Friday, March 09, 2012

Soon to be seen in a nearby Ohio classroom?

From John Curry (Click image to enlarge.)

Thursday, March 08, 2012

More and more educators think their job sucks!

From John Curry, March 8, 2012
Why So Many More Teachers Hate Their Jobs Now
March 8, 2012
Many teachers are unhappy with their jobs right now. That shouldn’t come as a shock, but a recent nationwide survey from the MetLife Foundation just confirmed this sentiment.
(Click images to enlarge.)

What is surprising about the survey’s results, however, is how much teachers’ job satisfaction has plummeted in just the past three years.

And if you’re thinking the numbers are primarily a result of merit pay, increased accountability or teacher union-oriented laws, the survey’s authors suggest there’s much more to the story.

The percentage of teachers in the poll who feel “very satisfied” with their jobs has dropped 15 points since 2009 — from 59 percent to 44 percent in 2011 — the largest decline in the survey’s 28-year history.

Why the big drop now? The down economy, the report’s authors conclude. To paraphrase:

  • Three in four teachers saw budget cuts in their schools — “urban, suburban and rural” — last year.
  • Two in three teachers watched their colleagues get laid off in the past year.
  • Teachers are four times as likely as they were to feel insecure about their jobs as they were in 2006. (34 percent feel insecure now, versus 8 percent then.)

Those who conducted the survey also say the teachers who aren’t satisfied with their jobs are more likely to feel their professional expertise is not respected in the community.

What About Policy Changes?

Even through the implementation of No Child Left Behind, which was controversial from its inception in 2001, teacher satisfaction numbers in the MetLife survey inched upward. Just four years ago, more than 62 percent of teachers reported feeling very satisfied with their jobs — an all-time high.

But Kevin Welner guest-blogs at The Answer Sheet that, while the economy played a role, it’s hard to overlook recent changes to education policy:

Teachers see states and districts implement policies that largely base their performance evaluations on student test scores. These new policies are layered on top of No Child Left Behind and the subsequent years of narrowed curricula and teaching to the test. Teachers have been watching sadly as the sort of engaging learning that attracted them to the profession is increasingly squeezed out. Further, teachers in many states are facing attacks on their collective voice in education policy by anti-union governors such as Walker (Wisconsin), Scott (Florida), Christie (New Jersey), Daniels (Indiana), Kasich (Ohio), and Brewer (Arizona).

The MetLife survey’s directors acknowledge teachers have often been the focus of criticism and heightened media scrutiny.

“They show readiness to embrace higher standards and accountability with support, but are concerned that their voices are not adequately heard in the policy debate,” the report’s authors write.

As Emily Richmond blogs at The Educated Reporter, more research about teacher attitudes on recent policy changes will be necessary:

Given the tidal wave of reform enveloping public education, it will be interesting to see what happens to the teacher job satisfaction numbers in the coming years. There’s a national conversation underway about teacher tenure, and nearly half the states and the District of Columbia are already overhauling their teacher evaluation processes so that they are tied more directly to student testing data. Those changes aren’t likely to boost the percentage of teachers who say they feel secure about their jobs.

“We’re in the midst of a real culture shift in the teaching profession as we move to emphasize teacher effectiveness,” said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan advocacy organization. “Change is hard, and it can really make teachers uncomfortable.”

She suggested future MetLife educator surveys include questions about current reform measures, such as district and state-level changes to evaluation models and policies. To not go there next, Jacobs said, “would really seem like a missed opportunity.”

How do you react to these numbers? How can they be turned around? And do you think teachers’ misgivings are justified?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

STRS and...been there, done that!

From John Curry, March 6, 2012
My, my....didn't Dr. Leone and CORE tell them some of this several years ago?
Especially [bulleted items] #2 and #4 below.
From Dennis Leone, March 6, 2012
Yep, especially [bulleted items] #3 and #4. I tried to tell my fellow STRS Board members, and I also tried to tell ORTA. (These topics were in the column I wrote for the ORTA newsletter, but the ORTA staff rejected it because I dared to share the info with others before ORTA saw it.) John, take a look at the next-to-the-last paragraph in my 3-9-11 testimony at the Statehouse on HB 69.
D. Leone

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Report on special STRS Board meeting March 2, 2012

