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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.”

 

 

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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.

Charter schools come and go. The money keeps flowing from villainthropists and the U.S. Congress, yet charter schools keep folding, just like businesses. Remember Eastern Airlines? Braniff? Pan Am? Stores, brands, they come and go, like charter schools. This failing charter chain had the nerve to name itself for Cesar Chavez, a fiery labor leader who would never have put his name on institutions that defy everything he stood for: the spirit of equity, respect for workers, the belief in unions. He certainly would not have lent his name to an enterprise supported by Red State governors, the anti-union Waltons, the DeVos family, and the Koch brothers.

Time to get woke!

AFT’s Weingarten on Closure of Chavez Schools in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement after Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy announced it was closing its middle schools and consolidating its two high schools on one campus. Chavez educators found out their schools were closing via calls from the media:

“Cesar Chavez would be appalled that management at the school that proudly bears his name has treated children, their parents and their educators with such utter contempt. These are children, and their education is not a business to be run on a profit margin. The first priority should always be children and families—but Chavez management, by these actions, has put them dead last.

“Parents were not informed. Teachers were not consulted. The community was not engaged. Many found out via inquiries from reporters—the administration didn’t even have the honor or decency to convey the news directly.

“A perennial problem with under-regulated charter schools is the lack of transparency, accountability and stability. Public schools could never operate in this cavalier and specious manner. Today, Chavez management showed just how damaging that absence of accountability can be.

“Tonight, the educator leaders at Chavez and the AFT have launched an investigation into the administration’s actions and are considering legal action to examine exactly how this breach of good faith—and good governance—occurred.”

The AFT represents 7,500 members at 237 charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Since summer 2017, educators at 12 charter schools have joined the union.

Randi Weingarten wrote this commentary in Education Week about the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, which ruled that people do not have to pay agency fees to unions, thus allowing them to collect benefits negotiated by the union without paying dues.

The final day of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 term may have been overshadowed by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s retirement, but in one of two important cases decided that day, the court overturned four decades of precedent to bar public-sector unions from charging fees to nonmembers who enjoy the benefits of a union contract.

On its face, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 claimed to be about free speech. But the right-wing forces behind it admitted a detailed plan to “defund and defang” unions and dismantle their political power. That’s according to documents obtained by The Guardian from the State Policy Network—a national alliance that includes the primary Janus-backer, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, as an associate member.

As Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissent, the precedent established by the court’s 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education ruling was embedded in the nation’s law and its economic life. It ensured the labor peace that gave teachers, firefighters, nurses, police, and other public-sector employees a path to a better life. It made communities more resilient and kept public services strong.

In Janus, the plaintiffs weaponized the First Amendment from its original purpose of securing the political freedom necessary for democracy by arguing compulsory union fees violated free speech. By a 5-4 majority, the court put the interests of billionaires over established law and basic principle—just as Justice Kennedy did with his deciding vote in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010. The right wing’s thirst for power again trumped the aspirations of communities and the people who serve them.

Janus will, of course, hurt unions, but most importantly—and by design—it will hurt workers. Nevertheless, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated.

Unions are still the best vehicle working people have to get ahead. Workers covered by a union contract earn 13.2 percent more than comparable workers in nonunionized workplaces, and they are far more likely to have employer-sponsored health insurance, paid leave, and retirement benefits, according to a 2017 report from the Economic Policy Institute. Unions negotiate everything from manageable class sizes to safety equipment for emergency personnel.
Unions help make possible what would be impossible for individuals acting alone.

For the American Federation of Teachers’ 1.75 million members (our largest membership ever, and growing—we’ve added a quarter million in the last decade), Janus poses opportunities as well as threats. In the face of right-wing attacks on public education and labor, we have come to understand that when we walk the walk with the community, we become exponentially more powerful.

Years before Janus, the AFT embarked on a plan to talk with every one of our members on issues that matter—supporting public education, creating good jobs that support a middle-class life, securing high-quality and affordable health care, pursuing affordable higher education, fighting discrimination and bigotry, and defending democracy and pluralism. Whether you lean conservative or liberal, higher wages, a voice at work, safe schools, and a functioning democracy are American values.

Since January, all over the country, more than half a million of our members signed new cards recommitting to the union, and that number is growing. Many of the AFT’s 3,500 local affiliates are reporting that 90 percent or more of their members have recommitted.

