Archives for category: Teachers

Peter Greene was reading a sports column and saw a reference to the coach’s staff. This reference sent him on a flight of fancy: what if every teacher had a staff?

What if every teacher had a secretary, an assistant, her own copying machine?

He knows it’s a fantasy, but what if?

The best strategy to end the pandemic is mandatory vaccinations for everyone, unless they have a medical condition that makes it in advisable. Until now, both major teachers’ unions refused to take a stand. Last Sunday on Meet the Press, Randi Weingarten endorsed mandatory vaccinations for teachers, but she must get the support of her members. She will. Now NEA has changed course.

The nation’s largest teachers’ union on Thursday offered its support to policies that would require all teachers to get vaccinated against Covid or submit to regular testing.

It is the latest in a rapid series of shifts that could make widespread vaccine requirements for teachers more likely as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads in the United States.

“It is clear that the vaccination of those eligible is one of the most effective ways to keep schools safe,” Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, said in a statement.

The announcement comes after Randi Weingarten, the powerful leader of the American Federation of Teachers, another major education union, signaled her strongest support yet for vaccine mandates on Sunday.

Ms. Pringle left open the possibility that teachers who are not vaccinated could receive regular testing instead, and added that local “employee input, including collective bargaining where applicable, is critical.”

Her union’s support for certain requirements is notable because it represents about three million members across the country, including in many rural and suburban districts where adults are less likely to be vaccinated. Overall, the union said, nearly 90 percent of its members report being fully vaccinated.

Still, any decision to require vaccination for teachers is likely to come at the local or state level. And even with their growing support, teachers’ unions have maintained that their local chapters should negotiate details.

“We believe that such vaccine requirements and accommodations are an appropriate, responsible, and necessary step,” Ms. Pringle said on Thursday. She added that “educators must have a voice in how vaccine requirements are implemented.”

California has ordered all teachers and staff members to provide proof of vaccination or face weekly testing, an order that applies to both public and private schools. Hawaii is requiring all state and county employees to be vaccinated or be tested, including public-school teachers. And Denver has said that city employees, including public school teachers, must be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30.

Sarah Mervosh

Randi Weingarten appeared on “Meet the Press” and endorsed mandatory vaccinations for teachers.

She said on Sunday that she wants the union to support mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for teachers. Currently, the AFT (and the NEA) favor vaccination being a voluntary choice.

Randi said:

“Since 1850 we’ve dealt with vaccines in schools, it’s not a new thing to have vaccines in schools. And I think that, on a personal matter, as a matter of personal conscience, I think that we need to be working with our employers – not opposing them – on vaccine mandates.” — NBC’s Meet the Press

This should not even be a story. Of course, teachers, hospital workers, and all essential personnel should be vaccinated. The virus will not be conquered until almost everyone is vaccinated against it.

How can parents send their children to school without the secure knowledge that the child’s teacher is vaccinated.

Mandatory vaccination is nothing unusual, as Randi said. I recall as a child having to present evidence that I was vaccinated for a variety of contagious diseases, most less serious than COVID.

When will the NEA step up and join with Randi in doing the right thing for themselves and their students?

At the peak of the Teacher Revolt in 2018, educator Tina Bojanowski ran for a seat in the Kentucky legislature and won. She was re-elected in 2020. She is a teacher in the public schools of Jefferson County (Louisville).

In this video, she explains to her fellow legislators that their efforts to ban “critical race theory” are nonsensical. There are real problems to be addressed, like youth suicide, gun violence, and COVID.

She surveyed her colleagues and found that they were confused about what they were allowed to teach to comply with the law’s requirement that they must avoid any mention of racial superiority or anything that would make students uncomfortable. One teacher asked how she could teach about World War 2 without mentioning Hitler’s claims of Aryan superiority. Another said that history includes many actions that might make students uncomfortable.

Her brief statement illustrates the value of having working educators in the state legislature and the folly of state legislatures passing laws mandating what teachers are not allowed to teach.

