Mar 31, 2011

A Model For Positive Change

Angela taught in Columbus City Schools where she enjoyed a short tenure as a kindergarten and first grade teacher; due to the "Last In, First Out" policy, she was forced out after two years. After leaving Columbus, she got a job at one of the best elementary schools in the greater Columbus area. Courter taught for two years in the Los Angeles Unified School District in one of the lowest rated middle schools in California.Together, they have seen the best and worst of America's education system. 
Although our experiences have been brief, we have seen enough to know that the system -- particularly for kids in low-income communities -- needs change. This is why tonight's event with Governor Kasich and Michelle Rhee was exciting. The event hit on three points that portend positive change in the area where our country (and where Ohio) needs it the most: education.  

1. Collaboration  

Governor Kasich and Michelle's willingness to collaborate is a strong model for other state and local leaders across the country. Two different people, two different paths, one a Republican, the other a Democrat, one goal in mind: improving the educational outlook for students. They clearly didn't feel hindered by their formal titles or by what other leaders had done in the past. They generally seemed to be concerned most with making decisions that would best benefit the actual people our education system exists to serve: kids.

2. Innovation

This kind of collaboration leads to innovation, which is one of the things that the education system as a whole needs. Ohio can look forward to attracting to the teaching field its best and brightest students through alternative credentialing programs, e.g., Teach For America. And Ohio can look forward to empowering its strongest teachers and strongest leaders by giving them autonomy to do what makes sense in their schools and classrooms.

3. Positive change 

One of the substantive changes that Governor Kasich and Michelle talked about -- and one that will have a strong, immediate impact on kids in low-income communities -- is the elimination of Last In, First Out. Should every single young teacher get to keep his or her job? Nope. Just as not every older teacher should get to keep his or her job based simply on time spent in the classroom. Governor Kasich and Michelle talked about the ways that we can hold teachers accountable and promote those that are actually doing a strong job in the classroom. 
One of the most pleasant parts of the evening was the sense of thoughtfulness that seemed to guide the conversation. Governor Kasich communicated that he was sensitive to the needs of teachers and that he was concerned with evaluating teachers based solely -- if at all -- on test scores. Michelle offered a different perspective. And they were able to have this debate/discussion in an open, honest way. While not every new policy or new approach will show immediate impact or will be perfect, it's this type of honest, level-headed discussion that will lead to strong results on the back end. Hopefully, we can look forward to more of it in the near future.

Mar 29, 2011

A Parent's Experience In Los Angeles - The Impact Of Teachers On Her Autistic Son's Education

Dana is the parent of an autistic child who attends a public school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has an advocacy and discussion site on
My son, Michelangelo, is eight years old, in the third grade in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He has what I call “middle of the road” autism. He does not throw tantrums but experiences frequent anxiety that can shut him down. His shut-downs occur at school but do not occur often at home.  
Life has been up and down in school for Michelangelo, and through all of the challenges one thing I am sure of is that not all educators -- including teachers, principals, everyone in the field -- are equal in what they do for children, and it’s wrong to criticize or intimidate parents who are willing to point this out. I have been disappointed and frustrated that for three years in a row Michelangelo has not had something so basic as a good teacher or principal. 
Pre-school and kindergarten were great. His teachers just seemed to get it. They knew how to teach Michelangelo without taking his challenges out on him or on us. But then everything changed. First grade was terrible. We tried to get him into a high-functioning autistic program but were denied, and he was placed with a senior teacher who admitted to me at Thanksgiving time that she had never read his Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which by law has to be followed according for students with needs like my son’s.
“Why read it?” she asked. “They are all the same." A similar attitude came from the top, where the administration tried to keep him out of the holiday program because he covered his ears, and this made him "stick out like a sore thumb." The teacher thought he had cognitive issues and I held firm to what had been diagnosed, repeating again and again that his were behavioral issues.  I insisted that they test him and it was confirmed that he was as capable of learning as any other intelligent child. 
The next year, his second grade teacher introduced herself by saying, "Just so you know, I'm best friends with his first grade teacher." She spent the rest of the year ignoring my son and his aide took over.  His aide worked hard but when my son was bullied by another student, the school's principal made me feel terrible that I complained.  My husband and I were called “ignorant.” 
We started Michelangelo at a new school in the third grade, hoping this would be the year his teachers would be more like those he’d had in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. But his teacher of twenty-five years claimed to never have had an autistic kid in any of her classes and had no idea what to do. While I appreciated her honesty, we spent most of the year trying to get the speech and other resources he needed, to no avail.  I hit my breaking point when I found out that they were sending him to the library for an hour each day instead of providing the resource services that he needed to make up for the fact that his teacher wasn't teaching him. We enrolled him in an alternative independent study program, deciding that at least this way we could be in control and know he is learning. Our son is not challenged in a separate special education class and the only way he can survive in a general education class is with a good teacher.  Unfortunately, he didn't get any of those during the most critical foundational years for building basic skills.  
I am a huge believer that autism is not something to be cured, but it still needs more understanding. I know having a few bad apples doesn’t mean we can blame all teachers who are working hard. And we do have to tell the stories about what the many good teachers are doing in schools. 
But we also have to share the other stories, stories like my son’s. No parent should be intimidated or criticized for voicing them -- because they are happening, and because we can and have to make these experiences stop. Autism is not easy on any child, family or educator. But when kids like my son all have good teachers and principals, we won’t have to tell stories like this anymore.

