Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Tennessee Trumps Wisconsin: Kills Teacher Collective Bargaining

To fix public schools, you have to control public schools. And there’s little control when teachers unions, with their self-serving agendas, question every cost-cutting proposal and reform on the table.

That’s why so many state governments have taken swift action to limit the power of organized labor in public schools. Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Idaho and Michigan were the first, and Tennessee added itself to the list on Wednesday.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam affixed his signature on House Bill 130 and Senate Bill 113, ending collective bargaining and giving local school boards the full authority to operate their districts in the manner they choose.

That doesn't mean the unions are shut out of the discussion. The new laws create a process called “collaborative conferencing,” where the school board, administrators and union officials will be forced to sit and discuss many of the normal issues, including salary, insurance, grievance procedures and working conditions.

If the two sides agree on any number of issues, they can sign binding “memorandums of understanding,” that will serve the same purpose as collective bargaining agreements. But any issues that are left unsettled will be the sole domain of the school board, with no appellate procedure available to the unions.

School boards will also have the option of not entering into any sort of agreement with the union. In that case they would have full authority to deal with all issues in an arbitrary manner.

Nobody elected the unions

Tennessee lawmakers were careful to leave a few key items off the discussion table, including personnel and staffing decisions, how to use grant money, the evaluation process for employees and whether or not payroll deductions can be made for political purposes.

That means the end of the road for the treasured union concept of seniority, particularly when it’s applied at layoff time.

Basically, lawmakers allowed the unions to keep their bark, but wisely took away their bite. And if school boards get tired of the barking, they will be allowed to close the windows, pull the shutters and go about their business.

Democrats in the legislature, outnumbered in both chambers, have been fuming about the legislation.

“This bill does nothing except take away every part of professional negotiation, every single part,” House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh told knoxnews.com. “Don’t be fooled.”

Actually, we’re not fooled at all. And we kind of like the unique process created by collaborative conferencing.

There are certainly thousands of great teachers in Tennessee, and they’re the soldiers on the front lines. School boards would be stupid to ignore their input when making major decisions.

On the other hand, it was necessary to take away veto power from the teachers unions, due to their stubborn opposition to money-saving contract concessions and education reform efforts.

School boards are elected by the public to run public schools. Nobody elected the unions.


At last, an Oxbridge for those who can’t get into Oxbridge

A private university that will take on the cream of the rejects is a simply brilliant idea, writes Boris Johnson

A few years ago, I met a man who was almost in tears of rage at the injustice that had been done to his son. I was trying to sneak out of some drinks party when he started telling me about this prodigy. His A-level scorecard was perfect; he held colours for rugby; he had been captain of the school debating team, keeper of the philately club, editor of the magazine – and yet he had been turned down by the dons of virtually every top university in the country.

What was going on, wailed my friend. This kind of thing never happened in his day, he said; and he went on to speculate that there was some kind of secret Pol Pot-style persecution of the children of the bourgeoisie. Since then I have heard many similar complaints about university admissions procedures (and I bet you have, too), and after one particularly harrowing conversation with a disappointed mum I had an idea for a brilliant business venture – a new institution that would be both socially responsible and immensely financially lucrative. I would found Reject’s College, Oxbridge. That is to say, I would find investors for a new elite academic institution, aimed squarely at the wrathful parents – many of them Oxbridge graduates – who simply could not understand how their own offspring could rack up three A-stars and grade 8 bassoon, and yet find themselves turned down.

In my mind’s eye I could see exactly how it would work: we’d get some dusty old goods yard at the back of Oxford or Cambridge. We’d turn it into a gorgeous neo-classical quadrangle, designed by Robert Adam or someone like that. We would have a prospectus full of the Reject’s College arms (Floreant Rejecti) and the lawns with snaggle-toothed lecturers leering at their pupils over a bottle of chilled white wine.

We would vindicate the principles of academic freedom, as famously outlined by Justice Felix Frankfurter, of the US Supreme Court, in 1957. That is to say, we – and I saw myself as provost or master – would decide what should be taught, how it should be taught, and whom to admit for study, and we would decide all these things on academic grounds and academic grounds alone.

Apart from that, I am afraid I was a bit vague about how exactly Reject’s College would work. So you can imagine my joy yesterday when I saw that someone had not only had my idea, but had gone one better: he had found the cash and the backing to make it happen. “Top dons to create new Oxbridge” was a headline to gladden the heart of many a grieving parent and frustrated academic. In fact, the whole thing is such unambiguously good news that I scarcely know where to begin.

