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School Reform


Reform In the debates on improving public education, what does the evidence say? see page 02


April 2013

Budget Cuts Slam Cuts that might hurt us all

06 Aging Schools, Dangerous Bone chilling cold

Volume 29 / Number 4 / March/April 2013




Education Reform


Just the Facts, Please! Cover Stor y Learn the truth about merit pay, charther schools and other favorites of the so-called education reformers. You might be surpirsed. 02

Budget Cuts Slam

Public College Vitality The cut that might hurt us all. Public college schools are in the looming shadows of profit. 05

Aging Schools, Dangerous

Fragile Environment Only one boiler to keep the bone chilling cold away, no more money to create more warmth in the learning space. 06

first Undynamic Duo

8 President’s Viewpoint

9 Talkback


Five Things You Should Know


Why I’m a Member March/April 2013

13 01


Just the FACTS, PLEASE! Time to get real about education reform. HERE’S THE TRUTH ABOUT KEY AREAS OF CONTENTION.




merica has been conducting a massive experiment on the impact of high - stakes testing ever since the so called “No Child Left Behind” law (NCLB) was signed nine years ago. And the results are in: This enormous, expensive, painful venture has had little or no effect on achievement.

“it isnt what we dont know that hurts, it’s what we know that aint so,” said Will Rogers. Unfrotunately, there are a lot of things about public schools that many pundits and politicians “know” that aren’t so.

How doe we know? Because the U.S. Department of Education tests samples of students in every state in a program called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), nicknamed the Nation’s Report Card. And if you look at NAEP trends over the last two decades, you can’t see when NCLB kicked in. The great high - stakes testing experiment has failed. But scores on many state tests have gone up! say testing proponents. That’s because of teaching to the test. Under pressure from NCLB, many educators have focused on the particular types of questions and the areas of the curriculum their state tests usually cover. Ask questions in a different way, or on a different part of the same subject matter, as often happens on the NAEP, and students don’t look so good. Don’t you hate it when your kids ask, “Will this be on the test?” These days, aren’t you asking that question yourself?

IN HUMAN TERMS... High - stakes testing was supposed to have a positive impact on how schools serve kids whose low achievement used to be taken for granted, especially low income and minority students. Unfortunately, that extra attention too often takes the form of shallow test proep rather than learning that will last. And there’s less time for music, art, social studies, languages, and anything else that’s not tested. For Gayle Hoffman, an elementary school teacher in Utah, high - stakes testing brought an end to projects that fascinated her second graders, like the unit in which they read about Helen Keller and learned the manual alphabet. After her school failed to make “adequate yearly progress” under NCLB, Hoffman says, “We were told to cut out all the fluff and only teach to the test. How sad.” March/April 2013




“Value-added” measurement aimes to

That’s no way to close achievement gaps.

porject a student’s test score growth over time, after attempting to adjust for poverty and other facotrs known to affect achievement. Look at all of a teacher’s student scores and you’ll see how effective that teacher is, the theory goes. But life is more complicated than a value-added algorithm. In real life, some teachers get students who are harder to reach for all sorts of reasons. They may have an extra share of problems with language, motivation, disabilities, or classroom discipline. And each year, the students change. So let’s as the research. Can you tell a star teacher from an ineffective one by looking at their value-added scores? In a word, no. For one thing, value-added scores swing wildly from year to year. If your score puts you near the bottom this year, chances are you’ll be a lot higher next year. This year’s value-added score predicts next year’s score only moderately better than a roll of the dice.

So what are value-added scores good for? Sadly, they became a prime teacher-bashing weapon last summer when the Los Angeles Times published teachers’ names and their value-added scores as calculated by the newspaper. There was less media buzz about the parade of eminent test experts who warned that these scores don’t come close to describing a teacher’s effectiveness. Ten of the most prominent leaders of the scientific community reviewed all the evidence and concluded that nobody should make important decisions on the basis of value-added scores because they “do not adequately take into account the extra challenges of teaching at-risk students, even though they are intended to do that.” The experts added scores up to 50 percent weight in evaluating teachers. Relying so heavily on these scores, they said, “could create disincentives for teachers to take on the neediest students.” That’s no way to close achievement gaps.

IN HUMAN TERMS... The Gates Foundation is a major hacker of using value-added scores to evaluate ennessee is the birthplace of teachers, but an independent analysis of “value-added” scores. The system has been data from Gates-funded research casts in use there since 1993. How is it working? doubts on the validity of those scores. That After years of excellent value-added scores, research found that 40 percent of teachers middle school math teacher Angue Jordan who landed in the bottom quartile based on their students’ state test scores placed in got the bad news last fall that her scores were in the lowest category. the top half when a different test was used.