Mar 25, 2011

Seventy-four Percent Of Voters Believe LIFO Policies Must Change

You are not alone in your belief that student achievement should be a major factor of consideration when districts have to layoff teachers.  A recent poll commissioned by StudentsFirst shows that Americans are eager to truly put students first by dismantling "last in, first out" (LIFO) policies that plague a vast majority of schools districts across the nation.  Seventy-four percent of voters support changing LIFO policies, which mandate that the last teachers hired must be the first fired, regardless of performance.
Americans also have strong opinions about how we should determine teacher quality.  In fact, of the 1,510 voters surveyed, 75 percent believe standardized tests, individual student progress and principal assessments are the best ways to evaluate teachers. 
As you may know, StudentsFirst is a strong proponent of eliminating LIFO in order to keep our best teachers in classrooms.  Through the Save Great Teachers campaign, we’ve urged states to enact laws that mandate performance-based layoffs when layoffs are necessary and that determine teacher quality through fair and robust evaluation systems that include student achievement as a major factor. 
It’s clear from the poll results that Americans believe kids deserve the best teachers possible.  But in order to make this a reality, we must all stand ready to take action and unite by leaning on state and legislative leaders to abolish LIFO now.  Find out where your state stands on LIFO and urge your elected officials to end seniority-based layoffs in your state. 
If we work together, we can force change so that education policies put students first.

Mar 24, 2011

Breaking News: Florida's Student Success Act Becomes Law

Today marks a historical moment for Florida students!

This morning Governor Rick Scott signed the Student Success Act, which will greatly improve the quality of education for kids in Florida.

From Governor Scott: “I am proud that the first bill I sign [as governor] is this important legislation that will give Florida the best educated workforce to compete in the 21st century economy.  We must recruit and retain the best people to make sure every classroom in Florida has a highly effective teacher.”

Last week, we blogged about the passage of the bill by the legislature which has made today's triumph a reality.  Read the post “StudentsFirst applauds Florida’s passage of breakthrough education reform legislation” for a detailed description of the policies that were enacted into law today.

StudentsFirst is proud to have served as education advisors to Florida and is excited to watch the impact on Florida students’ achievement that's sure to follow in the coming years.
StudentsFirst Founder and CEO Michelle Rhee said, "This landmark legislation recognizes that teachers are the most important factor in schools when determining a child’s success.  We applaud Florida for its adoption of bold and comprehensive education measures that put students first. "

As for Saving Great Teachers... upon the implementation of the Student Success Act, Florida will ensure that the most effective teachers remain in the classroom and are no longer vulnerable to antiquated "last in, first out" (LIFO) policies.  As of today, the state is no longer considered "at risk" on our Save Great Teachers Action Map, moving from orange to green, indicating that effective teachers will be at "low risk" of being fired when layoffs are necessary.  Teacher performance is now a major factor in state layoff decisions.

Mar 23, 2011

Is Getting Rid of Last-In, First-Out Disrespectful To Teachers?

On March 15, 2011, in his blog posting, "What it really means to put students first," educator Tony Pedriana voiced his support for ending Last-in, First-Out policies (LIFO) during lay-off decisions. There was quite a response from readers who found this controversial. Do you agree? Read his response to readers here.

Tony Pedriana worked for over thirty years as a teacher, principal, and mentor in Milwaukee's central city. During his career as an educator, he has focused on improved pedagogy and professional development for teachers in reading. He is the author of “Leaving Johnny Behind: Overcoming Barriers to Literacy.”

In my last posting, I supported Michelle Rhee for her efforts to end the practice of LIFO (Last In - First Out).  That comment seemed to strike a nerve among some who assumed it was just another attempt to bash teachers and their unions.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  During my teaching years I was an active union member, served on my school’s building committee and had several stints as Building Representative.  I also led the charge on the picket line during our two strikes in the 70’s when we fought for and won many of the rights and due process protections teachers enjoy today.

