Category Archives: Union

Responses to Attacks on Teachers

An interesting debate has popped up on a Seattle Times article, but most of the debate centers on the same old, rehashed, and repeated talking points which are decidedly anti-public education. Here are my quick responses to a couple topics.

Responding to someone who advocates performance over seniority during times of layoffs:

Everyone is pretty much in agreement that the current evaluation system is not working. Thus, trying to use a system (that we all basically agree is broken) on which to base layoffs is a ludicrous notion. The new evaluation system (if the administrators do what they are supposed to do) will force teachers to improve and will more accurately assess teachers.

If you create a system that ranks teachers, collaboration is gone. No longer would a teacher have an incentive to help other teachers, especially those new to teaching. In fact, watching a teacher struggle next door would be a benefit to me. This cynical view would become reality, and ultimately the kids would become the victims. Why would I aid someone when I am in competition with him?

Plus, every ranking system used in education has numerous flaws as study after study reveals. This would create lawsuits and more. As one example, Houston’s teachers were ranked using one such system. When the state test, SAT, and ACT exams were used to rank the teachers, the results varied greatly from one test to the other yet all three are teaching goals. Teachers at the top of one list were on the bottom of another. This end result has been repeatedly shown in Florida, Tennessee, Texas, and in other areas.

People also have a mistaken notion that seniority is the only factor during layoffs. This is inaccurate. In fact, what a teacher instructs has a large impact on RIFs. Some areas/positions cannot be cut, and a highly qualified teacher must be in those positions.

“Based on performance over seniority” is a great soundbite, but it is really nothing more than a bumper sticker slogan and worth about as much.

Responding to teachers not putting in enough hours to warrant their pay checks:

I teach English and I’m required to teach a number of thesis papers each year. Now, if each of my 150 students composes a paper and I take 15 minutes per paper, that’s 37.5 hours for one paper. This does not include any other assignments, prep time for lessons, parent contacts, etc. This occurs on top of everything else, and it’s only one paper. One of my classes requires 4-5 papers per semester.

I don’t say this to elicit sympathy but to illustrate the number of unseen hours that some teachers endure during the school year, unpaid time that teachers essentially volunteer to their students because they care about those children. These are volunteer hours, and the teachers could simply work their hours and go home, but they do not.

There are disciplines without these extra hours requirements; this, I recognize. However, most teachers put in many hours well beyond the contract details.

Responding to the mistaken notion that teachers can’t be fired:

Incompetent administrators do struggle to terminate those who need to leave the profession.

Tenure in this state does not mean a job for life as many like to believe, but it does require due process. This really means that the administration has to show (with evidence) that the teacher should be let go.

However, a teacher can be fired for any reason in the first three years of employment. Let me repeat that: any reason. This gives the administration three full years with no real obstruction to determine a teacher’s fitness in the classroom.

Just as I must provide evidence to justify a grade for a student (and whether or not the student passes a course) and provide the means for improvement, an administrator must justify with evidence a termination.

Still, some offenses result in immediate termination. I can’t comment on the Auburn teacher since I was not involved with the case (were you?). I have been involved in a couple cases where teachers were terminated; it just didn’t make the papers.

Responding to the oft-repeated idea that unions are only out for themselves:

I’m not so sure why people think the unions are such negatives in education (though I would agree that not all unions are the same).

In my district the union does a great job enforcing due process and advocating for me, but it also helps with things no one else is pushing for: keeping class sizes manageable, helping ensure I get the professional development I need, protecting me from poor administrators, making sure the curriculum doesn’t become a scripted and brainless series of exercises, and more. These things benefit kids as much as (or more than) the teachers.

The state union has actually collaborated with the state for a new evaluation system intended to force professional growth and improve student learning. This is a definite positive for education.

Responding to a critic who does not understand how a masters helps a teacher become better:

Depends on the masters and how it is applied. I earned mine while teaching, so everything I learned I put into practice immediately. My masters forced me to analyze data in different ways, to use it in my classroom with more specificity, and to alter the way I structured lessons and activities. For me, the masters made a huge difference.

Plus, teaching is not a static profession. New approaches, studies, material, and so one are developed all the time. Continuing education is a major component of being a teacher.

That’s about it for now.

Who Is “The Education Governor?”

Rob McKenna (R) and Jay Inslee (D) are running for Washington State’s governorship, and both will want the WEA and NEA union endorsements, but who is the true friend of education in Washington State?

This Publicola article shows what we know so far, but really we have little to go on. McKenna wants to increase funding without a plan to do it (and he does not want to raise any tax, so from where does the money come?). He worries me. To me, he sounds like Governor Walker in Wisconsin.

Inslee just hasn’t said anything yet. I’m curious what he will say.

NEA Highlights

The 2011 NEA gathering  was a tense representative assembly, especially with so many states fighting so many battles for collective bargaining, against privatization, and ultimately for respect. Some delegations had coordinated voting campaigns for business items and resolutions, and others were literally fighting for their jobs.

