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May 8, 2006

1)  NEA Uses Old Numbers to Support Present Agenda. In order to draw attention to National Teacher Day (which is tomorrow), the National Education Association last week released a lengthy press statement on "five main trends that have emerged over the past five years." They were that public schoolteachers are the most experienced and educated ever, that the work of teachers is being transformed, that the number of teachers leaving the profession is increasing, that the teaching force is not as diverse as the student body, and that there are fewer male teachers than in the past.

NEA is to be commended for providing citations to the numerous claims it makes in its press release, because the footnotes undermine the union's analysis and recommendations.

Thirty-one statistics in the press release cite the same source: NEA's Status of the American Public School Teacher, which has a load of information, but was released in August 2003, describing the status of the American public school teacher in 2000-01. Comprehensive education statistics do have a significant lag in reaching the public, but five-year-old information tells us little about where we are now, and even less about where we're going.

Even worse, NEA cites a 1998 study on teacher shortages, and a 1996 study on teacher retention.

Fortunately, there is newer information on at least some of the topics NEA addresses, in the form of Characteristics of Schools, Districts, Teachers, Principals, and School Libraries in the United States: 2003-04 Schools and Staffing Survey, released on March 23, 2006 by the National Center for Education Statistics. Here a few updates of the NEA stats:

* Today's teachers are on average 43 years old (42.5 actually) as NEA states, but the NCES study reveals that charter school teachers are on average 38 years old.

* NEA states that "more than half (57%) hold at least a master's degree." But the newer data show that number is reduced to 48.1 percent in 2003-04. A majority of teachers hold only a bachelor's degree.

* NEA states that 90 percent of the teaching profession is white. The newer NCES numbers show that number has been reduced to 83.1 percent, helped along considerably by charter schools. While 16.7 percent of teachers in traditional public schools in 2003-04 were members of racial/ethnic minorities, in charter schools that percentage was 29.8 percent. There is also a larger percentage of males teaching in charter schools than in regular public schools (27% vs. 25%).

* NCES is evidently still working on its teacher retention survey, which hasn't been updated in many years, but does provide a tantalizing statistic. The average number of teachers dismissed or non-renewed in American public school districts in 2003-04 was 3.1. That's not a percentage, that's the average number of teachers. Since there were 14,218 school districts in operation that year, it comes to a national total of 44,076 non-renewed teachers. That's out of 3,250,600 teachers, or 1.36 percent.

Four of NEA's main trends are in fact one trend: an aging population. The average age and experience of teachers coincides with that of the American population. Consequently, they have more advanced degrees and experience than in the past, will retire in greater numbers, requiring replacements from a smaller pool of eligible candidates.

But the demographics problem contains the seed of its own solution. As older teachers retire and new ones are hired, the average age, experience, and presence of advanced degrees will drop. The teaching profession will necessarily reflect the racial/ethnic make-up of a more diverse population – those who are currently students will become the new teachers.

Enrollment will slow, perhaps even drop, meaning not all of those retiring teachers will need to be replaced. And guess what? The growth in the average teacher salary will naturally slow, as high-paid veterans are increasingly replaced by low-paid newcomers.

And while I have no statistics to back this up, it seems to me that teacher retention, as currently defined, will worsen with the new generation. Getting a job right out of school and holding it for 30 years (whatever the field) is not valued by the younger generation to the degree it was in the past. More and more people will teach "for awhile" and move on, perhaps returning to it later. Still others will use alternative avenues to teaching, after a career in a different field.

All this will require some forward thinking. Reliance on last decade's numbers will, in the best case, only lead to answers for last decade's problems.

2)  NEA, NYSUT Approve New York Merger, Rumore Lays Out Options. You really have to admire NEA's ability to spin. By its own admission (see last paragraph here), NEA New York was in financial free-fall, losing members and locals to the AFT-affiliated New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). NEA New York finally threw in the towel last year. Now, representatives of NEA New York and NYSUT have agreed to a merger… which is a merger in the sense that Britain and India merged in 1757.

The NEA Executive Committee approved the merger, and sent out a press release over the weekend proclaiming itself "the largest union in U.S. history," with 3.2 million members. This is a pretty bold claim, since NYSUT's half-million members will pay no dues to NEA, and will have no representation in NEA.

Meanwhile Phil Rumore, merger opponent and president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF), has notified his members of the situation, and presented them with their choices.

