Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Let’s call this the women’s work edition.

I was livid at this article in the Washington Post arguing that public school teachers are paid at or above market rate — in the private market! Then I looked at the affiliations of the authors: Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute. These are CONSERVATIVE think tanks with an agenda! Shame on the Washington Post for not labeling them as such.

I wrote a column for The Broad Side, slamming Forbes for running another tired article on the lack of women leaders. Definitely check that out!

Unfortunately, if Republicans make gains in Congress in 2012 it will probably be to the detriment of the few women holding seats there, according to the Huffington Post. Ugh.  

Half of Americans think women should legally be required to take their husband’s last name, according to an article on MSNBC.com. What century are we in, again?

There is an oft-repeated phrase in liberal/progressive circles that conservatives/Republicans use the middle class to go after the poor to keep the rich, rich. I could see this play out in this New York Times article covering a comprehensive study finding that “280 of the biggest publicly traded American companies faced federal income tax bills equal to 18.5 percent of their profits during the last three years — little more than half the official corporate rate of 35 percent and lower than their competitors in many industrialized countries.”

The publication went out of its way to point out that the researchers who conducted the study were “left-leaning advocates.” But when reporters asked the companies why they paid so little in taxes, their response was: “Some of the companies disputed the findings, saying that the study understated their tax payments by omitting deferred taxes that they may pay in future years.”

Oh, I pray, why are their taxes “deferred”? Imagine the outrage if us little people asked that our own taxes and bills be deferred and not paid for years in the future?

November is National Adoption Month, and I enjoyed this slide show presentation at MSNBC.com on famous adoptees.

Here is another slideshow presentation I enjoyed, in the Boston Globe, this one about the least and most populated areas on the planet.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

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Can the Teacher Unions and Michelle Rhee Co-Exist?

The other day, I signed a petition calling on the progressive organizations, Change.org and Care2.com, to stop floating petitions by Michelle Rhee, which in essence, are to break up teacher unions.

The petition appeared on a progressive activist’s website, in which he wrote:

Rhee has been traveling the country working with Tea Party governors to weaken public schools. She lobbied on behalf of SB 5 in Ohio, stripping collective bargaining from public workers; she played a major part in eliminating collective bargaining from Tennessee’s teachers; she advised Rick Scott as he gutted the Florida budget for public education; and she hired a lobbyist in Pennsylvania to work on weakening tenure for teachers. She even appeared on Fox News to support Scott Walker’s union-busting in Wisconsin.

At Change.org, Rhee posts deceptively worded petitions with titles including “Join the Fight to Save Great Teachers“ and “Pay Effective Teachers What They Deserve.“ When you delve into it, she’s working to weaken unions and institute merit pay for teachers. These are bad, corporate, anti-progressive reforms and Change.org should not be participating in this union busting.

Change.org claims that it is an open platform, but even as an open platform, they have a choice to actively promote and organize for an issue or client. If Scott Walker or John Kasich were to post a petition title “Join the Fight to Save Great Public Workers,” we would not let it stand. So we must stand up to them and let them know that this is not acceptable.

As a progressive activist myself, this is something that has weighed on my mind lately, as I encounter organizations within the movement that claim to be progressive yet sometimes contradict each other. It’s the feeling I get when I support the Catholic Church’s work in the environment and immigrant rights, and then receive an e-mail from the National Organization for Women about its anti-abortion, really, anti-woman activity. I feel stuck in the middle.

Initially, I felt the same way about the teacher unions and Rhee’s organization — StudentsFirst — and Teach for America, which bring students from top colleges to high-needs areas to teach for a few years. Many Teach for America alumni move on to more lucrative — meaning more money — careers.

My initial thought about all of this is — why can’t these groups co-exist? Aren’t sharing and working together progressive values?


Unfortunately, the ever-shrinking pool of public dollars to education has brought out a divisiveness and nastiness in education politics, pitting tenured teachers against new teachers and charter schools against traditional public schools. From my experience sitting on the board of an independent school and having to look for funding under every rock, my instinct is that public funds are best spent to pay the teachers, administration, staff, curriculum including teacher and student development, subsidized and free lunch, transportation, enrichment classes like art and music, extracurricular activities and costs around maintaining the facilities. These are dollars that put students first.

