Monday, May 03, 2010

Time for Colorado House to act on tenure

Lawmakers need to reject union scare tactics and give nod to bill that ties teacher evaluation to student academic growth

The ferocious fight over a teacher tenure bill moves to the state House today, where opponents will try to portray it as a costly and hasty measure drafted with little input from teachers.

Such objections are merely a smokescreen designed to obscure the fact that the state's largest teachers' union has been in the loop for months and their input has led to significant changes to the bill.

Apparently, that isn't enough. It isn't enough, we suspect, because Colorado Education Association leaders never were truly willing to be a partner in reform. They were just acting the part.

But now that Senate Bill 191 has attracted the support of three former governors and Gov. Bill Ritter, as well as Dwight Jones, Colorado's commissioner of education, and a significant number of state legislators, it's becoming a real threat. It was easier for the CEA to marginalize it when it was merely the brain child of a freshman state senator, Michael Johnston, D-Denver.

SB 191 would restructure the way in which K-12 teachers get and keep tenure. It would tie half of a teacher's evaluation to the academic progress of that teacher's students.

A teacher would need three consecutive years of evaluations in which they were rated effective to get tenure. And a teacher with two consecutive years of "ineffective" evaluations would lose tenure.

It would recognize teachers who succeed, and provide help for those who need improvement. And, if a teacher cannot or will not improve, it gives school districts a way to move them along. Principals also would be evaluated under the bill.

It is the kind of game-changing reform that is necessary to begin addressing some of the vexing problems in education. One of the most influential factors in improving achievement is a terrific teacher.

We hope state representatives take the time to look carefully at the substance of SB 191. It is not an anti-teacher bill. It is not a hasty measure. It was not drafted without CEA input. And despite what the CEA might say about it being a huge unfunded mandate, the fiscal note on the bill pegs the cost at $480,000 over two years. If the state wins Race to the Top money, it will cover those costs.

The teachers' union has contributed to approximately 20 changes in the bill, Johnston tells us, including a lengthening in the implementation timeline and inserting an appeals right for teachers.

The bill represents a dramatic change from the status quo, in which teachers either receive or do not receive tenure after three years of employment. Now, tenure is a virtual lifetime guarantee of employment.

The bill is expected to be heard today in the House education committee, where we suspect it will get a rigorous hearing as it did in the state Senate.

We hope those legislators who are on the fence take the time to learn the details of the bill, the months-long process of consultation and the amendments made in order to address concerns.

This bill isn't the answer to all of our education ills, but there is a reason a consensus of policy makers and education leaders have come together to support the bill: It's good policy and it's good for Colorado's schoolchildren.


Punish parents who falsely accuse teachers, say British heads

Parents who make false allegations against teachers to win compensation should be fined, according to a leading head teacher. A new system of punishments is needed to stop mothers and fathers siding with “delinquent children to aggressively challenge and accuse” school staff, it was claimed.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, warned that a minority of parents were motivated by a “lottery mentality”, as they attempt to sue schools and local councils to win cash.

The comments come amid growing concerns over a wave of malicious allegations of assault made against teachers. Figures published last year suggested as many as 4,000 complaints had been made against school staff in a 12 month period. As few as one-in-20 allegations ever results in a criminal conviction.

Addressing the NAHT annual conference in Liverpool, Mr Brookes said “precious little has been done to protect innocent staff from false accusation”.

The union has submitted a request to the Local Government Ombudsman, which has been given new powers to handle parental complaints, for a system of fines for parents who make unfounded claims of physical attacks or sexual assaults.

The suggestion was backed by the Conservatives who said children should "face the consequences" of their behaviour. “This is an offence against the law that insists that citizens are innocent unless proven guilty,” said Mr Brookes. “Accusers can make unjust claims with impunity – currently there is no redress."

In his speech, Mr Brookes criticised “a small minority of the parent population intent on siding with delinquent children to aggressively challenge and accuse”.

He acknowledged that children themselves could not be fined for malicious allegations, but suggested parents could be punished if they supported the false claim, often “with a view to screwing a bit of money out of the local authority”.

"At the moment, parents have carte blanche and there's no redress for making allegations which are malicious frivolous or actually have a pecuniary outcome," he said. "It is a lottery mentality."

Parents can already be fined up to £100 – and face imprisonment - for condoning truancy.

In a report last year, MPs said that ministers should consider giving accused teachers similar rights to anonymity as children or rape victims amid fears thousands of careers are wrecked every year.

