Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Education reform ideas: Christie v. NJEA

Gov. Chris Christie is expected to make education policy a top legislative priority in weeks to come. The New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union and one of Christie's chief adversaries, has released its own platform of ideas to change the school system. Here's a look at the contrasting ideas on some major issues:


Christie: Tenure would no longer be permanent for teachers who receive it. Teachers could lose tenure based on their evaluations.

NJEA: Require teachers to work for four years, instead of the current three, before being eligible for tenure. A mentor would be required in the first year. The union had already proposed moving tenure charge cases from courts to an arbitrator, saying they would be decided more quickly that way.


Christie: Allow students easier movement to other public schools. Use corporate tax credits to fund scholarships that students in some low-performing districts could use to pay tuition at other public or private schools.

NJEA: Let some colleges approve and regulate charter schools and broaden existing options within school districts or in other public schools. Do not use public money for scholarships to private schools.


Christie: Base a large portion of retooled teacher evaluation system on measurable standards, such as students' improvement on standardized tests.

NJEA: Do not rely more heavily on standardized tests.


Christie: Allow low-performing districts to pay higher salaries for top teachers moving from other districts.

NJEA: Experienced teachers who switch school districts would be eligible for tenure in two years instead of the current three.


Christie: Pay teachers partially based on student outcomes, such as performance on standardized tests.

NJEA: The union has opposed singling out individual teachers for merit pay based on test scores. Its new plan calls for teacher leaders to be appointed and eligible for higher salaries, a concept similar to one Christie supports.


Christie: Have education management organizations — possibly including for-profit companies — run some struggling schools.

NJEA: Do not allow for-profit firms to run public schools in the state.


Sexual harassment: Nearly half of 7th- to 12th-graders targeted in a year

That’s one finding in the first national study of the subject in a decade. The report also highlights some examples of how educators have been able to help students stand up to sexual harassment

Nearly half of students in Grades 7 to 12 experience sexual harassment during the school year, according to a report out Monday – the first national study of the subject in a decade.

Adults need to create a climate that doesn’t tolerate such peer-to-peer behavior, say the report's authors – especially since only 9 percent of the targets of sexual harassment report it at school.

“Sexual harassment doesn’t get attention as much as bullying, because it’s less comfortable to talk about ... but we hope this report is one way to start a conversation” school by school, says Catherine Hill, co-author of the report and director of research at the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in Washington. “It is distinct from bullying in a number of ways ... and it has a disproportionate impact on female students.”

Fifty-six percent of girls in the nationally representative survey about the 2010-11 school year said they were sexually harassed, compared with 40 percent of boys.

Among the findings of “Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School,” published by AAUW:

* 33 percent said a peer had made unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, or gestures.

* 30 percent experienced sexual harassment by text message, e-mail, Facebook, or other electronic means.

* 18 percent were called gay or lesbian in a negative way.

* 13 percent of girls and 3 percent of boys were touched in an unwelcome sexual way.

* 4 percent of girls and 0.2 percent of boys reported being forced to do something sexual.

Students said they were eager to have anonymous ways to report such behavior, as well as structured discussions of sexual harassment and enforcement of rules against it.

AAUW is reaching out to groups such as Girls for Gender Equity, Men Can Stop Rape, and the Girls Scouts and Boy Scouts to help raise awareness about sexual harassment and prevention.

Schools need to be alert to the issue, AAUW points out, to help stop a cycle of harassment – in which those who admit to harassing their peers often have already been harassed themselves.

Many boys, for instance, report feeling upset about being called gay, and “that could prompt them to try to prove their masculinity” by going after girls in inappropriate sexual ways, says Holly Kearl, report co-author and a program manager at AAUW.

If schools neglect severe or pervasive sexual harassment, they could be held liable under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. But as the report points out, sexual harassment can cause problems for students long before it prompts legal action.

For instance, among students who experienced sexual harassment:

* 32 percent said that afterward they did not want to go to school (and for 10 percent, this lasted quite awhile).

