Archives for category: Teachers

The New York State United Teachers, which represents all public school teachers in New York, clashed repeatedly with John King when he was state commissioner. So did parents. So did superintendents. He was one of the most divisive state superintendents in the state’s history.

NYSUT urges its members to let the White House know what they think of the President’s selection of John King as Interim Acting Secretary of Education.
“New York State United Teachers is disappointed in John King’s appointment as acting U.S. Secretary of Education. NYSUT has always considered John King an ideologue with whom we disagreed sharply on many issues during his tenure as the state’s Education Department commissioner. Just last year, our members delivered a vote of no confidence against him and called for his resignation. NYSUT urges its members to call the White House switchboard at 202-456-1414 — as well as a special White House telephone line dedicated to public comments at 202-456-1111 — to express their displeasure in John King’s appointment.”

One hundred students at the Luis Munoz Rivera High School in Puerto Rico went on strike and paralyzed the school to protest the reassignment of several teachers, according to teacher-blogger Steven Singer.

“Students streamed out of their classrooms chanting in unison in the mountainous Utuado region of Puerto Rico earlier this month.

“They took over the halls and doorways of Luis Muñoz Rivera High School on Thursday, Sept. 10, locking their arms together to create a human chain.

“They paralyzed their school, shut it down, and allowed no one in or out.

“The reason? Not too much homework. Not lack of choice in the cafeteria. Not an unfair dress code.

“These roughly 100 teenagers were protesting the loss of their teachers. And they vowed to occupy their own school until the government gave them back.

“Six educators had been ordered to other schools, which would have ballooned classes at the Rivera School to 35-40 students per classroom.

“Government officials claimed the high school had too few students to justify the cost. However, with more than 500 young people enrolled, the school has more than double the island average.”

These students are fearless activists:

“The students including Vélez, 17, called an assembly to discuss the situation where they voted unanimously to take action. They blocked two gates and wrote a document demanding the Puerto Rican Department of Education revoke the decision to remove their teachers.

“Later that day, Sonia González, a representative of the Secretary of Education, met with students and signed the document promising to keep the teachers at the Rivera School. Three parents and one student also signed.”

Similar protests have occurred at other schools:

“What happened in the Rivera School is not an isolated incident. All across the island, communities are fighting government mandates to relocate teachers, increase class size and shutter more schools.

“This Tuesday at Pablo Casals School, an arts institution in Bayamon along the north coast, students protested the government decision to relocate their theater teacher, Heyda Salaman.

“About 100 students hung the Puerto Rican flag upside down and taped their mouths shut to represent the state of the government and the silence officials expect from the community.”

Eventually the government met with the students and relented, bringing back their teacher,

One student said:

“We have a good education and excellent teachers but the administration is failing their workers,” she said.

“The government is cutting rights and benefits to the teachers and employees and soon there will be no teachers. Maybe our schools get privatized and then only people with money will send their children to school.”

The government hss closed some 150 schools in the past 5 years.

Singer writes:

“Officials warn the government may be out of money to pay its bills by as early as 2016. Over the next five years, it may have to close nearly 600 more schools – almost half of the remaining facilities!

“The island is besieged by vulture capitalists encouraging damaging rewrites to the tax code while buying and selling Puerto Rican debt.

“Hundreds of American private equity moguls and entrepreneurs are using the Commonwealth as a tax haven.

“As a result, tax revenues to fund public goods like education are drying up while the super rich rake in profits.”

Troy LaRaviere is a prominent elementary school principal in Chicago. He has been outspoken in his opposition to Rahm Emanuel’s budget-cutting and his preference for privately managed charters. He is on the honor roll of this blog for his courage and articulate support of the children and educators of the Windy City.

He recently spoke at the Chicago Club and titled his address, “A Love Letter to Chicago’s Teachers.”

Much to his surprise, he received an anonymous love letter from a teacher. She was deeply inspired by his speech.

Her letter to Troy begins like this:

I’ve been reading and listening to your love letter over and over the last few weeks. Your passion is contagious. Your sweet words, hard and true, light the darkness in my heart; the light I had forgotten. Although, your words I hold dear to my heart…I cannot leave my man (CPS). He provides for me…without him…I don’t know how I would be able to feed my kids. Yes, he is abusive…He constantly threatens to quit me. He reminds me annually that I can be easily replaced by someone younger, cheaper and less experienced. He doesn’t respect me…in fact he constantly belittles me with tests that constantly change and evaluations that are subjective and punitive…as if I haven’t proven that I am worthy or good enough despite the years that I have sacrificed for our relationship. He sends people to check up on me in hopes of catching me doing wrong.

Troy says he is a shy man by nature, but clearly he was moved by this letter. You can bet he will fight even harder now for justice and equity and respect for the city’s teachers, parents, and children.