I question the usefulness of education “reformers” spending more money on policy and lobbying when not all school districts can provide students with the above. And, yes, a teacher who is well compensated — in either money or benefits — feels respected and sticks around, is IMHO, better for students than someone who views the job as a stepping stone to greener pastures. Rhee’s idea to compensate only a handful of teachers to the detriment of the rest of the staff is a waste of money, needlessly divisive and not good for students.

In that sense, I can understand why the teacher unions have refused to work with her.

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Where Teacher-Bashing Has Led Us…

MSNBC.com ran a disturbing story on how many teachers are new, and even then, they are likely to drop out of the field within five years.

Over two decades, the odds that a child will be taught by a new teacher in the nation’s 3 million K-12 public school teachers have increased dramatically. In 1987–88, the median teacher had 14 years of experience, and the mode of teacher experience — or the most common level — was a teacher with 15 years on the job. By 2007–08, the median had dropped to 11, and the mode had plunged to one.

Experts attribute the experiential decline to numerous factors, including the widespread retirement of Baby Boomer teachers, added demands due to programs like “No Child Left Behind” and teachers leaving to pursue better-paying opportunities in other fields.

The national commission on teaching estimates that 300,000 veteran teachers retired between 2004 and 2008 alone.

No matter where one stands on education reform, there appears to be consensus that the quality of the teacher is important. But what happens when that teacher does not stick with the profession? Is this good for our kids? Chat away!

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Detroit Public Schools and Teacher Pay

Here is a story for education geeks everywhere. The beleaguered Detroit school system has lowered teachers’ pay – which is already lower than the suburbs, by the way — and has as many charter schools as traditional public schools. Yet the district is hemorrhaging students and money, according to a story in the New York Times.

These stats were especially discouraging:

Since (Emergency Financial Manager) Mr. Bobb arrived, the $200 million deficit has risen to $327 million. While he has made substantial cuts to save money — including $16 million by firing hundreds of administrators — any gains have been overshadowed by the exodus of the 8,000 students a year. For each student who departs, $7,300 in state money gets subtracted from the Detroit budget — an annual loss of $58.4 million.

Nor have charters been the answer. Charter school students score about the same on state tests as Detroit district students, even though charters have fewer special education students (8 percent versus 17 percent in the district) and fewer poor children (65 percent get subsidized lunches versus 82 percent at district schools). It’s hard to know whether children are better off under these “reforms“ or they’re just being moved around more.

Even though Bobb’s efforts don’t appear to be paying off, the Republican-controlled legislature just approved a bill to give emergency managers like him the power to void contracts of public workers, including teachers. Also, there is talk of converting the entire school district into charters, which could generate significant savings since charter schools typically hire young and non-union teachers for less pay and no pensions.  

But considering the results so far, I’d like to delve into this discussion: why are teachers respected so little in this country? The bias against teachers couldn’t be anymore obvious than this good food for thought posed by Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times:



Until a few decades ago, employment discrimination perversely strengthened our teaching force. Brilliant women became elementary school teachers, because better jobs weren’t open to them. It was profoundly unfair, but the discrimination did benefit America’s children.

These days, brilliant women become surgeons and investment bankers — and 47 percent of America’s kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes (as measured by SAT scores). The figure is from a study by McKinsey & Company, “Closing the Talent Gap.“

Changes in relative pay have reinforced the problem. In 1970, in New York City, a newly minted teacher at a public school earned about $2,000 less in salary than a starting lawyer at a prominent law firm. These days the lawyer takes home, including bonus, $115,000 more than the teacher, the McKinsey study found.

Before crying out that teachers are less important than lawyers or doctors, read this:

One Los Angeles study found that having a teacher from the 25 percent most effective group of teachers for four years in a row would be enough to eliminate the black-white achievement gap.

Recent scholarship suggests that good teachers, even kindergarten teachers, increase their students’ earnings many years later. Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University found that an excellent teacher (one a standard deviation better than average, or better than 84 percent of teachers) raises each student’s lifetime earnings by $20,000. If there are 20 students in the class, that is an extra $400,000 generated, compared with a teacher who is merely average.

A teacher better than 93 percent of other teachers would add $640,000 to lifetime pay of a class of 20, the study found.