However it was never my intention to defend marginal teachers who did little more than simply go through the motions.  I never sought to protect those who felt that student achievement was somehow beyond their purview and who felt that lack of parent involvement somehow absolved them of any responsibility whatsoever.

As a principal, the greatest pressure I faced in dealing with low performing teachers did not come from the superintendent, the school board, or even parents.  Most of the pressure came from other teachers, the kind who put their collective souls on the line for kids every day.
These teachers were always prepared, always exuded a positive attitude, responded with love and compassion to even the most formidable of challenges, and who willingly and effectively collaborated in school-wide improvement initiatives.  You will have to excuse them if they found it difficult to abide others who filled instructional time with busywork, whose classrooms were unruly and disruptive, and who felt their responsibility ended as soon as the children left each day.

Teachers who truly seek to put children first are neither threatened nor intimidated by an end to LIFO.  To the contrary, it would shine a light on their superior efforts, increase the number of positive role models and enhance their job security in the process.  Only those looking to milk the system would have cause to tremble.  To those who feel that that is unfair to teachers, I would only ask, “What about fairness to kids?” 

Mar 22, 2011

How Can We Fairly Incorporate Student Achievement Data Into Teacher Assessments

StudentsFirst Interviews Dartmouth Professor Douglas Staiger About Value-Added Assessments.
Professor Staiger is a co-author of a Brookings Institution paper titled “Evaluating Teachers: The Important Role of Value-Added,” and has conducted extensive research on teacher effectiveness in affiliation with the National Bureau of Economic Research.  Professor Staiger previously served as a faculty member at Stanford and Harvard Universities, and his research is featured many in leading journals.
StudentsFirst:  For those new to education policy, what is a value-added assessment? 
Professor Staiger:  Value-add is a measure of how much a teacher’s students did on their end-of-year test scores compared to what is expected.  A teacher is said to have positive “value-added” when the students in his or her class outperform students who had similar starting points – similar prior achievement, similar backgrounds, and similar classmates. 
StudentsFirst:  How do value-added assessments work? 
Professor Staiger:  The key part of value-added is coming up with an estimate of what is “expected” for each child.  Value-added isn’t magic.  We just set an average expectation based on what we know about each child and classroom at the beginning of each year. 
Typically, that might include how well the child has done on prior tests.  Some tests make adjustments for demographics, such as socioeconomic status or other categories.  Finally, some tests may look at the overall classroom environment, raising expectations when you have a group of high-performing students together, and lowering the baseline when you have a cluster of children together who have previously performed poorly. 
The value-added assessments combine these elements, compare them to the average performance of other students who had the same characteristics, and produce an “expected” performance  as the average for one year for kids in that classroom.  For any individual teacher, the value-added assessment measures whether students of that teacher did better or worse than expected. 
StudentsFirst:  That sounds complicated.  How much of a value-added assessment depends upon how it is constructed? 
Professor Staiger:  The core element is simple: how did the student do prior to having this specific teacher?  The question is what else you consider when constructing your baseline expectation.  How much weight do you give to socio-economic status?  How much weight do you give to the classroom as a whole? 
These issues are not problems, however – they are tools.  These are important design decisions that schools have to make anyway whether or not you use value-added assessments. 
For example, one key question is how much weight you give to “the classroom as a whole.”  If you give a lot of weight to it (and not just the individual student), then you lower the baseline for teachers in high-poverty schools – and you thereby make their results look better. 
But this is an important conceptual issue and policy design question.  Do you want to make it relatively more attractive for teachers to want to teach in high-poverty schools?  That’s something you can do with the way you design your school system’s individual value-added baseline. 
StudentsFirst:  How are value-added Assessments used today? 
Professor Staiger: The purpose of these measures is to improve education, and there are three ways to do that. 