Brian Crosby, a teacher in California, notes the dramatic decline in the number of people enrolling in teacher preparation programs. We know why. Loss of autonomy. Scripted curricula. Low pay. Teacher-bashing by politicians and the media.

Yet some people persevere. Why?

“California needed more than 21,000 teachers to fill positions this school year because the number of teacher candidates has declined by more than 55%, from 45,000 in 2008 to 20,000 in 2013, as reported by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

“With fewer people going into the teaching field, shouldn’t the powers that be examine how to increase interest in it?

“Working conditions and salary clearly are not selling points.

“Much of the negative aspects of teaching stem from the lack of control teachers have over their own profession.

“Schools are still structured top-down as they have been for a century, with teachers viewed more as factory workers, not master-degreed professionals who can problem-solve without the intervention of those outside the classroom.

Teachers know how to improve their profession, but do not have a voice in the matter, impotent in their subservient roles. How many college students would gravitate toward such a future career?

“It wasn’t that long ago that the concept of site-based management was seriously championed as a way to involve teachers in the decision-making process at a school. But that grand idea vanished.

“So, education bureaucrats continue to mandate so-called reforms such as Common Core standards and standardized testing that teachers are expected to deliver with little input….

“Let’s face it. We all hope that selfless people join the military to protect our country. We all hope that decent people become firefighters and police officers to protect our society. And we all hope that quality people join the teaching ranks to mold our future commodity — children.

“But hoping will only get so far. If schools expect a line outside human resources of people applying for jobs, then a major overhaul of the teaching profession has to happen. And it will take teachers themselves to blast the clarion call since those in the upper echelon of education show no interest in changing the status quo.
Is there any chance of that happening in our lifetime?

“One can only hope.”

The Albert Shanker Institute studied teacher diversity in nine important cities: Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

What they learned was that the proportion of black teachers had declined, in some cities dramatically over the past decade.

All of these cities–to a greater or lesser degree–have been targets of corporate reform.

The black share of teachers’ positions declined by 1% in Boston’s charter sector, 24% in New Orleans, nearly 28% in Washington, D.C.

Is there a principle here? The more corporate reform, the fewer black teachers?

Whenever anyone dares to challenge the corporate reformers’ ideas, whenever anyone points out that all their plans have come to nought, when anyone says that they are demoralizing teachers and promoting privatization, they will inevitably get the reply:

“Do you have a better idea?”

This is a curious response because it could apply in any number of dreadful situations: Suppose someone is pounding someone on the head with a rock, and you say “stop!” Would they answer, “Do you have a better idea?” Suppose a train is headed for a cliff, and you urge the engineer to change course; would he answer, “Do you have a better idea?”

Well, Peter Greene has better ideas. (So do I; read “Reign of Error,” which responds to that question.) Peter is a high school teacher in Pennsylvania who apparently reads everything and writes faster than anyone else on the planet.

He begins:

As much time as I spend writing about what I think people get wrong, it’s important to keep some focus on what I want to see done right. So let’s look at the major issues in education these days and consider what the positive outcome would be in a perfect world, and what would be a hopeful outcome in the real world.


Turning schools into a competitive marketplace is toxic for education. It does not drive improvement and, as currently practiced, it does not empower parents, but instead more commonly disempowers them.

In a Perfect World…

Choice pushers like to say that no child should be trapped in a failing school just because of her zip code. I say that no child should have to leave her neighborhood just to find a decent school. People don’t want choice; they want good schools.

So in my perfect world, every child is able to attend a great school in his own neighborhood, with his neighbors, near where his family lives. Every school receives the funding and support it needs to be excellent.

In this world…

No more building a well-funded, well-supported school as an excuse to abandon the school already existing school. If we must have choice, let it be between excellent schools with, perhaps different focuses, or with the goal of improving a city and community through creating a diverse learning community.

But all schools must be fully funded and fully supported. No more “Well, a thousand students are trapped in this failing school, so we’re going to invest millions of dollars in creating a great school for 100 of them.”

He has a good idea about standardized testing:


In a perfect world…

It just stops. It’s done. We don’t do it, at all, ever. Period, full stop.

In this world…

The BS Tests are uncoupled from any stakes at all. They don’t affect student standings or promotion. They aren’t used to evaluate teachers or to rank schools or to affect anybody’s professional future. “But how will we hold teachers and schools accountable?” someone cries out. Here’s the truth that some folks just refuse to see– the BS Tests do not hold anybody accountable for anything except test scores, and they do so at a cost to the real goals that most real humans expect from their teachers and their schools.

And once you do all of that, the market pressure is on test manufacturers to come up with tests that are actually useful, and not junk.

He offers other good ideas of what public education should look like. Read it and offer your own ideas.

One of the major victories of the Seattle Education Association was that it reached agreement with the district to eliminate VAM. Henceforth, teachers will not be judged by the test scores of their students. Ding, dong, the fake metric of teacher evaluation is dead! At least in Seattle.

