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Unprofessional Conduct Penalty

Comedy Central spoof doesn’t go deep in teacher-athlete comparison.

The teachers “don’t get no respect” catchphrase has been with us for some time now. Various lamenters have opined that teachers should have the status and income of rock stars or professional athletes. To that end, Comedy Central duo Key and Peele have rolled out “Teaching Center” – a spoof of ESPN’s long-running “Sports Center.” In the parody, teachers are substituted for athletes and the comedy team belts out the “top stories from the exciting world of teaching.”

In its first week on YouTube, the video has gone viral, racking up almost 4.5 million views. Social media has been all atwitter about it and the establishment edu-press has been fawning. But anyone who gives the issue of teacher status and pay any thought will readily see a bunch of penalty flags. (I will use football and California in my analysis, though other sports and states could easily be substituted.)

Football has a merit system – and commensurate pay for performance

The requirements necessary to play football on the professional level are staggering and accordingly, the great players make a lot more than the average ones. Seattle Seahawk star quarterback Russell Wilson just signed a contract that awards him $87.6 million over the next 4 years. Do you think that Seahawk owner Paul Allen should have to pay a mediocre right tackle even more money just because the latter has been on the team a year longer? But when you have a teacher union-insisted step-and-column pay regimen, that’s what is mandated. Los Angeles’ Jaime Escalante, arguably the greatest teacher of all time, was never richly compensated because of his amazing success; he just got a few extra bucks for just showing up each fall.

Also, pro athletes can earn salary bonuses by having certain provisions written into their contracts. And the whole team can earn a bonus if it makes it into the playoffs, and even more if it can get to the Super Bowl. Teachers unions in California frown on any kind of pay for performance. The unions much prefer rewarding teachers for extra classes they take, no matter how useless they are. An NFL quarterback negotiating his contract would be laughed out of the room if he said, “I know I didn’t have a good year last year, but I took a ‘Sweating to the Oldies’ fitness class in the off-season, so I deserve a raise.”

There is no tenure in football

National Football Leaguers must produce to keep working. A running back who fumbles every other time he touches the ball will be seeking work elsewhere in short order. A field goal kicker who can’t kick the ball through the uprights will soon be released. But in California, due to union-mandated tenure laws, a teacher essentially has a job for life after two short years in the classroom. He can fail to advance his students for decades and lose all interest in improving, yet still remain on the job collecting a paycheck and racking up pension benefits.

The NFL has no seniority rule

If at some point Russell Wilson doesn’t perform at a high level, he will be benched or let go. He will never be able to claim his starting provision over a more talented QB who joined the team after he did.

Football is data driven

The number of touchdown passes thrown, running yards gained and blocked punts are indicators of a player’s success. In the teaching field however, data is frowned upon by the unions, especially when it involves using student performance on standardized tests to judge a teacher’s effectiveness. The official whine about the “test and punish” bogeyman is a mainstay in the teacher union playbook.

Football is all about quality

Every fan wants to see the very best players a team can field. But in teaching, this is anything but the case. A 2012 report by TNTP, an organization that deals with educational inequality, explains that because of union policies, public schools systematically neglect their best teachers, “losing tens of thousands every year even as they keep many of their lowest-performing teachers indefinitely – with disastrous consequences for students, schools, and the teaching profession.”

Now it is true that the most gifted teachers will never make the astronomical salaries that star athletes like Russell Wilson make. But as James Shuls, education policy fellow at the Show-Me Institute in Missouri, writes, “…the best ones – the ones that significantly improve student achievement and make a lasting impact on students – could easily garner six figure salaries.” And they should.

But until we penalize the teachers unions, they will continue to get away with unnecessary roughness against high performing teachers. Teaching will remain an industrial-style job and unfortunately will never become the quality-driven profession it should be.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Dump the Masters Bump

Advanced degrees for teachers have no bearing on student learning.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal brought to a national audience the news that lawmakers in North Carolina have done away with automatic pay increases for teachers who have master’s degrees.

North Carolina is the latest state to get rid of the “masters bump,” following Tennessee, Florida, Indiana and Louisiana. What these states have come to realize is that a teacher needs an advanced degree like a fish needs a sheepskin. Or, as Harvard researcher Tom Kane put it, “Paying teachers on the basis of master’s degrees is equivalent to paying them based on hair color.”

Instead, North Carolina will institute a system of merit pay based on students’ test scores. Of course, moving away from the traditional way of giving teachers raises brings out all the usual suspects whose common grouse is,

Getting an advanced degree gives teachers a deeper understanding of one subject or a better idea of how to teach students at different levels – important parts of education that aren’t always quantifiable.

It is certainly possible that teachers with advanced degrees may have a “deeper understanding” of their subject matter. But so what? How much a student learns, not how much the teacher “understands,” is the real measure of a teacher’s value.

But any attempt at “pay for performance” is particularly anathema to the union crowd because it destroys their worldview that all teachers are essentially the same, and that there is no such thing as a bad teacher. This phenomenon was spelled out in 2009 in “The Widget Effect,” a report by The New Teacher Project.

