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DFER for Teachers: Chicago Teachers' Strike Day 2
September 11, 2012


By Jocelyn Huber, DFER Director of Teacher Advocacy

As Day 2 of the Chicago teachers’ strike draws to a close, I want to implore everyone, teachers, parents, city and union officials alike, to focus on the best interests of the ones who have the most to lose in these negotiations: the students of Chicago public schools.

How many days of instruction do you think Chicago’s children can afford to lose this year? Two? Five? Ten? How about not one single second more? From students struggling to reach grade level to students gearing up for college application deadlines, as a former teacher I know every second counts. And what about Chicago’s newest students? The ones in whom we’re trying to instill a love of learning and education that will guide them through their lives. How does having your teacher walk out affect those eager minds?

"I don't see a (reason) for a fight," Davis, grandfather of CPS students said. "They could have come to a decision before kids even started school because my grandkids love going to school, they don't want to be out." (AP)

“There is no contract greater than our children’s future,” Leon Alexander shouted as he stood with his wife and three kids, holding up protest signs as they voiced their extreme displeasure with the strike…

He continued, “I understand the teachers’ concerns, and I’m with them with their concerns…I draw the line, again, at the fact that they’re taking our children and [saying] ‘Okay, I’m going to use him to get what I want.’ They can’t do that no more.” (See here.)

We can’t lose sight of who this fight SHOULD be about. In the discussions about longer school days and teacher evaluation and placement policies, the needs of Chicago’s students must be the focus.

This is about whether 402,000 kids get the education they need to perform well in college — and to compete in their careers. Or whether the teachers succeed in protecting jobs, watering down reforms, and dooming generation after generation of students to languish in classrooms where no one is responsible if a student doesn't learn.

For the first time in 25 years, teachers have walked out of classrooms and onto picket lines. They abandoned the children they say they're committed to teaching. They threw families into chaos. They tossed away whatever academic gains had been achieved in the first week of a longer day. When kids go back to school, they'll start from scratch. (Chicago Tribune Editorial)

Yes, teachers have an incredibly difficult job and they need to be respected. I've been there. But guaranteeing the employment of adults should never become more important than the education of students. A rigorous system of teacher evaluations is essential to ensuring that all of Chicago’s students are getting the very best education possible.

"It's mostly about teacher evaluation and recall rights," said Tim Daly, president of TNTP… His group's research on Chicago revealed that 99 percent of teachers were rated in two top categories, drawing national attention to the cause of revamping the way teachers are graded. "They're the standard example of a district where evaluation wasn't working," he said. "It surprises me that they would take on a strike issue like that ... It's very risky because they're asking the public to support them in a strike that is about whether they should be evaluated on how much students are learning.” (Huffington Post)


What Are the Top Three Reasons to be a Teacher: June, July, and August
July 3, 2012


By Jocelyn Huber, DFER Director of Teacher Advocacy

If you were thinking about telling that same old joke this summer, please do teachers a favor: don’t.

As the school year ends and summer begins for teachers and students across the country, I want to implore everyone - especially policymakers and pundits - to pause before they utter the “teachers have it great” platitudes that crop up this time of year. Instead, consider the reality of many teachers’ summer vacations.

The Washington Post recently reminded its readers that the oft-touted “summer off” is shrinking, or even disappearing, for many teachers. Ever increasing responsibilities for teachers and the implementation of new evaluation and data collection systems mean more mandatory summer professional development sessions. What’s more, with salaries frozen or painfully low (particularly for new teachers) in many regions, educators are spending their summers working second and third jobs to supplement their income. Others are dipping into their own pockets to develop their craft with graduate courses or professional development opportunities they’ve sought out on their own.


DFER backs two crucial teacher effectiveness bills in MD
March 16, 2012

Democrats for Education Reform is backing two crucial teacher effectiveness bills in Maryland. Last week, Joe Williams, DFER's Executive Director, sent two letters to the Maryland Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee in support of SB 364, a bill introduced by former DFER Reformer of the Month Sen. Ferguson, and HB 613, the House version of the bill introduced by Rep. Rosenberg.

