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A Blueprint for Maintaining the Status Quo

August 30, 2011 | Filed Under Budget, California, Economy/Finances, Education, Larry Sand, Public Employees Unions, Taxes, Teachers Unions, Unions | Comments Off

-By Larry Sand

Tom Torlakson’s panel comes up with edubabble and little else in an attempt to turn around a troubled California public school system.

Just when we thought we were safe from yet another “master plan for educational improvement,” A Blueprint for State Schools is bestowed on us. This 31 page monstrosity was unleashed by State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s Transition Advisory Team. While the Teacher Quality Roadmap I wrote about in June had specific ideas about fixing Los Angeles schools, the “blueprint” is supposed to identify and address areas that are “vexing to the state’s K-12 system.”

The LA roadmap includes interviews with teachers and principals and can be summarized:

“Among other things, the report, which included interviews with over 1,500 teachers and principals, recommended changes to the current union contract and to state laws regulating staffing, evaluations, tenure, compensation and work schedules. Some of the prescriptions include using criteria other than seniority if layoffs are necessary and utilizing standardized test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation and when making staffing decisions. Additionally, it was suggested that teachers be denied permanent status until they have been in the classroom for four years instead of the current two.”

In my June post, I commented that while the roadmap was full of good common sense prescriptions from teachers and principals, they were really nothing new and, in any event, would be blocked by the teachers unions because they are happy with the status quo, ugly warts and all.

Unlike the roadmap, the blueprint was written by a consortium of 59 “experts” including business leaders, school board members, college professors, principals, four public school teachers and nine union leaders, including California Teachers Association President David Sanchez and California Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittelman (both termed out at this time.)

With the preponderance of union bosses, you might expect that the new blueprint would be devoid of any specific, meaningful fixes that would shake up the system. And you’d be right.

For example, in their recommendations about teacher recruitment the report says:

“Strengthen and integrate BTSA and Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) programs to ensure stronger mentoring and assistance for beginning teachers and for veteran teachers who are struggling.”

While this might sound good, California’s twelve year old peer assistance program has had very little positive effect. The National Council on Teacher Quality says that “peer review’s potential to reduce the numbers of probationary and tenured teachers with egregious instructional deficiencies is unrealized, if not minimal.” You can only help a struggling teacher so much before they should be shown the door. With the union running the show, however, firing a bad teacher is almost impossible.

“Encourage the development of more effective educator evaluation systems based on professional teacher and leader standards that guide and assess practice in a way that reflects best practices and incorporates appropriate evidence of student learning. Make sure these systems are supported by training for evaluators, mentoring for teachers, and professional development programs.”

Could this have been any more vague? There won’t be any teeth to this evaluation system. Should a teacher get a poor evaluation, they’ll just be moved into the Peer Assistance Program. And getting rid of them will still be practically impossible.

“Rethink the design of the California High School Exit Exam to incorporate diagnostic information over time and to provide instructional supports and assessments that offer more useful information regarding college- and career-readiness.”

What does this mean? The CAHSEE is a monumental waste of time and taxpayer dollars. It purports to measure what students should know when they get out of high school. Yet in 2010, 81 percent of 10th graders passed both the math and English portions of the test. And 90 percent of these high school “graduates” still need remediation should they be accepted at a community college.

“Launch an ongoing initiative to support union-management collaboration toward high-leverage reforms in school organization, management, and instructional innovation as well as teacher, classified staff, and administrator development, support, and evaluation.”

Sounds as if the unions want even more input and power than they have now. Terrific.

In any event, you get the idea. The blueprint is full of this kind of vague, high-sounding edubabble. Unfortunately for the state’s six million school children, little if anything will improve.

Tom Torlakson, the California Teachers Association’s bought-and-paid-for Superintendent of Public Instruction, gushing about the work of his “experts,” said,

“We are setting our sights high because our students deserve it. As our ‘Blueprint for Great Schools’ shows, there’s no substitute for investing in our children’s education. But we owe our students much more than just money. We also owe them our leadership, our best thinking and, above all, our very best people.”

Oh, please.

If only he had said,

“We are setting our sights high because our students deserve it. For that reason, our plan is to open California up to a universal school choice system. Starting immediately, we are going to empower parents who will be free to pick any school in the state for their children to attend and have their share of education tax dollars follow the child. No longer will parents have to follow the dictates of educrats, union bullies and the politicians they put into office. Government run schools will only stay open for business if they can compete with the wide array of choices that will now be available to California’s children and their families.”

If only. That would be a blueprint worth getting excited about.
______
Larry Sand began his teaching career in New York in 1971. Since 1984, he has taught elementary school as well as English, math, history and ESL in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he also served as a Title 1 Coordinator. Retired in 2009, he is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues – information teachers will often not get from their school districts or unions.

“CTEN” was formed in 2006 because a wide range of information from the more global concerns of education policy, education leadership, and education reform, to information having a more personal application, such as professional liability insurance, options of relationships to teachers’ unions, and the effect of unionism on teacher pay, comes to teachers from entities that have a specific agenda. Sand’s comments and op-eds have appeared in City Journal, Associated Press, Newsweek, Townhall Magazine, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union Tribune, Los Angeles Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and other publications. This past May, after his weekly blog proved to be very popular, he began writing a monthly article for City Journal, the Manhattan Institute’s policy publication. He has appeared on numerous broadcast news programs and talk radio shows in Southern California and nationally.

Sand has participated in panel discussions and events focusing on education reform efforts and the impact of teachers’ unions on public education. In March 2010, Sand participated in a debate hosted by the non-profit Intelligence Squared, an organization that regularly hosts Oxford-style debates, which was nationally broadcast on Bloomberg TV and NPR, as well as covered by Newsweek. Sand and his teammates – Terry Moe of the Hoover Institution and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, opposed the proposition – Don’t Blame Teachers Unions For Our Failing Schools. The pro-union team included Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. In August 2010, he was on a panel at the Where’s the Outrage? Conference in San Francisco, where he spoke about how charter school operators can best deal with teachers’ unions. This past January he was on panels in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Mateo in support of National School Choice week. Additionally, CTEN has hosted two informational events this year – one addressing the secret agenda that is prevalent in many schools these days and the other concerning itself with California’s new Parent Trigger law. The latter event was covered by both the English and Spanish language press.

Sand has also worked with other organizations to present accurate information about the relationship between teachers and their unions, most recently assisting in the production of a video for the Center for Union Facts in which a group of teachers speak truthfully about the teachers’ unions. At this time, he is conferring with and being an advisor to education policy experts who are crafting major education reform legislation.

CTEN maintains an active and strong new media presence, reaching out to teachers and those interested in education reform across the USA, and around the world, with its popular Facebook page, whose members include teachers, writers, think tankers, and political activists. Since 2006, CTEN has experienced dramatic growth.


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