Predictably, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten weighed in on the North Carolina move, positing that, “districts and local unions should create contracts that reward teachers for master’s degrees that are relevant to classroom instruction.” She then added,

What is so ironic to me is that the same people who keep telling kids that it is really important to gain additional knowledge are the same ones saying “not so much,” when it comes to teachers.

Again, Weingarten is under the erroneous assumption that the more a teacher knows, the more their students will learn. She has apparently forgotten that we pay teachers to be teachers, not to be students.

In fact, Weingarten and her fellow travelers should become familiar with “The Sheepskin Effect and Student Achievement” with its subhead “De-emphasizing the Role of Master’s Degrees in Teacher Compensation.” The study, conducted by the Center for American Progress, delved into the uselessness and the outrageous costs of the bump.

Not only does the annual outlay for master’s bumps inflate demand for master’s degrees, it understates the full financial and social cost of this traditional facet of teacher compensation in the following three ways:

  • First, the extra cost is a lost opportunity. The billions of dollars tied up in master’s bumps are not available for compensation vehicles better aligned with a school district’s strategic goals such as improving student achievement.
  • Second, some school districts offer tuition reimbursement to teachers pursuing a master’s degree.
  • Third, many teachers leave the classroom years before earning enough additional compensation by way of master’s bumps to pay down loans or defray other expenses associated with their efforts to earn a master’s degree.

The severity of the costs cannot be exaggerated. As The Wall Street Journal reports,

About 52% of the nation’s 3.4 million public elementary and high-school teachers held a master’s or other advanced degree in 2008, compared with about 38% of private-school teachers, according to the most recent federal data. The national average salary for a teacher with five years of experience and a bachelor’s degree was $39,700 in 2008, compared with $46,500 with a master’s, according to the federal data … The nation spends an estimated $15 billion annually on salary bumps for teachers who earn master’s degrees …

Here in Los Angeles, the situation is beyond wacky. In 2011, I wrote about “The Teacher Quality Roadmap,” a study conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality that examined the relationship between advanced degrees and other “extra coursework” on teacher effectiveness.

“Out of 102 statistical tests examined,” the report notes, “approximately 90 percent showed that advanced degrees had either no impact at all or, in some cases, a negative impact on student achievement.” And teachers without advanced degrees who simply take extra coursework in their areas of specialty prove no more effective in the classroom than those who don’t.

Not only is L.A. Unified’s policy at odds with the research, it practically invites teachers to game the system. According to the district contract with the United Teachers of Los Angeles, coursework, to qualify as professional development, must be “directly related to subjects commonly taught in the District.” (Emphasis added.) So a kindergarten teacher can take “Northern and Southern Economies on the Eve of the Civil War,” say, and receive what is euphemistically called “salary-point credit” for it. Or an American history teacher could take a class in identifying different kinds of plankton and also get a bump in pay. Taxpayers pay out a whopping $519 million a year in extra salary payments to teachers who take such courses.

That’s $519,000,000 in Los Angeles and $15,000,000,000 nationally in wasted taxpayer money! For the union crowd and their acolytes who are always screaming that we need more money for education, eliminating the masters bump and ignoring all the “deeper understanding” poppycock would be a perfect place to start.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, 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.

No Love for Irreplaceable Teachers

According to a recent study, many public schools do not retain their best teachers – the “irreplaceables.” Is anyone surprised?

A study released a couple of weeks ago by the New Teacher Project – now known as TNTP – claims that urban schools….

…are systematically neglecting their best teachers, losing tens of thousands every year even as they keep many of their lowest-performing teachers indefinitely – with disastrous consequences for students, schools, and the teaching profession.

The study by TNTP documents the real teacher retention crisis in America’s schools: not only a failure to retain enough teachers, but a failure to retain the right teachers.

The report, referring to the very best teachers as “irreplaceables,” claims that of the districts studied, about 20 percent of them fell into that category.

On average, each year they help students learn two to three additional months’ worth of math and reading compared with the average teacher, and five to six months more compared to low-performing teachers. Better test scores are just the beginning: Students whose teachers help them make these kinds of gains are more likely to go to college and earn higher salaries as adults, and they are less likely to become teenage parents.

Among this report’s findings:

• The school districts lost their most successful teachers at a rate comparable to the attrition of the least successful teachers.

• “Irreplaceable” teachers who experienced two or more of eight different recruitment strategies—including advancement opportunities, regular performance feedback, and public recognition—said they planned to stay at their schools nearly twice as long as other teachers.

• In one of the districts studied, only a fifth of the lowest-performing teachers were encouraged to leave, while more than a third were given incentives to stay.

• “Irreplaceable” teachers were much more likely to stay at schools with a strong instructional culture in which principals set strong performance expectations for them.

The report reserves particularly strong criticism for principals, who it contends have misjudged the retention issue by turning a blind eye to quality in retention decisions.

“Principals tell themselves low-performers are going to improve, and therefore they don’t have to address it; and they say there’s nothing they can do to retain high-performing teachers,” said Timothy Daly, the president of TNTP. “Both of those things we see as largely untrue.