First, we can use them for professional development by identifying top-performing teachers, so that we can learn what they are doing and spread their practices. We can also use it to find professionals who seem to be performing below expectations, and try to target professional development for those teachers. In other words, this first category is about using value-added assessments to help current teachers get better. 
Second, we can use value-added assessments as part of a system for categorizing professionals for staffing purposes such as placements, promotions, tenure, and layoffs.  We can think of this as using the tool to help us selectively retain and deploy the best teachers. 
Third, it’s possible to use value-added assessments to help make decisions in areas such as merit pay.  This can either create incentives for better performance, or possibly help the teaching profession better attract those college graduates who prefer incentive-based compensation schemes. 
StudentsFirst: Are value-added assessments reliable measures of teacher performance? 
Professor Staiger:  Reliability is related to stability over time.  In other words, does performance tend to be similar year-after-year for the same teachers?  If the value-added assessment jumps around without correlation, you might be concerned that it’s not a useful indicator of teacher performance. 
In the case of value-add, the year-on-year correlation for individual teachers is about .3, or 30 percent.  So, is that a lot of reliability, or not? 
Well, it depends on your perspective. If you take the perspective of a student or a parent, then you have to take the data very seriously. 
For example, imagine that you are the parent of a student entering a new high school.  Imagine further that you’re given a choice of teachers, and you have the option of seeing their value-added assessment scores.  If you choose teachers with higher value-added assessment scores, then on average your student will do significantly better on their tests over the course of their education. 
If you were that parent, you would want to use the value-added assessment to make your decision.  And that’s the decision that school systems face when choosing to use value-added assessments to make decisions about retaining and deploying teachers. 
StudentsFirst: How much does a value-added assessment depend upon the individual students that an individual teacher is assigned by random chance?  
Professor Staiger:  We have conducted controlled research on this specific question.  Random assignments of students within schools have demonstrated that value-added assessments are still a reliable indicator of individual teacher performance, by the standards I described a moment ago.
StudentsFirst: So, should schools use value-added assessments as their sole tool for assessing teachers? 
Professor Staiger:  No.  A smart evaluation system would collect and use other sources of information about teacher performance.  Value-added assessments only measure performance on tests.  There are other types of student performance we care about, such as citizenship and love of learning.  Also, even for tests, a 30 percent year-on-year correlation is not perfect.  For this reason, we should collect and use well-structured observations by principals or master teachers to supplement our assessments of teachers. 
StudentsFirst: If we expand the use of value-added assessments, does that mean more standardized testing? 
Professor Staiger: Well, we don’t have to use the same standardized tests we use today.  We can and should look for better tests.  But, we do need to improve our testing regime.  Currently, only 25 percent of teachers are in tested grades and subjects.  So, if we want value-added assessments to be anchors for teacher evaluations, we need to expand testing to more grades and more subjects. 
StudentsFirst:  Does that create a risk of “teaching to the test”? 
Professor Staiger:  The problem of “teaching to the test” occurs when you put very high stakes on a single measure.  In a smart system, you should not make decisions dependent upon a single measure.  Instead, you should use value-added Aasessments as part of a broader professional evaluation.  That makes it much harder to “teach to the test” and distort behavior, since evaluators will be able to more easily identify efforts to manipulate this one measure. 
StudentsFirst: So are you defending the use of value-added assessments?
Professor Staiger:  I’m not wedded to them.  We should continually be looking for new, better ways of evaluating teachers.  We may find instruments that may be equally useful or even better.  But we cannot ignore this data.  The analysis of value-added assessments reveals enormous performance gaps that need to be explored. 
StudentsFirst: Ideally, what role should value-added assessments play in public education?  
Professor Staiger:  Ideally it should be a component of teacher evaluations, including professional development and retention.  However, it should only be one part of the system.  The ideal professional development system would include hard information as well as qualitative information to help everyone make the right decisions.