The legislation would offer student loan repayment to the highest performing teachers -- not just for those who attended college in-state, but also to those who attended out-of-state colleges. It would also establish a separate grant available primarily for new teachers who receive the highest performance ratings, as determined by Maryland's teacher evaluation system. 

In addition to SB 364/HB 613, DFER is backing SB 876, also introduced by Sen. Ferguson, and the House version of the bill, HB 1210, introduced by Reps. Rosenberg and Hucker, that would end the harmful practice known as Last In, First Out (LIFO). As we've seen across the country, LIFO -- which requires teacher layoffs to be based strictly on seniority rather than performance -- can lead to a decrease in the number of excellent teachers in the classroom. DFER's own Jocelyn Huber, Director of Teacher Advocacy, submitted testimony in support of both SB 876 and HB 1210.

Sen. Ferguson is putting forward bold legislation that will help Maryland attract and retain top-notch teachers. That's good news for teachers and good news for Maryland's children.

Read Joe's letters here and here; Read Jocelyn's testimony here and here.

DFER for Teachers - The Kids Are Alright
February 17, 2012

For anyone who has not yet encountered Students for Education Reform (SFER) this dynamic group is a nonprofit devoted to injecting student voice into education policy. They currently have chapters on over 70 college campuses and continue to grow. By organizing college students, SFER has tapped into an invested and powerful force for change that has long been neglected in the education reform movement. College students, having recently completed the American K-12 education experience, may have the best on the ground information on how policies are shaping education. The rest of us debate the impact of No Child Left Behind on curriculum or the value of charter schools like KIPP, but these students have lived it. And now they're here to tell us what needs to change.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to help organize a training weekend for some SFER members from campuses across the country. I must say I am impressed. Anyone who is fretting about the quality of modern college students needs to spend some time with these young adults. This group was incredibly intelligent and thoughtful about education policy. For the training we assembled a group of experienced policy and campaign experts to share their knowledge and insights. But these SFER members didn't come to simply absorb and accept what the experts had to say. They asked hard questions of themselves and the presenters, from challenging a study's data collection methods to requesting information on how to ensure their teacher preparation program is preparing them well. And over the course of an intense two-day training, they were more focused and attentive than most groups of professional adults I've encountered (though I'm seriously impressed by their ability to continually tweet without anyone noticing their phones were out).


DFER for Teachers: Good Teachers Are Worth the Money
November 30, 2011

By Jocelyn Huber, DFER's Director of Teacher Advocacy 
Several heavyweights in the education advocacy world, including Andrew Rotherham of TIME and Frederick Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), have already weighed in on the joint report by AEI and the Heritage Foundation, "Assessing the Compensation of Public School Teachers." Even DFER's own Charlie Barone chimed in with his take on the issue. Now, as the buzz around the study has quieted, it's my turn to jump in to make sure no one missed the importance of the debate.
I had the unfortunate opportunity to attend the "Are Public School Teachers Overpaid?" presentation at AEI and hear the authors speak about their work. And as much as I've tried to be objective and resist the urge to react to what seems to be deliberate baiting, I can't hold back any longer. As a former teacher turned education reformer, the whole experience made me angry. I have rarely witnessed such pervasive, snide disrespect, disregard for, and ignorance about teachers, especially early elementary school teachers, as I saw spouted on that panel. 
You can watch it for yourself here: 
I desperately want to lock the authors, Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine, in a first grade classroom in a low-income district for a month and then see if they still think that teaching is such a skill-less, worthless endeavor. I mean, they'd only have to teach the next generation of voters and citizens to read. Certainly, that isn't terribly important or challenging, right?  
When I read the written report, I was somewhat heartened to see that the authors showed slightly more understanding and respect for the teaching profession on paper than they did in their presentation. But it is difficult to ignore the mistaken assumptions and disregard for teachers at the heart of their investigation. The authors seem to think that teaching is a profession for those who have no better options. This report is based in the assumption that people who teach lack marketable skills that would allow them to be more financially successful in other professions. The panelists seemed to believe that this is especially true for elementary school teachers. Despite the fact that early elementary years are the most crucial for a student's future learning, the panel felt high school teachers were more likely to have valuable skills (though still not terribly worthwhile or worth compensating) - fast forward to around 1 hour 7 minutes of the presentation to see what I mean. 


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