The Tom Mooney Institute

The Tom Mooney Institute for Teacher and Union Leadership is an effort by seasoned local leaders within the teacher union movement to develop the leadership skills and organizational capacity of the next generation of reform minded teacher unionists. We promote a progressive vision of the role of the teachers’ union. Our goal is to help local union leaders to be bold, collaborative, creative advocates for the improvement of public education.

Coalition of Civil Rights Groups Calls For Changes in Obama Education Agenda

CampaignCampaignAlthough the press conference announcing the report was postponed, a coalition of the leading civil rights organizations released today a 17 page critique of the Obama administration approach to education. The report is called "The Opportunity to Learn Campaign."  It critiques charter schools and school closures as strategies, competititve grants like the "Race to the Top," and the draft re-authorization of NCLB.  The report asks the Obama administration to move back from unproven remedies for which there is little supporting research, to a re-commitment to what we know works -- early childhood education, wrap-around services, etc.  According the Ed Week article today, the Civil Rights groups seem to echo many of the assumptions of the Broader Bolder Approach to Education, which may fuel a re-birth of the Broader Bolder Approach group this Fall.  Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Valarie Strauss was more blunt in her column today, pointing out that the report, though polite, "skewers" the Obama approach and everything the Duncan Administration has been doing.

What's Wrong with Obama's Education Agenda? No Change We Can Believe In

Pedro NogueraPedro NogueraNYU's Pedro Noguera writes one of the most cogent critiques that has been written yet, summarizing our collective disappointment in the Obama administration's education program. The Obama/Duncan agenda, according to Noguera, is a hodge podge of programs without any understanding of what was fundamentally wrong with NCLB, and therefore, without any core vision. It relies on the same ill-conceived quick fixes that failed under the Bush administration. Noguera's essay is in this month's Nation magazine along with useful overivews by Linda Darling-Hammond, Diane Ravitch, and others. Its a must read and worth a subscription.

Stephen Brill Pens Another Hit Piece on Teacher Unions

NY Times CoverNY Times CoverThis Sunday's NY Times Magazine featured a cover story by Seven Brill titled The Teacher Unions’ Last Stand. Its a compelling narrative on behalf of the self-styled education reformer-entrepreneurs. It happens to be the same narrative that drives the strategies of Arne Duncan’s Ed Department and the Gates Foundation. It’s the new narrative of the education establishment. The problem with the narrative is that it is based on a foundation of faulty facts. Brill and company know the facts they assert are wrong, but their readers may not.

1. Brill claims that K-12 teachers have life-long tenure once they pass their probationary period, like college professors. This is just not true. The word "tenure" should not be used to describe what obtains for public school teachers. Simple due process rights bear no similarity to "tenure" for college professors. Brill creates a false impression by not clarifying what tenure really means.

2. The Harlem Children’s Zone charter school, which gets better results in the same neighborhood, hand-picks their students. The poverty rate is much lower. In the first two years they were not getting the results so they dismissed the students, recruited different ones and got better results. Brill neglects to provide this important piece of information when he compares the schools.


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"Priority Schools" Campaign Takes a Different Approach

Judy ChuJudy ChuDemocratic Cogresswoman Judy Chu, from California released a report criticizing the US Department of Education's four turnaround school models mandated in its School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. It argues that rather than forcing arbitrary and restrictive models, turnaround efforts need to support proven strategies and empower educators who want to step up and do the challenging work. Most important the report criticized the unrealistic expectations and punitive atmosphere that drives the current mandates. The Chu report analysis presents an alternative narrative about what strategies will work for the nation's lowest performing schools that is much more likely to resonate with admistrators, teachers, parents and students. But a column in Politics Daily points out that the dominant view in Congress, as represented in the posture of Rep. George Miller, is to tweak the current four models.

What the Research Says on Charters

The dominant narrative embeded in the US Department of Education's strategies rests on an assumption that charter schools are a better alternative than the neighborhood public school.  A well funded PR effort has emplanted that assumption in the public consciousness. A new Policy Brief from the Century Foundation summaraizes the research on charter school outcomes.  The research has been fairly consistent showing that charter schools actually do worse. The Century brief also summarizes a new study from Stanford's Sean Reordan that reviewed the Hoxby data about New York City that purported to show the opposite. Reordan documents that the Hoxby study suffers from serious methodological flaws. 

Central Falls RI Teachers to be Re-hired Under New Reform Agreement Between the Union and the Board.