Mar 21, 2011

New Video: The Impact On Students


Want to better understand how much great teachers matter, and why they are at risk?  Watch this video and then forward to your friends so that they know the impact effective teachers have student learning.

Mar 18, 2011

How are last in, first out policies impacting families?

This is what LIFO means to one mom and her two children from Seattle.
Jessica Markowitz, sophomore at Garfield High School
Reflecting on Teacher Quality - I Need My Great Teachers
I love to learn and I get excited about going to school, especially if my teachers are engaging and welcoming. 
I attend a very large public high school and the teachers range from excellent to very poor. For example, my chemistry teacher this year gives me the hope and inspiration to continue trying on the complicated material I have a hard time grasping. She is available during lunch, afterschool, even through email. I became determined to succeed because of her. Somehow she even managed to get me to enjoy the subject! 
Most of my teachers this year are great, but I also know the frustration of being eager to explore new subjects and my excitement goes away due to a teacher who just doesn’t really want to be there. For example, one of my teachers was even unaware when I missed class, which told me it basically didn’t matter who I was or what I had to offer. This is why students disengage from school. We need to be noticed and heard. 
I have attended both private and public schools. The main difference between the two is that if students don’t think a teacher is good for the students, they actually have a say in the matter in a private school. It’s important for the customer to have their say, and it’s interesting to me that when a teacher is ineffective in a public school, kids are stuck with that teacher no matter what. I have felt what a difference one teacher can make, and if I lose my good teachers this year while another teacher gets to stay in a lay-off, it will take away any excitement about returning to school. 
Josh Markowitz, senior at Garfield High School
Giving Students a Political Voice – We Can Do Something to Save our Best Teachers
Politics is of my many hobbies and passions, and I joined the Legislative Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) in Seattle to express these feelings. LYAC, or the Legislative Youth Advisory Council, is the formal youth representation of Washington State with 22 members serving 2-year terms. 
Last month I helped coordinate the council’s biggest day of the year, Action Day, bringing youth together to talk to members of Washington’s State legislature. We had surveyed students’ opinions on a variety of issues, collecting and analyzing the data to determine what was most important to us as a group. This year students were most interested in health, dropout prevention and the state budget, and I organized the trip to our capital city, Olympia, to represent students and make sure the legislature knew what we thought.
The Youth Ambassadors also had the opportunity to testify in front of LYAC and explain the issues at hand for youth in Seattle. One bill that was of great importance to the Youth Ambassadors was Senate Bill 5399 (SB 5399). SB 5399 discusses the decision-making behind which teachers leave. The bill proposed a much-needed new evaluation system for teachers, and though it was not passed the first time, they are working on revisions and we are hopeful for change. 
This would change from the previous system that protected teachers with seniority. It’s important to us because we know first hand how important our best teachers are, and how negative the experience is of having a poor teacher. We feel strongly that we need to articulate the critical need for qualified teachers that can inspire and connect with students.
Students should know that with all the budgets being cut, there are things they can do to make sure the bills they believe in, and that will influence their lives, are passed. If you organize, your voice does matter. Students should educate themselves on the issues and become active so legislators hear and act on that voice.
Lori Markowitz, mother of Jessica and Josh
As parents, one of our biggest fears is the quality of education our children will be provided. My husband and I struggled with the decision about whether to send our children to public or private school. We felt strongly about sending our children to public school but questioned the quality. We heard many wonderful things about Garfield and loved the idea that it was less than a mile from our home. Many other parents raved about the school especially since it had many excellent teachers. 
My feelings now are mixed, as I have learned that my feeling at any time is all about the teachers my children get that year. A school can be aesthetically beautiful and located in a ”nice“ neighborhood, but this is not necessarily a recipe for success. 
Of course there are many factors that play into a student’s success, but children are so greatly impacted by their teachers that it can make or break their chances for success. I’m convinced teachers rate number one on the list, and it would be devastating to lose them to any policy that doesn’t recognize that.
I experienced this first-hand with my son. When Josh entered the fourth grade, he was not particularly interested in school—until he met his new teacher. She made everything interesting, connecting with all kids in the classroom. Josh landed with one more teacher of that caliber in the seventh grade, but when he started high school, it became hit or miss. 
The students discussed often the teachers they liked and disliked, and why. Some of the teachers that had been in the classroom for twenty years or more had lost their drive and passion for teaching, but when a teacher who had experience kept their spark alive students clamored to get into that teacher’s classes.
During my son’s sophomore year in high school we experienced our first real encounter with teacher seniority. Josh was not very interested in writing, but his new Language Arts teacher changed that. She was innovative, clever and most importantly to him, she was someone he could relate to and he felt heard. She got the class excited about reading classic novels and writing short stories, and word got out a new great teacher had joined the school. Everyone wanted to be in her class.
Things were going well until it came time to cut some of the teachers, and the most junior ones were first on the list. Josh was very upset. Josh finally had a Language Arts teacher he loved, but she was going to be fired, while some mediocre and even a few awful teachers were allowed to keep their jobs. 
It made no sense. Why not evaluate a teacher based on their performance in the classroom? As a parent I can say it’s already hard enough to get kids excited about learning in a subject they don’t enjoy, so when it happens we need to treasure that teacher irrespective of their seniority.
In this case Josh’s teacher was fired and she decided to give up teaching in order to find more stable work.
How tragic! My vote would be to make sure we cherish and keep excellent teachers in the classroom despite seniority status or the letters behind their name. It’s all about teachers connecting and enhancing students love of learning. I realize I am not the only parent who has had to see my son lose one of the best teachers he has ever had. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

StudentsFirst applauds Florida’s passage of breakthrough education reform legislation