The cross-party Commons Schools Select Committee warned that the "vast majority" of complaints made against school staff lacked foundation. In one year - 2006/7 - some 4,000 allegations were made against teachers in England, the report said. The Tories have already said they will give accused teachers the right to anonymity until they have been found guilty of an offence.

Last month, a trainee teacher was cleared of having sex with one of her pupils following a four-day crown court trial. Hannah McIntyre, 25, from fee-paying Merchant Taylors boys’ school in Crosby, Merseyside, was accused of seducing the 16-year-old after plying him with cider, but a jury took just 75 minutes to dismiss the youth's claims.

Speaking after the hearing, she said her career had been ruined but her accuser faced no consequences. “He has, with no accountability, made an accusation and I would like to see him have to realise the effect he has had on me," she said. She added: “Their anonymity protects them from any legal action. I can’t even put forward a private prosecution.”


More "stimulus" failures in Australia -- new school buildings unsafe

Buildings being constructed under the federal government's schools stimulus program are riddled with safety hazards, from slippery tiles and toxic carpets to poisonous fumes from unflued heaters.

Environmental scientists, building industry experts, health groups and the NSW Teachers Federation have raised concerns about the potential risks associated with buildings in the $16.2 billion program.

The NSW Integrated Program Office for the Building the Education Revolution program has maintained the buildings are of high quality, sometimes exceeding building code standards.

But schools have complained of dodgy workmanship, including incorrectly fitted light switches and fans, temporary foundations, leaking water tanks and lifting carpets.

With winter approaching, schools and health groups have raised the alarm about the installation of 3000 unflued gas heaters. Studies have shown that the heaters release a potentially poisonous stew of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and formaldehyde. They are being phased out of schools in every state except NSW and Queensland.

"These are new buildings going up at significant cost to the taxpayer," NSW Teachers Federation president Bob Lipscombe said. "Heating is a very small component of the overall cost of building work. It would not cost a huge amount to put alternative heating in these new buildings. The Department of Education is not acting in a reasonable way at all."

The NSW Department of Education and Training says the heaters are safe, provided doors and windows are kept open to provide ventilation. Schools in cold-climate zones say this is impractical.

Berridale Public School, in the Snowy Mountains, has an unflued heater in its new $900,000 library. "We have been constantly told the library is of a very high standard," Berridale School Council's Fiona Suthern said. "It's a building that cost close to $1 million. An unflued gas heater is not a high-standard heating device. We're not asking for something flash - just something safe."

Richard Kalina, from the Campaign Opposing Unflued Gas Heating, said: "I feel it's bordering on criminal. When parents take their children to school, they should expect their children will be in a safe environment. They are not safe."

A 2007 Commonwealth health report on unflued heaters found exposure to the fumes they emitted causes increased respiratory symptoms in children with asthma, and were also associated with new asthma cases in children. About 11 per cent of children in NSW have asthma. The Asthma Foundation NSW has called on the Department of Education to remove the 51,000 existing unflued heaters in NSW schools and stop ordering new ones.

A NSW Department of Education spokesman said there was "no substantiated instances" of heaters causing illness when properly operated.

The combination of exposure to unflued gas heaters, as well as fumes emitted from paint, new carpet and building materials, could cause toxic overload in children, according to environmental scientist Jo Immig of the National Toxics Network.

"We are concerned about the overall toxic load," she said. "This is particularly important as far as children are concerned because they are much more sensitive to toxins than adults. "We recommended that schools undertake building work or renovations when children are on school holidays to minimise the risk of chemical exposure."

New buildings also posed a risk of volatile organic compounds being released from carpet, paint and new furniture, Ms Immig said. "Carpets are potentially one of the most toxic things in the indoor environment."

Professor Margaret Burchett from the University of Technology, Sydney, said it could take months for indoor air quality to improve. "If you smell that newness smell in a building it's a nice smell but it's also toxic."

Murdoch University environmental toxicologist Peter Dingle said the rooms should be allowed to air before being used. "If the teachers and kids walk into a new classroom or hall and there is a smell in the room they should not go into it," Dr Dingle said.

Tile supplier Richard Earp and slip resistance expert Carl Strautins have raised concerns about the type of tiles used in toilet blocks, canteens and entrances, which they say can lose their grip over a short time and become a slip hazard. A department spokesman said all floor tiles used were certified anti-slip in line with the relevant standard.


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