Archive for the ‘American Federation of Teachers’ Category

The Future: Teachers and Unions

Saturday, July 21st, 2018
West Virginia Teacher's Strike

West Virginia Teacher’s Strike

This past Educator’s Spring 2018, after strikes in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Kentucky with weak unions, hampered by ‘right to work’ legislation, the slogan “enough is enough” won the day. Colorado walked out also, but the stronger unions in their state can collect ‘fair share’ fees.

Turns out a mid-April NPR/Ipsos poll found that three-quarters of Americans believe educators have the right to strike and only one in four feel teachers are paid fairly. Those numbers overruled the political establishment pushback from governors, legislators, and U. S. Superintendent Betsy DeVos which named the usual suspects: not enough money in the state budget, unions want everything, teachers disregard what’s best for students, to name the most often said.

Interesting that the states where teachers went on strike are bastions of conservative values and of teachers who do not usually rock the boat. But when you read stories about having to work second jobs, using ancient text books, scrambling to find sources for leftover crayons, and turning dried out markers into watercolor paints, teachers who have reaped the benefits from states where unions can negotiate with school districts root for the teachers in the states that don’t have that right.

However, if you’re oppressed long enough, the ‘people’ will rebel and stand up against legislators that finally do something when they realize they need those teachers’ votes in November if they wish to stay in power.

So, the union song “Which side are you on, boys?” is a good question for state legislators and governors as well as for the people striking. And “I’m sticking to the union” was the right choice for the teachers in those states.

On 6/27/2018 after the strikes were over and settled, the U. S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decided Janus v AFSCME. A worker who is employed by the school district, or hospital, or government facility can ‘opt out’ of paying ‘fair share’ fees to a union that represents and negotiates terms for every employee (whether the person joined the union or not). In other words, SCOTUS sided with calling ‘pay or not pay’ a free speech decision. It doesn’t matter whether a person pays ‘fair share’ fees to the union – that person can still benefit from the negotiations that a union makes with their employers.

Whether unions in the states named above will be able to maintain their wage and benefit settlements depends on how strong their teachers’ unions can stand behind them. The SCOTUS decision can mean fewer union members, but every teacher should hope they stick together.

Now that Janus v AFSCME has been decided, what other school-related issues are showing up this summer that teachers’ unions support or oppose?

In Washington D.C. the controversy continues about federally funded voucher programs that allow students to attend private schools with public money. Unions quote studies by the Institute for Educational Science’s National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance that continue to show lower gains in math (10%) and reading scores (3.8%) in schools receiving vouchers compared to public schools.

Think about the effects on the children that someday will be taught in U.S. public schools, when the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee in the FY2019 appropriations bill has endorsed long-term detention with their families. It undoes the Flores v Reno ruling that defines the amount of time children can be held in custody.

The Koch Brothers and DeVos Family has spent the summer funding the campaign to advertise the ‘opt out’ provision of SCOTUS’ Janus v AFSCME decision in the effort to limit union membership and influence.

However, last week, youth groups – the Center for Popular Democracy, Make the Road-New York, and Urban Youth Collective – gathered at the U. S. Department of Education for a “People’s Listening Session” to debate actions on Superintendent DeVos’ School Safety Commission. They called on the Education Secretary to maintain Obama-era guidelines aimed at addressing racial bias in school discipline policies and protested her decision to ignore any discussion of gun safety.

At the recent annual conventions of the National Education Association (June 30-July 5) and the American Federation of Teachers (July 13-15), teachers connected their workplace grievances and union organizing, including fights for economic equality, racial and gender equity, and sensible gun control.

Public schools are one of the few remaining institutions that are truly public. Teachers interface with the community, are entrusted to teach the values of democracy, to be catalysts for dissent and engines for economic equality. (The Alliance to Reclaim our Schools, July 17, 2018.)

“Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?”

 

 

 

What’s Up, What’s Down in Education

Friday, March 30th, 2018
West Virginia teachers' strike

West Virginia teachers’ strike

We begin with the words about our controversial Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. After her stumbling interview on 60 Minutes, Sunday, March 18, 2018, she was, among the least unpleasant thoughts, called “incompetent and dangerous” by The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (post 3/23/18).

