Education News Round-Up

Teachers unions across the country are busy this month as the beginning of the school year kicks off. Find out what’s going on in this week’s edition of the Education News Round-Up!

Colorado School District to Cut Ties with Teachers Union

After failing to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the local teachers’ union, the Douglas County School Board is encouraging parents to end the district’s connection to the union. Next week, according to EdNews Colorado, the board will vote to include questions on the general election ballot in November that ask voters to decide:

  • Should the district be prohibited from engaging in collective bargaining with the union?
  • Should the district be prohibited from using public funding for the compensation of union leaders?
  • Should the district be prohibited from collecting union dues from employee paychecks on the union’s behalf?

“Instead of paying the high-dollar salaries of the union executives and a host of other union expenses, we ought to be focusing on restoring our focus on the classroom, both financially and pedagogically. … I suggest that we consider … ballot language that would prohibit the district from ever funding with taxpayer dollars union salaries and public pension benefits going forward,” said school board member Craig Richardson to The Denver Post. The union, however, is questioning the legality of encouraging voters to end collective bargaining. Union President Brenda Smith told 9News,”This board is focused on anything but kids in the classroom. … What the board is trying to do is basically a power grab. They are trying to limit what future elected officials may want to do, and they are basically out of control.”

Chicago Teachers Union Threatens School Board with Strike

Chicago teachers took to the streets to protest the Board of Education last Wednesday following a conflict that has been brewing between the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the school district because of delays in contract negotiations as well as changes that were made without teachers’ input. Back in April, CTU President Karen Lewis announced the unions dissatisfaction with how changes were implemented: “At this point, we need to understand where people are emotionally and where they are in terms of how they feel about the situation at hand and what they know. … And the issue is, again, I have never, in my 22 years of teaching and being in the classroom, seen this kind of hostility and this disrespect for teachers.”

Lewis has been granted the power to authorize a 10-day strike, and last week’s picketing is being called “a practice strike.” School officials are urging the teachers to negotiate before the protests interfere with the new school year.

Number of Homeschooled Students Rises in New York City

According to the New York City Department of Education, 2,350 parents chose to homeschool their students in the 2008-2009 school year, a number that rose to 2,766 during the 2011-2012 school year. These numbers contribute to a nation-wide rise in the number of homeschooled students — around 2 million children in the United States. In many states, parents pull their students from school for religious reasons, but experts say more parents in New York City choose to homeschool their children because of dissatisfaction with public schools and financial constraints that make it difficult to send their children to private school.

In New York, parents must submit a curriculum for homeschooling their students, which requires a minimum of 900 hours per school year. Parents can either create this curriculum themselves or purchase a curriculum from homeschool organizations.

Connecticut High School to be Run by Teachers

High School in Community (HSC) in New Haven, Connecticut, is about to become a radical “turnaround” school. The school will be operated directly by the teachers’ union with the consent and support of the district. The state’s new “Commissioner’s Network” of state-approved turnaround schools will award HSC $1.5 million to completely redesign the methods of instruction for their students. Sixty-four of HSC’s 250 students will now participate in “competency-based learning,” in which their advancement depends on their mastery of material. Students will progress at the rate of their learning, meaning they can complete high school is as few as three years or as many as six. Students will still be graded, but in a way that HSC staff claim better reflects their learning progress as opposed to a letter-based scale. “We’re pushing all the assumptions of how school is supposed to work,” said Erik Good, who has been elected by his fellow teachers to be the “building leader.” This new system will be piloted with HSC’s first-year students before being expanded to the entire school next year.

Three Large Cities Won’t Receive Teacher Incentive Grants

The Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) is a federal grant to encourage schools to increase accountability standards for teachers and offer performance-based compensation. Of the $1. 277 billion five-year budget, $88 million was to be given to three large urban districts: New York City, Chicago and Milwaukee. All three districts applied for the grant in 2010 and were attempting to simultaneously meet the standards of the grant and secure support from teachers unions, but were unable to do so. While the causes for termination of the grants were different in each district, the common thread was dissent among the teachers unions, many of whom believed that changes to professional development and teacher evaluation should not be made without input from the teachers. The National Education Association’s (NEA) director of collective bargaining said, “We want to make sure folks have a clear understanding of the system and that it’s not imposed. If the goal is to recruit and retain the best and brightest, how does this compensation system help you do that better?”

While the Department of Education says that many school districts have been able to meet TIF requirements, New York City, Milwaukee and Chicago were unable to strike a balance between federal standards and teacher union consent. Nonetheless, Milwaukee and New York have submitted their applications for the 2012 grant.

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