After the Janus decision hit, groups funded by the Koch brothers and the DeVos family launched their own campaigns, urging Los Angeles Unified School District teachers to “give themselves a raise” by dropping the union. Think about it—not only did U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos attend the Janus oral arguments at the Supreme Court (while not bothering to put it on her public schedule), her fortune is funding the post-Janus assault on unions.
When our members at AFT discover the special interests behind these “opt out” campaigns, they get extra mad. You only need to look at Arizona, Oklahoma, and West Virginia to show that when salaries and benefits are stripped away, the response can be intense—and righteous. In Los Angeles, 34,000 members of the local union affiliate were contacted by those Koch- and DeVos-linked groups trying to get them to opt out. So far, only one member has….

We are in a race for the soul of our country. But if we really double down, if we fight not only for what’s right but for what the vast majority of Americans believe, working people—not Janus’ wealthy funders—will emerge as the real winners.

This message was sent to all AFT members today from President Randi Weingarten:

 

“I don’t write emails to our full membership and activist community often, but the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court case warrants it.

“The case is challenging the 45-year-old precedent that 23 states have used to determine wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of public employees’ jobs. As the Illinois solicitor general eloquently argued at the Supreme Court yesterday, these 23 states decided that, for labor peace and the efficiency of services, public employees can be represented by a union, and, as long as the union represents everyone, those who do not want to join may instead pay a “fair share” fee. This fee is meant to compensate the union for bargaining contracts and other services; nonmembers are not required to pay anything toward any political activity by the union.

“Yesterday, I was at the Supreme Court listening to the oral arguments in the Janus case. I listened as the right wing launched attack after attack on unions and on what collective bargaining gains for working people, those they serve and their communities. Indeed, Justice Sotomayor nailed the right wing’s argument, pointing out, “You’re basically arguing, do away with unions.”

Stand with us and tell us why you’re “union proud.”

“This case isn’t about petitioner Mark Janus, it’s about defunding unions. It’s about who will have power in our country—working people or big corporate interests. That’s why it’s being funded by the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, and other wealthy and corporate interests. First, they pledged $80 million to “defund and defang” unions. Then, the Kochs, after getting the Trump tax cut, upped the ante with $400 million to undermine public education and “break” the teachers unions. And now, with the Janus case, they are pushing to prevent workers from having a union at all. Why? Because unions are our vehicle to fight for and win a better life for people, and corporate interests see that as a threat to their power.

“Study after study shows that union workers have higher wages, better benefits, a more secure retirement and a voice in the workplace.

“Yesterday was about fighting in the Supreme Court, but we’ve been fighting on many other fronts as well—speaking out in the court of public opinion and, most important, making sure our members, families, friends and allies know what we are up against. That’s why, this weekend, workers held rallies in 30 cities and counties throughout the country to fight for our fundamental right to union representation on the job. And that’s why our locals have spent the last year engaging members in one-on-one conversations. This recommitment to one another has been catalytic and transformative, and overwhelmingly, our members want to be part of our union, and they know how important it is for them, their families and their communities.

“Tell us why you’re “union proud” and what it is you care about and fight for every day.

“This is a “which side are you on?” moment. Our country must not revert to a time when workers were systematically denied even the most fundamental rights—a voice and a better life.

“Now’s the time. Stand with us.”

In unity,
Randi Weingarten
AFT President

P.S. Watch our video re-capping Janus actions over the last week.

 

Randi Weingarten responded in this article to Trump’s proposal to arm teachers: It won’t work. Trump compared schools to airports, but the logical extension of that ill-considered proposal is that every passenger should be armed. Airports are gun-free zones. So is the White House, the halls of Congress, every federal building, and Mar-A-Lago.

Randi writes:

”There are a number of steps we can take right now — including ensuring mental health services are widely available; staffing schools with well-trained resource officers, who may be armed if a community so decides; instituting wider background checks; and banning military-style assault weapons and munitions.

“But one idea that just won’t work is arming teachers, as President Donald Trump suggested this week.

”Educators’ first instinct is to protect kids, not engage in a shootout that would place more children in danger. This good-guy-with-a-gun thinking might give some people the illusion of security, but it only would make our children’s classrooms less safe, and turn our schools into armed fortresses.