Kristof said he is no fan of the teachers union for the reasons some of us have expressed here. It is difficult to fire an ineffective teacher with tenure, and come layoff time, usually younger and enthusiastic teachers are the first to go.

And yes, unionized teachers do receive more generous pension plans than other employees, but that’s because they have practically foregone pay increases. Countries with high-achieving students recognize the importance of strong teachers and compensate them accordingly.

Consider three other countries renowned for their educational performance: Singapore, South Korea and Finland. In each country, teachers are drawn from the top third of their cohort, are hugely respected and are paid well (although that’s less true in Finland). In South Korea and Singapore, teachers on average earn more than lawyers and engineers, the McKinsey study found….

Starting teacher pay, which now averages $39,000 (in the U.S.), would have to rise to $65,000 to fill most new teaching positions in high-needs schools with graduates from the top third of their classes, the McKinsey study found. That would be a bargain.

Indeed, it makes sense to cut corners elsewhere to boost teacher salaries. Research suggests that students would benefit from a tradeoff of better teachers but worse teacher-student ratios. Thus there are growing calls for a Japanese model of larger classes, but with outstanding, respected, well-paid teachers.

Teaching is unusual among the professions in that it pays poorly but has strong union protections and lockstep wage increases. It’s a factory model of compensation, and critics are right to fault it. But the bottom line is that we should pay teachers more, not less — and that politicians who falsely lambaste teachers as greedy are simply making it more difficult to attract the kind of above-average teachers our above-average children deserve.

I am sure that this essay won Kristof no friends in either the teachers unions or among education reformers. For that, I thank him. What say you?

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Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Strollerderby had an important and timely post on preventing child sexual abuse.

From the bizarre-o files: couples who have faced a miscarriage are 22 times as likely to break up and couples who have had a stillborn are 40 times as likely to divorce, according to CNN. Also from CNN: even formula-fed babies are not getting enough vitamin D.

And I don’t get this column at all. According to an op-ed piece in the New York Times, sleep deprivation actually lifts depression. Huh? All I gotta say is I have been taking half a sleeping pill about two times a week and I feel SO much better in terms of my outlook on life. It is incredible what 8 hours of straight sleep can do for the psyche.  

From the gross files: a mom at the Baby Bites blog actually sat out a McDonald’s Happy Meal for a year and discovered that it doesn’t decompose. Ick!

Remember the Netroots Nation moms caucus in Austin two years ago? We had the honor of meeting Melody Townsel at Amy’s. She wrote a sad and heartfelt diary at Daily Kos about her father’s cancer diagnosis. Let’s keep her in our thoughts and prayers.

There have been a lot of good diaries at Daily Kos lately — thank you, Shenanigans, for pointing them out! Here is another one on famous daughters of politicians.

Finally, I have been meaning to post this story I originally spotted in Newsweek. Florida may become the first state to abolish tenure and tie teacher annual raises with a performance review. What do you all think?

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

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Weekly Parenting News Roundup

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

Good morning fellow moms, dads and caregivers!

How are you this morning? I am fried. I managed to fill out and send out approximately 80 holiday cards, buy, wrap and mail out gifts this week. On the flipside, we did not put up lights or a Christmas tree this year as we will be out of the country, visiting my mother-in-law and husband’s family.

Where are you in the Christmas and new year countdown? Not surprisingly, we had a lot of holiday stories this week on MotherTalkers.

Sue in Queens wrote a fun diary asking us what our favorite Christmas decorations were. Also, we exchanged butternut squash recipes for the holiday. Plus, Katy over at Non-Toxic Kids listed five ways to teach children how to give.

We discussed a Washington Post story on the death of the office holiday party. Did your company have one this year? Was it any different from previous years? The Washington Post also ran a financial story on when it is time to cut the pursestrings of dependent adult children.

We had a fascinating discussion on how much academic freedom a middle school should have. A Virginia principal canceled a mock UN debate after some parents complained that it was “inappropriate” for their children to represent the views of the Taliban.

We had a discussion on merit pay for teachers. There is a bill moving through Congress that would award the highest performing teachers in the country, according to the Washington Post. (As you can tell, I read the Post a lot!)

In medical news, here is a story in the New York Times about postpartum depression in fathers. Do you know of men who suffered from the baby blues?

The life of Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar’s 19th baby hangs in the balance, according to CNN. Baby Josie Brooklyn was born three months early on December 10, weighing only 1 lb., 6 oz.. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time.

