My colleagues in Washington D.C. recently published a state-by-state analysis of teacher union strength in U.S. Their report is trenchant, timely, and relevant. Why? Because it shows the ongoing influence that teacher unions have on our schools--despite the fact that labor unions, overall, have declined in the U.S. (We ranked Ohio 12 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in teacher union strength.)
Digging in at a more local level, let’s consider the story of the City of Springfield, population 60,000, located an hour outside of Columbus. Springfield is a city in decline: Since 1960, Springfield has lost 25 percent of its population and its median household income is $34,000 per year, below the state average. The city is mostly White (75 percent). Springfield has 3 charter schools and 1 traditional school district.
Now, let’s consider three of Springfield’s schools: Springfield Academy of Excellence (SAE), a Fordham-sponsored charter school, Fulton Elementary School, and Perrin Woods Elementary School. Springfield City School District (a traditional public school) operates Fulton and Perrin Woods. I’ve selected these schools because of their similar demographics and academic performance (table 1).
Table 1: Demographic and academic performance data for selected Springfield school buildings, 2011-12.
Source: Ohio Department of Education, 2011-12 Preliminary Data
Pretty similar: SAE, Fulton, and Perrin Woods all have a majority Black and Hispanic students in their school. (These represent 3 of the 4 elementary schools in
Governor Kasich is set to sign legislation that will extend the life of the state’s five public pension systems, including the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS). The legislative fix includes what the Cleveland Plain Dealer refers to as a “combination of raised retirement eligibility ages, raised employee contribution rates, new guidelines for cost-of-living adjustments or a new formula to calculate benefits.”
In short, lawmakers have bought the current defined benefit pension systems some more life. But the STRS system, and this is true to varying degrees of the other retirement systems, is still burdened by fundamental flaws that will force quality educators to retire sooner than they want, and make teaching and educational leadership less competitive in attracting top talent over the long-haul.
The state’s action has undeniably extended the life of STRS. Consider that the legislation moves the unfunded liability facing STRS from “infinity” to 36 years. By law, state pensions must be able to cover their liabilities within a 30-year period, and 36 is certainly a lot closer to what the law demands than is infinity. So far so good, and considering that states like Illinois can’t even agree on how to make their current pension systems solvent this is something of a success. At least in Ohio taxpayers aren’t likely to face new taxes any time soon to pay for retirement promises made to public sector employees, and current educators can count on their pensions.
But, the changes to STRS
Teacher talent is squarely at the frontier of education reform. This week, The New Teacher Project issued a report that scrutinized teacher retention practices, finding that many top-shelf teachers—especially those in poorer schools where the need for effective teachers is the greatest—leave to teach in better schools, or leave the profession altogether.
In 2010, McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, published a blistering report of America’s teaching profession. McKinsey found that, in comparison to countries with high-flying education systems, America has a woeful teacher workforce: too many American teachers come from the bottom of their graduating college class, while too few top-performing college students consider teaching—much less enter the profession.
With these teacher quality issues in mind, I wanted to see how future grad-school education students fared on their GREs, the grad-school admissions exam. Educational Testing Service (ETS) administers the GRE, and in its summary statistics report, ETS breaks down test results by the test-taker's intended major—with education as a possible selection.
How did America’s future educators fare? Consider figure 1 which compares the average GRE score by intended grad-school major across two exam sections: quantitative (math) and verbal. On the left, education majors rank dead last in average quantitative score, even behind mathematically-challenged English and philosophy majors (they’re part of the humanities category). On the right side of figure 1, we observe that education majors rank in a tie for third-to-last in verbal score, falling well behind their
In 2011 the State Board of Education, prompted by a requirement in House Bill 153, developed a new framework for teacher evaluations, to be implemented by all districts starting with the 2013-14 school year. But the standards-based teacher evaluations are coming early to Ohio. The Marietta Times reported that some school districts in the Buckeye State will be piloting the new system during 2012-13. Frontier Local, Marietta City, and Wolf Creek districts will all be trying out the result of HB 153 (as will other districts around the state)—but not without some reservations (find detailed information on the Bill here).
While new policies can be exciting, school officials are finding them challenging to implement. HB 153 requires both principal and teacher evaluations. For the latter, at least 50 percent of a teacher’s rating must be dependent on student academic growth. The process also includes at least two observations and a conference before and after each observation for each evaluation. Superintendents have raised eyebrows at the estimated 15-20 hours per-teacher time commitment these rigorous evaluations may require. To meet these time requirements, Frontier Local School District’s Board of Education approved the transfer of a principal from one school to serve as part-time assistant principal at another.
Other Ohio districts can begin thinking creatively about these issues before they adopt this policy in 2013. For districts already short-staffed, it will take strategic planning to conduct these evaluations properly. However, contract language can