“Decades of grim data show that having guns at home greatly increases the chance of them being used in a homicide, suicide or accidental death. The United States has both the highest gun ownership and the highest gun death rate in the Western world, though the states with the strictest gun ownership laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths.

“Introducing guns in schools carries additional risks, and raises pertinent questions.

“How would arming teachers work? Would teachers carry guns in holsters, or would every classroom have a gun locker? Would teachers be expected to regularly recertify, as required of many armed professionals? Are teachers to get their guns or get their students to safety with seconds to spare after an active shooter alert? Would teachers be held liable for their actions or decisions?

“Would teachers get firearms similar to the military-style AR-15 weapons that have been used in many mass shootings, including in Parkland? What’s the risk of a troubled person attempting to disarm a teacher, and use his or her weapon? Who would pay for the billions of dollars it would take to pay for guns, ammunition and training, when so many schools currently lack nurses, guidance counselors, school resource officers and have a multitude of other needs?…

”Schools, airplanes, hospitals and federal court houses are gun-free zones. Why isn’t the president trying to keep schools this way? Why isn’t he taking common-sense steps to end this scourge? A possible reason: The National Rifle Association supports this idea and the gun manufacturers supported by the NRA would make a heck of a lot of money.

”Americans are rightly frightened, outraged and frustrated by school shootings and the unnecessary loss of life. The NRA wants Americans to believe that only more guns can prevent tragedies. That is just not the case. Since Australia changed its gun laws in 1996, it has had no more mass shootings, while there have been scores in the United States. We know how to reduce gun deaths, but who will lead the effort?”

Not President Trump. He panders to the NRA, which gave his campaign $30 million.

 

 

 

Randi Weingarten gave a major address to the AFT Teach Conference yesterday, in which she explained why she took Betsy DeVos to Van Wert, Ohio, and she called out the forces of destruction now targeting public schools in America. It is time, she says, to resist. To resist privatization by charters and vouchers; to resist the attacks on the teaching profession; to fight racial segregation; to resist the budget cuts that hurt children. And to stand up proudly for our public schools, the anchor of our communities, governed democratically by elected school boards. [Jeanne Allen, director of the pro-charter, pro-voucher Center for Education Reform, called for Randi’s resignation for drawing a line connecting school choice advocates today with segregationists in the mid-twentieth century.]

I. Introduction—My Day with Betsy

Welcome to TEACH!

I know many of you have just arrived in Washington (and you can understand why we call it the swamp), but let me start by taking you on a trip, to a town in Ohio called Van Wert.

Like many rural areas in America, Van Wert has grown increasingly Republican. And in the November, 2016 election, it went overwhelmingly Republican.

Does that mean that the people of Van Wert agree with everything Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos are trying to do, like end public schools as we know them in favor of vouchers and privatization and making education a commodity?

Not in the least.

The people of Van Wert are proud of their public schools. They’ve invested in pre-K and project-based learning. They have a nationally recognized robotics team and a community school program that helps at-risk kids graduate. Ninety-six percent of students in the district graduate from high school. This community understands that Title I is not simply a budget line but a life line.

Why I am telling you about this town? Because these are the schools I wanted Betsy DeVos to see—public schools in the heart of the heart of America.

Unfortunately, just like climate change deniers ignore the facts, Betsy DeVos is a public school denier, ignoring the good in our public schools and their foundational place in our democracy. Her record back in Michigan, and now in Washington, makes it clear that she is the most anti-public education secretary of education ever.

Betsy DeVos called public schools a “dead end.” Our public schools aren’t a dead end. They’re places of endless opportunity.

They’re where 90 percent of America’s parents send their children. And while Secretary DeVos may have thought Van Wert would be a good photo op, my goal, like any educator, was to teach her something.

And we did: Great things are happening in our public schools. And with the right support, they can do even better. That’s what she saw in Van Wert, and that’s what’s happening in public schools across the country.

Betsy DeVos cannot claim ignorance of what’s happening in public schools. Only indifference.

But how can you be indifferent when you hear from someone like Claudia?