Jane SessumsJane SessumsAccording to the Washington Post Sunday, all 87 teachers will return to their jobs next Fall under an agreement worked out over the weekend between the union and the School Board in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Jane Sessums had been due to address the Teacher Union Reform Network at their meeting in Newport on Friday but had to cancel becuse of the delicate negotiations still underway. Now we understand why. Under the agreement teachers would work a longer school day during the 2010-2011 school year; they would submit to rigorous evaluations during the year to help determine how many will return for the 2011-2012 school year; they would provide more after-school tutoring; and they would participate in more professional development, among other changes. Teachers voted to accept the agreement Monday. The net effect is that the school will use the "transformation" model that makes much more sense than the "turnaround" model that State Commissioner Gist had originally imposed.

Push-Back on Race to the Top

President Barack Obama is finding resistance to his $4.35 billion grant competition intended to improve school performance. APPresident Barack Obama is finding resistance to his $4.35 billion grant competition intended to improve school performance., rapidly becoming the go-to source of breaking news on politics and policy, reported on Friday that a rebellion is brewing in many states against the Race to the Top competition and that members of Congress from both parties are considering pushing back against the Obama administration's strategy for using money to catalyze change in public school systems. Union leaders and state officials object to the content of the RTTT guidelines and criteria for winning the competition. A new EPI report unmasked the arbitrariness of the scoring system. Randi Weingarten objected specifically to the unsound turnaround model being pushed as part of the School Improvement Grants. Many states, such as Indiana and Massachusetts, are deciding not to apply for the next round. The problem is that at a time when states and districts are slashing school budgets and laying off needed teachers some will do anything for the money, even what they know is wrong. "States are so desperate." said Jack Jennings. 

"Race to the Top" Competition's Pseudo-Scientific Use of Metrics Masks Arbitrary Decisions

Richard RothsteinRichard RothsteinIn a new EPI Briefing Paper released this week, Richard Rothstein and Harvard's William Peterson analyzed the complex scoring mechanism that led to Delaware and Tennessee  winning $1.3 Billion in extra school funding from the federal government. They conclude that the overly complex formula masks arbitrary judgements that are not research based and could easily have led to different outcomes. Furthermore, they argue that in a time of fiscal crisis in every state, basing this kind of significant level of funding supplement on an arbitrary competition with so few winners is not a good way to conduct federal policy. Their argument raises larger questions about the use of pseudo-science to mask professional judgment that has implications for much that is done these days in the name of accountability.

Judging Obama's Blueprint

DS Dept.of EducationDS Dept.of EducationThe Administration's Blueprint on Re-Authorization of ESEA has been out less than a week and already it has drawn a dose of cheerleading and some sharp critique. The Center for American Progress takes everything in the Blueprint at face value and finds nothing to disagree with.  However, Richard Rothstein at EPI points out in an analysis published today, that the good stuff is rhetorical and optional, while the hard accountability adheres to the same narrow tests and timeframes as NCLB and expands to individual teacher accountability, which ups the ante. Some elements are internally contradictory. So, says Rothstein, it "needs some work" if its going to win adherants among the majorities that have grown weary, sceptical and demoralized under NCLB.

Reacting to the "Low Performing School" Label at T.C. Williams High School

Patrick WelshPatrick WelshPatrick Welsh, who teaches English at T.C.Williams HS in Alexandria, VA, writes today in the Washington Post, describing the reaction among teachers at his school when they found it was on the US Department of Education list of the nation's lowest performing schools. T.C. Williams has been celebrated as a school with great teachers who add tremendos value to it's low income students' accomplishments. The label is all about the socio-economic background of the students. Welsh's piece manages to capture both the inaccuracy of the battering ram approach of the Deaprtment's labeling and the germ of truth that will cause educators to implement some long overdue reforms.

Ravitch's Book Stimulates Symposium at New Republic Online

Richard RothsteinRichard RothsteinIf nothing else, The Death and Life of the Great American School System has stimulated the best debate since NCLB entered our lexicon empowering its advocates to silence alternative, and often better informed points of view. The New Republic Online this week includes a lively debate and further consideration of the critique that Ravitch propounds. Richard Rothstein offers his perspective on the Ravitch critique, pointing out that the facts haven't really changed so much as several of the former proponents of the NCLB approach having focused on them. Ravitch is one among several to have changed their mind about charter schools and test-based accountability.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Diane RavitchDiane RavitchIt seems Diane Revitch is everywhere these days. Her new book is on its fifth printing just 16 days after its release, and when I last checked, Amazon had sold out again. Asked why, Diane answered that it is because the book offers a "counter narrative" to the consensus that has so dominated policy in Washington -- a policy consensus with little research basis and little in the experience of teachers, parents and students to support it.  The public is clamoring for an alternative narrative. If you have trouble getting hold of a copy of the book, Slate Magazine last week printed a nifty summary here. Very convenient. And here's an interview with Ravitch from her Economic Policy Institute book event.