Yesterday, the Florida House of Representatives cleared the way for the Student Success and Teacher Quality Bill to become law. Legislators passed the bill with an overwhelming 80-39 majority, showing just how strong the consensus is to recognize the incredible power of teaching in Florida's schools.
This landmark legislation contains the following StudentsFirst priorities:
  • It eliminates Last-in, First Out (LIFO) in Florida. Moving forward, if districts have to reduce the size of the workforce, teachers with the highest performance levels on their evaluations will be the last to be released. The language in the bills expressly prohibits retention based on seniority, and we believe this will be the strongest LIFO language in the country. 
  • The bills empower parents more through parental notification. The legislation requires notification of parents if their child is placed in a classroom with an ineffective teach
  • It increases transparency on teacher performance, requiring districts to publish ratings of teachers by school and district (not the teacher's name). Now, for example, parents looking for the right school for their children will know the percent of effective and ineffective teachers in that school.
  • The legislation limits tenure over time, even limiting it immediately in several key ways, ending the practice of automatic contract renewal for teachers regardless of performance. In the new law, districts will have the option NOT to renew contracts due to unsatisfactory performance.
  • It reforms teacher evaluation and compensation to incorporate growth in student achievement. It is important to recognize here that teachers will not be evaluated on test scores alone, and that it is fair to teachers in measuring growth rather than absolute performance. Other factors such as student disabilities, attendance, and English proficiency will also be considered. The new law requires that at least 50 percent of the evaluation must be based on student learning growth.  
  • Further, there will be new salary schedules for teachers in which raises must be based on effectiveness rather than years in the system.  Districts will also be able to recognize the fact that it’s tougher to teach in some areas than others! For example, leaders will be allowed to compensate teachers more for working in low performing schools, critical need subject areas or taking on additional academic responsibilities. 
  • The legislation recognizes that results are more important than degrees. Salary increases for advanced degrees are not allowed, though a supplement can be provided if the degree is held in the teacher’s area of certification.
  • It recognizes that no principal should be forced to hire an ineffective teacher. It may be surprising that this happens all the time across the country, but it does, and it is not good for kids. Principals must have an interview process and are allowed to refuse the placement or transfer of a teacher who is rated ineffective.  An ineffective status for two years is grounds for dismissal under the new law. 
Thank you to our StudentsFirst members in Florida for making your voices heard to pass this important legislation, and congratulations to Florida! It is the first state to pass such comprehensive reform to evaluate, compensate, and Save Great Teachers in a challenging economic climate. Florida is well on its way toward providing an excellent education to all of its children

Mar 17, 2011

Michelle Rhee Appears On The Today Show


Earlier this morning, Michelle Rhee appeared on The Today Show to talk with Jenna Bush Hager about the turning point we are seeing today in public education reform. As more citizens focus on this critical issue, now more than ever, we are poised for substantial change. Michelle also discussed StudentsFirst's campaign to Save Great Teachers. The campaign is working to change “last-in, first out” (LIFO) policies that don't take teacher quality into consideration when making layoff decisions. If you haven't done so already, please join the StudentsFirst Movement and then find out your state's stance on LIFO. If you don't like what you see, please urge your state leaders to end the use of this harmful policy. Our kids need your voices and your support in order to make a difference in your state!

Mar 16, 2011

What It Really Means To Put Students First

Tony Pedriana worked for over thirty years as a teacher, principal, and mentor in Milwaukee's central city. During his career as an educator, he has focused on improved pedagogy and professional development for teachers in reading. He is the author of “Leaving Johnny Behind: Overcoming Barriers to Literacy.”

The expression “Children First” was a mantra that reverberated throughout my career as an urban schoolteacher and principal. In retrospect, what I have come to discover in countless situations is that high-minded expression of child advocacy has proven to be little more than a thinly veiled lie. Many in education seem to operate under the mistaken notion that if we say it loudly and often enough, it will somehow be true. But in the end, it is what we do rather than what we say that will expose our true agenda and ultimately reveal who precisely it is that we desire to put first.

Let’s take just a moment to examine what has evolved during our continuing crusade to place children at the heart of all our efforts:
  • Student achievement is disallowed as a factor in teacher evaluation decisions.
  • Teacher seniority takes precedence over teacher success in determining who stays and who goes when staff cuts are made.
  • Those given the task of teaching the teachers continue to send their clients into the field with an inadequate skill base, then leave them hanging in the wind when their ill-advised strategies prove woefully inadequate.
  • Legitimate reform based on evidence-based practices soon crumbles beneath the weight of adult wrangling and political posturing.
  • Two-thirds of American 4th graders read below a proficient level and nearly 80 percent of poor and minorities cannot demonstrate even basic reading competency.
Let’s face reality. Despite our ubiquitous and sanctimonious claims that children are our first priority, it really hasn’t been about children at all. Rather it has been about elections to win, careers to validate, jobs to keep and in some instances, axes to grind.

Michelle Rhee’s movement at StudentsFirst represents the first serious effort to counteract these insidious forces. If we really seek to walk the talk, we must follow her leadership. Yes, it will take courage—courage to challenge the conventional wisdom, courage to risk being characterized as politically incorrect, and courage to confront the special interests and bloated bureaucracies that have prevailed for so long. Rhee has demonstrated that kind of courage. It is time for the rest of us to makechildren first a reality rather than just another empty promise.
TFT says: One can always find someone on the other side who supports them.  Rhee seems able to find all 6 teachers who think unions suck, LIFO is bad, and poverty can be overcome by great teachers.

That none of the above is true doesn't phase them.