Be that as it may, neither DeVos nor Trump got what they expected when Congress passed the FY 2018 Omnibus Spending Bill, March 25, 2018, to allocate money to nearly everything in the country. DeVos’ pet project to cut Title II funds which provide federal money for professional development and smaller class sizes was increased. In fact, most commentators say that Congress did what it wanted, not what the current administration wanted.

For education, Title I, IDEA, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Career and Technology Education (CTE), Impact Aid, Pell grants, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) received more money than was scheduled in the 2018 budget. Even the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Act, which sunset years ago, was re-authorized.

And who would believe it, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention was given funds to study gun violence prevention. In addition, federal funds earmarked for school safety programs are prohibited from using the money to buy firearms and/or train teachers to use them in schools. We say that students calling out have made some change happen.

Heads up! The 19th Anniversary of the shooting bedlam at Columbine High School comes up April 20, 2018, and the marches and calling out will be for legislation to order universal background checks, ban assault weapons and hefty bullet magazines, and universal Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) actions by which family members may ask for an order to remove guns from a dangerous situation or person. For more see Every Town for Gun Safety’s paper on ERPO.

DACA, however, was not legislated, but the bill’s authors say there is time to get it passed. Judges in New York City and San Francisco have stopped by injunction the president’s September 2017 roll back of the Obama policy to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation. We hope this holds true because this blog and the news media will keep it up front when election season arrives.

What else is happening this month or coming soon? Strikes of course. Beginning February 22, West Virginia’s teacher union led to a 5% better salary nine days later – March 2. The Peoria People’s Project with aid from Peoria Federation of Teachers called back on February 23, 2018, for the same access to excellent public schools as other richer areas of the city.

Will Oklahoma teachers go on strike? Negotiators have until Monday, April 2, 2018, to raise salary and benefits. Arizona teachers threaten to walk out over salary raises, restoration of cuts to school funding, and stopping tax cuts until per-pupil spending reaches the national average. Chicago teachers and parents are unhappy about the difficult problem of public school closings they call “privatization and gentrification.”

Moreover, Janus v. AFSCME comes up before the United States Supreme Court over the same issue that was fought over in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. To recall, the issue was should teachers pay their fair share of dues, not to PACs or to support candidates, but to support negotiations for every teacher in the school district whether a union member or not. The difference in the Janus case is that corporations are trying to bust unions by making “right to work” the policy. In other words, an employee does not have to pay a yearly fee to the union, but still get the benefits.

Let’s end this post with good news about the Schott Foundation’s “Loving Cities Index.” The report describes twenty-four community and school-based supports that provide children with equal opportunities to thrive and succeed. Under CARE the report looks for cities with good food sources, clean air, health insurance, for example. Under STABILITY the report looks for consistent Early Childhood Education programs, alternatives to expulsion, and anti-bullying programs among others in the community. Under COMMITMENT to support the student the report searches for public transportation, affordable housing, banking services and more. Last, CAPACITY in the city is measured, for example, by number of experienced teachers, well-resourced schools, and strong high school curriculums.

Find out more about the “Loving Cities Index” that will make your community safe, schools well-provided for, and healthy to live in.

 

 

 

Community Schools? 

Thursday, May 11th, 2017
small island school perfect for community school

small island school perfect for community school

Let’s concentrate on the news about the president’s proposed FY 2018 budget and, not yet signed into law, AHCA which passed in the House of Representatives and now goes to the Senate.

What jumps out to an educator is the decline in $9 billion in funds allocated to the U. S. Department of Education with no outcry from the administration’s cabinet member, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Next, the decline in funds in the AHCA plan for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which immediately, if it becomes law, affects the health and readiness to succeed for students from pre-K to 12th grade.