I remember Claudia’s history class—the great discussions and the lively debates. But I also remember some grousing that I was pushing the class too hard. (Claudia, I didn’t push you nearly as hard as you pushed yourself.) And I could not be more proud that my former student is a member of AFT Local 243 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Everyone in this hall has their Claudias. It’s why we do what we do. And it‘s why we are going to hold Betsy DeVos accountable for her indifference, and for her attacks on our profession and on public education.

But her attacks are not the only challenges we face. She’s not the only ideologue who wants to destabilize and privatize the public schools that millions of Americans value and rely upon.

Let me be blunt: We are in a David versus Goliath battle. And in this battle, we are all David.

II. How Did We Get Here?

So how did we get here?

It didn’t just happen last Election Day or Inauguration Day.

The moment we’re in is the result of an intentional, decades-long attempt to protect the economic and political power of the few against the rights of the many. It has taken the form of division—expressing itself as racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia and homophobia. And its intentions are often disguised. For example, take the word “choice.”

You hear it all the time these days. School “choice.” Betsy DeVos uses it in practically every sentence. You could show her, as I did, an award-winning robotics program, and she’d say “What about choice?” which she actually said. You could probably say “Good morning, Betsy,” and she’d say “That’s my choice.” She must love restaurant buffets.

But let me be really serious. Decades ago, the term “choice” was used to cloak overt racism by politicians like Harry Byrd, who launched the massive opposition to the Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision.

After the Brown decision, many school districts, especially in the South, resisted integration. In Virginia, white officials in Prince Edward County closed every public school in the district rather than have white and black children go to school together. They opened private schools where white parents could choose to send their children. And they did it using public money.

By 1963, African-American students had been locked out of Prince Edward County public schools for five years. AFT members sent funds and school supplies. And some traveled from New York and Philadelphia to set up schools for African-American students in church basements and public parks, so these students could have an education.

And what about the schools Betsy DeVos appallingly called “pioneers of school choice”—historically black colleges and universities? HBCUs actually arose from the discriminatory practices that denied black students access to higher education. HBCUs are vital institutions, but that doesn’t change the truth of their origins: They were born of a shameful lack of educational choices for African-American students.

Make no mistake: The “real pioneers” of private school choice were the white politicians who resisted school integration.

But neither facts nor history seems to matter to this administration.

In March, DeVos gave a speech here in Washington.

She justified “choice” by saying: “I’m simply in favor of giving parents more and better options to find an environment that will set their child up for success.”

Who could disagree with that? It’s not ideological to want a school that works for your kid. It’s human.

But her preferred choices—vouchers, tuition tax credits, and private, for-profit charter schools—don’t work.

After decades of experiments with voucher programs, the research is clear: They fail most of the children they purportedly are intended to benefit.

The Department of Education’s own analysis of the D.C. voucher program found it has a negative effect on student achievement. The Louisiana voucher program has led to large declines in kids’ reading and math scores. Students in Ohio’s voucher program did worse than children in its traditional public schools.

And, while parents are promised greater choice, when a family uses a voucher to attend a private school, in reality it is the school—not the family—that makes the choice.

That’s because private schools can—and many do—discriminate, because they are exempt from federal civil rights laws. Vouchers increase racial and economic segregation. And they lack the accountability that public schools have. Many voucher programs, like the one here in Washington, D.C., don’t even reveal how much public funding they receive or how students are performing. DeVos defends this lack of transparency, saying the important thing is not quality or accountability, but, what? Choice.

These choices do not increase student achievement. They do not reduce inequity or segregation. They drain funds from and destabilize our public schools. And they move us further away from the choice every child in America deserves—a well-supported, effective public school near their home.

But Trump and DeVos are not backing off their support for vouchers, for-profit charters and other privatization schemes. They have proposed a $250 million dollar “down payment” they want to follow with billions of public dollars for vouchers and tuition tax credits. And you know how they plan to pay for it? By cutting federal education spending that goes directly to educate children in public schools by $9 billion dollars.

Make no mistake: This use of privatization, coupled with disinvestment, are only slightly more polite cousins of segregation. We are in the same fight, against the same forces, that are keeping the same children from getting the public education they need and deserve. And what better way to pave the path to privatize education than to starve public schools to the breaking point, then criticize their shortcomings, and let the market handle the rest. All in the name of choice.

That’s how a democracy comes apart.