Here is a report on the settlement in the unfriendly, anti-teacher Seattle Times:

Highlights of tentative 3-year contract:
Raises: 3 percent in first year; 2 percent in second; 4.5 percent in third (state cost-of-living raise is additional). More in 2017-18 for some teachers for collaboration, and eight hours of “tech pay” for all school employees.

Discipline: Half day of training on reducing disproportionate discipline for all school employees. Equity committees launched in 30 schools……

Testing: New joint union-district committee to review and recommend testing and testing schedule.

Teacher evaluations: Test scores will no longer play any role.

School day: Will be longer, but not much for students, and teachers will be paid for the additional time.

Specialist caseloads: Sets limits, which union says is a first, for physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and audiologists.

Test scores no longer will play any role in teacher evaluations, and teachers will have more of a say in how often students are tested.

Jesse Hagopian teaches history and is the adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School–the site of the historic boycott of the MAP test in 2013–and is an associate editor for the acclaimed Rethinking Schools magazine. Jesse is the editor of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.

At my request, Jesse wrote this explanation about why the teachers went on strike and what they won. It will also be posted on his own blog,

The Seattle Educators’ Strike for Social Justice

On Sunday evening, thousands of Seattle Education Association members gathered in a general membership meeting and voted to approve a new contract with the Seattle Public Schools. This vote officially ended the strike by Seattle educators, which began on September 10, 2015, and interrupted the first five days of school.

This new contract contains many hard fought wins for social justice that the school district said it would never grant. These groundbreaking victories are against the abuses of high-stakes standardized testing, for more recess, and for race and equity teams in the schools are a dramatic departure from our pervious broken model of collective bargaining and hold the potential to transform educator unionism in the nation. Yet the contract also contained some needless concessions to corporate style reforms—including succumbing to the district’s disrespectful pay raise offer, raising caseloads for some special education teachers, extending the school day and reducing teacher planning time—that could have been avoided if the union had kept the picket lines up for a few days longer and organized mass mobilizations.

But the most important outcome of this contract negotiation won’t be found in the fine print of the agreement. The true triumph of this contract battle was the achievement of solidarity—between teachers, office professionals, nurses, school librarians, instructional assistants, parents, and community organizations—in the struggle for the public schools.

Thousands of parents joined in solidarity with the teachers, including the celebrated “Soup for Teachers” group that formed to bring sustenance and solidarity to picket lines at every school in the district. The Coalition for the Schools Seattle Deserves united community organizations and joined the great Kimya Dawson to host a benefit concert to raise funds for the striking teachers. The Seattle City Council, led by councilmember Kshama Sawant, passed a unanimous resolution in support of the strike. Marching band students used their pep-band anthems to root on striking educators, and local businesses donated to the picket lines. Even the mainstream media regularly reported that parents were in support of the strike and that the educators were winning. There can be no doubt that this strike was overwhelmingly supported by the people in the Seattle area–except, perhaps, for the regions’ wealthiest resident, Bill Gates, who has invested his fortune in schemes to privatize education and reduce our schools to test prep centers.

So many of the union’s social justice demands were advanced in the current strike and negotiations–creating a compelling model for educators around the country who believe in social justice unionism.

We won an end to the use of standardized tests scores being used in teacher evaluations, the so-called “student growth rating”—a huge blow to the testocracy in Seattle and across the country. This victory clearly comes out of the years long struggle of educators, students, and parents in Seattle who have taken bold action to oppose these tests. In 2013, the teachers at Garfield voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress test and the boycott spread to some six other schools. Last year in Seattle, every single 11th grader at both Nathan Hale and Center school opted out of the SBAC common core test—joining some 60,000 other opt out across the state.

Our victory for a guaranteed minimum of 30 minutes recess in every elementary school is perhaps the first of its kind in the country. A story from a local NPR station in the spring of 2014 exposed the vanishing recess time in the Seattle Public Schools and showed how schools that served low-income students and students of color were particularly recess deficient. All last year I worked with a city-wide organization called “Lunch and Recess Matter,” that organized, petitioned, and rallied for the right to eat and play. This is a concrete victory for a research driven reform that has been shown to be vital for the social and emotional development of children.

We also won enforceable caseload caps for our Educational Support Associates (ESAs), such as school psychologists and speech language pathologists—a victory for vital services to support some of our most vulnerable students.

One of the most important gains for public education in this contract was the creation of race and equity teams. The Seattle Education Association advocated for every one of the Seattle Public Schools to have such a team to tackle issues of institutional racism–and in so doing won the support of many Black Lives Matter activists, including Seattle NAACP members, who issued a statement supporting the strike. The Seattle school district originally said they would only agree to having these teams in six schools. However, the power of the strike pushed the district to agree to allow thirty schools to have these anti-racist committees. Given that the Seattle schools have been found to suspend African American students at four times the rate of white students for the same infractions, it is clear that every school in the city needs to organize actively against inequality and racism.

