Anatomy Of A Contract: Administrators of the Milwaukee schools and leaders of the city's teachers' union both have failed to use collective bargaining to improve academic achievement, according to an unusual analysis of the local contract. The report on the contract between the district and the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association offers what is being described as the first in-depth view of a labor pact with a big-city teachers' union. The study says that only a handful of "largely anonymous management and union staff" know much about the 174-page contract and the 2,000 pages of arbitration rulings, memorandums of understanding, and state declarations that make up "the contract behind the contract." This lack of knowledge is a problem, the report argues, because the contract and bargaining process address core school issues, among them teachers' qualifications, assignments, transfers, compensation, duties, and evaluations. The report also says that collective bargaining has contributed to the "hostile relationship" that now exists between the district and its employees. This atmosphere, it adds, has undermined teacher morale and other factors necessary for effective schools. The study was conducted by Howard Fuller, a former superintendent of the Milwaukee schools and now the director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University. Co-authors were George Mitchell, a public-policy consultant, and Michael Hartmann, director of research at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. Fuller, who had his share of run-ins with the union during his four years as superintendent, resigned in 1995 after union-backed candidates were elected to the school board. The authors recommend that the district and union "accept responsibility for reaching a contract which leads to improvements in student achievement." To reach that goal, they call for both sides to bargain in public. Open negotiations would prompt "a broad public discussion and debate about collective bargaining and its impact," the study argues. Fuller said he conducted the study because too few people understand the details of teachers' contracts and their impact. "When you get through talking about all this reform, the reality is that there's this document sitting there that in large part--and in some instances almost exclusively--determines whether or not anything happens," Fuller explained. "Somehow, people have to grasp that." MTEA president Paulette Copeland said the study "wasn't as bad as I thought it would be" but added that it "didn't bring anything new to light."
Vouchers Please Parents: Cleveland parents who sent their children to private schools with publicly financed vouchers were more satisfied with school quality than those who sent their children to public schools, a recent study concludes. The new findings on the Cleveland voucher program are likely to provoke further debate in the politically charged battle over school choice. Put together by a group of academics led by Harvard University's program on education policy and governance, the study included a poll of 2,020 parents who had applied for a voucher before the 1996-97 school year. About half those parents received scholarships for their children; the other half either were refused or turned down the vouchers. Two-thirds of the voucher-program parents reported being "very satisfied" with the academic quality of their children's schools, compared with just less than one-third of the parents whose children remained in public schools. The program awards up to $2,250 for a child to attend any participating secular or religious private school. About 3,000 children are getting grants this year, though the program continues to be under challenge in the courts.
Class Size Up, Scores Down: Class-size increases in New York City special education resource rooms may have led to a drop in the reading and math achievement of students assigned to those rooms, according to a new study by two New York University researchers. Students are sent to resource rooms for supplemental tutoring in subjects that give them difficulty. In September 1995, a new district regulation allowed schools to increase class sizes in resource rooms from five to eight students. The move, which city officials believed would streamline services and save millions of dollars each year, decreased the amount of time each student spent with the instructors. As a result, the authors argue, resource-room students' reading and math scores on state assessments have taken a nose dive. For example, they point out, the percentage of 6th grade special-service students who were able to meet the state's standard in reading dropped by nearly half in one year, from 29 percent in the 1994-95 school year to 15.8 percent in 1995-96. About 40,000 of the more than 1 million students enrolled in New York City schools receive resource-room services. The researchers investigated those in the 3rd, 6th, and 8th grades. "This study shows that the increases in resource-room sizes appear to have adversely affected the instructional process," noted Mark Alter, chairman of the New York University education school's teaching and learning department. "With less time for instruction, it's not surprising that reading scores have suffered."
--Ann Bradley and Joetta Sack