Mar 15, 2011

Save Great Teachers Map Launches

StudentsFirst launched an interactive map that enables you to not only find out how your state handles teacher layoffs, but also empowers you to do something about it. You can email your governor and legislative leaders and urge them to Save Great Teachers by ending "last in, first out" (LIFO). 
With huge budget shortfalls in 44 states across the country, teacher layoffs are inevitable. Today, we stand to lose a minimum of 160,000 effective teachers because their performance will play no role in layoff decisions. This hurts kids in a number of ways and creates a negative outlook on their life trajectories. Layoffs have already begun, and students and great teachers around the country are already feeling the negative impact of LIFO.
LIFO makes absolutely no sense. Why gamble with our children’s future, when we can quickly enact laws that guarantee we Save Great TeachersContact your state leaders today!

Mar 11, 2011

Michelle Rhee's Latest Wall Street Journal Op-ed: Updated


In today's Wall Street Journal, Michelle Rhee published an op-ed about New York state's refusal to overturn the policy of "last in, first out" (LIFO). It mandates that the last teachers hired must be the first teachers fired, regardless of how good they are.
Last week, the New York Senate passed a bill that would make a teacher's performance a key factor when layoffs are required. Following that, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a bill that would address the issue of how we define performance, but was entirely silent on the subject of how layoffs are conducted. And with 5,000 teacher layoffs headed toward New York City alone, the harmful policy of LIFO remains firmly in place. 
Michelle wrote: 
According to a recent Quinnipiac University survey, 85 percent of New Yorkers support ending the last in, first out policy. Four major editorial boards in New York City have called for ending the practice. We need Gov. Cuomo to do more than just say he's for reforming it. We need him to actually put forth a bill that eliminates it immediately.

Update: Here is the WSJ piece:
With looming budget cuts, New York's governor and legislature must act quickly to save our best teachers. It is abundantly clear from the research that the most important school factor in determining a child's success is the quality of the teacher at the front of the classroom. That's why it's absolutely imperative that state leaders completely eliminate the "last in, first out" policy, which mandates that the last teachers hired must be the first fired, regardless of how good they are.

This policy makes absolutely no sense. Why sacrifice our children's future when we can enact laws that save great teachers while ridding the system of those we know are less effective?

The state Senate passed a bill last week that moves to make performance a key factor when teacher layoffs are required. In addition, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has now introduced legislation that addresses the important issue of how we define effective performance, but it is silent on layoffs. While the governor's bill is an encouraging step to improve teacher evaluation, it does nothing to address the critical issue we face today. Up to 5,000 layoffs are soon to come in New York City alone, and right now the antiquated policy of "last in, first out" remains in place.

Why sacrifice our children's future when we can enact laws that save great teachers while ridding the system of those we know are less effective?

There is no doubt that teachers need fair and rigorous evaluation systems. The governor's bill addresses a longstanding problem that has made it difficult for districts to objectively identify areas of strength and help adjust instructional practices to drive student achievement. It is an incredibly important reform that teachers have been asking for, and it should stand in any final legislation. But his bill needs to include a solution to address the devastating impact of layoffs expected this spring.

The state Senate bill lays out objective criteria to determine who gets to stay in the classroom. In New York City there exist three categories of teachers who should be the first considered for layoffs: those who have lost their full-time status and have been reassigned as substitutes, those with excessive absences without medical excuse, and those who have received an unsatisfactory rating. If everyone in these three buckets were let go, it would take care of layoffs this year while protecting the 1.1 million kids in New York City's public schools.

According to a recent Quinnipiac University survey, 85% of New Yorkers support ending the last in, first out policy. Four major editorial boards in New York City have called for ending the practice. We need Gov. Cuomo to do more than just say he's for reforming it. We need him to actually put forth a bill that eliminates it immediately.

Ms. Rhee was chancellor of the public school system in Washington, D.C., from 2007-2010. She is founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, a national organization to defend the interests of children in public education.
Below please find a claim by the horse herself (as in the horse's mouth, not that she resembles a horse.  I don't stoop that low, even if she does look like one, and I'm not saying she does) about membership numbers.

