Will School Reform Degenerate Into Privatization?

Will School Reform Degenerate Into Privatization?

by John Thompson

After linking to a chart by Paul Thomas which illustrates the “insanity” of school “reform,” Diane Ravitch explains her conclusion that the goal of today’s attempts to restructure education is not school improvement, but privatization. So, Ravitch no longer uses the word “reformer,” and instead uses the word “privatizer.”

My initial reaction was that Ravitch is too harsh. Most “reformers” who I know, whether they came from Teach for America, charter schools or a business background, want to help poor children of color and, like me, they have no contact with behind-the-scenes true believers in market-driven policies. But reading Thomas’ post and James Cersonsky’s American Prospect article, I worry that Ravitch, once again, may be prescient.

Thomas provides the conventional list of problems that undermine educational opportunities for poor children of color, such as disproportionately inexperienced and uncertified teachers, public schools increasingly segregated by race and socioeconomic status, and three decades of standards-based testing and accountability to close the test-based achievement gap.

Then, he lists “reform” solutions — inexperienced and uncertified TFA recruits, segregated charter schools and Common Core standards and assessments.

Thomas recounts the problems caused by top-down and bureaucratic reform policies that ignore teacher professionalism, the trivialization of teachers’ autonomy and the use of euphemisms to rename but not solve problems.

Then, he notes more solutions — federal top-down mandates that ignore teacher professionalism, replacing experienced teachers with rookies and replacing high-poverty public schools with “‘no excuses’ charters named ‘Hope’ or ‘Promise'”

Thomas and Ravitch agree that this “reform” recipe fits the classic definition on insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” But Ravitch indicates that such insanity cannot be lost on advocates of pro-market “reforms.” The only rational explanation is that their true goal is privatization of public schools.

It is now clear that “reform” has failed. Ravitch is right that the contradictions illustrated by Thomas’ chart make perfect sense if the real goal is privatization. But, most reformers who are actually in schools are like most teachers. They do not have time to systematically study policy issues. Their hands are full trying to solve the same problems that have long bedeviled educators.

Perhaps Ravitch’s conclusion is premature, I hoped, but she has a track record that cannot be ignored. So even if I could not see enough evidence for her diagnosis, I filed it away and continued to surf the edu-sphere. Then, I followed a link to Cersonsky’s “Teach for America’s Deep Bench,” and got a sick feeling in my stomach.

Cersonsky reports on TFA Leadership Educational Equity (LEE), which is a network for TFA alumni. Starting in the restricted section of the TFA website, he investigates whether “LEE could shift control over American education reform to a specific group of spritely college grads-turned-politicians with a very specific politics.” Cersonsky finds no smoking gun to prove that LEE is a neo-liberal version of the rightwing “ALEX” which quietly pushes for reactionary policies, but he documents a clear pattern. For instance, he quotes a community organizer who explains, “LEE hasn’t been openly unsupportive” of teachers who resist privatization, “but LEE is clearly looking to strategically promote folks who have a different politic.”

Cersonsky then reports on LEE alumni who not only support expanded charters, the “new unionism,” and merit pay, but who also campaign for expanded standardized testing and “parent trigger” laws. He closes with the carefully worded statement that TFA which “began — and is still viewed by many — as an apolitical service corps could be the Trojan horse of the privatization of public education.”

Again, it takes a big leap from determining that “reformers” have demonstrably failed to concluding that they have made the rational decision that “reform” is hopeless and that schools must be privatized. If, instead of recounting troubling patterns in regard to TFA alumni, The American Prospect claimed definitive proof that there is a conspiracy to pull the plug on public education, I would ignore their charges.

But Paul Thomas, Diane Ravitch and James Cersonsky, read together, make a strong case against my congenital optimism. The failure of the contemporary “reform” movement creates opportunities. Perhaps a young generation of idealists will now be more willing to heed the experience of veteran educators and the generations of social science research that they ignored. Or perhaps, the data-driven crowd are like a wounded bear and they have thus become more dangerous. If true believers in pro-market solutions conclude that their theories failed because public schools are beyond reform, privatization could be the next big solution that exacerbates of educational problems.