A group of us got together for an informal MotherTalkers meet-up in San Francisco. Here is a pic!

My husband will be on Meet the Press tomorrow morning to discuss healthcare reform. I believe it airs 9 a.m. ET.  

Sorry for the monstrous column today, but it will be on short hiatus. I will be out of the country for almost two weeks and will resume Weekly Parenting News Roundup on Saturday, January 9, 2010. Happy new year everybody and I wish you safe travels!

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Update on Michelle Rhee and Teacher Union Negotiations

Over the last several months, D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the Washington Teachers’ Union have been hammering out details on how to help the district get rid of ineffective teachers but also compensate teachers fairly. WTU President George Parker puts the chances of reaching a deal at “50-50.”

That is after Rhee has reportedly dropped provisions like giving teachers the opportunity to earn as much as $130,000 a year in exchange for tenure. From the Washington Post:

Gone also, city and union sources say, is Rhee’s attempt to weaken tenure provisions as they are currently written, which grant teachers with at least two years’ experience due-process rights in the event they are fired.

The nearly two-year negotiations are widely viewed as a potentially precedent-setting showdown between an aggressive new generation of urban education leaders, led by Rhee, and the American Federation of Teachers, WTU’s politically potent parent organization. Although the major players decline to disclose details, they agree that their bargaining has reached the endgame….

The pay package under discussion calls for a 20 percent increase over five years, including 3 percent retroactively for each year teachers have worked without a contract since it expired in September 2007. Under the terms being discussed, teachers with good records would be eligible to earn extra money under a pay-for-performance program that would begin in 2010.

Tenure protections are likely to remain in place despite Rhee’s outspoken criticism of the provisions as a major obstacle to reform. As recently as July 5, she told an audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival: “Right now, the culture within education and within the teaching ranks is once you have tenure, you have a job for life. I believe that mind-set has to be completely flipped on its head and that we have to move out of the idea that a teaching job is a right. . . . And unless you can show you are doing positive things for kids, you cannot have the privilege of teaching.”

But Rhee is close to securing other new powers that would allow her to eventually remove ineffective teachers from classrooms. The proposal, first reported by teacher and WTU trustee Candi Peterson in her “Washington Teacher” blog, would allow the District to remove teachers from schools — because of closure, consolidation, declining enrollment, budget cuts or takeover by an outside organization — with minimal regard for seniority. Under current rules, teachers with the least amount of service are “excessed” first.

Under the proposal, teachers would be cut according to a formula that gives greatest weight to the previous year’s performance evaluation, “unique skills and qualifications” and other contributions to the school community. Length of service would be weighted the least.

The proposed plan would also give principals more leeway in selecting teachers from a pool of cut staff as well as other provisions mentioned in the article.

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Cash-Strapped Schools To Boost Class Sizes

Facing budget shortfalls in a bad economy, many school districts across the country are thinking of upping class sizes, according to the Washington Post.

In Fairfax County, the region’s other premier public school system, bleak fiscal forecasts point to a potential increase of as many as 2 1/2 children a class next school year, a bump of more than 10 percent in elementary classrooms. That would come on top of a half-student per class increase in September. Larger classes are also being considered in Loudoun and Prince George’s counties….

School leaders nationwide are considering similar moves. Los Angeles officials are proposing to raise the limit on class size from kindergarten through third grade by five students, to 25 a class. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) is urging state officials to give schools flexibility about class-size rules.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said last month that anxiety is rising among educators — “the fear that budget cutbacks will increase class sizes to unmanageable levels, put the brakes on initiatives that are improving their schools.”

Teachers are foregoing raises and districts are relying on other cost-saving measures, including shorter school days. Some districts are slightly increasing their class sizes to save programs like art and music.

Philosophically, smaller class sizes are better for students and teachers, according to research cited by the Washington Post.

Research has shown that the smallest class sizes, those hovering around 15 or 16 children, benefit students. For instance, researchers studying 15-student elementary classes in Wisconsin reported in a 2003 study that those students made greater academic gains than peers in bigger classes. Teachers were better able to tailor lessons to each student, and fewer discipline problems occurred.

Has your child’s school taken cost-saving measures? What impact, if any, has it had on your child?

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