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Leonie Haimson conducts a weekly program on public radio station WBAI in New York City.

In this episode, she interviews Randi W. about the coronavirus crisis, the threat of budget cuts, and problems with distance learning.

Leonie Haimson invites you to listen to her interview with Wednesday from 10-11 AM EST:

Join us Wed. from 10-11AM on WBAI for “Talk out of School” when I’ll interview Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, about what schools should & should not be doing during the time of coronavirus , how not to overstretch and overstress the capabilities of teachers and families, & how the crisis threatens to lead to huge education cuts, further undermine student privacy & more. Please call in with your questions at 212-209-2877.

Randi Weingarten writes on behalf of the American Federation of Teachers:

This is a confusing and scary time for many of us.

Since January, in response to the coronavirus, the AFT’s attention has been focused on how to ensure the health and safety of our families and communities, particularly those on the frontline of this crisis. Now, since the World Health Organization has labeled the coronavirus a global pandemic, our attention must be on everything: prevention and precaution, treatment, and the short- and long-term economic impact of COVID-19 on families and communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions that the spread of the new coronavirus will get worse in the United States before it gets better. But we’ve seen that the comprehensive response to COVID-19 in both China and South Korea—where they have used widespread testing and quarantines—appears to have stemmed the spread of the virus and is a very good sign.

The difference in the United States is that we are not fighting COVID-19 with all the tools we need because, unlike China and South Korea, the federal government has cut public health infrastructure and does not have enough tests for the coronavirus to use them preventively, as opposed to when a cluster erupts. Nonetheless, we wanted you to know what the AFT is doing related to preventing, treating and dealing with the long-term impacts of COVID-19 to protect people, prevent the spread and limit the ravages to our economy:

We are focused on the health and safety of frontline healthcare providers. This means fighting for proper safety equipment, including N95 masks. It also means pushing for high standards for workplace safety, even as the CDC attempts to roll back safety standards, potentially putting healthcare workers at risk.

We are equally focused on the health and safety of children, families and communities, and maintaining as much normalcy as possible. We know that social distancing, limiting who can be in schools beyond students and staff, and closing schools when necessary flattens the curve of exposure to the virus. But we also need to ensure that if (and when) schools close, distance and online learning is done in a positive, equitable and beneficial way—and that children who rely on schools for meals and a safe and welcoming environment have access to those supports.

We are supporting efforts to reduce the economic impacts of the pandemic. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has proposed a multibillion-dollar package of policies and programs to fight the spread of COVID-19 and help ensure that our economy and working people and their families are protected. It includes emergency paid sick leave, free coronavirus testing, provisions to protect frontline healthcare workers, and food assistance for seniors and vulnerable children and families. This bill, combined with the initial $8.3 billion in emergency funding to fight the coronavirus, is exactly what’s needed.

The AFT has done numerous information sessions since the coronavirus emerged, and we’ll do the largest telephone town hall to date this Saturday at 2 p.m. Eastern. We will highlight what we know, provide our recommendations and answer your questions. You can sign up for the town hall here.

And right now, you can help by sending a letter to your senators telling them to pass the vital comprehensive package that I mentioned above to protect the health of our families and communities, as well as to address the short- and long-term impacts to their economic well-being. You can send the letter by clicking here.

And I want to make sure you have all the resources we’ve created. We have been working with experts for months on preparing resources and fact sheets for all our divisions. This includes step-by-step guidance on what you should be asking your employers—as individuals and as a union—everything from their pandemic preparedness plan and their infectious disease cleaning protocols, to their teleworking and leave policies. All of those can be found here.

I hope you can make it to the telephone town hall on Saturday. There will be plenty of space for questions from members. I know that things are scary right now, and we’re all disappointed at how unprepared this administration was for this crisis. But I know that if we care about each other and show up for each other and fight for what’s needed, we can get through this together.

In unity,

Randi Weingarten
AFT President

PS : Here’s a list of our resources and a few of the many things we’ve done to prepare and protect ourselves during this crisis.

Resources for all divisions.
Share My Lesson and Colorín Colorado resources for educators and parents.
An educator checklist to prepare for potential remote learning.
We joined with UNITE HERE to call for paid sick days.
We joined the Association of Flight Attendants to call for a coordinated federal response plan to the virus.
We joined with other healthcare unions to call on the CDC to maintain safety standards for frontline workers.

Only days ago, the American Federation of Teachers encouraged its members to support one of the following three candidates: Joe Biden, Bernard Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren.

Today, Randi announced her support for Warren. Some locals, such as UTLA, have already endorsed Sanders. The AFT endorsement will be one of the three already named.

This is Randi’s personal statement:

Why I’m Supporting Elizabeth Warren

I get asked a lot by our members and others about which candidate I’m supporting for president. And I often pivot to the stakes in this election, and to a plea for unity for the ultimate Democratic nominee. In this election—clearly, the most important in our lifetime—our voices and our actions matter. For me, for my family, my union, our members and their families, and the communities we serve—the outcome of the presidential and congressional elections in November will have momentous consequences.

This election represents an existential crisis for our democracy and our very way of life. Will we be a country that privileges the unimaginably wealthy over people who work every day to build a better life for their families? Will we support the rights of all our children to attend safe and welcoming public schools where they can get a world-class education and the wraparound services they need to help overcome challenges they might face? Will we permit young people to drown in college debt that compromises their future? Will we provide affordable, accessible healthcare and affordable, needed prescription drugs to all, regardless of whether they have pre-existing conditions or live in rural areas? Will we turn a blind eye to this nation’s burgeoning bigotry, racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, hate and acts of violence? Will we literally save the planet for future generations? Will we preserve and strengthen our democracy?

And that doesn’t even address having a president with the basic competency to handle a global public health crisis like coronavirus that no longer falls into a neat ideological “them versus us” bucket.

Neither I nor the AFT executive council thought the answers to these questions could wait. We decided we couldn’t sit on the sidelines waiting for a challenger to emerge from these primary contests.