Rhode Island is a mess. Two years ago, the state took control of the Providence public schools. The Governor, Gina Raymond, is a former hedge funder and not a friend of public schools. She loves charter schools and welcomed them to her state. She is now Biden’s Commerce Secretary and has been succeeded by her Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee, who is also a privatizer. The relatively new State Commissioner is Angelica Infante Green, who comes from Teach for America and had a desk job in the New York State Education Department. She is a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. The Providence Teachers Union originally supported the state takeover, hoping that it would bring new resources to the schools. Instead, the takeover has meant disruption, turmoil, threats to teachers, and bitterness between the hard-charging, inexperienced State Commissioner and the teachers.

Mary Beth Calabro, the president of the Providence Teachers Union, has been a teacher for 24 years and president of the union for five years.

Less than two years later, and with the COVID-19 pandemic overshadowing nearly all of the takeover, Calabro now says that the relationship between the union and Infante-Green has deteriorated beyond repair, and she is asking state lawmakers to give control of the school district back to the city of Providence. She is also calling for Infante-Green and Superintendent Harrison Peters to be removed from their positions.

The union voted “no confidence” in both the state commissioner and the city superintendent. Calabro warned that the district was forcing teachers out with its hard-nosed tactics.

“We had hope that our state takeover here would provide the much-needed support, resources, and changes to help our students move forward,” Calabro said during a Monday press conference. “And we had hope that our educators’ collective skills, experience, and expertise would be seen as a welcome part of transforming out schools. Sadly, our hopes have died.”

The state commissioner made clear from the beginning that she wanted to control the union and its contract:

The most recent sticking point between the union and management has revolved around a provision in the current union contract that gives veteran teachers preference over newer teachers when it comes to hiring. Seniority tends to be a sacred cow for public employee unions, and the teachers have resisted changes that would give Infante-Green and Peters more control over the hiring process.

Both Infante-Green and Peters say they believe the Crowley Act, the state law that gave them the power to take control of the school district, allows them to make unilateral changes to the contract. But they fear that such a tactic would send the two sides to court, prolonging a series of negotiations that has already resulted in the city paying more than $1 million to lawyers advising management.

The Boston Globe turned to Brown University professor Kenneth Wong, who was previously known for praising mayoral control as the answer to urban school problems.

Kenneth Wong, an education policy expert and professor at Brown University who has advised city and state leaders on a wide range of school funding and reform initiatives over the past decade, said he sees the next few weeks as crucial to finding common ground.

Wong said the state deserves some credit for some initial progress during the takeover. The state has issued a clear set of goals for Providence schools, like raising the graduation rate from 73.6 percent in the 2018-19 school year to 89 percent by the 2024-25 school year, and slashing chronic absenteeism from 37 percent to 10 percent during the same period.

Frankly, it is hard to see why the state deserves any credit for setting ambitious goals when it has not supplied the means to reach them and is driving away experienced teachers. The one thing that we supposedly learned from the ambitious “national goals” of 1989 was that setting goals is easy, reaching them is hard.

Here is a piece of advice for Commissioner Infante-Green: No teachers, no education. A good leader provides encouragement to the troops; a bad leader puts them in the line of fire.

Meanwhile, the new Governor Dan McKee, aligned himself solidly with the Walton-funded parent group that wants more charter schools. Democrats in the legislature have lined up behind a three-year moratorium on charters, but McKee made clear that if the bill passes, he will veto it.

The article in the Providence Journal accepted at face value that the pro-charter lobby was led by ordinary parents, but Maurice Cunningham of the University of Massachusetts has demonstrated that the group called “Stop the Wait, Rhode Island” is funded by the Waltons and other Dark Money billionaires. And see here as well.

Governor McKee is doing the bidding of the Waltons of Arkansas.

The Orlando Sentinel has been covering scandal after scandal in the voucher schools of Florida, but the Legislature doesn’t care about their scandals and is planning to take even more money from public schools to fund more private voucher schools. The Sentinel published a story about one troubled voucher school that has received over $5 million from the state since 2015 despite the fact that it hires teachers without college degrees.