Measuring the worth of a teacher?

Measuring the worth of a teacher?

L.A. Unified School District’s Academic Growth Over Time measurement system, based on students’ progress on standardized tests, spurs debate over fairness, accuracy.

By TeresaWatanabe

How tomeasure the worth of Los Angeles math teacher Kyle Hunsberger?
The teacher at Johnnie Cochran Jr. Middle School works 60-hour weeks, constantly searches for new teaching ideas and makes every minute count in class. During a fast-paced review of square roots and perfect numbers, he punctuated explanations with jokes, questioned his students to check their understanding and engaged them in group work.

His principal, Scott Schmerelson, praises him as a leader who heads the math department and started a campus program to give struggling students extra help.
Some ofhis students say he’s the best math teacher they’ve ever had — a caring, funny mentor who explains well, pushes on homework and most of all believes in them.
“Healways tells us nothing will stop us from learning and nothing will stop him from teaching us,” said Edwin Perez, a gregarious 12-year-old, as three of his classmates nodded.

Yet, according to a key measure of teacher effectiveness used by the Los Angeles Unified School District, Hunsberger is average. Two years ago, he said, he was rated above average. Then last year his ratings fell. He doesn’t know what changed and there’s nothing in his scores that will tell him.

The rating “didn’t tell me anything about how I can get better at teaching [weaker] students,” Hunsberger said. “The truth is, I don’t know andI would love to know.”
Hunsbergerisn’t the only instructor questioning the results of the Los Angeles school system’s new approach to measuring teacher effectiveness.

Academic Growth Over Time, as the district calls it, is based on students’ progress on standardized test scores. The method estimates how much teachers added to — or subtracted from —their students’ academic performance.

Whether it is a fair, accurate and useful assessment of educators is a heated issue in the nation’s second-largest school system. L.A. Unified is under court order to use test scores in teachers’ reviews by December, and officials are in negotiations with the teachers union.

United Teachers Los Angeles bitterly opposes the ratings as too unreliable for use in firing, tenure and other high-stakes decisions. School districts in more than half the states have added students’ test scores along with other factors to their teacher reviews, a direction promoted by the Obama administration.

L.A.Unified began giving teachers their scores two years ago for informational purposes only. But it is now pushing to use it in a new teacher-evaluation system, along with classroom observations, student and parent feedback and contributions to the school. About 700 teachers and administrators from 100 schools volunteered to test the new observation portion last year. That will give teachers like Hunsberger specific information about where to improve and how.

He questions whether his ratings were higher two years ago because he had a class of “rock star” algebra honors students, but fell last year when he had less-skilled students, many of them learning English.

“I did my best. I tried things. I worked hard,” said the 30-year-old New York native who sports a neat beard and a receding hairline that he jokes about with students.
Hunsberger’s questions recently deepened when he noticed a graph on the district’s website that seemed to show that schools with stronger students have higher growth. It coincided with his experience that honors students were easier to push forward.
“I have to be reassured that I don’t have to lobby for honors students,” Hunsberger said.
“I have to know that I have a shot at a good evaluation if I teach lower-performing kids.”
But therating system controls for outside factors that could influence growth, such as past test results, gender, race, income and English ability. Those controls give every teacher an equal shot at good performance ratings regardless of their students, according to Noah Bookman, the district’s director of performance management.

“The important piece for people to understand about [Academic Growth Over Time] is that it allows us to level the playing field,” Bookman said. Bookman also said that the graph questioned by Hunsberger shows not that stronger students boost scores, but that good teachers produce stronger students at any level — an outcome possible for all educators, he said.

“Teachers with low, middle and high-achieving students have the same opportunity to demonstrate growth as each other,” Bookman said. Hunsberger understands the math but is not sure about the claims. He was an early champion of the new system.The issue was personal: In 2010, Cochran’s years of low test scores resulted in placement on the district’s list of campuses eligible for takeover by charter schools or other groups with a credible improvement plan.

