State & National Education Update

by allthingsace

This year I am doing many new things, which include but are not limited to: working as a VISTA for AmeriCorps:

learning the ins and outs of yoga at Eyes of the World:

“Namaste.”

and contributing to the Pawtucket Times:

Mantra: “contributing means working for free…”

My assignment for the the Times is to scratch the surface of what is going on in East Providence, Rhode Island. Specifically, I am keeping up with the school committee and the city council.

True to most things, what I am most interested in seems to be the most difficult to write about. With respect to reporting on the school committee, education reform, right here, right now, is quite interesting. There are many things, well specifically the Race to the Top grant that is happening on the national level that is initiating drastic reform proposals at the state level. Rhode Island’s new education commissioner Deborah Gist wasted no time proposing large reforms meant to increase teacher and student performance.

In this month’s issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Amanda Ripley writes about Teach for America’s research findings.

“Strong teachers insist that effective teaching is neither mysterious nor magical. It is neither a function of dynamic personality nor dramatic performance,” Farr writes in Teaching as Leadership, a book coming out in February from Farr and his colleagues. The model the book lays out, Farr is careful to say, is not the only path to success. But he is convinced it can improve teaching—and already has. In 2007, 24 percent of Teach for America teachers moved their students one and a half or more years ahead, according to the organization’s internal reports. In 2009, that number was up to 44 percent. That data relies largely on school tests, which vary in quality from state to state. When tests aren’t available or sufficiently rigorous, Teach for America helps teachers find or design other reliable diagnostics.

This article outlines the shift that the Obama administration has made since Bush’s No Child Left Behind saga. President Obama, alongside his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are putting the responsibility of providing quality education into the hands of teachers. Teacher accountability is a major theme that has been initiated at the federal level and can be seen across the state of Rhode Island.

Evidence of the proliferation of this theme can be found in Deborah Gist’s education reform plan. Subsequent evidence is contained in Gist’s 370-page and 125 million dollar proposal for the federal Race to the Top grant. Gist’s reforms have put a stress on the unions. The proposal went to Washington yesterday with only the  support of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals (RIFTHP) union, failing to win the heart of the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI).  Spokesman and executive director of NEARI, Robert A. Walsh Jr., has been contesting Gist’s reforms for months. Read more in Jennifer D. Jordan’s Providence Journalarticle.

The subject of how to pay teachers, how to evaluate teachers and how to incentivize teaching in some of America’s worst performing not to mention poorly funded school districts, has been on the table for a while. I remember an article in Time magazine and just found it. It states,

Traditionally, public-school salaries are based on years spent on the job and college credits earned, a system favored by unions because it treats all teachers equally. Of course, everyone knows that not all teachers are equal. Just witness how parents lobby to get their kids into the best classrooms. And yet there is no universally accepted way to measure competence, much less the ineffable magnetism of a truly brilliant educator. In its absence, policymakers have focused on that current measure of all things educational: student test scores. In districts across the country, administrators are devising systems that track student scores back to the teachers who taught them in an attempt to apportion credit and blame and, in some cases, target help to teachers who need it. Offering bonuses to teachers who raise student achievement, the theory goes, will improve the overall quality of instruction, retain those who get the job done and attract more highly qualified candidates to the profession—all while lifting those all-important test scores.

The controversy is over “merit pay,” originally instituted to check the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act and strike a harmonic chord between teacher and student performance. Unions that are set up in order to protect the jobs of teachers serve in many cases as a loop hole for merit pay, an evaluation process that makes an educator’s pay rate dependent on student performance. President Obama has supported merit pay from the very beginning, pointing out however, that unilateral decrees for how student performance is evaluated should be avoided.

Since I have to go back to work I will leave our thoughts resting there. The yoga diary just got interested in education reform…did you see that?

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