Week of January 26, 2015

See all posts

Do the math on teacher pensions and it just doesn’t add up. In 2014, teacher pension systems had a total of a half trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities — a debt load that climbed more than $100 billion in just the last two years. Across the states, an average of 70 cents of every dollar contributed to state teacher pension systems goes toward paying off the ever-increasing pension debt, not to future teacher benefits.

Yet despite the overwhelming evidence that current pension policies cannot be sustained and don’t meet the needs of the 21st century teacher workforce, state lawmakers, regulators and pension boards continue to deny or ignore the crisis. Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions: How to Protect Teachers and Taxpayers, released yesterday, challenges the claims of pension boards and other groups about the cost-effectiveness, fairness and flexibility of the traditional defined benefit pension plans still in place in 38 states. The report includes a report card on each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia with a detailed analysis of state teacher pension policies.
Be sure to also visit the State Teacher Policy Dashboard which has additional state-specific and national overview information on pension systems.
Teacher Prep
Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk reports on this month’s launch of Deans for Impact. The group brings together over a dozen education school deans from a diverse array of universities and colleges with the goal of designing and validating a clear set of teacher-prep experiences. Their core principles include using common measures to gauge graduates’ classroom performance, using data for making programmatic changes and being transparent about results. Sounds like a good idea to us.
Are schools around the country hiring the best and brightest new teachers? AWashington Monthly article looks at recent research papers conducted on this topic. Researchers found that more teachers hired the last few years in New York state had SAT scores in the top third of test takers. A positive trend or debunking a myth?
District Matters
Five years ago, Pittsburgh Public Schools began using a new performance-based pay schedule that included five career ladder positions for which teachers could earn extra pay and advance in responsibility without leaving the classroom. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, the current contract expires in June and the pay schedule is one of the items on the table for negotiation. NCTQ’s view on the compensation system: it’s innovative and does a lot of things right. Read more in our district study of Pittsburghfrom last year.
On Thursday, the court ruled against the Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission, stating that it does not have the power to cancel union contracts. In October of 2014, the commission acted to cancel the collective bargaining agreement with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and make changes to health care benefits, but a court injunction stopped the plan from being implemented. The Philadelphia Inquirer hasthe full story. Bonus: Education Next has a great analysis of the district’s budget woes that set the stage for this dispute.
State Matters

Curious about what the year might hold for education across the states? Education Week has a round-up of education highlights from over a dozen state of the state addresses.

"If we win, those teachers that disagree with the policies of their union – on really fundamental issues on things like tenure, merit pay and school choice – will be able to decide for themselves whether they want to financially support their union," said Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights. Pell is representing 10 California teachers in a case against a law that allows unions to require nonmembers to pay dues. Allie Bidwell with U.S. News and World Report writes that the teachers petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their case on Monday.
In North Carolina, court hearings are being held on an appeal of a previous ruling against teacher tenure reforms passed in 2013. As WRAL Raleigh Durham Fayettevillereportsboth the state and the teachers union have appealed the previous ruling which found that the state could not alter tenure for teachers who had already been granted it but could change the tenure system for new teachers.
New Ed Research
The Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline Initiative published its third report on the progress of six school districts’ efforts to prepare, recruit, and support effective principals. While the project will not have data on outcomes from students affected by this initiative for several years, every district in the initiative has made strides in setting clear standards for principals, refining their hiring process, and piloting evaluation criteria for school leaders.