The South Los Angeles campus of 1,300 students, nearly all of them low-income African Americans and Latinos and a third who are learning English, consistently ranked in the state’s lowest 10% of middle schools. Only about a quarter of students were at grade level in reading and math. The school scored in the low 600s on the Academic Performance Index, a 1,000-point achievement measure based on standardized test results that does not control for outside influences.

But down in the trenches, Hunsberger felt the picture was not that bleak.
When L.A. Unified released schoolwide scores for the first time last year, the results confirmed his instincts. Although Cochran’s student achievement was low, its rate of academic growth was significantly higher than the district average in English, algebra, science and social studies in 2010-11.

He and a colleague, Rustum Jacob, found “huge inconsistencies” at other schools between the state’s API achievement scores and the district’s scores. They urged school officials to include district ratings to identify schools for the takeover list. Last October, the district did just that.

“I very much embraced the idea that AGT [Academic Growth Over Time] represented a far better measure of a school’s impact on student outcomes than API,” Hunsberger said.
He became a bit of an evangelist. He agreed to test the district’s new evaluation system, despite the union’s urgings that teachers not participate. He joined a new group of educators, Teach Plus, whose proposed evaluation plan would count the district scores for a minimum 10% of a teacher’s ratings.

But he and other instructors are still concerned — even those who embrace the idea of using objective student achievement measures in their evaluations. Lisa Alva, a Roosevelt High School English teacher, said her score for last school year was based on 12 students and wonders how that can be valid or fair. Philip Gerlach at Markham Middle School got sterling scores but said they were skewed downward by counting students he had for just two months and don’t measure his strongest suit — teaching writing.

Sujata Bhatt, another highly rated teacher who taught fifth grade at Grand View Boulevard Elementary, said the formula needs revision to account for different ranges of poverty, for instance, or English fluency.

Hunsberger’s colleague, English teacher Daniel Badiak, said his below-average scores last year have pushed him to “teach to the test” more this year. Time for work on what his seventh-graders most need — basic lessons on where to put periods and question marks, for instance — is being eaten up by drilling on vocabulary that might appear on the state test, he said. Hunsberger said he still thinks the use of the scores is “the right idea”
but he intends to keep asking tough questions.

“It’s got light years to improve,”he said.

Taiwan tries to recruit California students to its universities

Taiwan tries to recruit California students to its universities

Taiwan’s minister of education,Wei-Ling Chiang, travels to California
to encourage Taiwanese American students to enroll at its universities.

By Frank Shyong

Taiwan’s minister of education, Wei-Ling Chiang, traveled toCalifornia last week to address a rarely discussed trade imbalance with theUnited States.

“Just 3,561 American-born students are enrolled in Taiwaneseuniversities, while about 24,000 Taiwanese students enroll in universities inthe U.S,” Chiang said. “We really have to address the situationnow.”

Concerned about a brain drain, Taiwanese education officials andtop public universities are renewing their efforts to enroll more internationalstudents. A dozen Taiwanese college information centers have opened in ninecountries in the last few years, including a Michigan office in August.

And in the San Gabriel Valley, Taiwan’s university recruiters havebegun to target a new demographic: the Taiwanese American teenager.

On Saturday officials held what they said was the first Taiwaneseeducation fair in the U.S., at the Chinese Cultural Center in El Monte. About athousand people attended, attracted by advertisements in local Chinese languageradio and television stations.

Chiang made the case for Taiwan’s universities himself in a welcome
speech: A typical undergraduate education costs about $3,000 per year,a tuition set by the government, and living costs are much lower than in theU.S. Several degree programs are taught in English and several professors havedegrees from Ivy League institutions.
“Your children will enjoy a high quality education whilelearning about Taiwan’s culture,” said Chiang, a Stanford graduate.

The pitch was perhaps more attractive to parents of the second-and third-generation Taiwanese American students who were the targets of theenrollment push. They crowded around the table for the prestigious NationalTaiwan University, peppering an advisor with questions.

