Sunday, November 16, 2014

UK: Heads attack union rep strike: Disgust at support for militant teacher battling to keep her job

Twelve secondary school heads voiced their ‘disgust’ yesterday at strikes in support of a militant teacher battling to keep her job as a full-time union official.

As teachers walked out in defence of Julie Davies, the heads accused the National Union of Teachers of ‘making children pay’ for a personal dispute.

Mrs Davies, who is paid £45,900 a year, has not taught since 2000 when she became a full-time NUT rep. She has been suspended after heads accused her of ‘confrontation’ and encouraging ‘a climate of mistrust’.

They refused to continue to fund her union work but Mrs Davies is leading two-day strikes in protest, initially targeting Fortismere and Highgate Wood schools in north London.

In letter to the council leader signed by 11 colleagues, Dame Joan McVittie, head of Woodside High, accused the NUT of ‘retaliation against the children’.

She said: ‘The current strikes, and further proposed strikes, will cause great damage to the education of young people in both of these schools and I have no doubt that other schools will be affected.’

The letter added: ‘I am disgusted by the response of the NUT: instead of negotiating with the employer, it has chosen to strike in selected schools, thereby damaging the life chances of vulnerable young people in this authority.

‘It cannot be right that children should be made to pay for a dispute that is essentially between a union official and her employer, the local authority.’

Teachers at the two schools will walk out again with ballots planned at two more schools – Hornsey School for Girls and Parkview.

A petition calling on NUT general secretary Christine Blower to step in and end the strike had attracted nearly 200 signatures last night.

One mother-of-two in her 40s whose children are at Fortismere, said the strike had been ‘disruptive’.

‘I'm self-employed so it's been difficult to get on with my work with the children at home,’ she said.  'I worry that this may set a precedent for the future.  'Why does she think she can disrupt all the kids in their schooling just because she feels the rules don't apply to her?  'I don't see why the kids have to be dragged into this.  'It beggars belief and it's tantamount to blackmail. She's blackmailing the council.

'It's wrong and she's showing no sign of backing down. She seems determined she's going to win this no matter what - and at the expense of the children.  'I'm so frustrated about this, it really annoys me.’

Meanwhile a father in his 40s whose children attend Highgate Wood school said: 'We are just concerned about our children's education. They're being used for a political issue which is nothing to do with them.

'A single Union rep should not have the power to call strikes relating to their own personal issues.  'For the sake of our kids and our sanity please get on and resolve this now.'

Schools in Haringey currently pool their funds to pay Mrs Davies’ wages but many heads are unwilling to continue the arrangement.

Groups representing both primary and secondary heads have written to Haringey Council warning that they will refuse to continue contributing to the fund amid concerns over the conduct of the local NUT branch.

The letter from local secondary heads said: ‘Secondary school head teachers have found, and continue to find, that Ms Davies' preferred approach and working style is one of confrontation and obfuscation.

‘Our combined experience is that she seeks to encourage a climate of mistrust, often involving the airing of her personal critiques of individual head teachers, rather than seeking to develop effective communication channels or relationships based on trust and openness.’

Another letter, from a ‘significant number of primary head teachers’, stated: ‘It is our view that it is simply not feasible to do so whilst current union working practices exist.’

Mrs Davies was suspended in July over the concerns expressed by heads as well as other allegations, including that she sent a tweet spreading news about a Haringey mayor ‘abusing’ her position and also that she fired off a rude email to a councillor after food waste was not collected in her street.

The council’s investigation into the claims is ongoing.


Two More States Eye Repeal of Common Core

On the heels of Republican victories last week, attempts to replace Common Core with homegrown standards are resurfacing in states across the nation.

Most prominently, elected officials in Wisconsin and Ohio are spearheading efforts to reclaim more control of education.

On Nov. 5, the day after the midterm elections, an Ohio House committee passed a bill to repeal the Common Core standards.

Although officials on both sides doubt the bill will garner enough support to pass by the end of the year, they are hopeful the legislature will take up the issue in 2015.

But to be safe, Common Core supporters such as state Rep. Gerry Stebelton, R-Lancaster, say they will double down on efforts to defeat the repeal bill.  “It deserved to die,” said Stebelton of the bill. “It has no merit.”

In Wisconsin, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said on Thursday changes to Common Core are definitely on next year’s agenda, according to the Associated Press.

Even though Fitzgerald wouldn’t offer specifics, his plan to re-examine Common Core aligns with that of Gov. Scott Walker, who won his re-election bid campaigning on a platform of expanding school choice, among other issues.

Walker, who is considering a 2016 presidential bid, made it clear this July he wants to repeal the Common Core standards.

“Today, I call on the members of the state legislature to pass a bill in early January to repeal Common Core and replace it with standards set by people in Wisconsin,” he said in a statement.

Wisconsin voted in 2011 to adopt the educational standards in math and English, but now, support is dwindling.

“Fitzgerald’s remarks show that education policy is a priority for Wisconsin, and that Common Core will continue to drive the debate in the coming months,” said Lindsey M. Burke, a Heritage Foundation expert on education policy.