As a union, we’ve had a robust endorsement process that more than 300,000 members have engaged in. Now, as most of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be elected in the coming weeks, we thought it was time to go from listening and questioning to advocacy and support.

We believe as a union that three Democratic candidates best represent the values and concerns of our members and the communities we serve: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Our members are supporting these three candidates because they share our values, and we know we can count on them. Each has been a strong and reliable advocate for ensuring safe and welcoming environments in our schools, our hospitals and our communities; investing in public schools, colleges and services that are necessary to fund our future; protecting the freedom to teach and the freedom to care so we can meet our students’ and patients’ needs; fighting for the freedom to live securely on one job’s wages, with a decent retirement and the right to join a union, and without catastrophic healthcare costs or crushing student debt; fighting the destructive hate, bigotry and divisiveness that are undermining our democracy; and fighting to secure justice for all.

Any of these three Democrats would be a transformational improvement over Donald Trump. And the AFT is encouraging our members and our affiliates, including all our leaders, to support—actively and vocally—any of them.

But when I am asked which candidate I will vote for, I’ve personally concluded that there is one who has the life experience that brings an understanding of what families—all families— need today to have a better future, the bold agenda to achieve that better life, and the wherewithal to work with others to turn her ideas into reality. And, of course, the toughness and persistence to take on Donald Trump.

That’s why today I am announcing my personal support for our champion, my friend, former teacher and professor—Sen. Elizabeth Warren. I will vote for her in the New York primary on April 28.

It’s a big deal that there’s a former special education teacher running for president. Being a teacher means being fearless and flexible, loving and compassionate, hardworking and resilient, and dedicated and devoted to making life better for all kids and families. Being a teacher means having an innate understanding of the value of public education and what is needed to help all children succeed and to support all educators.

Elizabeth Warren gets this. She infuses all of those qualities and experiences into her candidacy for president. They’re evident in the plans she’s unveiled and her actions as consumer advocate and senator. And we see it in how she’s running her campaign for president.

Yes, she is smart and fearless. Yes, she has plan after plan to invest in public education, child care, infrastructure and healthcare. Yes, she has a plan to restore our democracy; fight corruption; unrig our economy so it benefits working people, with a specific focus on communities of color; and make sure our children inherit a healthier earth. But she has also shown throughout her career the ability not just to raise problems but also to turn ideas into action and get things done. That’s what we need in our next president. This election isn’t just a referendum on Donald Trump, as important as that is. It is our chance to chart a new direction for our nation and create the better life people aspire to. We need a leader up for the challenge of both defeating Donald Trump and accomplishing real change for the American people. That’s Elizabeth Warren.

Beating Expectations

On going toe-to-toe with Donald Trump, let’s remember who she defeated in 2012 to become senator. Scott Brown was a bombastic fake populist, born of the tea party and an early prototype of Trump-style politics. I remember when everyone counted her out, when people said a woman just couldn’t beat Scott Brown, and when she was down by double digits in the polls. Nevertheless, she persisted, and she worked to gain the trust and support of voters—and she beat Scott Brown by double digits.

Saying the Hard Things

And just look at her most recent debate performances after the media totally wrote her off. Just imagine the debate between Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren, if he will even debate her, because she will expose his lies and damage to our nation. And because she is a smart and strategic debater and thinker, she’s already gotten results by raising real and legitimate issues with Michael Bloomberg. While the fight might have gotten the headlines, Warren’s public pressure led Bloomberg to lift several nondisclosure agreements with women so they can share their stories if they choose. That’s getting things done.

A Game-Changer for Public Education

When it comes to public education, Biden, Sanders and Warren all have bold plans to support public schools, help all children, and support educators. But Warren embeds her experience as a special education teacher and professor into her proposals. And after a decade of disinvestment, teacher bashing and testing that supplanted the needs of children, only to be followed by the DeVos agenda to defund and decimate public education in favor of failed vouchers and privatization, it would be great to send a teacher to the White House.

Sen. Warren’s plans for public education would be a game-changer for our public schools and the 90 percent of America’s students who attend them. It is focused, first and foremost, on creating and cultivating the vibrant, safe and welcoming environments kids deserve, and on providing educators the voice and supports they need as professionals to help their students learn and thrive.

Quadrupling funding for schools serving children who live in poverty, keeping the original promise of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to children with special needs, and investing in 25,000 community schools that meet the social and emotional needs of children, and which serve as neighborhood hubs, would be transformational. So too would the plan’s investment in school infrastructure, which would ensure that students and teachers are not forced to endure lead in their drinking water, buckling floors, or other unsafe conditions in school that hurt teaching and learning. Warren’s plans are about supporting students from birth to college and career, and on supporting teachers throughout their careers. And when it comes to teachers—she couples the need to attract and retain and diversify members of our profession with a plan to invest in historically black colleges and universities, and a plan to confront student loan debt.

Her plan puts checks and balances in place to combat the effort by corporate interests to privatize and monetize our public schools. And it stops charter schools from having a competitive advantage over public schools by ensuring the transparency and accountability we have talked about for years. Written by a teacher for all students and all educators, it is a plan focused on equity and excellence that would truly fulfill the promise and potential of public education as the foundation of our democracy and the great equalizer of opportunity in our nation. And it would be pushed forward every day by having, as she promised, a teacher at the helm of the Department of Education.

Unrigging the Economy

Both Sanders and Warren have called out the rigging of the rules of our economy in favor of the rich. That’s why so many people support Sanders for his blunt talk about millionaires and billionaires and likely why he is the current front-runner. I’ve watched Warren not just talk about the decimation of the middle class and the rigging of our economy by the rich but actually take action to unrig the rules and help people get ahead.

Warren has spent nearly her entire career focused on why working- and middle-class Americans continue to fall further and further behind while the rich just keep getting richer—and what to do about it. It’s not just about income inequality, it’s about affordability and working families being squeezed every which way. It’s about confronting the structural racism that has led to predatory and discriminatory practices targeting communities of color and shutting them out of the middle class and the American dream.