* 31 percent felt sick to their stomachs.

* 30 percent found it difficult to study.

* 8 percent stopped doing an activity or sport.

* 4 percent switched schools.

Educators have been able to help students stand up to sexual harassment and change the school climate, and the report highlights some examples.

Jennifer Martin, an English teacher at Tinkham Alternative High School in Westland, Mich., designed a women’s studies course in 2003 when she realized how many of the school’s girls were upset about sexual harassment by the boys, but were reluctant to report it.

“Their lives had taught them this is just how it is; this is what women have to deal with,” she says.

The course ranged from the history of women’s movements to the definition of sexual harassment and laws against it. But the first thing Ms. Martin had to do, she says, was build trust among the girls so they could help one another, instead of seeing themselves as competitors for boys’ attention.

“When they saw it was a safe place and they realized they had a common problem, then they were reporting more. And [within six weeks] they would stand up for one another in the hallways when they saw other girls being harassed,” Martin says.

While the course was recently discontinued, the culture change in the school has lasted, Martin says, partly because staff awareness grew.

The authors of “Crossing the Line” hope it will serve as a springboard for more teachers, parents, and students to initiate such prevention efforts.

“In the [popular] media, sexual harassment is often treated as a joke,” Ms. Kearl says. “So if that’s the only message students are getting, that’s problematic.”


British drive for more discipline in school: New teachers must show they can control pupils

Trainee teachers will be instilled with a zero-tolerance approach to ill discipline in school. They will be taught to bring back the traditions of pupils standing when a teacher enters the room and of keeping quiet in corridors.

A trainee unable to prove they can control a rowdy classroom will not qualify for a teaching post.

The radical shake-up by Education Secretary Michael Gove is designed to raise standards in state education. New teachers will have to punish any pupil who steps outside strict codes of behaviour. They will learn to discipline, or even send home, students who fail to turn up to their class without the right equipment – such as a pencil and paper.

All trainees will have to sit personality tests to prove their resilience and ability to remain calm under pressure. And the majority of their training will be conducted on the job in a classroom – rather than in a university lecture hall.

Headmasters will have the power to sack teachers who cannot control their class.

Mr Gove will also announce that graduates with first-class degrees will be handed £20,000 bursaries to train for a year as teachers.

The reforms to recruit only the best come as figures show 10 per cent of teachers leave the profession after a year – often because they cannot handle a class.

Yesterday, the Daily Mail revealed that some teachers were handed jobs despite failing numeracy tests up to 37 times. Mr Gove has limited the number of resits a trainee can take to two from 2012.

The new system of tapered bursaries will be introduced for postgraduate trainees. Students with first-class degrees are expected to receive up to £20,000 to teach secondary school subjects such as maths, physics and chemistry, which suffer the biggest staff shortages.

They would receive £13,000 to teach ‘medium priority specialisms’ such as languages, IT and design and technology, and £9,000 to teach other secondary subjects and to work in primary schools.

Students with a 2:1 degree would get £15,000 to teach shortage subjects, while those with 2:2s would receive £11,000.

Funding will be withdrawn for graduates holding less than a 2:2 degree. The tax–free bursaries can be spent however the student wishes, but it is likely that there will be an obligation to remain in the profession for an agreed period once they have completed their training.

The funds for the scheme will be found within the existing £500million teacher training budget. It is also expected that funding will be axed from some undergraduate teacher training courses as part of a shift toward training in schools.

This September, 100 schools, ranked ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, were given specialist ‘teaching school’ status entitling them to grants to train new staff.

However, unions warned that the academically brilliant do not necessarily make good teachers. ‘We all want the brightest and best but having a first-class degree is no guarantee that you are able to communicate with children,’ said a spokesman for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

‘The best teachers have an enthusiasm for their subject and an understanding of how children develop. If teachers do not have the ability to convey their knowledge and passion to pupils, their academic brilliance is not going to do pupils any good.’


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