Another inconvenient finding: Although value-added scores are supposed to adjust for factors like poverty, theyapparently don’t. One study found the same teachers got better value-added acores when they taught more academically advanced students, fewer English-language learners, and fewer low-income students.

March/April 2013



She had a lot of company: Value-added

scores slumped all across the state. But that wasn’t much consolation. “I was in tears,” she says. “I was thinking, ‘Why did I work so hard? I couldn’t have done worse if I had just shown videos’” Why did her scores take a dive? New curriculum? New standards? A glitch in the scoring? She can’t find out because both the test and value-added calculations are secret. So how are these scores helping Jordan improve her skills or educate the children of Tennessee?



asing teacher pay on student test scores has got to be one of the worst ideas yet. Ask a teacher. Or ask a researcher. Both of them will tell you that it just doesn’t work. The most recent blow to proponents of pay for test scores came from a study in Nashville, released in September by Vanderbilt University researchers. They tracked nearly 300 teachers for three years. Half of them could get bonuses of up to $15,000 for raising scores. The other half got no bonuses. “We sought a clean test of the basic proposition: If teachers know they will be rewarded for students’ test scores, will test scores go up?” said Matthew Springer, executive director of Vanderbilt’s National Center on Performance Incentives. “We found the answer to that question is no.”


“It was

crazy,” Caruso says.

The results of the Nashville

experiment were no surprise to Tanya Caruso, president of the Eagle County (Colorado) Education Association, which has had a merit-pay program for the past decade. “All teachers want kids to do well,” she says. “More money isn’t a better incentive than watching your kids succeed. We’re all doing everything we possibly can - we can’t work any harder!”

Eagle County now rewards teachers

partly on the basis of scores of all the kids at their school and partly on scores of all the kids in the district. ”I see other school districts trying to attach pay to individual test scores, and I think, ‘Good luck with that!’ Been there, done taht. You should look at those scores, of course, but not atteach them to pay.” But the pay scheme started out with an attempt to link teachers’ pay to their own students’ individual test scores. “It was crazy,” Caurso says. “You start with 20 kids and end up with 15 different kids, and some of them are going somewhere else for reading, plus there are the art and music people, who don’t have test scores... March/April 2013



By Mary Ellen Flannery

Budget Cuts Slam Public Colleges, Putting Economic Recovery At Risk

Cuts to public colleges and universities

over the past five years have been remarkably deep, according to a new report released Tuesday, and likely will be harming students and state economies for years to come—unless state lawmakers take action in current legislative sessions. This year, states are spending about 28 percent less on higher education than they did in 2008, before the country’s epic recession hit, according to researchers at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). In eleven states, funding for higher education has been cut by more than a third. In two, Arizona and New Hampshire, it has been slashed in half.

Those students

lose out on

promising futures.

March/April 2013

These are serious blows to community colleges and state universities that rely heavily on state funding to open their doors, provide job training and academic programs to students, and send them into much-needed careers. The researchers note that states provide about 53 percent of revenue that supports instruction at these schools. When those funds are cut, schools are forced to either cut services and programs or raise tuition — and both are terrible options for students and state economies! We know that a college degree is a ticket to the middle class. High school graduates are much more likely to be unemployed, and much less likely to own homes. So when colleges cut programs or turn away students — those students lose out on promising futures. And it’s happening. Between 2008 and 2012, California community college enrollment decreased by 485,000 students and course offerings were reduced by about 15 percent, thanks to severe state budget cuts, according to the California Community College Association, an NEA affiliate. Meanwhile, at 87 percent of those colleges, staff also has been cut. And, according to this week’s report, it’s not just California. In public colleges and universities across the country, faculty have been cut, campuses have been closed, academic programs have been eliminated, computer labs have been shuttered, library hours and holdings have been reduced, among other cuts. In Arizona, “the state university system cut more than 2,100 positions, merged, consolidated or eliminated 182 colleges, schools, programs and departments; and closed eight extension campuses (local campuses that facilitate distance learning),” the report said. Meanwhile, tuition rates continue to rise and students continue to rely on student loans to pay for college. Annual published tuition at four-year public colleges has risen 27 percent on average since 2008, according to the CBPP report. In Arizona and California, it’s up more than 70 percent.



So what’s next? The CBPP — and the NEA — strongly hopes that states will consider new sources of revenue for public higher education. “Renewing investment in higher education to promote college affordability and quality should be an urgent priority for state policymakers,” the CBPP researchers write. “Strengthening state investment in higher education will require state policymakers to make the right tax and budget choices over the coming years.”