After decades of the wealthy and well-connected using their power and influence to rig the rules so they benefit at the expense of everyone else, and as they’ve gone after unions and any kind of power and voice working people have in our economy and democracy—we’ve reached a breaking point. Wages aren’t keeping up with the basic costs of living and raising a family. Americans are buried under a mountain of student debt and being crushed by healthcare, child care and housing costs. The notion that after a lifetime of hard work a person can retire with dignity is evaporating as more and more people retire into poverty. Communities have been decimated by deindustrialization and the whims of the markets. And under Donald Trump, the rich have just gotten richer at everyone else’s expense.

When the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression struck our nation and ravaged our economy and peoples’ lives, Elizabeth Warren got the opportunity to change this. And she sprang into action. She understood that the crisis was not caused by folks just trying to achieve the American dream but by unregulated, unrestrained Wall Street banks that preyed on Americans and whose greed created a house of cards that crashed our economy and devastated peoples’ lives. And while the banks got bailed out, Americans lost their jobs, their homes, their savings, and their hopes and dreams.

She fought for Wall Street reforms that would help prevent the big banks from ever creating this kind of crisis ever again—and she went a step further to provide direct relief for Americans scammed by Wall Street and protections for consumers so they can’t be preyed upon.

She created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau through the hard work of not only making the case for it every day in public and building a diverse coalition to create public demand but also by building support in the Obama administration, in Congress and even some in the banking community. There’s a reason the economically powerful in the Republican Party and on Wall Street were so dead set against her becoming head of the CFPB. They knew how effective she would be at reining in the risky and predatory practices of Wall Street. She may never have been able to lead her creation, but the CFPB has been an effective advocate for consumers, even as Trump has tried to kill it, and has provided $12.4 billion in relief to 31 million Americans. Just imagine what Warren can achieve with the full economy to solve our affordability crisis and increase the power of working- and middle-class Americans. Warren is a capitalist, but she is someone who understands the dangers of untamed capitalism and the need for the kind of checks and balances on Wall Street and big corporations that prioritize profits above all else. And that is why she has been such a big supporter of unions as the vehicle for working people to have a voice on the job, power in our democracy, and the ability to bargain with employers for the wages and benefits we need to support ourselves and our families.

Confronting Our Student Debt Crisis and Making College Affordable

When it comes to America’s affordability crisis, the $1.6 trillion albatross of student debt is one of the biggest crises we face. Sen. Warren has been a leader in putting this crisis on the map—holding accountable the loan companies and people like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos who continues to prioritize loan servicers over loan borrowers.

When Sen. Warren talks about what gave her a shot at the American dream, she gives a lot of credit to the $50-a-semester commuter college she attended. This fight is personal to her, and that’s evident in her plan to cancel student loan debt for more than 95 percent of the nearly 42 million Americans who carry this debt. Warren’s plan would release Americans from their debt sentence so they can live their lives, care for their families and have a fair shot at the American dream. Not only would her plan wipe out student debt for most Americans, it would do so automatically and immediately, so people wouldn’t have to worry about being approved or having to deal with confusing paperwork. It would bolster the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which has been completely sabotaged by President Trump, Betsy DeVos and big student loan companies like Navient. Today, 41 states spend less on public higher education than they did before the recession: Warren’s plan would reverse that and provide universal tuition-free education at public two- and four-year colleges and technical schools, and ban for-profit colleges from receiving federal aid.

Earlier this year, Warren pressed DeVos to collect the $22.3 million that student loan servicer Navient Corp. owes the U.S. Department of Education, and she has acted to hold DeVos accountable from day one. Warren grilled DeVos during her confirmation hearing about her lack of experience on public education and her ability to manage the Department of Education’s student loan portfolio, especially given her family’s connections to for-profit colleges and student loan companies. Warren has called out DeVos for failing to support defrauded students and tearing up protections like the borrower defense rule. She’s fought to lower interest rates, refinance loans and to cancel loans for 80,000 students who were cheated by Corinthian Colleges. She’s been my go-to expert when I’ve needed advice on student debt issues.

Besides having the policy know-how and the ability to get things done, being an effective leader also means being an effective listener. Here again, I’ve watched Warren be thoughtful, listen to people, ask the tough questions, and adjust her thinking based on evidence, experts and people’s lived experiences. I’ve been in those meetings where she has asked tough questions. She is guided not by ideology but by what works.

Expanding and Improving Healthcare for Families

After Warren came out with her initial Medicare for All plan, she really took to heart the concerns of many Americans who were nervous about a sudden switch away from their private insurance as well as those of us who believe Medicare for All should be a floor, not a ceiling. And she retooled her proposal to build in a transition phase to actually make sure Medicare for All works and that the American people felt comfortable before moving forward. It’s unfortunate that she took a lot of hits for this thoughtful approach, but I want a president who listens and responds to people and builds trust.

And while it’s no longer on people’s radar, the fight a few years ago in Massachusetts over the charter school cap again demonstrated Warren’s thoughtful approach and strong leadership. This was a huge moment when billionaires were using parents as a front to open the floodgates and have an open-ended number of charters in Massachusetts without accountability and transparency. They were trying to replicate what DeVos pushed in Michigan. These wealthy interests were overpromising the public as a way to siphon off resources from public schools. Sen. Warren didn’t want to weigh in until she understood the stakes and what was really happening. She asked tough questions, and she listened to the concerns of educators and parents. She wanted to do whatever would help all kids succeed. And when she did weigh in and actively opposed open-ended charters in Massachusetts, it turned the tide. People saw her as fighting for the best interests of kids and families, and together we exposed the real motives behind the other side. That fight was a real turning point in shifting the narrative in favor of investing in the public schools that 90 percent of America’s children attend.

An American for Everyone

Elizabeth Warren believes in the dignity and worth of every human. She doesn’t pit people against one another, she doesn’t foment hatred and bigotry, she doesn’t blame “the other.” Warren believes that we are best when we live up to our ideals of justice for all and our nation’s motto: out of many, one. That’s why she is a fierce advocate for “Dreamers” and ensuring they have a place in our nation and can achieve their dreams. That’s why on nearly every issue—from education to housing to jobs to our climate—she has a specific focus on helping communities often left out and left behind. She will truly be a president for all Americans.