If $1 billion of the budget is diverted from existing programs to voucher-type programs, then after-school programs, class size, professional development, Pell grants are likely to go. (Note, however, Ms. DeVos has said year-round Pell Grant funding will be restored, but she has decided to roll back loan protections for borrowers. New York Times, “Graduates Meet DeVos with their Backs Turned” by Erica L. Green, May 11, 2017) If Medicaid becomes block grants with not enough money for a state to provide for all residents, the vulnerable are the victims and so, money will be diverted from education funds to provide for insurance for those with pre-existing condition, for children, for the elderly – children helped to stay alive, but no school. Is that not juggling until the balls drop? See NEA Education Insider, May 7, 2017.

Because of apprehension about possible disasters to public school education, establishment of well-defined and implemented “community schools” may help to overcome fears. In fact, states, districts, and even local communities have found ways to consolidate resources and people to ameliorate education problems, especially in low-income neighborhoods. In fact, Randi Weingarten, AFT president, escorted Betsy DeVos to see a community school in Dayton, Ohio.

However, many school districts have health centers or preschools or after-school programs or attendance clerks, nurses, and counselors or a public library attached to a school, but are not organized to be proficient and productive.

What are the ‘best practices’ model for community schools?

Two national organizations can help a school or district or region establish a community school: the Coalition for Community Schools, housed at the Institute for Educational Leadership, and The Children’s Aid Society of the National Center for Community Schools. Both organizations are standards-driven and use evidence-based strategies to promote equity and educational excellence, as noted on the websites.

The models are set to devise and implement four components to ensure a good community school. Focusing on Academics, think tutoring, homework centers, arts and music programs, academic challenge games, student government. For Health, think an open gym, dental and mental health centers, intramural sport programs, and an on-site clinic. For Community Resources, think advisory councils, services located at or near the school, community partners who seek funding. For Family, think ESL or GED or literacy classes, fitness, homework help for parents in school, adult sports. The options are endless to make the parents, community, and students think of the school as the resource for all.

The models instituted in Erie, Pennsylvania; New York City; Oxnard, California; and Flint, Michigan call for a coordinator to oversee and foster relentless support for the school community. The payoff is a place where education is valued and supported.

The hard part is the persistent under-funding, especially in low-income regions, and to secure state level fiscal equity and funding adequacy. Reading about New York City’s initiative, first call is to make efficient leverage of current and new public funding; second, use the district’s financial department knowledge to search for foundation grant funding; third, as many Harlem Children’s Zone community schools do, look to the private sector to broker partners and funding.

The end outcome is to achieve sustainability for community schools, and that is why the FY 2018 budget and AHCA are unnerving.

 

 

DeVos and the Advantages of Early Math 

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Betsy DeVos was confirmed, and so, now, advocates of public education can only watch for the actions she takes. It is noteworthy that, in spite of her family right wing policies and religious background, Jeff Sessions and the president had to strong arm her to go along with rescinding Obama’s civil rights executive order on a person’s bathroom use by birth sex and not sex identity. We’ll see. The uproar moves back to the states.

What else to expect? One hopes she will uphold Title IX campaigns on sexual assault at any school campus. Except for such issues raised by Title IX, the federal government has limited fiscal or ideological influence over the education system, especially urban schools. For instance, states impose caps on the number of charter schools that can be started per year, so DeVos may agitate, but all her private billions can’t force the issue as her own money could in Michigan.

Even use of vouchers may not be as certain as once seemed since states do not thrill to use public money to pay for private and parochial schools. In addition, research studies in Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio show that vouchers have not led to improved academic success for low-income students transferring with vouchers to private schools.

Remember also that charter schools are held accountable for achievement and must admit students no matter their initial achievement level. Vouchers are not held to those constraints. So, who knows about “school choice”, DeVos’ favored word for education opportunity.

Moreover, Keith Ellison, House of Representatives Minnesota, at an AFT rally against DeVos’ nomination gave his opinion of charter school and voucher support as a reaction to the attempt to integrate public schools. “Don’t think for a minute that this plan that they’re trying to pretty up and pass on doesn’t have a lot to do with those ugly plans in the fifties and sixties.” The New Yorker, “The Protest Candidate” by Vinson Cunningham, February 27, 2017.

