Sunday, October 01, 2006

California bill to let schools land good teachers

A strange idea for California

It can take years to fire a bad teacher. So some principals don't even bother trying. Instead, they make a deal. The principal asks the teacher to look for a job elsewhere in the district. In exchange, the teacher gets a good evaluation. Now here's the rub. Since there's plenty of competition for plum jobs at affluent schools, the bad teacher gets funneled to a struggling school serving a needy population.

School administrators call it the "dance of the lemons," and it's surprisingly common. More than a quarter of the principals surveyed in San Diego Unified School District, for instance, admitted to coaxing an underperforming teacher to transfer elsewhere, according to a national study released last year by the New Teacher Project, a New York-based nonprofit organization. A whopping 47 percent confessed they had hidden vacancies to avoid accepting such teachers. Meanwhile, 65 percent of the district's schools had no choice, or limited choice, in filling at least one position.

New legislation could change that in California. Senate Bill 1655 may be the first in the nation to alter union contracts that protect experienced teachers but don't give low-performing schools enough freedom to hire the people they want. The bill, introduced by state Sen. Jack Scott, D-Pasadena, would help districts snag promising new teachers early in the year. It also would give struggling schools the right to refuse bad teachers whose seniority otherwise might guarantee them a spot on the faculty. "I think this is very, very much a precedent- setter," said Michelle Rhee, chief executive officer of the New Teacher Project. "This could have a positive impact, not only in California, but nationwide."

The bill sailed through the Democrat-dominated Senate and Legislature with enormous majorities, despite opposition from two party allies: the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. It now awaits Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature. A spokeswoman for the governor said she did not know how likely he is to sign it.

Several groups representing low-income and minority communities supported the bill -- a factor that won over legislators despite union opposition, said Russlynn Ali, director of the advocacy group Education Trust-West. "That's really unprecedented, isn't it?" she said. "You had a group of advocates that represent poor kids and kids of color saying, 'Enough is enough. We've got to make some headway on closing the teacher quality gap.' "

The bill contains the seeds of drastic change. For one, all districts would be allowed to hire new candidates as early as mid-April without considering their seniority. Currently, many urban districts must give their tenured teachers the first crack at vacancies well into the summer. By that point, many of the best novices have received job offers from suburban districts with less restrictive contracts, proponents say.

In a 2003 survey of four urban districts across the nation, The New Teacher Project found aggressive recruitment yielded a glut of job applicants from outside the district -- many of them new teachers who wanted to work with low-income students but "were left hanging in limbo for months." Between 31 percent and 60 percent withdrew their applications and went elsewhere, the majority citing the late hiring cycle as a cause. "The longer you wait, the poorer the quality of the pool is," Scott said. "The suburban schools really are able to pick off better candidates."

The bill also would give principals in very low-performing schools -- schools that are ranked 1, 2 or 3 on the state's 10-point scale -- the ability to turn down teachers who want to transfer from elsewhere in the district. Not all teachers who want to switch schools are lemons, to be sure. "But when you are a school that is low-performing and you are trying everything you can possibly try, you need to be able to build a staff that will work well together," said Vernon Renwanz, principal of Creekside Elementary in north Stockton.

Over the past six years, Creekside, a high-poverty school, has seen a steady rise in test scores. Renwanz credits his teachers' willingness to work together on schoolwide reforms. It's hard, he said, when the union contract forces him to accept a teacher who isn't interested in change. "If you have someone who's uncooperative, it makes everyone uneasy," he said. "It doesn't promote the good teamwork that is essential for good performance."

Not everyone is a fan of the legislation. Barbara Kerr, president of the CTA, called it "premature and unnecessary," saying it would keep veteran teachers out of needy schools that disproportionately lack experienced faculty. "The idea that a school administrator would have the power to block transfers of highly qualified and senior teachers -- that's very troubling, since many of those schools need experienced teachers," she said. Kerr said a CTA-sponsored bill -- Senate Bill 1133 -- would do more to get veterans into those schools by offering incentives such as smaller class sizes.

Even proponents of Scott's bill acknowledge it's no panacea. The legislation deals only with teachers who seek to switch schools. Teachers who lose their jobs involuntarily -- say, because the district closed their school -- could still be given priority in hiring at any time and placed at schools over a principal's objections. As for delays in hiring, the bill wouldn't do anything to speed up districts that are mired in inefficiency. "I can't make bureaucracies more effective," Scott said. "This is not a magic bullet that will solve every problem. ... But this allows students to get the best teacher, not the teacher who has been subtly forced out of another school."