For these reasons and more, I believe Elizabeth Warren is the candidate we need to defeat Donald Trump and once again achieve big things in America.

As the Boston Globe declared this week: “One candidate stands out as a leader with the qualifications, the track record, and the tenacity to defend the principles of democracy, bring fairness to an economy that is excluding too many Americans, and advance a progressive agenda,” and that person is Elizabeth Warren.

That’s why I am supporting Elizabeth Warren and voting to put a teacher in the White House. Warren is the fearless, thoughtful leader we need to enact real change to improve peoples’ lives and create a better future for all.

I will end where I started: We confront an existential crisis for our democracy and our very way of life. And I will, like so many others, support the person the Democrats ultimately nominate. I will work harder than I ever have, as I know our union will, to change the direction of our country and defeat Donald Trump.

At the same time in this moment, we can and must ensure that hope wins over despair, compassion over cruelty, fairness over inequality, and that justice and freedom become a lived experience for all. Elizabeth Warren is the candidate who can bring us together and bring out the best in America.

Espinoza v. Montana could turn out to be the pivotal case in the battle over public funding of religious education. Will the Supreme Court rule narrowly or broadly? Will their decision defund public schools so that religious schools may be funded by the state?

The oral arguments were conducted yesterday. Randi Weingarten, who is a lawyer, released this statement:

For Immediate Release
January 22, 2020

Contact:

AFTSCOTUS@skdknick.com

AFT’s Weingarten Reacts to Oral Arguments in Espinoza v. Montana

Supreme Court Could Unleash Earthquake Threatening Public Education and Religious Liberty

 

WASHINGTON—Following today’s Supreme Court oral arguments in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement:
“Today’s argument revealed a closely divided court that appeared skeptical of the most far-reaching and dangerous theories advanced by the petitioners.
“Thankfully, several justices, including Chief Justice Roberts, questioned the petitioners’ standing and asked hard questions of the right-wing Institute for Justice, which is trying to advance a contradictory and truly radical legal theory that would undermine public financing of public education in 38 states.
“Make no mistake, if a majority of the justices side with the petitioners, the Supreme Court will be responsible for unleashing a virtual earthquake in this country that threatens both religious liberty and public education. It would turn more than two centuries of American history and our understanding of the Constitution and religious liberty on their head, and mandate public taxpayer support for religious schools.   
“We know that in previous cases, Justice Roberts did not embrace this kind of radical rewrite of the Constitution. But the right wing has been stealthy in how it has operated, knowing the court is acutely aware of public opinion.
“This case is being spearheaded by the right-wing IFJ, which has collected tens of millions of dollars from the Waltons, the DeVoses, Charles Koch and other wealthy donors to attack public education. They are bankrolling this effort as a backdoor attempt to get the court to impose Betsy DeVos’ failed agenda of private school vouchers nationwide. It is no coincidence that DeVos was at the court in person today to hear oral arguments.
“As a person of faith, I’m deeply worried about the impact this case could have. Our freedom to practice our religion comes from free exercise clause and the separation of church and state. The framers never intended to require public funding of religious institutions or schools. In fact, that’s exactly what the free exercise clause and the separation of church and state were meant to prevent. And as a teacher and a believer in public education, I am deeply worried about the effects of this case on the financing of our public schools, which are attended by 90 percent of our children.
“Teachers, students, parents, school staff, and all allies who believe in public education understand the stakes. Whatever the court decides, we will continue our fight to oppose this blatant attack on our nation’s very foundations.”

 

For Immediate Release
October 31, 2019
Contact:
Ori Korin
okorin@aft.org
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten Congratulates Chicago Teachers Union
WASHINGTON—AFT President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement in response to the news that the Chicago Teachers Union, AFT Local 1, reached a return-to-work agreement with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and will return to classes tomorrow:

 

“More than 20 years ago, in 1995, educators in Chicago were stripped of their right to bargain, and with that, they lost their voice to influence their students’ learning conditions and their own teaching conditions. As a result, Chicago’s students—particularly students of color and students with special needs—lost out on so many things they needed in schools, including losing many of the neighborhood public schools themselves. This contract is the culmination of a generational struggle to make up those losses. The members and leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union have taken on these inequities and fought for the conditions our kids need and the respect our educators deserve. With this agreement, if ratified, they’re one giant step closer.

 

“This historic fight for what students deserve—nurses and counselors in every school, librarians, class-size caps, and additional investments in special education—represents a paradigm shift: It wasn’t simply a fight to mitigate the damage of austerity, it was a fight to create the conditions that both students and educators need. This strike, like so many other fights to fund our future, is about building the political will to strengthen our public schools so all kids have their shot at success.

 

“We thank the Chicago community for standing with us and are glad Mayor Lightfoot heard us. We congratulate CTU’s leadership, its bargaining team and every member it represents for the work they did and continue to do. I saw their commitment to this fight and their students at every picket line and rally I joined. I want to thank CTU President Jesse Sharkey and Vice President Stacy Davis-Gates for their incredible leadership.

 

“Together with SEIU Local 73 and every parent, student and ally who stood with CTU Local 1—including our state affiliate, the Illinois Federation of Teachers—we know this: We have helped make Chicago’s public schools safe, welcoming sanctuaries of learning, and we have shown an entire nation that when we fight together, we win.”    

 

 

Follow AFT President Randi Weingarten: http://twitter.com/rweingarten

The American Federation of Teachers is a union of 1.7 million professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are committed to advancing these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through the work our members do.