Developed in 2009 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Common Core was incentivized by the Obama administration with $4.35 billion in Race to the Top grants and waivers for states that signed on.

Already this year, four states—Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Louisiana—withdrew from the national standards and tests, and more than a dozen others either have exited or downgraded their involvement with the assessment component.

“More and more states are now seriously considering the next steps on Common Core, and the best way forward for them to reclaim control of education content,” said Burke, adding:

States like Oklahoma and South Carolina have demonstrated that it is possible to withdraw from these national standards and tests, and to take the opportunity to craft quality standards that are homegrown and reflective of state and local priorities.


America's Education Crisis

An educational crisis has struck Minneapolis' public schools: Black students have a tenfold higher chance of suspension or expulsion than white students. And superintendent Bernadeia Johnson wants to “disrupt that in any way that I can.”

Her solution: refusing to suspend black and Hispanic students. “The only way I can think [to solve the disparity] is to take those suspensions back to the individuals and try and probe and ask questions,” Johnson explained. Johnson will work with the Department of Education, which originally brought the disparity to light. Now, Johnson will have to review every potential suspension of a non-white, non-Asian student. “Changing the trajectory for our students of color is a moral and ethical imperative, and our actions must be drastically different to achieve our goal of closing the achievement gap by 2020,” Johnson stated.

Black and Hispanic students in Minneapolis represent 60.3 percent of the student body. Just 15 percent of teachers are non-white. This has led to pressure to oust some white teachers in favor of minority teachers. But Minnesota has some of the highest-performing students in the nation: Overall, 70 percent of fourth-graders read at or above grade level, as opposed to 34 percent of students nationally; for eighth-graders, 82 percent of students score above grade level, as opposed to 43 percent nationally.

The big problem: Black and Hispanic students score extraordinarily low when compared to white students. Is that because the teachers somehow teach better to white and Asian students? Or is the problem with the students?

The students in Minnesota are not an exception. Male black, Hispanic and Native-American students in every state in America lead male students of other ethnicities in suspensions. That’s not due to some inherent disadvantage attached to race, of course.

It’s because black, Hispanic and Native-American children are disproportionately likely to live with single mothers. And children living with single mothers misbehave more often than those living with fathers. A study from Great Britain of 14,000 children showed that children were twice as likely to manifest behavioral problems by the age of 7 than those raised by their natural parents. Those numbers continue to diverge as children grow older.

But instead of dealing with the obvious problem, the government insists that the problem, somehow, lies in the strictness of the Minneapolis public schools. That’s inane. School discipline in Asia far outstrips discipline in the United States. .

The left in America believes that overlooking actual solutions in favor of happy talk about institutional racism helps minority students. It achieves precisely the opposite, making light of misbehavior and destroying the chances for better education for those who seek to gain it.

They get suspended more often because they misbehave more often.

The achievement gap will never be closed, so long as school districts across the country punish good students, reward bad ones and let political correctness trump educational necessity.


Suburban D.C. School Board Eliminates All Religious References to School Holidays

By a vote of 7-1, the Montgomery County (Md.) School Board voted  Tuesday to strip the public school calendar of all references to religion after Muslim groups mounted more than a year-long campaign to get Eid al-adha and Eid ul-Fitr added as a days off for students.

The majority of board members voted to remove all references to religion, resulting in the 2015 school calendar referencing Dec. 24, 25, 28, 29 and 31 as “Winter Break” without noting that school is closed on Dec. 25 for Christmas. Next year, March 25, 28, 29, 30 and 31 will be “Spring Break,” without any reference to Easter.

“It is about equity,” board member Rebecca Smondrowski told after the vote. “I felt that we needed to look at this issue in a more comprehensive way and in a way that works for all members of our community.

“I made the motion because if we are closing for operational reasons then there should be no need to make reference to religion,” Smondrowski said. “That is the most equitable solution that I could see while recognizing that we need to be seriously addressing the criteria for how these things are decided in the future.”

The issue came to a head this calendar year when the Muslim holy day Eid al-Adha and Jewish holiday Yom Kippur both fell on Oct. 4. School Superintendent Joshua Starr suggested that the Jewish holiday not be named but that schools continue to be closed on that date. Schools also are closed from the Jewish holy day of Rosh Hashanah.

But Zainab Chaudry, Maryland outreach manager for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which launched the Equality 4 Eid Coalition to lobby for Muslim holidays to be included on the school calendar, said they opposed the idea.

“That’s something that we are not in favor of,” Chaudry told before the vote was taken. “It makes absolutely no sense to us that they would want to remove the Jewish holidays from the calendar, and we respect the fact that there are a substantial number of our Jewish friends and neighbors in the community in Montgomery County who also wish to observe their holidays.”

Chaudry said the coalition did not want to remove other religious observances but to add Muslim holy days as days off for students.

In the end, the board voted to remove all mention of religious observances from the public schools calendar.


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