No analysis exists showing how many districts would be affected. But large, urban districts such as San Diego, Los Angeles and Fresno would see changes in some of the hiring policies spelled out in union contracts, Rhee said. Locally, both Sacramento City Unified and San Juan Unified school districts have teacher labor contracts providing schools limited choice in hiring, with some priority given to candidates with experience in the district. The bill would allow those provisions to last only until April each year. The legislation would take effect as existing union contracts expire


California bill to water down academic standards even further vetoed

Governor refuses to lower criteria for complying with No Child Left Behind law. Leftist hatred of standards stymied

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation Wednesday that proposed an instant fix for students failing to meet California's standard for proficiency: redefine proficiency. Schwarzenegger concluded that changing a few words won't solve academic woes. "Redefining the level of academic achievement necessary to designate students as 'proficient' does not make the students proficient," his veto message said.

Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, called the governor's veto of her Assembly Bill 2975 a "missed opportunity" that ultimately will hurt students. "Schools will be labeled as failing schools even if they are making progress and improving their test scores," she said.

AB 2975 argued that California's definition of proficiency was unrealistically high. The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires every student to be proficient in English and mathematics by 2014, but every state can define proficiency.

Thus the rub: States that set the bar low academically have a distinct advantage. In recent years, fewer than 50 percent of students have met California's standard for proficiency, which basically requires standardized test scores that show grade-level competence and, thus, skills necessary to attend college. "While that's a good goal, it's an unrealistic requirement for all students," Hancock said.

Under NCLB, sanctions are imposed on schools that receive federal funds for disadvantaged children and fail two consecutive years in meeting annual targets for the number of proficient children overall and in ethnic or other subgroups, such as English learners. Penalties increase in severity over a five-year period, from allowing students to transfer at district expense to restructuring the faculty or administration of a targeted school.

AB 2975 proposed a lower standard for proficiency. Students would have met it by acquiring adequate skills, year by year, to pass the California High School Exit Exam. The exit exam measures English-language arts at about the ninth- and 10th-grade levels, and mathematics at about the seventh- and eighth-grade levels, officials said.

The California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Association supported AB 2975, but the bill was opposed by Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction. "Young people need higher-level skills than ever before to succeed in the competitive global economy," O'Connell said in a prepared statement.

The Republican governor vetoed two other bills Wednesday relating to academic standards:

* Senate Bill 1546 would have allowed community college districts to concurrently award an associate degree and a high school diploma, without passage of the High School Exit Exam.

* Assembly Bill 2937 would have required the state Department of Education to determine what performance levels on a California Standards Test would equate to passage of the exit exam.

"California has made tremendous strides toward achieving world-class academic standards and testing for our students," Schwarzenegger said. "I will continue my vigilance in protecting these high standards."


In Australia too, it's free speech for Leftist professors only

And definitely no free speech for ones who mention racial differences

An extraordinary intervention by a senior federal minister has forced Sydney's Macquarie University to publicly defend the academic freedom of its staff. Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has written to Macquarie vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz after one of his constituents complained of "left-wing" bias in a history subject. A spokesman for Dr Nelson said yesterday that the Defence Minister was just passing on a complaint from a constituent.

But in a copy of the letter, obtained by The Weekend Australian, Dr Nelson has penned a note at the bottom of the letter that says: "I am very concerned about this and would appreciate your personal attention to these issues which I find disturbing." The move comes after another senior minister, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, recently warned a South Australian academic that his research could breach new terrorism laws.

The situation is awkward for Julie Bishop, who, since succeeding Dr Nelson as Education Minister in January, has been outspoken about her desire to ease government intervention in universities. In a veiled swipe at her colleague, Ms Bishop told The Weekend Australian yesterday: "It is not feasible for university courses to be designed to match the personal biases of individual students. "Students should argue all course content and argue alternative points of view."

The complaint came from a postgraduate student, Douglas Brown, enrolled in the Master of Arts subject Rights and theEvolution of Australian Citizenship. He demanded the university rewrite the unit guide and delete half the articles because the readings were so left-wing the course was an attempt at "indoctrination". Senior academics who investigated the complaint rejected the claim. Mr Brown said one of those academics, Tom Hillard, argued that it was hard to find suitable scholarly writings about Australian citizenship from the conservative side. But Mr Brown said articles from Quadrant magazine or from the Centre for Independent Studies would be appropriate. All university courses and degrees are approved independently by the peak academic senate, a self-accrediting status that institutions guard jealously.

Professor Schwartz would not comment on the Nelson incident but moved to quell growing fears in universities about the erosion of academic freedom in the post-September 11 environment. "It's absolutely fundamental ... that we safeguard academic freedom ... if we're going to have a lively and effective university sector and if we're going to have a fair and lively society as well," he said. There were few instances, if any, where "we would want to stifle an academic's freedom to teach whatever they felt was fair".

Last year, the issue of academic freedom came to a head at Macquarie when law lecturer Andrew Fraser created uproar with his comments about African migrants in Australia. [And the university banned him from teaching as a result] Since then, the university's academic senate has scrutinised the issue and devised a statement, which was being finalised yesterday. It says that academics must be able to teach and research without undue interference from government, university administration, the media, private corporations and other organisations.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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