From STRS, March 6, 2012
March 6, 2012
March Board News
Board Approves Changes to Actuarial Assumptions
At a special meeting on March 2, the State Teachers Retirement Board voted to approve changes to the actuarial assumptions used to calculate pension liabilities. In February, the board's actuarial consultant, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), presented the results of a three-year experience review used to evaluate the economic and demographic assumptions. The experience review, conducted at the board's request, compared what actually happened during the three-year period versus what was expected to happen to the financial and demographic assumptions. Based on its review, PwC recommended adjustments to assumptions about mortality, service retirement, inflation, expected investment returns and salary growth. In total, these new assumptions have a negative overall impact on the system's funding.
The most common ways to express the system's financial condition are through the funding period and the funded ratio. The funding period is the amount of time needed to pay off the system's unfunded liability assuming current contribution rates. The funded ratio is the actuarial value of assets compared to accrued liabilities. The results of the July 1, 2011, valuation showed STRS Ohio's funding period to be "infinite," meaning at the current contribution rates, the system would not be able to pay off its unfunded liability. The funded ratio stood at 58.8%.
With the new actuarial assumptions, the system's funded ratio drops to 56.6% and the funding period remains "infinite." Below is an outline of how some of these new assumptions impact the system's funding:
Reducing the inflation assumption from 3% to 2.75% — impacts economic assumptions including expected investment return and individual salary increases.
Change to mortality assumption increases liabilities — this change reflects that STRS Ohio members are living longer and STRS Ohio is paying benefits for a longer period of time.
Reducing the expected investment return from 8% to 7.75% increases liabilities — assets are not expected to grow as fast, due primarily to lower inflation.
Increasing the salary growth assumption increases liabilities slightly — reflects that individual teacher salary growth experience was slightly higher than previously assumed.
New Actuarial Assumptions Impact Board-Approved Pension Reform Plan; Board Asks Staff to Study Additional Plan Changes
In January 2011, the Retirement Board approved changes in its plan to strengthen the financial condition of the pension fund. The changes are projected to save about $10.9 billion in accrued liabilities and bring the pension fund to a 30-year funding period. As noted in the story above, the new actuarial assumptions approved by the board on March 2, have a negative net impact on the system's funding. That impact, coupled with a delay beyond the proposed July 1, 2012, implementation date and a request to smooth the plan's transition to new service retirement eligibility rules will cause the plan to fall outside the 30-year amortization period that has been considered a key element of the reform plan.
During its March 2 meeting, the Retirement Board discussed studying other benefit changes to reduce the amortization period. The board directed staff to study additional revisions to pension plan design and to provide implementation recommendations to the board at a future meeting. The revisions to be researched include smoothing the transition to new retirement eligibility rules for those nearing retirement and implementing a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) cap or one-year COLA suspension.
As the board and staff prepare for an opportunity to move pension reform legislation this spring in the Ohio Senate, the board has asked staff to research mechanisms that could provide the board authority to adjust plan design in the future. This concept was also suggested by Pension Trustee Advisors, the actuarial firm hired by the Ohio Retirement Study Council to review pension reform plans. The board authorized staff to research plan design mechanisms including age and service eligibility, employee contribution rates, benefit formula, COLA, and a required Medicare Part B partial reimbursement and to provide details to the board at a future meeting.

Monday, March 05, 2012

ALEC and YOUR STRS pension?