“What are the dorms like?” asked one parent.

Their children hung back, thrusting hands deep into jeans pocketsand adjusting headphones. “I’ve never really considered [school in Taiwan] … but mymom saw the commercials,” said Jasmine Tseng, 22, a student at Cal State Long Beach.
Some parents came even without their children’s cooperation.Hai-long Huang’s daughter already attends a local college, but he wants her totransfer to a Taiwanese university so she can learn more about her heritage.

“She might come in the afternoon,” Huang said, one armhugging a thick sheaf of pamphlets and brochures to his chest. “I’m justtaking these home for her to take a look.”
The idea of a Taiwanese education appealed to parents who believetheir children will graduate into a job market increasingly dominated by Asianlanguages and businesses. For many, the prospect of an American education has lost its shine.

Steven Su ticked off the reasons on his fingers. “First, financial aid to U.S. colleges is getting really bad.I don’t want my daughters to graduate with a lot of debt and not be able toattend graduate school.”

He also wants them to experience Chinese culture and learn thelanguage.
If they study in Taiwan, they can work throughout Asia. And, Su said,recent headlines about the cuts to California’s public education system arefrightening. Funding for the state’s community college system has dropped morethan a third since 2007. Campuses across the Cal State system are freezingenrollment, and hikes to UC tuition have become a perennial topic.

Max Liu, dean of the international college at Ming ChuanUniversity, said the timing of the fair wasn’t accidental. He wants to double,even triple, the number of American-born students attending his university inthe next few years.

“Taiwan needs friends,” Liu said. “We need peopleto experience the education and culture of Taiwan.” Janet Shang accompanied her daughter Sandy to the fair. Sa ndy, afourth year student at USC studying biology, wants to a”It’s just a Plan B,” saidSandy, clad in an Oxford University sweater.

“There’s a lot of competition in America, and inTaiwan we have an advantage because we’re bilingual.” Janet Shang agreed, but she had her own reasons. “If she goes to medical school, then I can move back therewith her,” Shang said.

Does Popularity In High School Add to Future Earnings?

Does Popularity In High School Add to Future Earnings?

If you were hoping that the popular high school football player and the cheerleader he dated didn’t go very far in life once they graduated, the National Bureau of Economic Research has some bad news for you. According to a new study released earlier this week, popularity among peers can translate to a wage premium of as much as 10% even four decades after graduation.

The good news is that the study’s authors – Gabriela Conti, Andrea Galeotti, Gerrit Mueller and Stephen Pudney – don’t view popularity as a personality trait one is born with. Instead, popular kids are often popular because they have already begun to figure out how to “play the game” in order to maximize the number of people who have positive view of them. Put like that, it is no wonder that they perform better than their peers when they eventually enter the workforce, as these qualities will make them more appealing both to their superiors and their peers. The advantage of popularity was so pronounced that it led authors to recommend that schools invest resources in teaching social skills to their students.

Quantifying something that is as ephemeral as popularity is a tricky proposition for the researchers. Their findings rests on a model that relies on a survey of student connections called the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which has been running for more than 50 years. The Wisconsin data is important because it allows the researchers to understand the direction of friendship. The researchers are able to see the web of relationships and determine who is actually popular, rather than who perceives themselves to be so.

What has an impact on popularity? Some surprising things. While family income does play a role, its impact pales in comparison with things like age and intelligence. Students who were older and smarter were, on the whole, considered more popular than their younger and less intelligent peers.

According to the researchers, high school is a perfect time to study the predictive power of popularity because it is the point when students start to coalesce into a peer group rather than a group led by older authority figures like teachers and parents. Thus, this is the first opportunity to assess what kind of qualities will earn esteem from their peers rather than from their elders.

The paper suggested that when schools try to prepare their students for successful lives, a purely academic focus might not be enough. “Policies that focus on promoting integration in schools and on developing social competencies may be a fruitful way of promoting success in life,” the researcher wrote.