Randi Weingarten                                                    Lorretta Johnson                                                                     Evelyn DeJesus
PRESIDENT                                                SECRETARY-TREASURER                                                        EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT

American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO
Communications Department • 555 New Jersey Ave. N.W. • Washington, DC 20001 • T: 202-879-4458 • F: 202-879-4580  •  www.aft.org

AFT Teachers     •     AFT PSRP     •     AFT Higher Education     •     AFT Public Employees     •     AFT Nurses and Health Professionals

 

 

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This is a strong statement by Randi Weingarten. Please note that 10% of New York City’s public school students are homeless; students in many other districts suffer trauma, including homelessness, lack of access to medical care and basic nutrition, and inadequate housing. These figures should be appended to NAEP reports in the future.

 

AFT President Randi Weingarten’s Statement on NAEP Report Card
 

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement in response to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Report Card:

 

“What we see in this data snapshot, while disappointing, is not surprising: Our students are still bearing the brunt of two decades of austerity, competition and test-based fixation that have failed to prioritize the needs of students, including the 90 percent of kids who attend public schools. Twenty-one states still spend less on public education than before the Great Recession, and during this decade of disinvestment there has been little to no change in either the math or reading performance of our highest-risk students.

 

“What the survey data doesn’t tell us in detail is why. Almost half of America’s kids have trauma, and they’re going to school in classrooms without nurses and counselors. For years, we’ve been advocating that children need comprehensive social and emotional supports so they’re able to engage in meaningful learning in safe and welcoming environments. It’s vital to meet kids where they are and to do what evidence shows works for improving student well-being and achievement.

 

“Since the enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act just four years ago, some states and districts have started stepping up to the plate to use evidence-based strategies that are tailored to their communities, and we’re already seeing incremental gains in high school graduation rates. So why stop now, when our work is just starting to pay off? Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos ignores the real issues that plague our classrooms and student achievement, presumably because they disrupt her political agenda to siphon public money into private hands and expand private school vouchers and for-profit school ventures. But the evidence on achievement in voucher programs has not found statistically positive gains for students using vouchers, and most large-scale studies have found that students actually saw relative learning losses. DeVos has been putting her thumb on the scale against public schools and public education since Day One—cutting the very programs that help kids the most.

 

“So, our answer to the question of how we help students succeed shouldn’t be to go back to the competition-and-austerity era, or to pull the rug from the strategies that we know are starting to work and have potential to grow. We have to push forward and continue fighting for the investments that prioritize children’s well-being; provide wider access to high-quality instruction and learning experiences; and engage parents, communities, educators and students in making our public schools safe, welcoming environments where teachers want to teach, parents want to send their kids, and students want to learn.”

Randi Weingarten, who is both president of the American Federation of Teachers and a veteran lawyer, describes the AFT’s efforts to save the pensions and benefits and dignity of teachers in Puerto Rico as the Island faced bankruptcy and predatory lenders.

The people of Puerto Rico are in the streets demanding the resignation of Governor Rosselló, following the release of emails revealing his bigotry and contemptuous comments about those who elected him. Former Secretary of a Education Julia Keleher was brought to the Island to privatize public schools, adopting the Trump-DeVos plan of charters and vouchers. She was recently arrested on fraud charges.

Weingarten: Puerto Rico Gov. Rossello’s Tenure of Corruption and Failure Centers on His Mismanagement of Public Schools

Governor and Former Puerto Rico Education Secretary Keleher Created a Perfect Storm of Indifference and Incompetence 

For Release:

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Contact:

Michael Powell

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement on the mismanagement of Puerto Rico’s public schools by Gov. Ricardo Rossello and former Secretary of Education Julia Keleher:

“Nearly 1 million people took to the streets yesterday to call for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign. His tenure of corruption and failure includes his mismanagement of the public schools.

“The governor and Puerto Rico’s former secretary of education, Julia Keleher, caused significant and lasting damage to children and prevented their access to a high-quality education. Rossello and Keleher’s arrogance and neglect created a perfect storm of indifference and incompetence.

“For two years, Rossello and Keleher ignored repeated requests from the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico and the AFT to use federal recovery money to fund and restore public education on the island. By ignoring our requests, they clearly showed their collective antipathy toward public education and how little they cared about the children and teachers in Puerto Rico’s public schools.

“Instead, they chose to grossly underfund public schools, leaving children with outdated textbooks, no school nurses and school buildings in disrepair. They shortsightedly closed more than 430 schools, one-third of the island’s public schools, and left families struggling to find alternative schools for their children to attend, often many miles away. They diverted much-needed funding from public schools to start charter schools, despite the growing evidence showing that many charters underperform compared with traditional public schools.

“To add insult to injury, we now find out from a recent U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General audit that Rossello and Keleher, to date, have spent $24.1 million—only 4 percent—of the $589 million in disaster relief funds provided by Congress to help fund and repair schools.

“Both knew full well that Congress stipulated in the recovery funding legislation that the money had to be spent in 24 months. Tragically—with the governor mired in a corruption scandal and Keleher being forced to resign after her arrest by the FBI for engaging in a kickback scheme—this federal recovery money will be largely unspent or spent unwisely.

“The governor and former secretary’s lack of commitment to the children of Puerto Rico is appalling. And their disrespect to the teachers on the island who threw their heart and soul into trying to teach and comfort these kids in the months after the storms is unforgivable. The sad chapter of Rossello and Keleher will forever be a stain on Puerto Rico.

“The next governor must not just repair the damage done to the public schools by the hurricanes, but must eliminate the utter contempt that Rossello and Keleher brought to their handling of public education.”

 

 

# # # #

 


 

Randi Weingarten delivered this speech this morning at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

 

 

The Freedom to Teach

Consider what teachers have recently said about why they teach:

“I teach because I want to change the world, one child at a time, and to show them to have passion and wonder in their learning.”

“I teach so the next generation will question—everything. The classroom should be a place where we set children’s minds free.”

“I teach because our democracy cannot survive without citizens capable of critical analysis.”

Why felt called to teach is best summed up by this poster I have moved from office to office since I taught in the 1990s: “Teachers inspire, encourage, empower, nurture, activate, motivate and change the world.”

