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October 14, 2008

1)  Oregon Staff Strike Over, Wisconsin Staff Thinking It Over. Employees of the Oregon Education Association went back to work after a 4-week strike. The only details released were that the contract contains a 4 percent pay raise this year and 5 percent next year, and that some accommodation was reached on the question of "adjustment time."

"We feel good that we were able to hold our ground on most of the things that would have been rollbacks," said a staff spokesman.

Meanwhile, the professional staffers of the Wisconsin Education Association Council have been working without a contract for six weeks. The two sides are far apart, but there seems to be little enthusiasm for a showdown just before a national election in a battleground state. EIA expects this one will either be resolved quickly, or postponed until after Election Day.

2)  Good News in California Enrollment/Retirement Report. The Regional Educational Laboratory at WestEd just released "Trends in California Teacher Demand: A County and Regional Perspective." It's an important study because it's one of the few to recognize that teacher supply and demand is largely a local issue. Indeed, the authors acknowledge that "turning out more teachers in one part of the state would not necessarily help meet demand in another part."

The study examines trends in student enrollment and teacher retirements for all 58 California counties in order to determine the demand for teachers over the next 10 years. Most of the assumptions are solid, but there is one that may prove fatal to this report's accuracy. The authors "assumed counties will maintain their current pupil-teacher ratios."

Since there is no way to predict how pupil-teacher ratios will change over the next 10 years, the authors make this assumption in order to avoid giving up all together. However, you need only look at EIA's enrollment and hiring statistics for California to see that the relationship between the two isn't readily apparent.

Because agencies and organizations in California have predicted 10 of the last 3 teacher shortages, it is heartening to see that while there will be challenges in some regions of the state, the overall problem is manageable.

According to the WestEd study, K-12 enrollment in California in 2013-14 will be lower than it is now. The authors expect a spike in enrollment growth, but not until 2014.

The retirement rate over the past 12 years for all 58 counties averages 2.2 percent. The authors expect the annual rate to rise to roughly 2.7 percent over the next 10 years.

Having to replace an additional 1,500 teachers per year is something for districts to consider, but hardly the catastrophe we have been led to expect.

Certainly the enrollment and retirement projections are the best our state agencies can manage with the data at hand, but the WestEd report could have performed a great service had it compared previous projections to the numbers California actually experienced. It would help us evaluate the current projections.

The key issue in the teacher labor market in California for the next decade appears to be how to entice prospective teachers in oversupplied areas (Los Angeles, San Diego) to relocate and teach in undersupplied areas (Sacramento, Riverside).

3)  Buttoned Up. The United Federation of Teachers filed a federal lawsuit after the New York City Department of Education directed principals to enforce a ban on political buttons or signs in the classroom.

It might surprise some of you to know that I support the union's position. Free speech should never be limited without evidence of direct, serious and negative consequences arising from its exercise. Knowing that a teacher supports Obama might make a student annoyed or uncomfortable, but I think that's a small price to pay.

I wonder, though, how quickly UFT would have defended free speech if the buttons in question read, "Abortion Is Murder," or "Decertify the UFT." Is all speech free or only speech with which the union agrees?

4)  Milwaukee Public Schools Saved by Teacher Turnover. The Milwaukee school district is having financial problems. That's hardly unique among urban school systems. Alan J. Borsuk of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel does his usual stellar job by examining the role that generous employee benefits play.

The real jaw-dropper in Borsuk's tale comes at the end:

"School Board member Terry Falk, chairman of the budget committee, said despite the fringe benefit provisions, the actual amount MPS pays teachers, including fringe benefits, is 'dead last' among more than four dozen school districts in the metropolitan area. The reason: Turnover among teachers is so high that relatively few stay around long enough to collect higher salaries and earn early retirement benefits.

"He said MPS 'is dependent on the turnover of teachers' to keep actual payment to teachers for salary and benefits down and keep the system financially solvent."

In other words, if it weren't for high teacher turnover, the pensions and retiree health benefits would bankrupt the district.

5)  Head Start. Before you become too impressed with the 4.2 million pieces of mail, 2.1 million phone calls, and 1.3 million emails NEA has delivered to members as part of the presidential campaign you might consider that 19 of these communications were to sent to a six-year-old boy.

6)  Stop the Presses! This week's patently obvious or pointless headlines:

* "School Choice Advocates See Teachers' Unions As Main Roadblock" – October 8 The Bulletin

* "Candidates differ on education issues" – October 11 San Diego Union-Tribune, and "Education candidates' views differ" – October 4 Rocky Mountain News (a two-fer!)

* "Teachers' pay raises based on years, not performance" – October 12 Columbus Dispatch

* "Monday's debate to feature hot topics" – October 12 Charleston Gazette-Mail

* "Area Jews to observe Yom Kippur" – October 8 Philadelphia Inquirer

7)  Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from October 6-14:

* Why Should Education Be a Top Presidential Issue? Let the feds concentrate on screwing up the economy and foreign policy.

* AFL-CIO Lectures on Race. White men can't preach.

* Contract Ratified, Oregon EA Staff Returns to Work. All that nasty rhetoric about management? Never mind.

* Christopher Columbus – Member of Byzantine Dynasty? Weaver's son or pirate prince?

8)  Quote of the Week. "If Mr. Obama is serious about public investment for innovation - focusing on inventive teachers and schools that truly boost student performance - he must cut ineffective, yet politically entrenched programs. Take, for example, Washington's Title I compensatory education program, which channels $14 billion each year to schools that serve students from poor families. President Bush tied big infusions of fresh Title I dollars to implementation of his No Child Left Behind Law. Yet several evaluations of Title I, which tries to improve poor children's reading skills, have shown limited benefits, largely because mainstream classroom practices have remained the same. This huge program fails to lift children's learning curves, and yet teachers unions and civil rights groups fight tooth and nail to protect it, a sentimental symbol of equity since the Great Society." – Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. (October 13 New York Times)


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