Two High School Teachers May Be Better Than One

Two High School Teachers May Be Better Than One

By Kelsey Sheehy

Coteaching can help educators address a variety
of learning levels in one high school classroom.

Two heads are better than one, or so the saying goes. But in a high school classroom, are two teachers better than one?

“It’s all in how you implement it,” says Susan Fitzell, an educational consultant. “It doesn’t work if you just have two bodies in the room.”

To be effective, both teachers need to be interacting with students, breaking them into small groups, and teaching to the needs of individual students, says Fitzell, a former special education teacher who began coteaching at Londonderry Senior High School in New Hampshire in 1993 and now coaches other educators on how to coteach.

While Fitzell says she’s seen an increase in schools pairing two general education instructors in one classroom to manage larger classes, coteaching teams typically pair a special education teacher with an instructor specializing in general education areas, such as math or science. This allows students with learning disabilities to take the same courses as their peers while still receiving individualized instruction, she says.

Coteaching can also give educators an opportunity to accommodate students who learn at different paces, Fitzell says.

“When you’ve got five, six kids in the class that didn’t get the core instruction you taught the first 15 minutes of class, you can zero in on what they need immediately, right there in class,” she says. “If you’ve got two teachers in the room, you could do a quick assessment, then reteach the students who need reteaching while allowing other students to accelerate—all within the same class.”

Sharing responsibility for planning, grading, and teaching can benefit educators as well as students, but only when there is buy-in from both teachers.

“If teachers share the same work ethic, and have skillsets that complement versus compete with each other … coteaching can help prevent teacher burnout,” says Brenda Zofrea, who taught reading and language arts to freshmen at Central High School in Florida, but resigned after one year.

“Having another teacher in my overcrowded classroom to help with lesson plans, discipline, and being able to provide more one-on-one attention to my students would have made all the difference,” she says.

While collaboration and communication are key elements to a successful coteaching partnership, ceding control over their classroom can be a hurdle for some teachers, Wendy Murawski and Lisa Dieker, two professors, note in an article for the Council for Exceptional Children.

“Secondary teachers are by nature often more territorial because of the subject-specific environment, and are often accustomed to teaching in isolation,” they wrote.

The combination of high-stakes testing and the in-depth subject knowledge of teachers at the high school level can make teaching in tandem tricky, but the payoff for students makes it a challenge worth navigating, says Fitzell, the coteaching expert.

“Before I did coteaching and inclusion, I never saw a kid on an IEP go to college,” she says, referring to individualized education plans tailored to students based on their learning challenges. “By having students in general education courses at a level that’s respected by colleges … and coteaching to make sure that these kids can be successful, we have kids that will go to college that would never have that opportunity otherwise.”

Technology in the Classroom: Friend or Foe?

Technology in the Classroom: Friend or Foe?

by James Rosenberg

The proliferation of technology has transformed modern society on many levels. In the classroom, technology is changing the way children learn, educators teach and how teachers and students communicate with one another. While technology provides greater access to information and new ways for students to learn, it can become a crutch hindering creative problem solving and cognitive development.

Given the rise of technology in the classroom, we are faced with a dilemma: Does technology provide our students with experience they need to succeed in the 21st century, or does it hinder them from developing valuable skills that are only attainable through human interaction?

One approach, illustrated by New Tech Network high schools, aims to completely immerse students in technology to help them develop modern-day skills. These schools believe that full access to technology, including computers and the Internet, enables students to become self-directed learners. The goal is to help students develop the research and analysis skills they’ll need later in life, rather than depending on teachers or textbooks for knowledge and direction.