Teaching is unlike any other profession in terms of mission, importance, complexity, impact and fulfillment. Teachers getthe importance of their work. So do parents and the public. But teachers know that some people don’tget it—whether it’s the empty platitudes, or the just plain dissing. And this has taken a huge toll.

Teachers and others who work in public schools are leaving the profession at the highest rate on record. There were 110,000 fewer teachers than were needed in the last school year, almost doubling the shortage of 2015. All 50 states started the last school year with teacher shortages.

This is a crisis, yet policymakers have largely ignored it.

And it’s getting worse. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs is plummeting—dropping 38 percent nationally between 2008 and 2015.

More than 100,000 classrooms across the country have an instructor who is not credentialed. How many operating rooms do you think are staffed by people without the necessary qualifications? Or airplane cockpits? We should be strengthening teacher preparation programs, not weakening teacher licensure requirements, leaving new teachers less and less prepared. Why are we doing this to our kids?

Teaching has become so devalued that, for the first time in 50 years, a majority of parents say they don’t want their children to become teachers.

The challenge is not just attracting people to teaching. The United States must do a much better job of keeping teachers in the profession. Every year, nearly 300,000 leave the profession; two-thirds before retirement age. Attrition in teaching is higher than in nursing, law, engineering or architecture. Schools serving majorities of students of color and students living in poverty experience the highest teacher turnover rates. Losing so much expertise has an enormous negative impact on students’ education. The financial consequences are also steep—more than $2 billion annually, and that’s a conservative estimate.

It is a failure of leadership to discard so much experience and so much potential—and to lose so much money—to this endless churn.

We are losing the teacher diversity battle as well. A new analysis by the Brookings Institution found America’s teaching workforce, which is overwhelmingly white, is growing less representative of those they teach, who are now a majority students of color.

These statistics reveal an alarming and growing crisis, and it’s well past time we took action.

This crisis has two major roots: deep disinvestment from public education and the deprofessionalization of teaching. America must confront both.

Disinvestment

The teacher uprisings of the last two years have laid bare the frustration over insufficient resources, deplorable facilities, and inadequate pay and benefits for educators. In what President Trump calls the “greatest economy ever,” 25 states still spend less on public education than they did a decade ago. In some states, conditions are so bleak that teachers who previously wouldn’t have dreamed of going on strike feel they have no choice but to walk out to get what their students need.

Teachers rose up in Colorado when officials tried to justify a four-day school week as “good” for kids. And teachers walked out in Oklahoma, where DJs joked about a student being issued Blake Shelton’s 40-year-old textbook. Before last year’s statewide strike, teachers in West Virginia hadn’t had a raise in five years, and soaring health insurance costs gave them an effective pay cutevery year.

In 38 states, teacher salaries are lower than before the Great Recession. Research from the Economic Policy Institute, which Sen. Kamala Harris has lifted up in her teacher pay proposal, shows that teachers are paid 24 percent less than other college graduates. And the stories are all too common of teachers working two or three additional jobs, and even selling their blood plasma, just to get by.

In addition to the soaring cost of healthcare, there is the burden of student loans. The average student loan for a master’s degree in education jumped 82 percent between 2002 and 2012, and the portion of students taking loans grew from 41 to 67 percent over that period. One of the few ways of mitigating this—the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program—has been completely sabotaged by the Trump administration. Teachers are being squeezed in both directions: lower income and higher expenses.

And then there are the conditions in which students learn and teachers teach. Public school facilities got a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers. That means thousands of schools are outdated, unsafe and unfit, and are literally making people sick.

What does that look like? Rodent infestations in too many schools to count. What does that smell like? Toxic mold throughout schools in Puerto Rico. What does that feel like? Freezing classrooms in Baltimore, when patching up old boilers didn’t work anymore. Water has been shut off in Corinne’s school and more than 100 others in Detroit because of dangerously high levels of lead and other contaminants. Don’t tell these kids and their teachers that investment doesn’t matter.

Think about the state of children’s well-being. We know that poverty disproportionately affects children. We should be appalled by the fact that 40 percent of Americans don’t have the cash to cover a $400 emergency. How can officials close neighborhood schools when we should be making them centers of their communities—wrapping medical and mental health services around students; offering AP classes and art, music and other enriching activities that kids love and thrive in; and supporting families with training and other programs for parents? It’s great we are cheering LeBron James’ efforts to do this in Akron, Ohio, but what about all the other schools and communities in need? Remember, a child in Philadelphia died after suffering an asthma attack in a school without a nurse on duty. And these life and death necessities were a central demand by Los Angeles teachers in their recent strike.

Inadequate funding for education is sometimes the result of weak economies. But more often, it is a deliberate choice—to cut funds for the public schools 90 percent of our students attend—in order to finance tax cuts for corporations and the super-rich or to siphon off funds for privatization.

Everything I just described to you is a disgrace. Students know it’s a disgrace. Parents know it’s a disgrace. Administrators know it’s a disgrace. Teachers know it’s a disgrace.

And it is the root cause of the teacher uprisings. And it’s at the heart of the AFT’s Fund Our Future campaign, where we are fighting for adequate investment in public education—from school levies to full funding of Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Change is happening, like in New Mexico, which has just boosted funding for public schools, and in Illinois and Michigan, where their new governors have pledged to increase investments. But it is shocking that so many politicians do not seem to know it is a disgrace, or at least act like they don’t know.

Deprofessionalization

The disinvestment in public education and the failure of many states to make teaching a financially viable career go hand in hand with another major cause of the crisis we face—the deprofessionalization of teaching.

Ask teachers why they leave the profession. It’s not just underfunding. Teachers are frustrated and demoralized and really stressed. The lack of classroom autonomy and discretion supercharge that dissatisfaction. Google “teachers’ resignation letters” and you’ll find anguished accounts of the many ways teachers have been stripped of their freedom to teach, leaving them feeling powerless and unable to teach their students in the ways they judge best.

In our online focus groups with teachers from across the country, they spoke about entering teaching excited, optimistic and determined to make a difference in their students’ lives. And they spoke with equally deep emotion about the stress and disrespect they soon experienced. This deprofessionalization is killing the soul of teaching.