It is the brainchild of Prof A C Grayling, who certainly looks and writes like a philosopher (I seem to remember some good stuff on Russell and Wittgenstein), but who turns out to have a Bransonesque practical flair. Together with Richard Dawkins, Niall Ferguson, Sir Christopher Ricks and various other academic superstars, he is setting up a New College of the Humanities, based in Bloomsbury.

They have found the premises, they will start taking applications from next month, and the first one-on-one Oxbridge-style tutorials will take place in autumn 2012. They will ultimately have 1,000 undergraduates, all of whom will be expected to achieve a minimum three As at A level to get in; and since this will mean a whole new higher education institution for London, so lengthening our lead as the university capital of the world, I thought it would not be too pompous if I rang up Prof Grayling to congratulate him.

He explained that the idea had first occurred to him years ago, when he was tutor for admissions at an Oxbridge college. “For every person we admitted, we turned away 12, each of whom could have done outstandingly well at the university,” he said. The trouble with Britain today, he said, was that we simply didn’t have enough elite university provision – and especially not in the humanities subjects, where teaching budgets are under such pressure.

It was absurd, he argued, that so many of our young people are going off to America to do their degrees, and he is surely right. The shortage of places in top universities is now so acute that we have 10,000 UK school leavers a year who are spending $60,000 a year on Animal House-style frat parties on the Podunk Liberal Arts Campus or other American colleges. That cash could be going into the hard-pressed British system.

Which brings us to the key question. Prof Grayling’s New College for the Humanities is going to charge a staggering £18,000 for tuition alone, and that is before we have come to the accommodation costs. How on earth are people going to afford it? He has a ready answer, in that he and his colleagues want to see 30 per cent of undergraduates receive some help with their fees, and a large proportion will have full scholarships, funded either charitably or from the fees of those who can afford to pay. It is this strong commitment to attracting students from disadvantaged families that has earned the project the support of such famous lefties as Prof Linda Colley and Sir David Cannadine.

This is not an attempt to replace the existing taxpayer-funded system or to “privatise” the universities. It is about getting more cash into the teaching of the humanities, and about additional elite provision. It is about creating a new and different model for university education, side by side with the existing system. If well handled, it could be just as successful in widening “access” as any of the current outreach programmes being pursued by other universities. It is the boldest experiment in higher education since the University of Buckingham was founded in 1983, and it fully deserves to succeed and to be imitated.

If academics are fed up with the tyranny of the Research Assessment Exercise; if they are demoralised by endless government attacks on their admissions procedures; if they feel they are being scapegoated for the weaknesses of the schools, then the New College for the Humanities shows the way. Three cheers for A C Grayling.


Quis magistros ipsos docebit?

Australian teacher graduates face a test before registration

ASPIRING primary school teachers are expected to face questions about animal groupings, energy and literacy processes in Queensland's controversial teacher test.

Sample questions of what teaching graduates could face in the nation's first teacher pre-registration exam have been placed on the Queensland College of Teachers website.

The test, which hopeful primary school teachers will be required to pass before they can attain registration in Queensland from the end of this year, will examine a graduate's literacy, numeracy and science skills.

One sample question asks graduates to place a kangaroo, tadpole, echidna, emu and lizard into its right animal grouping - fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds or mammals.

Another in the science category requires graduates to use their knowledge of sound and heat energy to answer a question.

Under numeracy, graduates are asked when a train is scheduled to arrive if it leaves Mount Isa at 1.30pm on Monday and the trip takes 20 hours and 40 minutes.

In literacy, one question asks which word is a preposition and another asks graduates to sequence the typical behaviours of a child learning to read.

It will also test their knowledge of course content and teaching.

The test follows a recommendation by Professor Geoff Masters in a review of how to lift Queensland students' literacy and numeracy standards, after the state came second last in the first national tests in 2008.

The Queensland Teachers Union and Queensland Deans of Education Forum initially said the tests were offensive to universities and a double-up of what was already being taught.

QDEF chair Professor Wendy Patton said extensive consultation had been undertaken on the exams and while there were still some concerns, they were waiting to see the actual tests before making any further judgment.

The Queensland College of Teachers (QCT) website reveals aspiring primary school teachers will face two 90-minute exams with 60 questions each on literacy and numeracy and one 60-minute science test with 40 questions.

The computer-based exams will take place in designated testing centres across Queensland at the end of the year. Teaching graduates will be able to sit the exam as many times as needed to pass and attain registration.

"The purpose of the QCT pre-registration test is to ensure that aspiring primary teachers meet threshold levels of knowledge about the teaching of literacy, numeracy and science and have sound levels of content knowledge in these areas," the QCT website states.

QCT director John Ryan said the tests would not be a panacea for proficiency but would ensure graduates teaching in Queensland schools met a minimum standard.


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