School Board hears report on education, politics
by DELANEY WALKER, Banner Staff Writer
Dec 07, 2012 | 1547 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
City School Board members heard a report by the Cleveland Education Association in regards to hot topics currently lighting up the educational and political scene.

“The Cleveland Education Association is asking for you to pass a resolution to oppose vouchers, parent-trigger laws, achievement-based salaries, and any effort to weaken the teacher retirement system,” said Michelle Castleberry, CEA president.

Three out of the four issues mentioned by Castleberry are rooted in student achievement. Vouchers, parent-trigger laws, and merit-based salaries theoretically enhance student performance. Debates escalated in response to the validity of the programs.

Vouchers redirect education funding from public schools to individual families. Parents can apply the money toward tuition at a private school versus their child’s assigned state school.

Private schools are funded by donations and tuition. Taxes are used to operate public schools. School vouchers cost public schools a portion of their funding.

A “free market competition” between public and private school sectors supposedly promotes student achievement. The theory states school accountability and performance increases as both systems fight for students and funding. According to Castleberry, there are no positive effects from the voucher system.

“Vouchers fail to raise student achievement. It has been cited in several different studies, including one by the University of Wisconsin on a school in Milwaukee. They have had a voucher school system for 21 years. The study they conducted from 1990 through 1995 found no clear evidence vouchers raised student achievement,” Castleberry said.

Another avenue utilized to encourage student achievement is the “parent-trigger” law. The law enables a majority of parent signatures to transform a public school into a charter. Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas, Indiana, Connecticut, and California all have parent-trigger laws. On behalf of CEA, Castleberry spoke against both parent-trigger laws and charter schools.

The alternative to traditional education began in the early 1990s. Two Minnesota-based charter schools established in 1991 began the alternative education method. There were reportedly almost 3,000 charter schools by 2004. Tennessee is considering making a state vote on the issue.

According to NEA’s website, “Charter schools are publicly funded elementary or secondary schools which have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools.”

Charter schools are expected to produce certain results as set forth in their school’s charter. These institutions are a part of the public school system and are prohibited from charging tuition. Alternative or innovative learning often occurs in these institutions.

Castleberry does not believe the trend is conducive to student achievement. She also spoke on virtual academies. A law passed in 2011 allowed Union County to contract with an out-of-state “for-profit” corporation. These students are enrolled in the Tennessee Virtual Academy.

“Students are required to be logged on for 32 hours each week. This is less than how many hours they are required to be at school. Less than half of that time is spent with a teacher,” Castleberry said. “...The virtual academy performs in the bottom 11 percent of schools across the state. Only 16.4 percent were proficient in math, and 39.3 percent were proficient in reading.”

A third avenue to increasing student achievement involves performance pay for teachers.

“The theory is if they offer more money [bonuses], teachers will work harder. Student achievement is already the ultimate goal for teachers,” Castleberry said. “...I think if any of these are passed then a lot of good teachers will quit. More and more pressure is placed on teachers every year.”

School board members were asked to write up resolutions in opposition to parent-trigger laws, vouchers, and merit-based pay. Castleberry requested the board take a stand against the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement Plan. The plan would change the current benefit plan to a contribution plan.

“This would place the employees at the whims of a very uncertain stock market,” Castleberry said.

Resolutions are set to be sent to Tennessee legislators.

“One of our worries is not enough teachers know about what is going on. Teachers are so busy with what is being done in their classrooms,” Castleberry said. “... We want to talk to our legislators and let them know we oppose these actions, and our reasons why.”

Tennessee Education Association’s website tracks legislative action taken in the state. Reports are given on what are considered ‘major wins’ for Tennessee teachers and TEA. According to TEA, recent wins include:

- The defeat of a proposal which would have provided vouchers for private and parochial schools.

- The defeat of Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to raise class size and eliminate the state teacher salary schedule.

“I think our legislators listen. If their constituents are unhappy, then they will vote to represent the public,” Castleberry said.

An additional decision was made by the board for the 2013-14 school calendar. City schools will have the same fall break (Oct. 5-12) and spring break (March 21-29) as county schools. Teachers, principals, maintenance, transportation and administrative employees were asked to cast their vote.

Roughly 65 percent were in favor of Option three:

- Fall break will be made up entirely of holiday days.

- Thanksgiving break will fall Nov. 23-30. The break will be made up of a staff development day (Oct. 25), a parent conference day (Oct. 26) and three holiday days (Oct. 27-29).