers for purchasing and providing various human resources tasks. A cost benefit analysis on those centers should be completed as soon as practical.

School District Consolidation
DSEA questions the educational value of district consolidation. Delaware decision makers must examine the state’s experience with consolidation, review previous studies, and commission new studies of consolidation to determine the educational merits of such as a proposal. Furthermore, DSEA is committed to the principle of “leveling up”. Leveling up is the practice of making the new salary schedule for a consolidated district match the salary schedule of the best paid district among those absorbed. A thoughtful discussion involving all stakeholders must occur before serious consideration is given to consolidation.

DSEA is proud of our advocacy role as a union which we view as complimentary to the reform process. The union gives voice and input to educators in substantial ways. Efforts to weaken unions or collective bargaining agreements diminish educator ownership of the reform process and create the potential for failure. Every reform ends with implementation by an educator in the classroom. This reality makes DSEA more than just another opinion in the room. DSEA takes the responsibility and the opportunity seriously.

Delaware State Education Association
November, 2009

Our Mission:
The Delaware State Education Association, a union of public school employees, advocates for the rights and interests of its members and outstanding public education for all students.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

RTTT Executive Summary Pt1

A thousand apologies to the blog followers for the length of time between posts. I have been traveling the last week.

Posted below is the first installment of two featuring an Executive Summary of a DSEA position paper on Race To The Top.


Delaware State Education Association Comments and Concerns Regarding RTTT and the Delaware Department of Education Strategic Plan

Executive Summary

The Race to the Top Fund (RTTT) is a federal program that provides competitive grants to encourage and reward states that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform; implementing ambitious plans in the four education reform areas described in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA); and achieving significant improvement in student outcomes. The four education reform areas include Standards and Assessments, Data Systems to Support Instruction, Great Teachers and Leaders, and Turning Around Struggling Schools. The Delaware Department of Education created a Strategic Plan for the Delaware Public Education System, that attempts to align their plan with the four federal focus areas and adds a fifth goal of Effective, Efficient Service Delivery.

Great Teachers and Leaders

Teacher Preparation and Alternative Certification
DSEA endorses a variety of strategies to improve teacher effectiveness and the equitable distribution of qualified teachers for all of Delaware’s students:
• DSEA supports many of the recommendations made by the DOE Innovation Action Team sub-committee, dealing with teacher quality and teacher preparation programs.
• DSEA supports teacher preparation programs that will continue to recruit and prepare talented graduates, with specially designed programs for those choosing to work in Delaware’s high need schools.
• DSEA supports the implementation of teacher residency programs as part of the DOE strategic plan.

Providing Effective Teacher Supports for Instruction
DSEA favors the use of timely student data to inform and evaluate teacher and principal support programs such as professional development, collaboration, and common planning time. DSEA urges DOE to partner with Dr. Eric Hirsch and the New Teacher Center to conduct an ongoing teaching and learning conditions survey statewide.

Teacher Compensation
DSEA believes any proposed teacher compensation system must recognize the skills and knowledge of educators while promoting a collaborative work environment to enhance student growth. Additionally, compensation systems must be:
• Cooperatively developed by the state or district and the collective bargaining representative for educators.
• Developed with a differential pay component to recruit and retain teachers for low performing schools.
• Fully funded and sustainable.

DSEA does not support compensation systems that link teacher pay directly to student performance based primarily upon student assessment.

A moratorium has been placed on both National Board Certification and cluster incentives. Moreover, educators are currently working for 2.56% less than last year. Delaware must first restore basic compensation and lift the moratorium on incentives before exploring alternative compensation.

Determining Teacher Effectiveness
DSEA supports the Delaware Performance Appraisal System (II) use of multiple measures when assessing student achievement relevant to teacher evaluation. DSEA is opposed to changing the current weighting between and within the DPAS II components.