In addition to principals, the TNTP report lays blame on policies that “impede smarter retention practices.”

A number of policy barriers hamper principals from making smarter retention decisions. Because of inflexible, seniority-dominated compensation systems, for example, 55 percent of Irreplaceables earn a lower salary than the average low-performing teacher.

In other words, the problem lies with incompetent, disinterested or lazy principals and stifling, unionized work rules with their insistence on tenure, seniority and Byzantine dismissal statutes. In my view the latter carries more weight because invariably even good and caring principals have their hands tied by union contacts that are written in stone and enforced by the worst elements in the profession. A case in point is Jaime Escalante, probably the greatest teacher of our time, who didn’t care much for the union contact. Often thwarting its rules, he was ultimately hounded out of Los Angeles by UTLA, the local teachers union, for essentially being too dedicated, too dynamic and too successful at teaching calculus to the “unteachables” at Garfield High in East Los Angeles.

While I have great respect for TNTP, I’m not sure that this study adds much to the debate. This report isn’t a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the steep slide in American public education for the last 40 or so years. In fact, its recent conclusions pretty much echo its own 2009 study, “The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness.”

In a separate study, TNTP analyzed Chicago’s schools and found that….

…56 percent of principals admit to inflating teacher ratings. The reasons why are striking, and each can be traced back to the union contract:

30 percent of the principals said the teacher’s tenure would prevent dismissal regardless of the rating;
34 percent said it wasn’t worth enduring the lengthy union grievance proceedings;
51 percent said the union contract makes it difficult to lower the rating of a teacher that has previously received high ratings; and
73 percent said that the performance evaluation doesn’t actually evaluate performance.

As always, RiShawn Biddle has a crystal clear view of the problem:

When it comes to how we recruit, train, evaluate, and reward teachers, American public education is in a shambles. Near-lifetime employment rules through tenure keep teachers on the job regardless of whether or not they can improve student achievement. Seniority- and degree-based pay scales, along with defined-benefit pensions fail to reward good-to-great teachers for their performance while lavishing benefits on laggards who should have long ago been shown the door. The fact that traditional teacher compensation only benefits instructors after two decades on the job means that talented new hires have to wait years before getting the full fruits of their labors. Meanwhile quality reverse-seniority layoff rules lead to talented younger teachers being kicked to the curb regardless of their success in helping kids succeed while allowing veterans who are not doing well to stay put. Add in the dysfunction and the obsolete practices within traditional districts, the continued defense of failed policies by National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers affiliates, and the low quality of school leadership, and the consequence of these policies are magnified, creating conditions that do little to help good and great teachers stay on the job.

What to do? The report makes policy recommendations….

…for more-strategic retention of teachers, several of which touch on hotly debated policy issues. They include paying the best teachers six-figure salaries; requiring principals to set goals for retaining “irreplaceable” teachers; monitoring working conditions; and dismissing teachers who, after remediation, cannot teach as well as the average novice. Together, the report suggests, these strategies could also raise the rigor of the profession.

All this is a way of saying that we need to make schools run the way the rest of the capitalist world is run. Do a good job and you will be rewarded; do a bad job and you will be fired. As things stand now, principals are “at will” employees – meaning they don’t have the ridiculous job protections that most unionized teachers have. But in many places like Los Angeles where I used to teach, principals, like tenured teachers, essentially have a job for life. In fact, the term “dance of the lemons” in LA applies not to teachers but to administrators. Over my 28 year teaching career, I can’t tell you how many times I was told in confidence by my principal that our new assistant principal is a “must place.” For things to improve, principals must be given the ability to hire and fire and be held accountable for their school’s performance. At the same time, seniority and tenure rules that tie principals’ hands must be eliminated.

Lynn Hey in USA Today makes the point quite succinctly –

In other professions, treating all workers equally, regardless of talent, would be inconceivable. Imagine football teams letting star players leave without a fight, then trying to fill the gap with third-stringers.

It’s as simple as that. No one would stand for that on a sports team. Why do we stand for it in our schools? Who would support such idiocy?

The answer to the last question can be found in an op-ed written by NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle,

Given the scope of this challenge, a narrow focus on peripheral issues, such as seniority, is a distraction from the hard work at hand.

So much of the problem is summed up here. She considers seniority as peripheral. No, Ms. Pringle, it’s a major part of the problem. In this system, quality doesn’t matter. Teachers-of-the-Year are laid off because they don’t have as much time on the job as their incompetent colleagues. How can anyone in their right mind refer to this as “peripheral?”

NEA members are working through local affiliates to ensure that every teacher is “irreplaceable.”

Of course. The unions see all teachers as equally valuable. This is the point of “The Widget Effect” – one obviously wasted on Ms. Pringle.

We can do it if we work together and put the needs of students first.

The teachers unions want to “put the needs of students first???!!!”

Think about that last quote every time the teachers unions go to bat to keep incompetents, pedophiles and worse in the classroom.

About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, 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.