Leslie Postal and Annie Martin wrote about Winners Primary School in Orange County, which recently changed its name to Providence Christian Preparatory School:

The job applicant hoped to teach fourth grade at Winners Primary School, a small private school in west Orange County. She didn’t have a college degree and her last job was at a child care center, which fired her.

“Terminated would not rehire,” read the reference check form from the daycare.

Since 2018, the school, dependent on state scholarships for most of its income, has hired at least three other teachers with red flags in their employment backgrounds and at least 10 other instructors who lacked college degrees, an Orlando Sentinel investigation found.

One Winners teacher — whose only academic credential was his high school diploma — was arrested in November, accused of soliciting sexually explicit videos from a boy in his class. Others have criminal backgrounds or histories of being fired for incompetence in other jobs, the records show. Despite that, the Florida Department of Education recently opened and closed an investigation into the school without taking any action.

The school is constantly hiring because many teachers work there only briefly. With about a dozen teachers on staff, Winners had a teacher turnover rate of 83% between 2019 and 2020. The turnover and the questionable teaching credentials raise doubts about the quality of education offered to the school’s 250 students in pre-K through eighth grade.

“The kids should’ve been in public schools,” said Evan McKelvey, who taught math at Winners for six months, leaving in January after getting hired at Bishop Moore Catholic High School. “All of the public schools around here are leagues better than that place.”

Almost all the students attend because Florida’s scholarships, often called school vouchers, cover their tuition. Since 2015, Winners, a for-profit school run by a married couple with a history of financial problems, has received more than $5.1 million in state scholarship money.

The school’s students use the state scholarships — Family Empowerment and Florida Tax Credit — that aim to help children from low-income families attend private schools...

Typically, the nearly 2,000 private schools that take state scholarships do not need to make public information on their operations or their employees. Despite state support, taxpayers have no right to see who is hired or what is taught at these schools.

Because of the teacher’s arrest at Winners, however, the department opened an investigation, telling the principal it was worried the school could be in violation of state scholarship laws because “proper vetting during the hiring process is not occurring,” according to a letter sent to the school Nov. 19.

“When we’re made aware of situations like this, our team thoroughly investigates,” said Eric Hall, senior chancellor at the education department, when asked about Winners at a January meeting of the Florida Senate’s education committee. ”We take these things very seriously. We would make sure that we hold those institutions or those individuals accountable.”

Less than two months later, however, the department closed its investigation without taking any action against the school, despite a file depicting a shoddy employee vetting process and a history of questionable teacher hires. The school faced similar state inquiries in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and was cleared to remain a scholarship school then, too.

That is because the Republican-led Legislature has written the scholarship program laws to give the state only limited power to oversee participating private schools. As the Sentinel reported in its 2017 “Schools Without Rules” series, some of the schools have hired teachers with criminal backgrounds, been evicted, set up in rundown facilities and falsified fire and health reports but still remained in the voucher programs.

This year, the Florida Senate is considering a bill to expand the scholarship programs that already serve more than 181,000 students and cost nearly $1 billion, so that more children could use them and more state money would be spent.

The Legislature also has turned down requests to stiffen the rules that govern participating private schools. In 2018, for example, a proposal to require private schools’ teachers to have bachelor’s degrees — as the state demands of its public school teachers — was rejected. Advocates say the scholarships, some of which go to children with disabilities, give parents options outside public schools, and if parents aren’t happy with the private school they pick, they can move their child to another campus...

The education department investigated the school previously after a complaint from a parent who wrote the state to say the campus was dirty and “children of all ages are running out of the classroom screaming and hitting each other,” as well as after a report from the Florida Department of Children and Families that a teacher had hurt a student and the Sentinel’s report in 2018 that the school had hired a felon as a teacher.

A custodian at the school served time in prison for a firearms violation.

The story goes on with more details about the checkered past and present of a “school without rules” and a legislature that happily hands out millions to anyone who asks for them, all in the name of “school choice.” Even bad choices are fine in Florida.