Turning Around Struggling Schools
Delaware is not unique in the struggle to find effective strategies to consistently improve low performing schools. Four options are offered by the US Department of Education for dealing with these schools:
• Turnarounds - Replacing the principal and at least 50% of the staff
• Re-Starts - Closing the school and reopening as a charter or with an education management organization
• Closures - Closing the school and transferring the students to other better performing schools in the district
• Transformations - Restructuring of the school that involves a change in school leadership, new instructional programs, extended time for students and staff, intensive support, and increased services.
DSEA acknowledges the immediate need to deal with low-performing schools and endorses the work of the Learning First Alliance (2009), a partnership of 17 major national education groups, as a responsible plan of action. The Alliance recommends the following operating principles for turnaround schools:
• Measure progress toward a broad vision of student success.
• Measure the conditions for school and student success.
• Ensure that measures are clear and available for all stakeholders.
• Track progress over time.
DSEA believes a district developed plan with adequate resources and support from DOE provides the best opportunity to turn around schools and improve student achievement.

Charter Schools
DSEA believes that charter schools have a niche in the education community, but they are not the answer to all of the challenges in education today. Delaware needs to improve its regulation of charters to ensure the responsible growth of such schools within the traditional public school system.


Friday, November 13, 2009

New RTTT Guidelines Complete

The final federal guidelines for Race To The Top (RTTT) have been released. RTTT is a $4.3 billion competitive grant program designed to bring about education reforms and innovation that impact student achievement. Given the amount of money at stake and the scarcity of resources in the recession, every state, including Delaware will be competing hard to win a grant.

Four areas must be addressed in the grant application: Standards and Assessments, Data Systems to Support Instruction, Great Teachers and Leaders, and Turning Around Struggling Schools.

A draft of the guidelines were open for public comment. More than 1,600 such comments were received including those of the National Education Association. Meanwhile at the state level in Delaware, the Department of Education is busy putting together a strategic plan that compliments the federal RTTT. DSEA has given Secretary Lowery a position paper on RTTT in an effort to influence the DOE plan.

Some of the key areas of the just released guidelines that were closely watched by NEA are as follows:
*States must not have any barriers to linking student achievement or growth to teachers and principals. Delaware has no such barrier. NEA was against this linking of student achievement to specific educators.
*The new language for defining highly effective teachers requires multiple measures, provided student growth is a significant measure. This is a positive change from a direction of having student achievement measured by standardized tests as the primary component of evaluations. In Delaware, student achievement is only one of five equally weighted components of teacher evaluation.
*The new regulations state that teacher and principal evaluation systems should be designed and developed with teacher and principal involvement.
*Definitions of student achievement have been expanded to include other measures beyond a single test.
*According to the guidelines, states should not have laws adverse to charter schools, but state laws should monitor charter authorizers and should monitor charter student populations for comparison to public school populations.

Stay tuned for much more on RTTT.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

US House Health Care Bill

As promised, here is a quick look at the US House version of health care reform. Please keep in mind that the Senate will pass a version and then the two bills will go to a conference committee to be reconciled and back to both chambers for a vote on final passage. In other words, what you see today is a long way from law.

Some Key Points of the Legislation with Comment:

Health Insurance Exchange
This refers to a "marketplace" that allows for comparison shopping among insurance providers. The exchange would also administer the affordability credits provided in the legislation.

Public Insurance Option
Within the health insurance exchange would be an option to purchase a public plan in areas where just one or two carriers dominate the market. This is a much watered down version of the public option than originally discussed. The first version of a public option would have been offered anywhere in the nation, not just in the areas with few insurers. The first version would have provided insurance for a massive group of around 129 million Americans. The current version allows for about 6 million Americans to buy a public plan.
This area is of major concern because a comprehensive public option was our best hope of controlling health care cost inflation. When a plan has 129 million consumers, it can dictate to the market what it will and will not pay for various procedures and drugs. A plan with 6 million is not likely to have much market leverage. Moreover, a small public option could simply turn into a high risk pool which will eventually price itself out of existence.

Guaranteed Coverage and other Insurance Reforms
This is probably the best part of the bill. Insurance companies would no longer be allowed to exclude people from coverage for pre-existing conditions. Equally important, insurers would no longer be able to base premiums on health status, but only on age, geography, and family size.