Other arguments in favor of technology in the classroom include:

• Exposing children to technology at an early age prepares them for college and the workforce where knowledge of technology is essential for success.
• Technology fosters connections between people and information, no matter where they are in the world, giving students access to resources around the globe.
• Because children frequently absorb information through technology in their day-to-day lives, they may be more motivated and interested in lessons when technology is used as a teaching tool.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Association of Waldorf Education in North America emphasizes hands-on experiences through music, dance and writing, as they believe these experiences cultivate a love of learning and help to develop students’ intellectual, emotional and spiritual capacities. Take, for example, the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, based in Silicon Valley — the heart of technological innovation. It’s a school that likely has the funds and resources to provide classroom technology; in fact, three-quarters of the students’ parents work for high-tech companies like Google, Apple and Yahoo. And yet, the school doesn’t allow computers in the classroom and prefers students not use them at home. Parents and teachers believe that meaningful engagement comes first and foremost from teachers and peers, and that computers and technology are more distraction than resource.

Other arguments against technology in the classroom include:

• Online instructional videos and programs don’t compare to classroom discussions where students have the opportunity to ask questions and hear the opinions of their peers and teachers.
• There is a level of interaction through an active classroom discussion that you simply can’t replicate on a computer screen.
• It’s imperative that students learn how to socialize without technology. It’s often through engagement with teachers that children learn valuable life lessons such as respect, manners and self-esteem.
• Teachers are one of the most important factors in a student’s development and ability to succeed.

Technology in the classroom also presents a question about how our nation’s education dollars should be spent. President Obama’s 2012 budget proposed to create an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education to fund projects aimed to transform teaching and learning in the same way that the Internet, GPS and robotics have transformed commerce, travel and warfare. At the same time, many classrooms lack even the most basic supplies. How we view technology in the classroom will help to determine our funding priorities.

Where do you stand on the use of technology in the classroom?

Study Finds Relationship Between Education, Income and Brain Development

Study Finds Relationship Between Education, Income and Brain Development

A paper delivered at the annual Society for Neuroscientists meeting contended that there was a relationship between income and educational attainment of the parents and the development of their child’s brain – especially areas used in learning, memory and stress processing. The researchers studied brain scans of children whose parents ranged in levels of education of between 8 and 21 years and whose family income fell between below-poverty to $140,000.

Kimberly Noble, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, was the lead author of the report who was assisted by Elizabeth Sowell of University of Southern California. Together they discovered that the hippocampus area of the brain, which controls memory and learning, was larger in children who came from families that enjoyed a higher income. Children of parents who had a high level of education had smaller amygdalae, the part of the brain instrumental in processing and dealing with stress.

In an interview with The Washington Post’s Janice D’Arcy, Noble referenced a study that found children who had spent more time in an orphanage abroad had a larger amygdala than those who were there for a shorter period of time.

Although some might draw the conclusion that children from disadvantaged backgrounds pay the price in the area of brain development, Noble was loath to promote this view. She said that it is more likely that the environmental factors inherent in growing up in a high-income rather than a low-income household most likely were the driving forces behind the differences. She said similar conclusions could be drawn from the divergence of hippocampus volume in children of parents with a high rather than low level of education.

As for what conclusions could be drawn from the study, Huffington Post reports that, in Noble’s view, more attention should be paid to creating a stress-free environment for children that allows them an opportunity to satisfy their natural curiosity.

This is far from the first study to link family’s income level with students’ academic outcomes.

A report released in summer 2011 found that parental income is strongly linked to academic performance, even when accounting for other background factors, such as gender and race. The paper found each additional $10,000 in annual parental income throughout early childhood gave kids the equivalent of slightly more than one extra month of learning. The paper also found ties between maternal learning and student achievement: an additional year of a mother’s schooling was equivalent to about half month of additional learning, as gauged by test scores.


The Freaky Future of Halloween: All Hallows Read

The Freaky Future of Halloween: All Hallows Read

By Ariha Setalvad

Here’s an idea: this Halloween instead of (or in addition to) the candy you hand out, give out scary books. Here’s what you do:

Look the kids dead in the eye.
Hand them the books you’ve chosen.
Laugh maniacally.
It’s a scarily simple ploy to get kids to read. Mwah-ha-ha.

Sabrina Zbasnik
The brainchild of author Neil Gaiman, All Hallows Read is a new Halloween tradition that we liked so much we just had to share it.