Mar 10, 2011

Michelle Rhee Travels To Michigan


Yesterday in Lansing, Michigan, Michelle Rhee testified before a standing-room only joint session of the state House and Senate committees on education, where she discussed the importance of teacher quality.
Like most states, Michigan is faced with steep budget cuts and subsequent teacher layoffs. During the hearing, Michelle discussed merit pay, teacher evaluations, increased parental involvement, and "last in, first out," which requires the most recently hired teachers be the first ones laid off—regardless of their effectiveness in the classroom.
Below, a few of her remarks:
I don’t have to tell you that Michigan leaders are taking encouraging and courageous steps in education reform. Last year, Michigan changed its laws to allow alternative routes to certification for educators, allow state-level accountability and intervention in failing schools, and most importantly, to include student achievement in teacher evaluations. Of course and as is true for many states, there is still so much work to do, and I appreciate your continued efforts to look ahead to the next steps in reform.
With the current fiscal crisis the nation faces, we are at risk of losing some of the best teachers in the nation. By eliminating LIFO, Michigan would help to hold districts, boards of education, and state legislators accountable. By disallowing it across the state, Michigan will be able to save many great teachers during the economic recovery.
Thank you for inviting me to contribute to this important discussion for Michigan’s efforts to reform public education. There is no doubt that it will take incredibly hard work to create the kind of school system Michigan’s students and families deserve. But you are not alone in making these reforms. You are part of a nationwide effort as state leaders in Florida, New Jersey, Nevada, Ohio, and others take aggressive steps to reduce the bureaucracy in public education and put students first in the policies that ultimately will shape their lives.
After Florida and now Michigan, which state should Michelle testify in next? 

Mar 8, 2011

Michelle Rhee Appears On The Talk


Earlier today, Michelle appeared on CBS' The Talk, where she discussed our campaign to Save Great Teachers. With 45 states predicting budget shortfalls, and at least 160,000 teachers at risk, some of our best teachers are in jeopardy of seniority-based layoffs. Known as "last in, first, out" or LIFO, it means that the last teacher hired is the first one fired, regardless of how good they are. Our Save Great Teachers campaign is working to hold districts and state legislators accountable. If you haven't done so already, join us in saving our great teachers. 
Be sure to check out the full interivew, below: 

Mar 4, 2011

Teachers Bear The Brunt Of Uncertainty


All across the country, from California to Rhode Island to New York, budget cuts threaten the jobs of tens of thousands of teachers in the worst round of potential layoffs in decades. Just last week, it was announced that Providence, Rhode Island, for example, would send termination notices to each of the district's 2,000 teachersa preemptive measure against a $40 million budget deficit. Meanwhile, Cleveland, Ohio projects laying off 20 percent of its teachers.
Meet Ma'ayan Weinberg, a third year high school teacher in Los Angeles, who has become accustomed to the annual spring ritual of budget cuts. Since stepping foot into the classroom three years ago, she has received a pink slip every single year. She managed to avoid losing her job because she teaches math, a difficult to staff subject. Here, she describes the threat of layoffs that are predicted for this year in not only in Los Angeles, but in districts nationwide.
During my first year as a teacher, I received a Reduction in Force (RIF) notice. As our school district faces budget shortfalls, they have turned to laying off teachers in the past years to cut spending. RIFs are used to notify teachers that they may not have a position in the coming school year. As a secondary math teacher, my RIF was later rescinded because the position is difficult to staff, but not before I saw the devastating effects of RIFs on not only my school, but my students.
I work in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) at a particularly challenging school, which suffers from high teacher turnover and a very young staff. As a result, more than half of our teachers received a RIF notice in any given year; meanwhile, other schools in the same district lost only one or two.
The first effect came with the first round of RIFs. We explained to our students what was happening, that we might not be able to return to the school next year. Our kids do not understand the seniority system. They could not understand why we would be let go when other teachers that did not teach were allowed to stay. In their minds, you are fired for not doing your job, not for being the last to get the job. The confusion was heartbreaking.
The second blow came the following year when teachers who did not want to be in our school were pushed in to fill the vacant positions. These were sometimes teachers who had made a conscious decision to no longer work in the classroom. After the RIFs, our open positions were their only option. At our school, you have to want to be here. You have to love the kids. That second year, students came to me upset because their teacher had no interest in them, did not want to teach them, and at times did not even show up to school for weeks or months at a time. 
That year, we lost some of our best teachers because they only had one or two years in the classroom. Despite an incredible love for our students, these teachers were forced to find positions at nearby charter schools, where they would not have to repeatedly face RIFs and the uncertainty of having a job to support a family. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are not subject to the same reduction in force requirements.  Most charter schools do not choose to balance their budget by letting go of teachers. 
No matter how many years in the classroom, if you don’t love and care for our kids, you cannot give them what they need. The fact is that our students already face overwhelming challenges outside of school. To add to it, we give them the most inexperienced teachers and when we find ones that want to stay and care for our kids, we take them away. 
I have no doubt that my experience and years spent in the classroom has will make me a better teacher.  However, in any other profession we promote and hold on to the highest performing, passionate employees. The way we cut teachers to supposedly balance a budget is a statement of the degree to which our society values education. 
Ma'ayan Weinberg is a Teach For America 2008 alumna from Urbana, Illinois. She is currently in her third year of teaching at Gompers Middle School in Watts, California. She has a bachelor's degree in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College and a Master's degree in urban education, policy, and administration from Loyola Marymount University.