It’s being micromanaged—told that the only decorations allowed in your classroom are the motivational posters provided by a textbook publisher.

It’s worrying about the pacing calendar that requires teachers to follow a predetermined schedule for teaching each topic, even if students need more time to understand the content.

It’s getting in trouble for allowing students to conduct a science experiment or continue a debate over two days, instead of one.

It’s the systemic fixation on standardized testing that dictates virtually every decision about student promotion, graduation and school accountability, instead of authentic assessments of student learning, like research papers and project-based learning.

Teachers are treated as “test preparation managers,” as one teacher put it, which “has hollowed out the richness of curriculum and diminished the quality of teaching and learning.” Another teacher said, testing is “dehumanizing the education of humans.”

Just as the fixation on testing makes teachers’ hair stand on end, so does excessive paperwork—data collection, data entry and data reporting. One focus group participant summed it up this way: “Teachers are drowning in a sea of paperwork; just let us do our jobs.”

But before one yearns to turn the clock back, there are no halcyon days of teacher professionalism to return to. A century ago, the principles of Taylorism used in factory work were applied to the classroom, with the teacher reduced to the role of unskilled laborer. Decades later, in the age of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, prepackaged, corporate curricula were intended to standardize teaching to conform to standardized assessments. Scripted curricula, aka “teacher proofing,” took restricting teacher discretion to its extreme, not only denying teachers’ creativity and expertise, but assuming their incompetence.

So the fight for professionalism isn’t new—but it has always come from within the teaching ranks, and from our teachers unions.

More than 30 years ago, two powerful ideas that advance teacher professionalism came from the AFT. Al Shanker introduced the idea for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, because it is essential to hone and recognize accomplished practice. And, because teachers have always known that the freedom to teach goes hand in hand with credible teacher development, feedback and evaluation, the idea for improving practice through peer assistance and review originated in our ranks.

Nearly 20 years ago, the AFT’s Shanker Institute released a report on what professionals, like teachers, need to succeed. The findings are all too familiar, such as the fact that teachers love their work but are “concerned about conditions on their jobs that deny them the respect, the rewards, the resources … and discretion in decision-making … to do their best work.”

And for almost a decade, participants in the AFT’s Teacher Leaders Program have turned their ideas into practice and their advocacy into policy.

None of this has been enough. Nor was TURN (the Teacher Union Reform Network), or the AFT Task Force on Professionalism, or the breakthrough contracts our locals have negotiated, like those with the visionary administrators on the panel that follows this speech. Solving this crisis requires sustainable, systemic transformation—a culture change.

What’s worse is that, while we have been at this work for decades, it has collided with a period in American education of top-down control, test-driven decision-making, disinvestment and teachers being denied authority to make educational decisions. That’s not the case in high-achieving countries like Finland, Singapore and Canada, where teachers are rightly considered “nation builders,” and their pay, time for collaboration, and involvement in decision-making reflect that.

It’s not rocket science to see that the United States has gone in the wrong direction and that we need to reverse course. Teachers need the freedom to teach. If we want our public schools to be all we hope, if we want to attract and retain a new generation of wonderful teachers, this cannot be solely a teacher issue or a teacher union issue. We must act, and act together.

So what do we do about it?

Remember the teachers I quoted earlier—who spoke so passionately about helping students think critically and love learning?

Solving this crisis requires treating those teachers as the professionals they are. So the question is not whether, but how, to elevate teachers’ voice and judgment, and allow teachers to make learning rich and fulfilling for their students.

To change the culture so that the teaching profession is marked by trust, respect and the freedom to teach, there are aspects we can legislate and we can negotiate.

And that starts by focusing on three essential areas:

  1. Developing a culture of collaboration;
  2. Creating and maintaining proper teaching and learning conditions; and
  3. Ensuring teachers have real voice and agency befitting their profession.

 

  1. Develop a Culture of Collaboration.

Developing a culture of collaboration doesn’t happen magically. It requires trust, leadership and pioneers—all of which are in abundant measure in a district that has become an exemplar for school collaboration—the ABC Unified School District in Los Angeles County. ABC’s labor-management partnership is grounded in a set of principles like “we will solve problems, not win arguments” and “we won’t let each other fail.” They know if teachers and administrators help each other succeed, they help students succeed. This is the ethos guiding other places, as well, including Meriden, Conn., and New York City, with its new Bronx Plan.

And the research confirms this. John McCarthy and Saul Rubinstein have researched collaboration in public schools for the past decade. They’ve studied 400 schools in 21 districts in six states. What have they learned?

  • Formal labor-management partnerships at the district level lead to greater collaboration at the school level;
  • Greater school-level collaboration improves student performance; and
  • Collaboration reduces teacher turnover, particularly in high-poverty schools.

Teachers in countries that outperform the United States on international assessments have more time for collaboration and planning each day, and for visiting each other’s classrooms. That’s because these countries understand that preparing to teach is as important as actual instruction.

By contrast, half of the teachers in the United States reported in an extensive survey that they have never observed other teachers’ classes. They spend more time teaching than educators in higher-performing countries and average an hour less per day for planning and collaboration.

So here’s an idea: Build more teacher time into school schedules in addition to individual prep periods—to observe colleagues’ lessons, to look at student work, and to plan collaboratively.

What else does collaboration do? Collaboration fosters trust, and vice versa. And one of the largest scale long-term studies of school improvement showed that the most effective schools have high degrees of trust. How do you do that? Sharing information, discussing issues and solving problems with teachers, which gives them voice and respect as integral parts of a learning organization. This is every bit as important as having a credible system of teacher development and evaluation. So here’s another idea: Trust teachers. Develop policies—from the school board to the principal’s office—WITH teachers, not TO teachers.

 

  1. Create and Maintain Proper Teaching and Learning Conditions.

For teachers, creating and maintaining proper teaching and learning conditions starts with a simple question: What do I need to do my job, so that my students have what they need?