Union Presidents Wrestle with a Generational Divide Among Their Membership

Jerry JordanJerry JordanIn a new Education Week Commentary today, Harvard professor Susan Moore Johnson cites the example of Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan, as a leader who stepped up to the plate with bold provisions in the recently signed contract and Race To The Top application.  But according to Johnson, it is worth paying attention to the skill and vision required to communicate with and win the trust of a union membership with a huge generational divide.

UTLA Steps Up To the Plate

AJ DuffyAJ DuffyIn action taken last month by the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education, and reported in Education Week, proposals put forward by existing LA teachers and UTLA, the teachers' union, were selected over those put forward by various charter operators in all but 6 cases to run 12 existing and 18 re-constituted low performing schools in Los Angeles.

Dennis Van Roekel Urges "Collaboration" in Lieu of Mass Teacher Firings

Dennis Van RoekelDennis Van RoekelIn a press release Monday in response to the debacle of mass teacher firings in Central Falls, Rhode Island, NEA president Dennis Van Roekel, described a more productive alternative approach to low student achievement. He praised the model used at Broad Acres Elementary in Montgomery County, Maryland, as a successful collaboration between the teachers' union and district leadership, and referenced the Mooney Institute Case Study about Broad Acres. Even though Central Falls is an AFT local, the NEA leadership and, in fact, the entire labor movement has united in oposition to the action of the school board in Central Falls.

School Transformation

Jody Leleck with 1st grade teacher Kim OliverJody Leleck with 1st grade teacher Kim OliverWith all the talk about "Turnaround Schools" at the US Department of Education, and all the controversy about whether the wholesale removal of entire faculties has any positive effect, successful models that are just as dramatic but involve working with the educators in a school are being ignored. Such an example is Broad Acres Elementary, in Maryland. The case study below was developed as a teaching tool in union-managment collaboration. 

Two Types of Superintendents -- Why the focus on the quality of teaching and learning is disappearing in so many districts

Diane RavitchDiane RavitchIn a new Post on her Ed Week Blog, Diane Ravitch describes the two distinct types of school superintendents. Its a thought provoking piece.  Ravitch also takes the editors and reporters at the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and Education Week, to task as flat out wrong about what Randi Weingarten said in her speech, says Education commentator Diane Ravitch on the Huffington Post last month. We agree with Ravitch in both of these posts. The import of the speech, one that contained serious and groundbreaking proposals, was distorted by editors and even reporters who seem strangely locked into paradigms that prevent them from recognizing common sense when the source is a teacher union president.

Ravitch's new book, The Death and LIfe of the Great American School System is a must read. Click to order.

Randi Weingarten Proposes Union's Path to Reform

Randi WeingartenRandi WeingartenIn a comprehensive speech at the National Press Club today entitled "A New Path forward," AFT President Randi Weingarten offered a new approach to reform designed to replace the conflict ridden approach of the past decade. The plan provides 1. a template for teacher evaluation, standards and learning outcomes, 2. a new approach to due process, 3. commitment to providing the conditions teachers need to be successful, and 4. labor/managment relationships based on trust and respect.

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"Carrots and Sticks Are So Last Century" -- An Interview with Dan Pink by Claus von Zastrow

Dan PinkDan PinkPublic SchooL Insights editor Claus von Zastrow scooped the rest of the bloggesphere with his timely interview with best selling business author Dan Pink on the release of Pink's latest book, entitled Drive.  Although not aimed primarily at an education audience, Pink's aim is to offer advice to employers about how to motivate employees and unleash their creativity. Nowhere is that more important than in education. Reliance on "carrot and stick" extrinsic motivators is actually counterproductive to that purpose, Pink reveals. Yet another wake-up call to those reformers who continue to design human capital development schemes that involve paying and punishing for test scores.

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Improving the Context for Teachers' Work Is the Key to Teaching Quality

NAEDNAEDA New Report from the National Academy of Education "Good Teaching Matters," released October 30, 2009 argues that the quality of education is not simply determined by an individual teacher's knowledge or ability, but also by the context in which teachers work. Improving teacher quality thus entails policies concerning recruitment, early preparation, retention (including attention to working conditions) as well as professional development.

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