New books and old books and secondhand books – oh my! Just give children scary books they’ll like and can handle. Give adults scary books they can enjoy. That’s all there is to it. That’s the whole tradition.

Don’t know where to start? You can find an extensive list of book recommendations
on the All Hallows Read site. Or you can really go wild and do a book drop around your city, neighborhood or school. Just make sure you include one of these book drop stickers so people know they’re meant to be taken and you’re not unintentionally encouraging theft.

Teachers who want to get their classes involved might start with one of our lesson plans (like “The Horror! The Horror!: Exploring the Conventions of the Horror Genre in Film and Literature”). Or, scan our entire collection for more All Hallows learning, via student crosswords, scary poetry pairings, trivia quizzes and more.


We Can’t Afford to De-Professionalize Education

We Can’t Afford to De-Professionalize Education

by Ellen Wood

The fight that pitted the Chicago Teachers Union against performance-based decision making by the district’s school leaders de-professionalizes education at a time when we desperately need to recruit the best and brightest to teach in our nation’s schools.

What was the fight about in Chicago? Contrary to what most people and media outlets assume, it wasn’t about money. The Chicago Teachers Union opposes the implementation of a new teacher evaluation system — as set forth in Illinois state legislation — that requires some portion to be based on student performance scores, and in cases where teachers have been laid off due to school closings, they want those teachers to be “recalled” before principals are allowed to hire new teachers. The latter undermines principals’ autonomy to hire their own staff that is fundamental to building high performing teams of teachers.

Unions, by definition, protect the jobs of their members. Terry Moe, author of Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools, eloquently reminds us that collective bargaining advances the interests of their members, not the students. Unions spend a disproportionate effort on behalf of the lowest performers who are most at risk of losing their jobs, and in doing so, fail to recognize performance that excels. Even in states that do not have collective bargaining, state laws provide many of the same provisions for teachers that make it almost as difficult to exit low performers.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked with many great teachers, and I have profound respect for how important and difficult their jobs are. Teaching and leading our nation’s schools is more demanding than ever, but watching union leaders in Chicago fight policy changes to protect jobs for teachers regardless of their performance, and seeing teachers picketing their own schools moves us farther away from high professional standards for educators that would attract the best and brightest to teach, especially in some of our most challenged schools.

This contentious argument in Chicago is not the case in every jurisdiction. Thanks to legislative changes at the state level, many districts and unions around the country are working together to create new teacher development and evaluation systems that support a stronger workforce. This has already happened in major cities in New York, Maryland, Colorado, Ohio and Connecticut.

We are at a crossroads in this country. There is a significant mismatch between where the jobs are and what our educational system is producing. The Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that 62 percent of all jobs in 2018 will require post secondary credentials, yet less than 20 percent of students ultimately earn a post secondary degree or certificate. And for the most disadvantaged students those numbers are less than 10 percent.

Attracting and supporting talented professionals to teach and lead in our schools is mission critical to resolving this gap, especially with an estimated 1.8 million teachers eligible for retirement over the next decade.

Why has the teaching profession fallen so far down in prestige given its importance in our society? How can we move teaching back up to the ranks of other professions such as medicine, engineering and law that attract high potential college graduates? In other words, how can we bring back respect and value for the teaching profession?

Districts and states working with the input of teacher groups, unions, and others should adopt a new version of the “3 R’s” to professionalize teaching:

Rigorous preparation: Selective and rigorous educator preparation programs must offer relevant content to prepare professionals for the challenging job of teaching and leading in today’s schools.

Results orientation: Once in the classroom or leading a school, all professionals must be accountable for student outcomes, and be able to show progress against goals for every student’s learning for the year. And since continued improvement in practice is a hallmark of a vibrant profession, educators need to be open to feedback and continued growth in their own capacity.

Recognition: Compensation systems in nearly every district primarily recognize years of service to determine salary and do not offer the differentiated career and salary potential relative to other careers of talented professionals. Performance, based on observed practice as well as meeting student achievement goals, should determine career progress that offers opportunities for mastery of practice and the ability for teachers to have impact beyond their own classroom.