Subscribe to the Orlando Sentinel to read the full story.

When I started the new blog format, I said I would repost blogs from others only in rare instances. This is one of those rare instances. Peter Greene has written a devastating analysis of the oligarchs’ plans to attack public school teachers and defund public schools in Arizona. You need to read this story. The privatizers’ game plan is on full display, in all its ugliness. It’s a reverse Robin Hood scheme, which will steal from everyone so as to reward the rich.

Here are a few excerpts from the exceptionally vicious legislation that has been filed:

Arizona has lost its damn mind, this week passing some of the stupidest, most aggressively anti-public ed laws anywhere, including an absolutely insane law requiring teachers to file lesson plans a year in advance.

Arizona has always been a strong contender for most anti-public education state in the county. They’ve had trouble convincing teachers to work there for years (at one point they were recruiting in the Phillipines), using the one two punch of low salaries along with rock-bottom spending on classrooms (this is the state wherethe house GOP leader contended that teachers were just working second jobs so they could buy boats). In the meantime, they have done their best to foster charter profiteering and set up vouchers at the expense of public ed. Did I mention that Arizona is the Koch home base?

There was no reason to be surprised when Arizona’s teachers rose up in revolt. Governor Ducey made noises about recognizing the problem, but he’s been trying to slap teaches around ever since. Arizona legislators have come after teachers and public schools before, but this week is really something special.

This week Ducey issued an executive order requiring all schools to return o in-person learning by March 15, with exceptions only for the counties (there are three) with high transmission–there, the middle and high schools can stay remote. No other exceptions, no consideration for local concerns, issues, situations, etc. 

But now for the legal highlights of the week.

SB1058 is the one I mentioned above. In this bill, every school (charters get hit with this foolishness, too) must, by July 1 of each year, post, where parents can see it, all lesson plans, materials, activities, textbooks, videos, online stuff. Parents in Arizona already have the right to review all materials, so nthis is just a next step. “It should be reasonably easy to access the information.” This bill passed the Senate on Tuesday.

This is more than just an unnecessary burden on teachers. It’s more than just a way to legislate bad teaching (if you already know what you’re doing in class on a particular Tuesday five months from now, you are not doing a great job teaching). It also makes each teacher’s lesson planning–their professional intellectual property–open to the public. Starting a charter school but you don’t know a damn thing about teaching? Just log on and lift your curriculum, scope, sequence, plans, etc from any actual teacher…

All of this comes on the heels of a massive voucher expansion in Arizona, worth noting because it was one more example of the state’s GOP working in direct defiance of Arizona voters, who decisively rejected voucher expansion just two years ago. 
It’s an ugly frustrating mess. What exactly is your next move if you’re in a state where the reaction to “If you keep this up, you’ll destroy public schools” is “Good.”Jeb Bush is a big fan of Arizona’s work, mostly because it so closely follows his own playbook in Florida. It all points to an ugly future in which the wealthy can buy the education they want and not have to pay taxes to educate Those People’s Children. 

Seriously, if you want to place bets on which state will be first to destroy its public schools, you wouldn’t be wrong to bet on Arizona. It is a wholly-owned Koch franchise.

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The nation’s two teachers’ unions joined together to issue an unusual joint statement that advises federal, state, and local leaders what must be done not only to revive education after the pandemic but to restart it with a fresh vision that focuses on the needs of children, not assumptions about their “learning loss” or “COVID slide.”

They introduce the document and its visionary proposals with these words:

Nation’s educators release shared agenda to ensure all students succeed Organizations offer proven ways to help students overcome Covid-19 opportunity gaps and meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs
 WASHINGTON, DC – Today the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the nation’s two largest educators’ unions, released a bold, shared agenda to ensure that all students receive the supports and resources they need to thrive now and in the future.  

Over the course of the last month, AFT and NEA have come together to define the essential elements needed to effectively understand and address the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted students’ academic, social, and developmental experiences. “We have an unprecedented opportunity to create the public schools all our students deserve,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “It is our mission to demand stronger public schools and more opportunities for all students- Black and white, Native and newcomer, Hispanic and Asian alike. And we must support the whole learner through social, emotional and academic development. The ideas presented in this roadmap will lay the groundwork to build a better future for all of our students.” 