Sliding Scale Affordability Credits
These are credits to help low and moderate income individuals and families purchase insurance. Medicaid will still exist for very low income people and the credits will start just above that level and continue up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($43K for an individual and $88K for a family of four).
One negative aspect of this program is that federal tax dollars (public) will flow to (private) for-profit insurance companies. This is not what happens with Medicaid for example, because Medicaid is the insurer and directly pays the health providers without the middlemen of the insurance industry taking a cut. This is why Medicaid has an administrative cost of about 2 or 3 cents for every dollar of heath care delivered as opposed to private insurers whose overhead is around 25 cents to 27 cents for every dollar of care delivered.

Expands Medicaid
Individuals and families with incomes at or below 133% of the federal poverty level will be covered. The expansion will be fully federally financed to avoid stressing state budgets.

Improves Medicare
The current "donut hole" in the Part D drug program will be eliminated helping seniors with their prescription drug costs. Cost sharing for preventive services has been eliminated. Physician payments have been improved. Also, improvements in the delivery system have been made.

Individual Responsibility
Once all reforms and affordability credits are in place, individuals must obtain health insurance. Failure to buy insurance will result in a penalty of 2.5% of adjusted gross income.
This is very controversial. Private, for-profit insurance companies will now reap billions from all Americans forced to buy their products. Without cost controls, what is to stop the insurance industry from charging exorbitant rates?

Employer Responsibility
Employers will chose between providing coverage for employees or paying 8% of their payroll into a health fund. Small businesses with payrolls under $500,000 are exempt from the requirement. Above $500k, businesses begin to pay on a sliding scale that maxes with the 8% for those over $750k in payroll.

In conclusion, this legislation still needs work, and it is a long, long, way from being a truly progressive health care reform bill.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Federal Health Legislation Moves Forward

Legislation for a national health care plan moved forward last Saturday night
(11/7/09)when the US House passed their version of reform.

Why is DSEA closely watching the national health care debate? We are hoping for meaningful reform of health care because our health benefits are in a precarious situation. Last year, education employees' health care premium increased 50%. With health care inflation running close to 9% a year, the increase may not be the last one we will experience. Moreover, because of new federal regulation, states must now account for the projected health costs of their retirees in something called, Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB). Delaware's OPEB liability is now over $5 billion. If the state ever gets truly serious about funding OPEB, we could see less money for everything else, in an age when there is already less money for everything else.

This blog will give an analysis of the House health bill tomorrow.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pygmalion Today

The October 28, 2009 edition of "Education Week" has an interesting article by Joanne Yatvin titled "Rediscovering the 'Pygmalion Effect' in American Schools". Yatvin is a professor at Portland State University in Oregon, and a former school principal.

The article recalls research from more than 40 years ago on the impact of teacher expectations on student performance. As you may recall "Pygmalion" is a Greek myth about a sculptor who creates a statue of his ideal woman. Pygmalion treats his creation like a real person and gives her the name, "Galatea". Eventually, Galatea comes to life and "happily ever after" follows. Researchers Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson chose to call their book, "Pygmalion in the Classroom".

In the experiment teachers were told a new test had been developed that could predict which students would show an academic spurt in performance. Teachers were given the names of the students that were soon to blossom. In truth, the group of predicted achievers were a randomly selected group. This group of students was tested at the end of a year and again two years later. The students showed significant intellectual and academic performance gains in both years.

Subsequent research confirmed that an educator's expectations concerning a student has a positive impact on his/her achievement.

However, Joanne Yatvin contends this positive concept has been corrupted in the current environment: "The discrepancy between the Pygmalion researchers' concept of high expectations and that of today's reformers stems from the multiple meanings of the word 'expectation'. To the researchers, it meant the power of belief to influence the behavior of others. To the reformers, it means the power of authority to exact compliance from underlings."

The abuse of "expectations" has negatively changed the entire school environment according to Yatvin. "Schools are meant to be wellsprings of vigor, interest, exploration, growth, and illumination. Rigor, the word so often used by reformers to describe what schools should emphasize, is more properly the companion of harshness, inflexibility, and oppression. It is time to change the current conception of high expectations back to its original meaning."

As this blog has often lamented, in the pursuit of accountability we are killing off all that is creative, good, and enjoyable about educating and being educated. Or as William Wordsworth said, "Our meddling intellect mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things. We murder to disect."