The U.S. Department of Education recently launched the RESPECT project to “start a national conversation to serve as a catalyst for remaking education on a grand scale. To do so, we must lift up the accomplished teachers in our classrooms and bring in a new generation of well-prepared, bright young men and women.” Tapping talent for education should be a national priority. In no other country or industry are top tier results found without attracting and supporting talented people. It’s difficult to envision how this will happen in the US if teacher unions like those in Chicago control the future of the profession.

A Binder Full of Bad Ideas

A Binder Full of Bad Ideas

by Randi Weingarten

Earlier this year at a roundtable discussion in Colorado, Mitt Romney was talking about education — extolling the virtues of private schools and vouchers, and criticizing public schools and teachers unions. When a teacher participating in the discussion tried to offer her perspective, Romney shot back: “I didn’t ask you a question.”

But teachers, like many other Americans, have questions about Romney’s policies and proposals. They worry about their impact on the education that kids receive, because he advocates slashing education funding and privatizing public education.

They question his taking credit for educational success in Massachusetts that was spurred by reforms instituted a decade before he became governor, and wonder why as a presidential candidate he is proposing entirely different, discredited education policies.

They are incredulous that he says he would preserve the U.S. Department of Education only so he’d have a club to go after teachers unions, when most teachers in Massachusetts and other high-performing states are unionized.

They doubt his pledges to middle-income voters because, according to numerous independent analyses, the math doesn’t add up for his tax and job creation proposals.

This presidential election presents a choice between starkly different visions for the future of our country. Americans will choose between the candidate of a party that has obstructed, denied and even rooted against economic recovery during the Obama administration, and a president who pulled the country back from the brink of economic depression. One candidate has steadfastly fought to strengthen the middle class and ensure there is a safety net for those in need. The other has shown disdain for 47 percent of our population — a group that includes veterans, students, the working poor and people who receive Social Security benefits after a lifetime of work.

And it is a choice between a president who has shown constancy in his values and goals, and a man engaged in the perpetual repackaging of his candidacy. The prediction by a Romney campaign strategist that the candidate would reset like an “Etch A Sketch” has proved all too accurate; indeed, the man who described himself as a “severe conservative” while seeking the Republican nomination underwent an extreme makeover that was complete by the first presidential debate. But all this mishegaas can’t hide the fact that Mitt Romney’s policies would move the country in the wrong direction.

Romney’s economic proposals are neither fair nor sound. His tax plan would give millionaires an average annual tax cut of $187,000 — paid for by raising taxes on middle-class families by $2,000. And his job creation plan has been roundly discredited. (The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave the plan four dreaded Pinocchios, ignominiously awarded only to “whoppers.”)

Romney’s education proposals are a combination of cuts (of up to 40 percent of federal education spending) and discredited privatization schemes (such as publicly financed vouchers for students to attend private or religious schools). He has opposed efforts to invest in teachers and lower class sizes. He supports a budget plan that would take away Pell Grants from 1 million college students over the next 10 years, and advises students who can’t afford college to borrow more money from their parents.

These policies would hurt kids, communities and economic growth, and they reflect a cavalier dismissiveness toward the opportunities that help Americans build better lives. The president of the United States should promote opportunity for all, not just some, Americans.

A president for all enacts policies that help people trying to get back on their feet after the devastation wrought by reckless economic strategies. A president for all supports public schools so they can provide a great education to all children, no matter their circumstances or where they live, not an opt-out approach to education that weakens public schools in favor of ineffective privatization programs. A president for all fights to extend access to affordable healthcare to all people, including those with pre-existing conditions. A president for all rejects discriminatory economic policies that seek to lock in advantages that benefit elites and lock out those who seek a fair shot at a better life.

As Election Day approaches, we hope Americans will choose a president for all — a president for broadly shared prosperity, for stronger communities, for educational opportunity and for a bright future for all who call America home.