From John Curry, March 5, 2012
No....not a figment of my on! Niehaus, Wachtmann, Faber, Batchelder or John Adams wouldn't try this, would they? Please pay special attention to the underlined parts of this article.
P.S. Yes, our pension model needs some adjustments doesn't need trashed or turned into a Defined Contribution model. Those at ALEC would love nothing better than a change to a DC model...then they could enrich their investment pals with our moneys which would, in turn, enrich the reelection coffers of our ALEC-infested politicians. It's a vicious cycle, isn't it?
“There are a lot of things that you can try to do,” says Bob Williams of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. Williams is working with American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative group comprised of state legislators and corporate representatives, on model legislation that would dramatically reduce the pensions of current employees. “Some of that you expect will stand up in court; some of it you expect won't,” Williams says. “But you can't really know until you try."
January 7, 2011
Activists seek new tactics to break old pension deals
By Melissa Maynard, Stateline Staff Writer
It’s generally thought that the solution to the funding crisis in public pensions must focus on making cheaper promises to new hires while easing current employees out of expensive future plans.
But not everybody agrees that those are the limits. A growing number of conservative activists believe the pensions of current employees may not be as politically and legally untouchable as has been believed. The issue is about to be tested as anger against public employee unions reaches a boiling point in a number of states.
For many in an active network of conservative groups, the political role model is New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie, who thinks that a lot more can be done legally to reduce the cost of pension rules for existing employees.
Christie has made a number of proposals that would affect the pensions of employees with less than 25 years of service, the length of time required for vesting under New Jersey state law. “There’s significant reform and change that can happen for people with less than 25 years, which is really the majority of people in the system,” he said in announcing the proposals this fall. These benefits should not be sacrosanct when so many private sector workers have seen their 401(k)s vanish, and will not exist to be paid out anyway if significant changes aren’t made to the current system, he says.
Christie wants to increase the percentage of salary that employees must contribute to their pension plans to 8.5 percent. (These requirements currently range from 3 percent to 8.5 percent, depending on the program.) He also wants to adjust all salary calculations to a 5-year period to prevent employees from artificially inflating their pensions by earning high salaries in their final year of service. He would raise the retirement age to 65 for all state employees. Christie also has indicated that an even more aggressive proposal is in the works, with an announcement to come later this month.
“There are a lot of things that you can try to do,” says Bob Williams of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. Williams is working with American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative group comprised of state legislators and corporate representatives, on model legislation that would dramatically reduce the pensions of current employees. “Some of that you expect will stand up in court; some of it you expect won't,” Williams says. “But you can't really know until you try."
Targeting existing employees
As Stateline has previously reported, the debate about pensions began in earnest in 2010, with aggressive reforms in Vermont, Colorado and Minnesota. Those states mostly passed changes limited to newly hired employees — reducing their benefits, requiring them to contribute more of their paycheck, or raising the age at which they will be eligible to retire. But some revisions did target current employees and retirees.
Six states raised the amount that current employees are required to contribute. They include Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, Vermont and Wyoming. Colorado and Vermont increased the penalty for current employees who leave the state before the normal retirement age. Colorado, Minnesota and South Dakota adjusted or eliminated cost-of-living increases for retirees; all three of those laws are currently being challenged in the courts.
Union representatives have attacked the most recent proposals as illegal. They also have faulted New Jersey for chronic underfunding of its pension system, including a $3.1 billion payment that the Christie administration skipped this year. Christie, for his part, has made it clear that he’s not afraid of a legal battle: “If they want to sue me, tell them to get in line,” Christie told the Star-Ledger. “I’ve got plenty of lawyers to defend our positions.”
Many of the legal questions involved are surprisingly murky, and vary dramatically by state. “It is uncertain in many states what the constitutional protections are because they haven’t been tested or at least thoroughly tested in the courts,” says Ron Snell, director of state services at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “But state legislators have assumed the protections to be quite strong.”
Many states treat pensions as “contracts” under the law, while others treat them as “property rights,” which tend to be easier to modify. And in those that treat pensions as contracts, there’s significant variation in when that contract is deemed to take effect. Nebraska protects pensions as soon as an employee begins working for the state; other states protect pensions only upon retirement, after an employee is fully vested, or at some other undetermined point during an employee’s tenure.
Model language coming
ALEC, which has become a formidable purveyor of conservative legislation in the states, has developed a model resolution that seeks to take advantage of what some scholars see as a significant legal opportunity offered by interpretations of the contracts clause of the U.S. Constitution. Model language in ALEC’s proposal, titled “A resolution to align pay and benefits of public sector workers with private sector workers,” says “the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it permissible for states to modify contractual obligations for a significant and legitimate public purpose, such as the remedying of a broad and general social or economic problem.”
A draft of the ALEC resolution, which still has to undergo final approval by ALEC’s board, declares that accrued retirement benefit obligations to all state and local workers “shall be immediately adjusted to a level comparable to that of private sector workers for positions of comparable responsibility and direct compensation.” The resolution proposes that an independent federal review panel be created to make such adjustments, and suggests that sole jurisdiction over the changes be given to federal courts and not state courts because of “inherent conflicts of interest.”
Ralph Benko, a senior adviser at the conservative American Principles Project who worked with ALEC to develop the language, has concluded that the frameworks offered by two U.S. Supreme Court cases (Energy Reserves Group v. Kansas Power & Light and United States Trust Company of New York v. New Jersey) offer a promising legal opening for those who want to go after pensions. “Now there's at the very least a persuasive, legitimate argument that we can do this,” Benko says. “Yes, it will require litigation and be challenged by the courts, but gosh, we have a strong case here.”
State Senator Jim Buck of Indiana, who chairs the ALEC task force that developed the resolution, emphasizes that the measure is meant to be used only in cases of true crisis. “It's not summarily discarding a contract that you're financially fit to take care of,” he says. “I don't anticipate any state doing it unless they're in a financial crisis.”
The problem with that argument, says Stephen Pincus, a Pittsburgh attorney who is representing retirees challenging the Colorado, Minnesota and South Dakota laws, is that it paves the way for a state to default on all of its existing contracts — the very situation the contracts clause of the U.S. Constitution was created to prevent. “They're just saying, ‘Let's go after the public workers,’” Pincus says. “If there is a real general threat to the financial well-being of a state or local government, then everything should be on the table, not just one set of contracts.”
Benko has worked with lawmakers from Arizona on some of the new approaches, and expects that state to be among the first to test the waters. Because of protections in the Arizona constitution, the first step would be to send a ballot measure to voters in 2012 revising state constitutional language that protects pensions. This is a step that lawmakers are reportedly considering. A related proposal would make a change that is bound to attract the attention of legislators: It would abolish the pension system for elected officials.
Contact Melissa Maynard at
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