I could stand here and say that class size should be small enough so that teachers and students can form real relationships, so they can delve deeply into projects that interest students, and so students are actively engaged in their learning. But many classrooms don’t even have enough chairs and desks for every student, and teachers often have classes so large that they can’t engage with every child every day, or can’t thoughtfully review and grade their students’ work without having to stay up until 3 a.m.

I could tell you that every classroom should have a state-of-the-art interactive whiteboard—and they should. But at the very least, every student and teacher deserves computers that work, along with decent internet. While we’re at it, how about copy machines? With paper!

I could tell you every school should have the necessary wraparound services and enrichment opportunities for students, so that we are meeting every student’s needs. But too often, resources are so limited that we are grateful for a part-time school nurse, overloaded counselors, and cast-off athletic gear and musical instruments.

So here’s another idea: Ask teachers what they need to do their jobs so their students succeed. Let’s take the answers teachers provide and use them as the basis of an audit of teaching and learning conditions, and then integrate the results into assessments of the district. Ask principals and parents and students as well. Then let’s act on those audit results—through legislation, lobbying, collective bargaining and, if necessary, school finance lawsuits.

This would be the start of a long-term, sustainable commitment to the necessary teaching and learning conditions for every child in every public school, regardless of demography or geography.

 

  • Ensure teachers have real voice and agency befitting their profession.

People like to say they want the “best and brightest” to become teachers. But when teachers start working, they find that, all too often, they don’t get to make consequential decisions. They’re essentially told to check their ideas, imagination and initiative at the schoolhouse door.

A teacher in one focus group lamented the lockstep regimen at her school—that every class in the same grade must be on the same lesson plan, on the same day, regardless of student need. I hear this constantly. The further away from the classroom, the more authority someone seems to have over teachers’ work. That makes no sense.

Do we really want teachers to have to close the classroom door and hope no one “catches” them doing what they think is best for their students? We should be unleashing teachers’ talents, not stifling them. Educators need the benefit of the doubt—the freedom to teach.

The classroom teacher is the only person who has knowledge of the students she is teaching, the content she is teaching, and the context in which she is teaching. What gets taught is determined by district guidelines and curriculum. But how it gets taught is best determined by teachers using their professional expertise and judgment. Teachers meet students where they are, and teachers should have the freedom to find ways to get them to where they need to go.

Scholars Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine spent six years studying American high schools. They found that powerful learning was happening most often in electives, clubs and extracurricular activities. I found this with my own students, as well, as we prepared for the “We the People” debate competition. We’d spend hours after school—working in teams, deciding their best arguments, practicing and polishing. We developed deep relationships with each other and a meaningful understanding of the Constitution. Why do we free teachers to run with their ideas after 3 p.m. but rein them in during the school day?

Researcher Richard Ingersoll and his colleagues found that greater teacher leadership and influence in school decision-making significantly improve student achievement in both math and English language arts. Yet, despite such evidence, they also found that, in most schools, teachers report having little involvement in school decision-making.

Why? It comes down to who controls the decisions affecting teaching and learning. Here’s a telling example: Thousands of teachers rely on crowdfunding sites like Donors Choose to obtain educational games, classroom libraries and basic supplies. But some, like the Metro Nashville (Tenn.) Public Schools, are forbidding teachers from using Donors Choose, because district officials are upset that they don’t control what the donations are spent on.

Too often, top-down control trumps all else. That hurts students. And it demoralizes teachers.

The assumption should be that teachers, like other professionals, know what they are doing. Teachers should be able to be creative, take risks and let students run with an idea. When teachers are asked—or told—to do something, they should have the latitude to ask two fundamental questions: What is the purpose of what I am being told to do? And how does this contribute to teaching and learning?

Here’s the last idea I’ll offer today: Respect teachers by giving them the latitude to raise concerns and act in the best interests of their students without fear of retaliation, as the New York City’s United Federation of Teachers negotiated in its latest contract.

 

Conclusion

The ideals and ideas I have outlined are not quixotic fantasies. They are pragmatic strategies that create the sustainable teaching and learning culture that enables the freedom to teach. They are ways to empower teachers because, as Mayor Pete Buttigieg just said, you’re not free in your own classroom if your ability to do your job is reduced to a test score.

These strategies are the reality in high-achieving countries. And they are enabled by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which Congress passed into law with bipartisan support in 2015.

Speaking of federal law, you might wonder why I haven’t mentioned the secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, particularly because she invokes the word freedom at every turn. But what she calls freedom is just a rebranding of her agenda of defunding and destabilizing public education. For example, she makes the ludicrous claim that larger class sizes could be goodfor students as a pretext to slash funding. But even if we had a well-intentioned secretary of education who believed in public education and supported teachers, we would still have to do this work, school by school, and district by district.

Of course we must call out the austerity hawks, the privatizers, and those who disparage and devalue public education. But let’s build on these two years of incredible educator activism. Let’s bring these proposals I’ve outlined above to the bargaining table, to school boards and to statehouses. And, if officials speak out of both sides of their mouths—saying teachers and teaching are important but acting as if they are anything but—let’s hold them accountable, not just for their hypocrisy, but for failing to address the real crisis. And, yes, let’s pay teachers appropriately for the tremendously important work they do.

Some say that you can’t negotiate teacher professionalism, that you can’t legislate respect for the teaching profession, that cultures forged over decades of deprofessionalization are too entrenched to change. Talk about being agents of the status quo. Of course change is possible. The participants in the panels following my remarks are living proof that, where there are willing partners, they are finding ways.

Teachers are drawn to this profession because of their love for children and their passion for teaching. Let’s reignite that passion, not extinguish it. So, to America’s teachers, my heroes who “inspire, encourage, empower, nurture, activate, motivate and change the world,” I say keep fighting. And keep caring. You are making a difference not only in your classrooms but in reclaiming our profession. And today the AFT commits everything we’ve got—the resources and influence of our 1.7 million members—to combat this disinvestment, deprofessionalization and disrespect by fighting to fund our future and to secure the freedom to teach.