Here is a quick rundown of the rest of the goings-on at the NEA.

The delegation vs. Teach for America: A delegate from Washington State promoted, supported, and passed a new business item denouncing TfA’s infiltration into districts without teacher shortages. A vast majority of the delegates in the hall agreed with the WA State contingent. Some key points brought up were TfA’s extra funding needed to support it, how less than 50% of TfA’s teachers remain in education after two years**, and the massive funding given to TfA by opponents of public education.

** This statistic put out by TfA has been scrutinized carefully and what was discovered is that “in education” includes those who went back to college for advanced degrees and those who went to teach at colleges and universities. When the stat was analyzed for how many TfA teachers remained teaching in public education, the only thing the researchers could say is that at least 13-15% remained.

A policy statement about teacher accountability: This series of statements was obviously a reaction to the attacks on education around the country and the strawman argument regarding the “bad teacher.” In truth, the language is vague enough to allow individual states to support it, and the key piece debated the most on the floor centered on the use of student growth as a part of evaluation. Plus, since no test meets the policy statement’s standard, this line seems somewhat safe for now:

“Unless such tests are shown to be developmentally appropriate, scientifically valid and reliable for the purpose of measuring both student learning and a teacher’s performance, such tests may not be used to support any employment action against a teacher and may be used only to provide non-evaluative formative feedback.”

The NEA does not recognize any current test as meeting this standard, but it does leave the door open for a future test.

In truth, this policy statement really just allows the NEA leadership to enter a debate on these topics while having language to support its positions.

An early endorsement for Obama: The delegation voted (72%-28%) to endorse President Obama early. My take on this was that this was more of a party vote rather than a vote for Obama. (Ryan at I Thought A Think commented on this too.) However, no one was really able to specify what the NEA and educators overall gained by endorsing Obama early. His education policies are often harmful to public education and his cabinet does little to support teachers.

The quote of the debate was from a woman from Ohio who, speaking against an early endorsement, said, “if you give up your virginity in the morning, there is likely not going to be a wedding in the evening.”

Vice President Joe Biden speaks: Biden provided what many may call a red meat speech to the NEA delegation. Biden quoted Dennis Van Roekel about how parents of means wanting everything for their kids while making decisions that deny other students opportunities for a well-rounded education. Then, he stated what I believe to be the heart of his speech:

This new Republican Party — and I emphasize — this new Republican Party has a different philosophy.  This is not your father’s Republican Party.  This is a different breed of cat.  They are decent people, but they have a fundamentally different view, a fundamentally different view than even the previous Republican Party had, let alone others.  I think the crux of this is, they really don’t believe in public education as we do.

Later in his speech, he discussed how the “new Republican Party” uses this different philosophy in all of their policy decisions and debates. He noted the consistency of the GOP’s positions in a lengthy series of statements (and a good use of repetition if you’re teaching speech):

Fundamentally, it’s a debate about the importance of community and the appropriate role of government.  So it should be no surprise that the same people who are pushing vouchers for schools are pushing vouchers for Medicare.  It should be no surprise, literally, it is intellectually and philosophically consistent.

It should be no surprise that the same people who want to amend the middle class tax cut of $10,000 tax credit to send your kid to college also want to lower taxes for the top 1 percent of the millionaires in America.  It is not inconsistent to them.

It should be no surprise that the same people who opposed our efforts to fund reconstruction of schools opposed our intention to build a major infrastructure investment in highways, bridges, and ports.  They don’t think it’s government’s business.

It should be no surprise that the same people are against aid to states which we put in the Recovery Act, allowing them to keep 300,000 of you educators employed last year.

It should be no surprise that they have had no problem giving aid to investment bankers on Wall Street who drove us into this dilemma.

Folks, we’ve got to wake up.

It should be no surprise that the same people who oppose funding community colleges so that they can retrain workers for specific companies in their communities, are for incentives for the same companies who want to ship jobs overseas.  It is consistent from their perspective.

It should be no surprise that those who oppose subsidizing after-school programs are for subsidizing oil companies to drill for oil when they made just, this last quarter, $25 billion in profits.

Ladies and gentlemen, to average people, to well-educated people, it seems like some of the things they are suggesting are totally out of the blue, but it is a consistent philosophy.

It should be no surprise that the folks who want to cut school lunch and nutrition programs are the same people who vote against extending unemployment insurance and food stamps for the jobless.  It is consistent.

It should be no surprise that the same people who want to slash funding from medical and scientific research at our great universities also want to slash funding for innovation in solar, in biomass fuels, in dealing with new technologies for wind, new investments in lithium ion batteries.  It’s consistent.

Overall, the speech was a good one but did feel a bit odd one day after the early endorsement of Obama. It felt a bit orchestrated by the NEA leadership. I agree with much of what Biden said, but I wish this type of speech was put forth to a national audience rather than just within the convention hall for an audience of teachers.

