Wednesday, September 13, 2006

To Strike or Not to Strike:

Today was a good day for 129,000 children in Detroit, because 9,500 members (the majority) of the Detroit Federation of Teachers voted to return to class this morning (Wednesday, September 13), ending a strike that began Aug. 28th. During the announcement of the vote results, teachers stood and cheered.

To get a sense of the tension within the city during these last few days, I have included several articles published by the Detroit Free Press from the day before the union strike was settled, and on the day teachers voted to return to their classrooms. By reading these articles, you can feel the struggle both sides had with 129,000 Detroit children missing precious learning time.

Headlines Tuesday, September 12, 2006:
Detroit Cancels Classes as Teachers Defy Court
By: Catherine Jun, Amy Lee and Kim Kozlowski / The Detroit News

"We have the right to protest what we think is unfair," said Cynthia Van Horn, an English teacher. She said she is not fazed by the court order, despite possible penalties. Detroit teachers vowed to remain on strike during a brief but raucous union meeting Sunday at Cobo Center. They went on strike Aug. 28 after rejecting a proposal that included a 5.55 percent pay cut and increased co-pays on health care benefits.

Headlines September 13, 2006:

How Mayor Brokered End of School Strike: No Wage Givebacks, but Benefits Cut
By: Christine MacDonald and Catherine Jun / The Detroit News

After two weeks of round-the-clock negotiations -- some stretching to 20 hours -- no breakthroughs were in sight.
But pressure was mounting from all sides. Two prominent Detroit religious figures -- Detroit NAACP president the Rev. Wendell Anthony and the Rev. Oscar King III -- planned to tell the community that both sides refused to give. Gov. Jennifer Granholm had just launched what could be a lengthy and tedious fact-finding process. And the district was about to ask a judge to fine teachers for not reporting. That's when Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick opened his office doors to a settlement. Ten hours later, after coffee, catfish and chocolate cake, the two sides had hashed out a deal with the mayor and two of his top staffers -- and without the mediators who had sat with them for weeks.

Pay freeze troubles teachers
By: Catherine Jun and Amy Lee / The Detroit News

Sylvia Leavell, a teacher consultant with Detroit Day School for the Deaf and a union member, said she planned to vote on accepting it."The teachers were more concerned about giving up more," she said. "If we had to continue to give up more, teachers probably would not budge." But some teachers say the latest proposal is still difficult to swallow. "I have a problem we're not even getting a raise this year," said Jonathan Blakey, a physical education teacher at Osborn High School. "That's not a very good contract."

Here are some of the particulars of the new contract:

The three-year agreement includes a pay freeze in the first year, with teachers giving up 5 percent in non-wage concessions, and seniority pay raises restored. In the second year, teachers would get a 1 percent wage increase, followed by a 2.5 percent increase in year three.

What Do You Think?
Should teachers strike? What would you do? What do you think of the Mayor getting involved?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How Does Competition Affect Student Learning?

In my previous post, on August 25, we examined ways of “keeping kids in school”. As a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent I took this as a personal mandate. So today, when I found some interesting research published by ASCD on their Research Brief webpage, I hoped to spark some dialogue.

Dan Laitsch, in his article Competition and Student Learning, asks the question: “How does competition affect student learning?” Let us put it another way: Does competition “push out” or “pull” students into the learning process?

Laitsch’s bottom line stated: “Using a behavioral-economic model, the researchers found support for the concept that competition between students may have a negative effect on student motivation as students attempt to protect their own perceived self-worth.”

In his writing Laitsch made reference to, Metacognition and the Self-System, an article by Kavita Seeratan, a member of the Learning Disabilities Resource Community from University of Toronto.

Seeratan states: “faced with a challenging intellectual task, the student who believes he has the capabilities to perform it effectively will be more likely to undertake it and to persist at the task than will the student who has doubts about his ability to perform it successfully”. Her final premise: “In order for the metacognitive systems to work properly, children must have adequate information about both strategic knowledge and metacognitive activity. Hence, positive attributions or high motivation to succeed would be of little use to an individual who does not have the necessary accompanying strategic knowledge and metacognitive skills. But in the presence of strategic knowledge and metacognitive skills, motivation and affective states are very advantageous in promoting progress towards self-determination.”

A couple of questions come to mind: Would a “competition strategy” be a successful motivator in the presence of strategic knowledge, metacognitive skills and students belief in their ability to perform successfully? Wow, and if so, how do we do that in our classrooms?