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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 12/21/2010

How a teachers' union actually helped kids (not just adults)

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by educator Anthony Cody, who taught science for 18 years in inner-city Oakland and who now works with a team of science teacher-coaches that supports novice teachers. He is a National Board-certified teacher and an active member of the Teacher Leaders Network. This post appeared on his Teachers Magazine blog, Living in Dialogue. Cody is a dues-paying member of the National Education Association and the California Teachers Association, a disclosure relevant to this post.

By Anthony Cody
If you listen to mainstream media, you will hear the message repeated daily that our schools are in crisis, and that teachers' unions exist to serve the interests of adults and are obstacles to meaningful school reforms. You probably have NOT heard about a remarkable success story in California.

In 2006, the California Teachers Association, the legislative arm of the National Education Association, sponsored a law called the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA). The results are coming in, and are showing that the schools participating in this program are seeing very positive results. I should note that test scores (and the Academic Performance Index, or API, scores derived from them) are a very inadequate measure of what is actually occurring at a school, but these results show there is some impact by the strategies that teachers and our unions have been promoting.

According to this report:

For the 2009-10 school year alone, QEIA schools, on average, experienced nearly 50 percent higher growth on the California Academic Performance Index (API) than similar, non-QEIA schools. Also, the report shows QEIA is helping to close student achievement gaps. QEIA schools are making "greater gains in API with African-American and Hispanic students, English Language Learners, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students" than comparable lower-performing schools, the report concludes.

The full report is available here.

This program is delivering resources where they are needed most. The report states:

"The scope of this intervention program is unprecedented. Over eight years, QEIA provides nearly $3 billion in resources to nearly 500 lower-performing public schools serving nearly 500,000 students. Eighty-four percent of students at QEIA-funded schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches - compared to 44 percent of students in all other California public schools; 41 percent of QEIA students are English Learners, compared to 19 percent in the rest of the schools, according to the California Department of Education. Hispanic students are 79 percent of those attending QEIA campuses, versus 41 percent in the statewide, non-QEIA population."

I wanted to hear from my California teacher friends firsthand, so I asked if people could share their experiences. Three of my friends from Accomplished California Teachers responded:

Kathie Marshall of Pacoima Middle School in the Los Angeles area wrote to me:

"Prior to QEIA funding, my middle school increased its API most years but more slowly than district or state rates. QEIA funding is targeting class size reduction, additional counselors, and weekly PD meetings by departments focused on data analysis, writing of benchmark assessments prior to district assessments, and sharing of best practices. In addition, we developed targeted interventions in math and English, as well as advisory lessons focused on vocabulary development, test-taking skills, and individual student meetings to clarify students' understanding of the CSTs and CST scores. Last year we saw the impact of our QEIA efforts in that our API rose by 47 points, getting us just four points shy of an initial goal of API of 700. Students are knowledgeable about the CSTs, understand the school's sense of urgency, and work with the faculty to demonstrate their capabilities in ways that did not exist prior to QEIA funding."

Fellow blogger Larry Ferlazzo, who teaches at Luther Burbank High in Sacramento, wrote:

"I can't imagine where we would be without QEIA support. Our inner-city high school is divided into seven Small Learning Communities where 300 students stay with the same classmates and teachers during their high school career. QEIA funds allowed us to sustain that SLC 'purity' and keep those solid and supportive relationships. We also lowered class size average by five students and put a maximum size class at 27. In addition, we've been able to keep a larger number of counselors to help students face their many challenges, and dramatically expanded our use of technology through classroom computer projectors, document cameras, and laptop carts. Our API scores have steadily increased, and we anticipate an even bigger jump this year."

Sarah Puglisi, who teaches at Julien Hathaway in Oxnard, wrote:

"Since accepting the funds we have gone through a budget decimation and our District cut a major amount of teachers in huge class size increases at ten schools. We are the only ones now to maintain 20 to 1 lower grades, 24 to 1 grades 4-5. Class size was NOT our reason for pursuing QEIA, because we did not foresee this happening but as it turns out this saved teacher jobs and more importantly INSTANTLY made Hathaway have something special to offer. I have two, whose parents transferred TO US so their children could be in a 20 to 1 class. I have not in 6 years had a class as interesting, capable, and parent-supported as this one! QEIA allowed me the space to be a professional. I have been supported in Arts work, literacy work, in creative projects and design to a level I think unique in the underperforming schools."

There is a phenomenon in journalism. The dominant narrative is defined, and reporters tend to highlight stories that confirm that story. If you have not read about the success of this school reform project in California, perhaps it is because it clashes with the story being driven by the media. This story paints a different picture. It shows us:

*Class size DOES matter - tremendously. All three teachers I connected with testified to the importance of this. This is all the more poignant as we are about to see huge budget cuts that are likely to send class sizes through the roof.

*Professional growth built around collaboration gives teachers valuable time to develop school-wide strategies to improve student outcomes.