By Cindy Long

Aging Schools Create Dangerous and Fragile Learning Environments

On one of the coldest days of winter, with a

“like Angel Falls”

March/April 2013

wind chill of one degree below zero, a class of kindergartners at a Reading, Penn., elementary school sat shivering in their 40-degree classroom wearing their coats and hats. Their teacher called Reading Education Association (REA) president, Bryan Sanguinito, but there was nothing he or anyone from the district’s facilities unit could do. The school had only one operating boiler, and there was no money to fix the other. Whole sections of the school were literally left out in the cold. “Who would want to come to school when it’s that cold in the classroom?” asks Sanguinito. “Who could learn in those conditions?” Unfortunately, those aren’t the worst conditions in the Reading School District. Leaking roofs let rain cascade into classrooms “like Angel Falls,” says Mitch Hettinger, a gifted support education teacher in the Reading School District and REA’s vice president, referring to one of the state’s waterfalls. “Teachers have to move rooms. They have to be flexible and ingenious to get the job done. It’s amazing the kids are as good as they are given the deplorable conditions they put up with.”



“I’ve had teachers who never had respiratory health problems suddenly develop asthamtic symptoms”

Sanguinito, who also teaches orchestra, says the schools were so damp that mold spores began to grow on

some of the kids’ violin cases. “Mold and mildew exacerbate allergies, leading to more absenteeism, and I’ve had teachers who have never had respiratory health problems suddenly develop asthmatic symptoms,” he says. “Would the politicians who cut funding to our schools ever consider working in these conditions?” Reading’s aging school buildings drew national attention last year when CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, along with NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen, visited the impoverished Pennsylvania district—and schools in New York and Connecticut—to examine the impact of indoor air quality on students and school employees. His two-part documentary, “Toxic Schools,” found that aging schools around the nation are making children sick. “After the CNN special aired, people in Reading were in a state of disbelief that conditions could get so bad in our schools, and that it took the union to get the nation’s attention,” says Sanguinito. “Ultimately, it benefited the learning environment in one of our oldest schools, Southern Middle School. The roof was patched, moldy ceiling tiles were replaced, and fresh paint went on all the walls.”

When changing classes, students at Southern Middle School passed

through an ancient, dark gymnasium. It hadn’t been used in years because of the crumbling floors, water-damaged walls, and the chunks of peeling plaster that fell from the ceiling. “I was a basketball coach for 25 years and remember times when a player would be dribbling the ball down the court and a huge piece of plaster would fall and explode,” recalls Hettinger. Students still have to pass through the gym to change classes, but after the CNN documentary aired, the dangerous areas were fenced off to keep students safe. The Reading School District is emblematic of a national crisis. An estimated 14 million American children attend public schools that are in urgent need of extensive repair or replacement and have unhealthy environmental conditions. Many older schools contain asbestos, lead paint, and dangerous levels of radon. The improvements at Reading’s Southern Middle School, while temporarily helpful, are just “a Band-Aid,” says Hettinger. “They’re just kicking the can down the road.” And many of the city’s other schools are in desperate need of major renovations to bring them up to code. But thanks to Gov. Tom Corbett (R-PA), who slashed education funding by $1.1 billion, the state doesn’t have the money to make the fixes. “There’s a slow strangle going on by those seeking to privatize public schools,” says Sanguinito. “They say we can’t afford to replace or repair our schools, but we give huge tax breaks to the wealthy. It’s a matter of priorities. We need to organize and mobilize people outside of education. If the general public saw what was really happening in our children’s schools, they wouldn’t stand for it.”

March/April 2013



“Cut $1.1 billion from early childhood education”

By Amanda Litvinov

An un-dynamic duo: Romney announces Ryan as VP pick

High profile couplings often make one

stop and wonder: What do these two see in each other? But there’s little mystery in the case of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his vice presidential pick, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, which was announced earlier today. The two have a lot in common when it comes to their destructive approach to public education and an unflagging commitment to catering to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans at the expense of the remaining 98 percent. During his 13 years in Congress, Ryan has repeatedly supported cuts to education funding, including blocking support intended to help avoid educator layoffs and prevent ballooning class sizes. As chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan was the architect of a plan that proposes to cut $1.1 billion from early childhood education, which would deny more than 2 million poor children the opportunity for high-quality early education.

March/April 2013

You can click here to sign the open letter

to Mitt Romney and VP choice Paul Ryan and ask them to make investments in education a priority. “Ryan’s position on fundamental education issues like funding for early childhood education and efforts to keep class sizes small don’t speak to ensuring that every child in this country gets a quality education,” said educator and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “It continues Romney’s misguided and out of touch mentality that class size doesn’t matter and children should get as much education as they can ‘afford’.