“COVID-19 has laid bare this country’s deep fissures and inequities and our children, our educators and our communities have endured an unprecedented year of frustration, pain and loss,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “As vaccine access and effectiveness suggest the end is in sight, it is incumbent on us to not only plan our recovery, but to reimagine public schooling so our children, families and educators can thrive.  

“The crises gripping our country are weighing heavily on young people, who are the future of our communities. That’s why our schools must, at a minimum, be supported and well-resourced to address our students their trauma, social-emotional, developmental and academic needs. This framework is an invaluable tool to help us get there,” Weingarten added. 

Shared with Sec. of Education Cardona last week, Learning Beyond Covid-19, A Vision for Thriving in Public Education offers the organizations’ ideas on ways our education systems can meet students where they are academically, socially, and emotionally.  The framework outlines five priorities that can serve as a guide for nurturing students’ learning now and beyond COVID-19 including learning, enrichment and reconnection for this summer and beyond; diagnosing student well-being and academic success; meeting the needs of our most underserved students; professional excellence for learning and growth; and an education system that centers equity and excellence. 

The full document can be found here

For immediate release

March 5, 2021

Media contact:

Anna Bakalis / 213-305-9654

91% YES: UTLA members overwhelmingly unite behind a safe return

LOS ANGELES — UTLA members have voted overwhelmingly to resist a premature and unsafe physical return to school sites. Over five days of voting March 1 through 5 conducted by Integrity Voting Systems, 24,580 ballots were cast, with 91% Yes ballots (22,480) and 9% No (2,100). 

“This vote signals that in these most trying times, our members will not accept a rushed return that would endanger the safety of educators, students, and families,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said.

The vote result means members remain committed to distance learning until the three safety criteria are met:

  • LA County is out of the purple tier
  • Staff are either fully vaccinated or provided access to full vaccination
  • Safety conditions are in place at our schools including PPE, physical distancing, improved ventilation, and daily cleaning

“Last March when educators first closed our classrooms and offices, we didn’t know that a year later we would still be physically separated from the students and communities we love,” Myart-Cruz said. “It has been a painful and difficult year for everyone. As much as educators long to be back to in-person instruction, it must be done safely for the sake of students, staff, and families. That has been our guiding principal from Day 1 of this pandemic.”

With COVID vaccines for school staff rolling out and infection rates decreasing, LA County is making progress toward the necessary conditions for a safe return, but we are not there yet. Some educators are having difficulty securing vaccination appointments, infection rates are still too high in many of the hard-hit communities we serve, and COVID variants could change the trajectory of the virus.

“With this vote, teachers are saying what I am hearing from parents in my community — it’s just not safe to physically return to schools yet,” said LAUSD parent and Reclaim Our Schools LA parent leader Alicia Baltazar. “I want to thank teachers for taking this stand and for all that you have been doing to educate my child during this pandemic.”

The overwhelming solidarity of the vote comes as legislators and Governor Newsom made last-minute changes to AB 86, the school reopening bill, redefining the COVID-19 tiers to try to push districts into returning to in-person instruction at levels that have been considered dangerous for close to a year.

LA continues to be the epicenter of the return-to-school debate, and the pressure on UTLA educators individually and collectively has been intense.

“Teaching in a pandemic is not easy. Standing up for students and our most marginalized communities is not easy. But our members continue to do both of these things, day in and day out because that’s our job,” Myart-Cruz said. 

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I am breaking my recent promise not to post articles that were previously published, but this is one of those rare exceptions to the rule, because it would not get the national audience it deserves without reposting it here. This article by Sandra Vohs, president of the Fort Wayne Education Association, appeared originally in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, one of the few newspapers in Indiana and the nation that appreciates our public schools and their teachers.

Vohs writes:


These days, it’s impossible not to hear cries of “get kids back in school” and “we need to reopen schools.” These declarations certainly suggest that schools are closed.

