Ah, summer! As most teachers know, summer is the time for catching up on reading, and your SCTA Organizing Committee has prepared this list of suggested titles to learn about important education policy debates that are currently affecting us, and which could affect our profession in the coming years.
First, if you have not yet read Diane Ravitch’s monumental work on the state of public education in this era of corporate reform, Death and Life of the Great American School System, now is the chance. The book is available in an expanded and revised paperwork edition and for Kindles and other e-readers.
Dr. Ravitch recently started her own blog, dianeravitch.net, which has quickly emerged as an important daily read for anyone interested in “a better education for all.” Her range of topics is impressive, but always she writes with a passion for the teaching profession, a respect for teachers and an unflagging commitment to a well-rounded education for all children. Do check it out.
Tenure and Seniority
Our district made some significant changes to layoff procedures this year that are affecting many of our members. Seniority-based pay and layoffs are a bedrock of union rights, but many may wonder why they are so essential.
The NEA has good basic piece explaining “what tenure is and what tenure is not.”
Teacher Marc Epstein writes in the Huffington Post in defense of seniority, including a bit of a history lesson. While his article focuses on New York, Epstein reminds us that seniority pre-dates unions and owes its origins to civil service reforms and efforts to remove arbitrariness, patronage, graft and corruption from hiring and firing practices.
For more on this topic, including a list of articles from different authors presenting a variety of views, please see Larry Ferlazzo’s list of The Best Articles For Helping To Understand Both Why Teacher Tenure Is Important & The Reasons Behind Seniority-Based Layoffs.
By the way, Larry Ferlazzo is a SCTA member from Luther Burbank High School, who is a considered one of the most prominent and prolific teacher-bloggers in the nation; his blog is called Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day.
Priority Schools, So-Called “Failing Schools” and School Improvement
Questions have come up about the priority school program in our district. This list of articles, again from Larry Ferlazzo, gives a nice overview of the school reform plans that the federal government requires: The Best Resources For Learning About The Four School Improvement Grant Models. In our district, Oak Ridge Elementary is the only school that the state has designated for this reform and is eligible for this particular grant program. Some of the articles here reach more broadly and challenge the “shut it down” mentality for so-called “failing schools” that calls for dismissing teachers, closing schools and converting them to charters. These articles offer suggestions for school improvement that are rooted instead in community engagement and teacher professionalism.
Race to the Top
Under Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the federal government has been moving its reform efforts towards a program called Race to the Top. The program requires states to apply and compete for federal education funds, but to qualify states have to enact a number of very onerous and costly reforms. California Governor Jerry Brown and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson figured that it would cost the state more money they it would ever get to do this, and declined to apply for the Race to the Top program. The federal government, however, has opened the program up for individual school districts or consortia of districts to apply directly without going through their state officials. Our district may be going down this road in the future, and it is a dangerous one that should be avoided.
Education Week has a good comprehensive piece on what districts must do to qualify for Race to the Top funding. (Interestingly, the article headline refers to the program as a “contest.”)
Sacramento’s own Kate Lenox, of the Sacramento Coalition to Save Public Education, recently penned this warning about to the Sacramento City Unified School District that the Race to the Top grant “may not be worth its cost.”
For more much more on Race to the Top, Larry Ferlazzo again has it covered: The Best Resources On “Race To The Top.”
~ Thanks to Alice Mercer for compiling this list.