Seattle teachers bargain for students; Indiana teachers can’t

Congratulations to Seattle’s teachers. After a five-day strike, they won a contract that increases teacher pay by 9.5 percent over three years. Just as significantly, the deal includes benefits for students: guaranteed recess and the creation of panels to address racial disparities in discipline and learning.

It would be nice to think Indiana teachers and school boards might follow that example and bargain for contract provisions that help children. But they can’t. It’s against the law.

Thanks to school reform laws that the state legislature approved in 2011, teacher collective bargaining in Indiana can deal with salary, wages and fringe benefits – and nothing else.

Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels led the fight to limit collective bargaining, ridiculing teacher contracts for focusing on trivia. Unions go too far, he said, “when they dictate the color of the teachers’ lounge, who can monitor recess, or on what days the principal is allowed to hold a staff meeting.”

No doubt some contracts were loaded with red tape. When there’s no money on the table, sometimes you bargain for other things. But the idea that teachers would only bargain for side benefits that are bad for kids – pushed implicitly by Daniels and some legislators – doesn’t add up. As an Indiana State Teachers Association lobbyist told lawmakers in 2011, teachers’ working conditions tend to be students’ learning conditions.

The Seattle contract, which teachers and other school employees approved Sunday, also includes changes in school-day and teacher-evaluation rules and creation of a district-union committee to study ways to reduce the impact of excessive testing. The vote was strongly in favor of the deal despite concerns that teacher pay falls short in a city with one of the highest costs of living in the country.

Some experts say the agreement, with its focus on what’s good for students, is a harbinger of things to come. “Teachers are positioning themselves to be about much more than raising their own pay,” University of Illinois professor Bob Bruno told the Associated Press.

But if student-focused bargaining becomes a trend, Indiana will be left behind.

 

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Are charter schools public? Washington court says no

This month’s Washington Supreme Court ruling on charter schools should at the very least spark discussion of whether charter schools are public schools.

In a 6-3 decision, the court said they aren’t. It reasoned that the lack of local control and accountability means charters don’t qualify as “common schools” in the language of the state constitution.

The court found that “if a school is not controlled by a public body, then it should not have access to public funds,” writes Wayne Au, a plaintiff on the case. “The logic is simple and compelling, and opponents of public school privatization in this country need to spread that message far and wide.”

Charter supporters insist, of course, that charter schools are public schools. The argument goes something like this: Charter schools receive public funds and don’t charge tuition. They enroll all students for whom there’s room. And charter school laws are enacted by elected legislators.

But in Indiana, over 300 private schools get public funding in the form of vouchers, often enough to cover the full cost of tuition. No one argues that they are now public schools. And charter schools may be open to all, but they tend to attract students whose parents are savvy enough to apply and enter enrollment lotteries and have the means to provide their children with transportation.

The big difference, though, is public control. Continue reading

Grading pause an easy call? Not in Indiana

Glenda Ritz called a meeting of the State Board of Education in February 2015 to suggest pausing Indiana’s A-to-F school accountability system to let teachers and students adapt to new standards.

But board members would have none it. They deleted the state superintendent of public instruction’s proposal from the agenda without even acknowledging it – then questioned why she called the meeting.

Glenda Ritz (Department of Education photo)

Glenda Ritz (Department of Education photo)

Gov. Mike Pence also acted as if pausing accountability were some kind of radical idea. “We grade students every day in Indiana,” he said. “We should be willing to grade schools once every year.”

Never mind that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had invited states to request the delay under waivers from strict requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. The rationale was that school ratings would suffer as states rolled out new tests aligned with the Common Core standards. Indiana dumped Common Core but adopted new standards that, educators say, are quite similar.

Ritz made her proposal again in the summer, arguing schools should get a pass on having their grades drop as a result of tougher tests. This time the board didn’t refuse to talk, but members suggested that only the legislature had the authority to pause accountability.

Continue reading