The teacher of the year: Maryland’s Michelle Shearer is this year’s 2011 NEA Teacher of the year, and she spoke about the need for educators to control the education debate and warned the delegation of corporate influence in education. She asked teachers to allow the “public into public education” by opening doors to visitors. She reminded the delegation that teachers inspire, not computers and computer programs. Shearer told teachers to never say, “I’m just a teacher.” She said to remove the “just.” She concluded by reminding the teachers that they make all other professions possible and that teachers do the work from which “all of society benefits.”

NEA’s Keynote Speech

Dennis Van Roekel set the tone for the NEA Representative Assembly this year with his keynote speech surrounding this year’s theme of “Standing Strong.” At the heart of his speech was this section detailing the attacks on education in recent years:

And all the while, as you work through these challenges, an incredible madness is swirling all around us. The election of 2010 shifted the balance of power nationally and in many states. Since then, we have seen attacks on public education and public employees in state after state.

Many of those attacks are targeting our very existence by attempting to strip our collective bargaining rights and to strip away our ability to collect dues. They are trying to silence our voices and end democracy in the workplace.

Let me tell you, these attacks have nothing to do with improving education. They have nothing to do with closing the state budget deficits. They have nothing to do with any kind of reform. And most important of all, they have absolutely nothing to do with helping students succeed.

These attacks are about politics, pure and simple. And some politicians, like New Jersey Governor Christie, Wisconsin Governor Walker, Florida Governor Scott, Ohio Governor Kasich–they want to destroy anyone who stands in their way of their extreme agenda.  And their big political donors like the Koch brothers want to silence us because they know we have a strong voice for the middle class families in this country. They know we will fight any agenda that puts corporate CEOs at the front of the line and working families and students at the back of the line.

Part of this madness in our country is an economy that is way out of balance. In 1960, a CEO made 42 times the average worker’s salary. Today, it’s 260 times the average worker. In 1964, the top one percent of wage earners in America received nine percent of the total income. In 2007, that same one percent received 24 percent of all income.

Think of that. One percent with almost a quarter of all the income. The top tax rate for the most wealthy has dropped from 70 percent to 35 percent. And taxes on capital gains, one of their largest sources of income, is only at 15 percent. So those that have, get more, while the middle class struggles to hold on to what they have.

After thanking specific states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Alabama for their fights against union busting tactics, he noted that teachers need to take control of teacher training, to frame the evaluation debate, and to help fight poverty. And then he touched on a key point I have offered up in our local meetings:

You know, I know of no family of means in America who would deny their own children preschool, child care, good nutrition, and all those other opportunities from soccer to music to dance to art.  So if our nation wants to remain strong and prosperous, why would we perpetuate a system that denies those opportunities for any child.  Why can’t every public school be as good as the best ones?

Finally, as Van Roekel neared the climax of his speech, he stated that:

There are powerful forces in our country who don’t see it that way.  They want to eliminate public services and privatize everything from Social Security to Medicare. They want to dismantle Medicaid, never paying attention that Medicaid provides health care to one-third of the children in this country.&n

They want to privatize public education so politically connected insiders can make a profit at the expense of students and educators.

And they want to silence the voice of the middle class by dismantling our hard-won bargaining rights and the right to bargain collectively for fair wages and decent working and learning conditions.

None of this is speculation.  These are policies that have actually been proposed in Congress this year.

And with these words the tone was set for a fiery and intense series of debates.

Arne Duncan’s Letter

I am not a fan of Arne Duncan’s or President Obama’s education agenda. I think both of these men are hurting education in this country, and it was evident from the beginning of their terms in office. I posted an article about this when I heard Duncan speak in San Diego at the NEA-RA; his speech was rife with dangerous language and plans to dismantle areas of success.

Now, Duncan has a letter to teachers thanking them during Teacher Appreciation Week; however, what he says and what he has done are two entirely different things. Not only has he helped turn education into a competition guaranteeing that many children lose, he claims to want to work with teachers:

So I want to work with you to change and improve federal law, to invest in teachers and strengthen the teaching profession. Together with you, I want to develop a system of evaluation that draws on meaningful observations and input from your peers, as well as a sophisticated assessment that measures individual student growth, creativity, and critical thinking.

But, he does not work with teachers; he works against teachers often. (Tom at Stories From School alludes to this idea in his post.) Duncan supports merit pay (which is not shown to work), wants to limit the power of unions (despite their track records of supporting teachers and students), and creates systems of competition for education resources and monies (ensuring that some students never get the help they need). This is not working with teachers.

Now, read this opening to an article in the New York Times:

WHEN we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.

And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.

Here is someone who understands what it will take to attract the best and keep the best in the profession. Here is someone who would work with teachers. Here is someone who could improve the profession.

For Your Consideration

A few stats from the WEA website to consider: