If you care deeply about social and racial justice, value equal opportunity, detest discrimination and believe that this country needs to focus on its core values of tolerance, compromise, equality and democracy, then fear not.
America’s educators have got your back.
I returned from the National Education Association (NEA) convention in Boston last week feeling a great deal better about this country’s direction than I get from watching or reading the news these days. The 7,000 strong NEA Representative Assembly, made up of educators, and the largest deliberative democratic body in the world when it meets, voted decisively in favor of making sure that if nowhere else, this country’s teachers, educational support personnel, children and young adults would be valued, protected, empowered and educated in America’s public schools. We also plan to use the power of solidarity and numbers to move what we consider to be the country’s vital interests forward through the political process, protests and community action.
It was interesting to listen to colleagues who described their states and school districts in glowing terms, but also with a sense that the new administration in Washington is not looking out for our children. Some described ICE raids on their schools and workplaces that create fear and suspicion in their communities. They also described the dire effects that poverty, hunger, disease and psychological issues have on our students. The RA also learned about the deleterious effects of state and national budget cuts on our schools and on our ability to solve the pressing problems that schools and students face today.
By the end of the RA, though, I felt a bit brighter. As a democratic body, we affirmed the NEA’s place in our society as a beacon of justice and a protector for those who desperately need it. We approved policies that will use the voice of millions of educational professionals across the country to pressure states and local governments to address educational equity, reduce the time that children spend on taking standardized tests, to gather and disseminate information on racial, gender, sexual and economic inequality, to publicize educational programs that work in schools and to reaffirm the power of a unified association in a country that seems to have lost its sense that unions are a vital, pulsating, guiding force for now and for our future.
Education must continue to be a bulwark against the high tide of intolerance and ignorance that can negatively affect children. We are here to lead that fight and to defend our country’s values.
The great divide in American public attitudes is most evident during Presidential election years, and this year is no different. Republicans and Democrats seem to be living in two different countries when it comes to their views on how much the government should be involved in people’s lives, the role of religion, support for social issues such as marriage equality, reproductive rights, voting laws, immigration and, of course, the bathroom.
Now this divide is becoming more evident in education. More specifically, the latest PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools shows that Americans cannot agree on the purpose public schools should serve in our republic. Less than half, 48%, said that the purpose should be to prepare students academically, 25% said schools should prepare students to work, and 26% said that the main purpose should be to promote citizenship. As a teacher, I’m sure that the public schools can do all three, but they really should be doing one thing very well, and my preference is with the plurality of the public that came down on the side of academic skills and knowledge.
This divide, though, says a great deal about our country. We seem to have convinced ourselves that it is necessary to go to college to get a job. Any job. The educational establishment has bought into that attitude and many public schools have eliminated non-academic courses and programs or shifted them to the nearest vocational, technology or career-ready establishment. Are we doing our students a favor by focusing on getting them into colleges? I would say no. Continued academic study is not for everyone, but we seem to be asking every student to follow one path. So while I agree that the main purpose of schools should be academics, we do need to focus on each child’s needs and get them on the road to a career or interest that plays to their strengths. Finances, poverty and whether a child’s family members went to college all have something to do with their success in higher education, but it doesn’t mean that all young adults can succeed in college, and we are wrong to push them there when the evidence is against their interests.
As for citizenship, that is also a key component of our education system, but it shouldn’t be the main focus. We can certainly do better: the arguments I see in the media that revolve around the Constitution or what it means to be an American are sometimes based on a shocking level of ignorance of our basic ideals. I cannot count how many times I have been in discussions with adults and listened as they confused the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution or were ignorant of the Gettysburg Address or how we elect a president or how a bill becomes law. I am not talking about opinions, but rather, about the basic facts. Clearly we need to focus more on the basics of citizenship and what it means to uphold basic American values. Of course, we seem to disagree about what those values are and how to exercise them. See Kaepernick, Colin.
Where do teachers fit in to this? We need to advocate for high-quality curricula and continue to educate the public about the over-reliance on standardized tests. At a time when many states are cutting back on PARCC and other tests, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was handed a victory by the State Board of Education when it resolved to make standardized tests count for 30% of a teacher’s yearly evaluation. This will only make things worse for districts and teachers as they now must spend more time on testing and preparing students for tests in order to keep their jobs. It’s no wonder that we’ve seen stories like this.
We have highly effective teachers in this country who need the public’s support, and have earned it by influencing the lives of generations of children. And we need to attract more qualified people to the profession to ensure that the United States continues to lead the world in innovation, creative thinking and the freedom to think, explore and exercise one’s rights. The school year has already begun in most parts of the country and Labor Day marks the end of summer for the remainder of public school teachers. I am proud to be an educator and I have been lucky to work with some of the greatest teachers working today from all over the country. We have one of the most important paid jobs in the country and we need to continue to do it with professionalism, passion and persistence.
I wish all teachers a great year for them and their students.
I sort of forgot that Chris Christie was still the Governor of New Jersey and an active politician until this week, so quiet was he on policy and bombast.
But now he’s back.
His first foray was to emerge with a set of checks made out to suburban school district students for $6,599 each. This was his way of solving the school funding problem that has vexed governors for the better part of 40 years. Christie’s solution was, in essence, to tell the students who live in New Jersey’s cities to either go to a Charter School, move, get different parents, or suck it up and try to learn in a class with 34 other students because Christie’s plan would mean a bunch of school closures.
To the suburban districts, the message was much less harsh: Your property taxes will go down and you can continue to have fine schools. What I really like is that the amount of aid isn’t a round number. In fact, I think if Christie had consulted Donald Trump, the price would have been $6,599.99. The pennies add so much class.
And speaking of Christie and Trump, the other information that emerged this week is that the Governor is being vetted for the Vice-Presidency. Yes, I’m still scared of ISIS, but this potential pairing comes in a close second (and tied, by the way, with the thought of Newt Gingrich being VP). Christie has evidently been giving Trump political advice ahead of the GOP’s Cleveland Convention, weighing in on the recent firing of Trump’s campaign manager and moderating Trump’s speeches so they include more substance and less invective. OK, that last one isn’t working out too well, but Christie is taking his job as manager of Trump’s transition very seriously.
Which brings us to this weekend’s crisis in New Jersey over the Transportation Trust Fund which, I am told, is out of money because the Legislature hasn’t raised the gas tax to fund it. Of course, it’s really Christie’s problem because instead of agreeing to the gas tax increase in return for an end to the inheritance tax, which Christie has been running on forever, he tried to make a different deal to agree to the gas tax, but lower the sales tax by 1%. That would create a huge hole in the state budget. When the state Senate balked at the deal (both Republicans and Democrats opposed it), Christie threatened to shut down road projects over the weekend. Which would throw a bunch of people out of work. And seriously compromise driver safety. And make him less popular than he already is.
In years past, even though I didn’t agree with much of what the Republican politicians wanted to do, I could at least see their arguments and follow their thinking. Not this year. The party’s done blowed itself up. And Chris Christie has his hand on the dynamite plunger.
Cameras are all over the place. These criminals need to keep that when they decide to commit these crimes. To Texas we go!
According to KHOU, Mary Hastings,63, a teacher at Ozen High School near Beaumont was arrested for assault.
In the video — shot by another student, — Hastings can be seen repeatedly hitting the student as he sits at his desk, calling him an “idiot ass,” then mocking him afterwards when he asks, “Why’d you do that?”
According to a statement from Beaumont school district, the video of Hastings was then given to BISD police and school administrators.
The geometry teacher posted a bond of $2,500 in the misdemeanor assault charge at the Jefferson County jail and was released.
The school district stated that she has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation.
A Georgia teacher who called a high school student “the dumbest girl I have ever met” resigned on Monday night, the NY Daily News reports.
Cory Hunter apologized for any “disruption” he caused and announced at a school board meeting in Greesboro that he was stepping down.
“He will not be returning to the classroom,” Greene County School System Superintendent Chris Houstontold the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “In submitting his resignation, he verbally expressed his apologies to his students and fellow staff members for any disruption caused to the school by the controversy over the last several weeks.”
Greene County High School student Shaniaya Hunter, 16 who is not related to the teacher, had been recording the instructor when the harsh comments were made.
“I have been around for 37 years and clearly you are the dumbest girl I have ever met,” the teacher can be heard saying after Shaniaya asked a question.
Cory Hunter also said the student’s purpose in life will be to have sex and have babies.
Governor Christie wasn’t back in New Jersey for two days before his administration and its apologists went back on the attack on public worker pensions and health benefits.
The man who promised that he wouldn’t touch pensions in his gubernatorial run in 2009, and who staked his presidential ambitions on a bipartisan pension and benefits bill in 2011 is now touting a plan recommended by his appointed board of campaign contributors and Wall Street executives that would further degrade the benefits that are part and parcel of people’s decision to enter teaching, firefighting, police work and government administration in this state.
The latest plan, which was first unveiled last year and clarified on Thursday, calls for an end to the health plans that most New Jersey state workers get as part of their employment. Christie’s plan would move workers to the equivalent of Affordable Care Act Gold Plans which, despite their lofty name, have higher deductibles and more limited health care options for their subscribers. But the plan gets even better because no longer would health care be paid for by the state and employees; the cost would be shifted to the municipalities and school boards. Then the money that the state saves would be used to replenish (and plenish) the pension system.
We got a further clarification on this proposal by Thomas Byrne, one of the members of Christie’s pension reform panel. And his point, in sum, is that teachers get more benefits than most workers in the private sector. Besides, they say the plan he and the panel recommended is the only way to solve this problem. Talk about reinforcing your own limited thinking.
What Byrne and his apologists don’t say is that there are many private sector workers who get far better benefits. Why can’t he compare public employee health care with those people? Because, simply, the same people calling for benefits reform are the same people who want to privatize public work and to destroy the power of the public worker unions. So comparing us to the average worker who’s been shafted over the past 40 years by Republicans and conservatives makes people angry at what we have, rather than what we have earned through legal collective bargaining. The rich keep what they have and the rest lose out. Haven’t we heard that somewhere before?
I do have to say that I agree with one of Byrne’s points, and this is likely to get me in trouble with my public worker brethren and sisteren. I think that putting a constitutional amendment that forces the state to make a full pension payment every year is a losing issue. Most New Jerseyans support their local teachers and don’t want to penalize them, but the thought of having to pay billions of dollars at the expense of other programs – which is what the opponents of this amendment will argue – will turn most voters against it.
Governor Christie has done a terrific job, and a terrible one at the same time, by turning public workers into the face of the budgetary, taxing and spending problem we have in New Jersey. It’s not right, it’s not fair and it’s a disgraceful turn away from decency and respect, but it’s the truth and Democrats need to understand that. An amendment will fail. Nix it.
Likewise, a millionaire’s tax would help, but will not raise enough money to pay for the shortfall. Reducing pension investment fees is also a necessary step, but a small one. So what to do?
A 1% tax on corporate profits. After all, it’s the business interests that have been driving educational reform since 1983, including the calls for more cooperative learning, back-to-basics content retention, tenure reform and the Common Core Curriculum Standards. Business is interested in education because schools supply their future workers, and they also have an interest in well-run towns, police forces and firefighters. So why not have them pay a greater share of the expenses? That way, all public workers could share in the proceeds and homeowners wouldn’t have to bear the burden of ever-rising property taxes. One percent is not too much to ask and any company that decides that it’s too much and leaves New Jersey would be sacrificing its highly educated labor force and would risk ridicule for running away.
Obviously I don’t have complete details and I’m sure the accountants would discover all manner of roadblocks. Plus, having corporate interests pay for things usually means they’ll want their names and logos on it. But I think this is better than having taxpayers voting on a multi-billion dollar plan that will hike their taxes. And it just might solve the problem of our underfunded school systems.
I’ve been in the education business for 31 years and I’ve seen many a fad come and go, from Teacher-proof curricula to shared decision-making to Differentiation to Cooperative Learning, Curriculum Mapping, Goals 2000 and various reading programs that focus on inventive spelling, phonics, whole language and learning vocabulary in context. Many of my colleagues didn’t believe me when I said that our present testing fetish would also shuffle off the educational stage at some point. What caught me by surprise was just how quickly that would happen.
The focus on testing and corporate-style accountability began with the publication in 1983 of A Nation at Risk, a report that essentially regarded the American education system as having failed our students, our economy, and our values. It repudiated many of the reforms that liberals had foisted on the system in the 1960s and 70s and said that if we didn’t correct those flaws we would fall behind other countries whose schools were beginning to produce students who knew more math, science and analytical skills. Conservatives adopted the report as the clarion call for privatization, a back-to-basics curriculum that stressed factual recall, and of course, tests to measure not just students, but teachers, with the secondary goals of loosening the grip that the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers had on school policy and defeating Democrats who relied on union support.
And they almost succeeded. The testing movement – which reached its pinnacle last year and is now under more assault than what we are using to fight ISIS – is in rapid decline. Last year, 44 states gave the PARCC tests which measure how thoroughly students have learned the Common Core Curriculum Standards. This school year 7 states, including New Jersey, will be giving those tests. The rest will be giving a test adopted by their own Education Departments. Further, some states, most notably New York, won’t be using the tests to evaluate teachers. The retreat is notable.
Is the assault over? Not by a long shot, but it is weakening. Conservative groups are still trying to get states to funnel money to Charter Schools, which, on average, do no better than public schools. Many charters do better within certain geographic areas, but much of that has to do with state governments that are abandoning public schools that are in poor urban centers. The fight to limit collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers reached its height in 2013 and has since paused, although the damage done to teachers’ pay and benefits has been significant. And although New York is backing away from using tests to evaluate teachers, more states need to follow them for the good of education everywhere.
The bottom line is that teachers are doing a magnificent job with the dwindling resources and increased scrutiny that came with the rise of the know-nothing conservatives. Aligning teacher evaluation with student test scores only illustrated that the overwhelming majority of teachers were effective. Clearly, the know-nothing’s intent was to use the test scores to fire teachers they thought were failing our students. That hasn’t happened because their assumption was incorrect. They won’t admit it, but it’s true.
The next fight will now be on the state level as we return to local standards and local tests. In the past, most states created tests where 90% of the students scored in the proficient range. That’s just not statistically feasible. We do need national standards and we do need to measure how students are learning. The reaction to the Common Core and PARCC will not make this possible, and that’s to the country’s detriment.
Have no fear, though: If history is any guide, this reaction will only last a few years and something else will come along and replace it. Will it be better or will it be worse?
My answer? Yes.