In a different way, a school’s choice for achievement success can begin in pre-K. Greg Duncan, UC Irvine School of Education, PhD in Economics, has focused recently on income inequality on students’ life chances and realized that to significantly close the achievement gap, the process must begin at the start of education – pre-school for the low-income children whose parents cannot provide the resources available to middle and upper class children. Of all the problems Kindergarten teachers define, the biggest gap is in mathematics achievement between low and high income children.

What should a pre-K mathematics curriculum look like? Not work sheets, but play-based programs like Building Blocks (Building Blocks-Foundations for Mathematical Thinking, Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 2: Research-based Materials Development) used in Boston, Nashville, Tennessee, and Buffalo, New York. The model does not just teach rote counting, but counting sub-skills, like one-to-one matching, cardinal order, recognize the numeral. Not just shape names, but measurement and geometry of shapes.

What about middle school? The New York Times “Math and Race: When the Equation is Unequal” by Amy Harmon, February 19, 2017, describes programs so that gifted, but poor, students don’t drop out of advanced math study in high school and beyond. The same issue remains for these students as for pre-K students just beginning to learn – they don’t have the resources that middle and upper class students enjoy. BEAM (Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics) implemented by Daniel Zaharopol from MIT offers sessions in the summer and follow-up during the school year for sixth and then seventh graders nominated from inner city schools.

It would be wonderful if Ms. DeVos advocated for mathematics programs as proposed in Core Curriculum State Standards, but the pro-active states can’t wait. Adopting or devising improved math readiness for pre-K and helping low-income middle school students to graduate and attend college as a math major is the go-to “school choice”.

 

 

Good Habits for Pre-Schoolers

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Take Care articles in April 2016 focused on character traits that can be encouraged in public schools and in May 2016 focused on the need for pre-K at public schools. Two program models that enhance the traits of self-control, perseverance, sociability, and others enable children from infancy on to negotiate life in and out of school.

Paul Tough, author of Helping Children: What Works and Why, described a project in Kingston, Jamaica, that focused on training for parents and adults caring for children even before they were old enough to attend pre-school. The researchers coached a group of parents to spend more time with their infants and toddlers: playing with them, reading to them, singing and talking to them. Seems obvious to adults with time to nurture their children to understand how to prepare their children for the education world. But it’s not to all families, especially those in which work takes up most of the day and education is not the highest priority. A second group received a kilogram of milk each week.

Guess what? As the research followed up on the children, those who were played with did much better when they reached school age than those whose nutrition improved. They did better “throughout childhood on intelligence tests, aggressive behavior and self-control.” New York Times, “To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents,” May 22, 2016.

If only Congress and state legislatures would see how funds are better spent for a model that coaches parents to prepare students, especially in impoverished neighborhoods, and that would help those children grow to productive adults.

Intervening with adults who have very young children is valuable, but a second program addresses coaching pre-school teachers to overcome stress as well as the four-year-olds in low-income neighborhoods. Those children can come from chaotic family situations which leads to quick anger, inability to follow directions, and acting out. The Chicago Readiness Program developed by Cybile Raver, a professor of applied psychology, and her research team from New York University, trains Head Start teachers in practices to create a calm, consistent classroom day. They pick up methods to set clear routines, redirect negative behavior, and help children manage their emotions. In this research model, mental health professionals are assigned to work in designated classrooms, concerned as much with the mental health of the teacher in a difficult environment. As any teacher wishes, the idea is to be calm and balanced throughout the teaching day.

Again the results of follow-up on the children indicates that those who spent their pre-K year in the program had better attention skills, impulse control, memory ability, and stronger vocabulary and math skills even though the year did not focus on traditional kindergarten readiness.

Professional development to improve pre-K classrooms is one of the most important to improve education throughout K-12 and beyond. The Century Foundation offers more support to these propositions: https://tcf.org/content/together-from-the-start/

“Favorable working conditions for the teacher predict improved academic growth [at all levels], even in schools serving low-income, high minority student populations.” Randi Weingarten, President AFT, “How the teacher shortage could turn into a crisis.”