*Unions care about students and have ideas that actually work to improve schools and student outcomes.


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By Valerie Strauss  | December 21, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Achievement gap, Anthony Cody, Guest Bloggers, Standardized Tests, Teachers  | Tags:  academic performance index, achievement gap, api, california schools, california teachers association, qeia, standardized tests, teachers union  
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Next: A sobering look at Florida school reform


In a state where education funding incites fear and madness, I'm curious about funding for this "new" measure.

I never faulted teacher unions. If any union has supported improvement in their system is has been the teacher unions. I worked for other unions and they were worried about membership and money.

I like the trend, but again curious about the cost.

Posted by: educ8er | December 21, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse

Compare this to the Washington Teachers Union.

Posted by: axolotl | December 21, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

I teach in Montgomery Co. MD and our union has worked with the school system to develop a very comprehensive evaluation system that has been researched extensively. You can read about the system here:
It is ironic that one of the consequences of MD winning RTTT funding is that we may have to abandon our successful system for one dictated by RTTT which research shows to be less effective. Arne Duncan was questioned about this recently while visiting one of our schools. He suggested that RTTT wasn't meant to be so rigid. Unfortunately, this is what has been implemented--a one size fits all system which may actually move more successful districts backwards.

Posted by: musiclady | December 21, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

I teach in North Florida. Our medium sized district works with the local union to train incoming teachers. As a National Board teacher I assisted in the process which was a week long in August before school started. A veteran teacher trained by the Union at the national level taught a class on strategy and technique that was extremely valuable to new teachers. This is excellent curriculum and its delivery was completely funded by the local union. At the District level here in Florida Unions and school boards work together regularly on projects that benefit students in many ways. Unions also protect working conditions for teachers in ways that directly impact student learning. For example my district provides materials effectively but cut planning time after the 911 attacks and has never reinstated that time. Consequently we have very little individual planning time and almost no collaborative and training time. Administrators are constantly taking teachers out of class to train and plan. This practice is counterproductive considering how little teaching time is left after testing time is deducted and how little students learn or how much they unlearn with a substitute. The union guards planning time by keeping track of the hours mandated by the contract and filing grievances if the agreement is not honored. If you don't have time to plan you cannot teach effectively so this is another way that the union impacts student achievement. However at the state level Unions are reviled as they are for the most part in the main stream media (not you Valerie!). You may remember another administration attacking the NEA not so long ago and when the National teacher of the Year had her luncheon with the Secretary of Education she wore a button stating "I am the NEA". Unions are the teachers so when you attack one you attack both. As for class size, My science classes in middle school are capped at 22 for the first time this year and it is a blessing which the unions supported with Florida's class size amendment and the Legislature has fought tooth and nail since its inception. I have more opportunities to teach science hands on because of the smaller class sizes and more time for individualized instruction and can grade more essays so my students are doing more hands on activities and writing more. Connecting the two is very powerful both for what they learn and what I understand about their learning.

Posted by: kmlisle | December 21, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Your point about "journalists" ignoring evidence contrary to the memes of the prevailing narrative applies to just about every issue facing the country. The narrative is being driven by corporate interests who are not above manufacturing evidence to create their self-serving narrative. Making unions appear villainous is one of the primary goals of lobbyists and their bought-and-paid-for shills in the Congress.

Posted by: buckbuck11 | December 21, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

This column and the responses so far give me hope that the teachers might be starting to rise up and resist this terribly misguided force which has smeared them as our nation's enemy.

I have a special place in my heart for the teachers who have dedicated themselves to working in low income urban schools. As a non-union belonging parent of children in NCLB-labeled "failing" schools for the past nine years, I know that those are the teachers who have daily contact with a subgroup of people that most people in our society choose to shun.

We need to let strong, experienced, and well-trained classroom teachers guide the way to the improvement of public education, and we need to honor them for being the public servants which they are.

Posted by: sharonh2 | December 21, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

The common denominator among these schools was quality leadership, it seems. Yet, when the test scores support what we believe we trust them, but when they support what we oppose we denigrate them.

It appears the practices employed here make sense everywhere. It's shameful we need an extra funding stream to maintain it versus giving schools more freedom to implement it with the funding we get. LAUSD takes in over $11,000/student in revenue, but each school gets on average only about $7600 of that. Just bumping that up to $9,000/student would do wonders, but of course that would put a lot of bureaucrats and consultants out of business.

Posted by: pdexiii | December 21, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

If you look closely it is the funding itself making the difference. NJ has a program of parity funding, for as long as our governor doesn't block it, that has done wonders in closing the achievement gap. Smaller class sizes, more tutorial and after school programs, better training for teachers. Interestingly enough these are the same ideas that the "reform narrative" says do not matter. We have to wonder why they stick to the narrative when the evidence shows time again shows the reverse to be true.

Posted by: teachermomnj | December 21, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

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