According to a letter from Rumore to BTF members, the options are:

"1. We can join the new organization.

"2. We can become an independent local, as are the Buffalo Police and PCTEA, and work cooperatively with other unions, as we do now.

"3. We can join with other local unions who have approached us to start a new state organization.

"4. We can affiliate with another state and national union."

Rumore is at least convinced that BTF could make better use locally of the $1.7 million it sends annually to NEA New York and NEA.

BTF has been given an end-of-June deadline by the new, merged NYSUT to make up its mind, but Rumore says he will operate on his own timeline, so that BTF members will not be hurried into a decision.

3)  Union Staff Troubles in California and Indiana. Not many details available, but it seems the California Teachers Association is playing hardball with its staff unions in contract negotiations.

CTA has been altering its evaluation of the union's financial condition based on the audience. When CTA was trying to stop a court injunction against its special assessment last October, it claimed it was in danger of great financial harm. When word of this reached the members, CTA reversed course and assured everyone the union was not broke. Now union officials are claiming financial hardship while negotiating with both professional and support employees over contracts that expire August 31, 2006. EIA will be watching this closely.

Meanwhile, the staff union of the Indiana State Teachers Association has imposed sanctions against ISTA. The staff union claims ISTA has failed to act on complaints of mistreatment of UniServ directors. The sanctions are official, but mostly symbolic so far. They merely notify other union employees that ISTA's UniServ District in Terre Haute is "an undesirable place to work."

4)  Beat the Rap, Then Endorse Me. If you missed the story that circulated through many other education blogs, there was a small blip over the weekend in the New York State United Teachers' endorsement of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer for governor. The endorsement didn't take place, and Spitzer didn't show up for his acceptance speech because his office is investigating NYSUT's relationship with the ING Group.

The ING Group pays the NYSUT Member Benefit Trust $3 million in exchange for endorsed investment services to NYSUT members. But, as a recent Los Angeles Times story disclosed, the investments produced sub-par returns. The New York Post reported that Spitzer has been investigating the deal for seven months.

5)  Thai Teachers' Union Musters Its Troops… for Real. Here's an idea from overseas I hope doesn't catch on here.

Armed Muslim separatists operate in southern Thailand and "government-run secular schools have been targeted in the past because they were seen as anti-Islamic by separatist militants," according to GlobalSecurity.org. In response, some 1,300 teachers will undergo weapons training this week before joining the "teachers' self-protection battalion," according to the Bangkok Post. They will be trained by the army and internal security forces, and will be able to purchase weapons at discounted prices.

The battalion will be commanded by Sa-nguan Intharak, secretary-general of the Federation of Narathiwat Teachers, the local teachers' union.

Meanwhile, Egitim-Sen, the Turkish teachers' union, took the opposite position, refusing the government's request to establish teacher committees to identify students who are being "exploited" by the Kurdistan Workers' Party.

In a statement, union officials said that preventing terrorism was the task of the security forces, and criticized the education minister for "causing cultural degeneration and a loss of values through the Soros methods [referring to international financier George Soros] and policies you develop."

6)  Last week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from May 2-7:

* UFT's Stossel Obsession. Cameras disrupt classrooms. Unless they're union cameras.

* Spiked? What's in the value-added survey of nationally certified teachers?

* NEA Members: Here Comes the AFL-CIO Recruiter. This is for all those NEA members who said the AFL-CIO partnership was "no big deal."

* Read the Fine Print, Kids. Unions hate the commercialization of schools. Unless they get a cut.

7)  Quote of the Week #1. "And on the panel in question, about the future of teacher unions, it was hard and dark, what with former Denver teachers' union activist Brad Jupp and former Seattle teachers' union president and TURN leader Roger Erskine as two of the three on the panel it was clear, that as Leo and others argued last week, the views of teachers' unions or anyone sympathetic to them would be ruthlessly suppressed at any cost.." – Andrew Rotherham, on Eduwonk.com, poking fun at the assertion of Leo Casey of the United Federation of Teachers that a panel on the future of teacher unionism at the New Schools Venture Fund didn't include "teacher voice."

Quote of the Week #2. "Enough with this myth of democratic voice – allow vulgar, unwashed commoners to speak for themselves, and the entire natural order of things will be overturned. Before too soon there will be calls for a republican form of government!" – Casey's tongue-in-cheek response on EdWize.org.

   

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