In this era of alternative facts, there is some bizarre belief out there that, all over the nation, school leaders have decided just to skip this year, allowing teachers to take a long, paid vacation. Of course, that would mean students have a year of free time with no lessons to complete, no grades to earn and no chance of moving on to the next level next year.

I suppose that means that virtual school or remote learning will no longer be officially considered “school.” What does this mean for all the virtual schools that have been enrolling, teaching and graduating students for years?

Will all the students who have earned credits from virtual schools see their credits reversed and their diplomas voided?

Of course not.

Though arguably inferior to in-person classes, virtual school has been an educational option available to students for quite a while.

Educators from traditional, in-person, brick-and-mortar schools have long been cheerleaders for theirs as the best option for students – sensibly pointing to supporting research to back their claims.

For the vast majority of students, there is no equivalent alternative to the academic and social advantages offered by in-person classroom settings.

So, while virtual education is not the best option for most children, it is still a viable secondary option in circumstances where in-person learning is impractical or potentially unsafe.

It is worth pointing out that, until the COVID-19 pandemic, there weren’t a lot of supportive voices joining the proponents of in-person school over virtual education; tax dollars in multiple states were siphoned from traditional schools and diverted to online schools under the guise of supporting “school choice” initiatives.

Some of the very same voices shouting about the need to reopen schools that are currently virtual – as if virtual school isn’t really school – are the same voices that supported pre-pandemic virtual schools over traditional public schools in the first place.

So, to all the school districts that have had to instantly offer virtual instruction to students, compliments of the pandemic: thank you. Thank you for rushing to get resources and training to students, parents and teachers.

Thank you for finding creative ways to allow some students to return in person, from creating blended schedules of in-person and remote classes to finding unorthodox spaces for classrooms to allow for smaller class sizes and social distancing.

Thank you for implementing ever-changing public health recommendations from local, state and national health departments.

And thank you for offering virtual classes when in-person school posed too much of a risk to the adults and children of your communities.

Since public school funding isn’t consistent, even within individual states, some school districts have been able to be more proactive against the spread of the virus.

To those districts, thank you for upgrading ventilation systems (if you could afford it), adding buses and drivers (if you could afford it), bringing in trailers for additional classroom space (if you could afford it), hiring extra teachers to lower class sizes (if you could afford it), providing free masks and hand sanitizer (if you could afford it), providing free breakfasts and lunches for remote students (if you could afford it), supplying computers and internet connectivity to students (if you could afford it), and being able to provide the safest possible environment for the children you serve.

By far, the biggest thank you of all should be reserved for teachers, the boots-on-the-ground first responders to the educational consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teachers are working both in person and virtually, often at the same time.

They have been charged with mastering virtual technology that is only as good as the virtual framework supplied by their districts. They have had to become software experts and tech support for students and parents, all while implementing standards of best practices for remote learning in the lessons they design.

They are working nearly twice as many hours, typically for no additional pay, yet these are the teachers whom politicians and pundits often publicly disparage as “not wanting to work.”

Teachers who have returned to in-person classrooms have to implement and sustain pandemic protocols with children – cleanliness, social distancing, mask-wearing.

They have to modify their curriculum to adapt to those protocols (no group work, no shared supplies, etc.).

They risk exposure to COVID-19 every day; the safest and cleanest school buildings have no impact on what students are exposed to outside of school.

Teachers are being asked to risk their health, or the health of their loved ones, all while TV news and social media are full of ignorant vitriol claiming teachers just don’t want to work.

While some states have prioritized vaccinating teachers, others (such as Indiana) have not made vaccinating teachers a priority.

Teachers have been ensuring the continuation of school all year, both virtually and in person, yet they and their professional associations are routinely and publicly disrespected for their efforts.

The next time you hear anyone say students need to get back in school, or that schools need to reopen, please remember that schools are open and performing miraculous feats to keep public education available to all.

Sandra Vohs is president of the Fort Wayne Education Association.