With this visionary set of demands and the overwhelming support of the parents, students, community, and even city officials, it is truly disappointing that the union ended the strike before we achieved all we could at the bargaining table. Seattle has the fastest rising cost of rent and is among the top ten in highest cost of living in the nation. Educators have not had a cost of living increase in six years, and are increasingly unable to live in the city where we teach. It was a mistake to agree to 3% raise the first year, a 2% raise the second, and a 4.5 % raise the third, which won’t do much to even off set our rising cost of healthcare. With this contract, nurses in the Seattle Public schools will still have to split their time between several schools and can’t possibly provide the care that our students deserve. We achieved lower student to teacher ratios in some preschool and Distinct special education programs, but increased the special education “Access” programs caseload by 30%, going from 10:1:3 to 13:1:3 (student:teacher:instructional assistant). With the current ratios the Access students are able to participate in the general education curriculum and setting with support, however the new ratios put that inclusion model in jeopardy and will overwhelm Access case managers. We also submitted to the district’s demand to lengthen the school day by 20 minutes, which will reduce teacher planning time. There is no definitive evidence that a longer day produces better student outcomes, but we do know it will increase the burden on educators.

The fact that the union never organized a mass rally to bring the maximum pressure on the district was really disappointing. I know that if the union had organized a demonstration with all of our 5,000 members, many thousands of parents would have joined us and the pressure would have been enough to get us big gains on all the major issues we were fighting for. This reality reveals that the key to building the power we need to achieve the schools our children deserve will be in combining social justice demands with a social movement unionism approach that seeks the full mobilization of the membership and the community in pursuit of those demands.

All that said, I also know our strike has already gone a long way in transforming our union, city politics, and the labor movement for the better. So many educators, parents, students, and community members, in Seattle and around the nation, understand the issues that we face in education so much better as a result of this struggle. With so many more parents made aware of the dangers of over-testing by this strike, the opt out movement in Seattle will be truly massive this spring. The issue of disproportionate discipline as a component of the school-to-prison-pipeline has now been exposed in our city and I believe this will help embolden the Black Lives Matter movement in the coming months. So many in our city have been made aware of the need to fully fund our schools at the state level and I believe teachers, parents, and students will collaborate more than ever in challenging the state legislature to live up to its constitutional duty to amply provide the resources needed to run our schools.
As the Social Equality Educators—a rank and file organization of educators in Seattle—recently wrote, “The sleeping giant of our union has awoken from its slumber and begun to stretch its muscles. SEA members showed a tremendous amount of creativity and courage on the picket lines.” When our union fully commits to using this newfound strength, the corporate reform bullies will be once and for all chased out of the schoolyard.

Jeff Bryant reports that the Seattle teachers’ strike is nearing an end. The teachers are very pleased with the gains they made on behalf of their students.

Was a pay increase part of the settlement? Yes. Seattle teachers live in one of the most expensive cities in the nation and have gone for years without a cost of living increase.

But what mattered most to teachers and what precipitated the strike were their concerns about conditions for their students.

Jesse Hagopian, a spokesman for teachers, said: “For the first time, our union was able to make social justice the center of the debate. We took a huge step forward.”

Also in the settlement terms, according to a local television news outlet, were student-centered demands including requests for guaranteed 30 minutes of recess for all elementary students, additional staff such as school counselors and therapists, a reduction in the over-testing of students, and the creation of new teams in 30 schools to ensure equitable learning opportunities and treatment of students regardless of race.

While recess may seem to be an unworthy demand to the reform-minded editors of the [Seattle] Times, classroom teachers understand it to be something critical to the health, development, and academic success of their students, as numerous research reports have found.

Having access to school counselors, therapists, and other specialists is critical to many students, but in inadequately funded school districts, such as Seattle, these are the positions that are routinely the first to be cut.

The demand for less testing is also, ultimately a student-centered demand. As Hagopian explains, this time to Erin Middlewood for The Progressive magazine, “’We oppose these tests because there are too many of them and they’re narrowing the curriculum and they’re making our kids feel bad, but they’re also part of maintaining institutional racism,’ says Hagopian, who serves as an adviser to Garfield’s Black Student Union.”

Hagopian sees the increasingly popular campaign to opt out of standardized tests as being connected to the Black Lives Matter movement because money that should be used to support and educate children and youth of color is being directed to punitive measures such as testing and incarceration.

In this post on The Atlantic, Jason Novak and Adam Bessie pose a question about “teachers who moonlight.” Their post is a graphic commentary on the difficulty that teachers have either renting or buying in the community where they teach, especially if they teach in an urban district like San Francisco, San Diego, or New York City.


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