On the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, I was in Topkea, Kansas, the home of the plaintiffs in the Brown case. I was there to support the fight against Governor Sam Brownback’s draconian disinvestment from public education.

The big idea behind the governor’s “real-live experiment” with trickle down economics was that cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations, and slashing public services, would somehow lead to an economic boom.

There was no boom—only devastating cuts to public schools and other services, and a bust for the state’s economy.

This spring the Kansas Supreme Court found that the people who’d suffered the most were black, Hispanic and poor students.

We fought this vile experiment. And last month even the Republican-controlled Kansas state Legislature forced Governor Brownback to increase public education funding by nearly $500 million dollars.

We took a stand in Prince Edward County. And we took a stand in Kansas. Both fights were long and hard. We didn’t give up, and we didn’t do it alone, with one tweet, one speech or one demonstration.

III. How Do We Move Forward? Five Values (Five Smooth Stones)

Yes, it’s exhausting. We have to fight harder and harder just to keep from losing ground.

But I haven’t lost heart or faith, because, although we face formidable adversaries, we are David to their Goliath.

When leaders controlling the federal government are hell-bent on taking away healthcare from 32 million people in order to give a tax cut to the ultra-wealthy, we are David to their Goliath. When officials far from the classroom care a whole lot about testing and test scores, but don’t give a damn about what our students really need, we are David to their Goliath. When hedge funders, billionaires and anti-labor ideologues band together in an axis of inequality, further rigging our political and economic system against working folks, we are David to their Goliath. When a presidential administration takes actions that make immigrant students afraid to dream, that favor fraudulent for-profit colleges over students seeking an education, that put an entire religion in its crosshairs, we are David to their Goliath. When governors in state after state go after labor rights and voting rights, and they find an ally in the newest Supreme Court justice who will hear the Janus case, we must be David to their Goliath.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Valley of Elah, where the standoff between David and Goliath took place. And if you remember Sunday school, you’ll recall: That wasn’t a fair fight either. Goliath was big; David was a little guy. Goliath had an army. And David? David had a sling—with five smooth stones. But David had a plan. Goliath no doubt assumed his greater strength was enough, but we all know how that ended up.

I like the fact that, in our sling, we also have five smooth stones. Five core principles. Five values that we are translating into action.

What are they?

• First, Americans deserve good jobs that pay a decent wage, and provide a voice at work, and a secure retirement.
• Second, they deserve healthcare so people are not one illness away from bankruptcy.
• Third, they need public schools that are safe and welcoming and prepare young people for life and citizenship, career and college. And speaking of college, it must be affordable.
• Fourth, none of this happens without a strong and vibrant democracy, including a free press, an independent judiciary, a thriving labor movement, and the protection—not suppression—of the right to vote.
• And fifth, there is no democracy without safeguarding the civil rights of all. That means fighting bigotry and discrimination—like the attacks on immigrants, Muslims, and transgender kids; and the rising tide of anti-Semitism and racism.

I am on the road more often than not, or at least it feels that way. And I get to talk with a lot of people. Here’s what I’ve seen and heard: No matter where people are from, or their political persuasion, there is a common set of aspirations—for themselves and their families. When we connect on values—these values, these 5 stones—we win. We help make people’s lives better, and we repair the common ground that has been jackhammered apart.

IV. Four Pillars

Well, David had his five stones, but he only needed one. And while I could talk at length about each of these five core values, I want to focus on one: powerful, purposeful public education.

Great things are happening in public schools in every community in America, and we need to lift them up. Poetry slams. Socratic seminars. Science fairs. Speech therapy. Students checkmating their chess coach. A once-struggling student reading on grade level.

Any one of you could talk about things going on in your classroom and your school that you’re proud of—and I hope you will! In New York City, the United Federation of Teachers (my home local), started what they call #Public School Proud— you saw it in the video. This campaign is now taking hold in Florida, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas. It’s one of the ways school employees, parents and communities are showing that there is so much to be proud of in our public schools.

We get that public schools are not perfect and that every one doesn’t always work for every one of its students. We know that schools in America have always been unequal, often based on race and class.

But I’ve never heard a parent say, “That school doesn’t work for my kid. So I want to engage in an ideologically driven market-based experiment that commodifies education and has been proven to be ineffective.”

No, most of the time parents want a neighborhood public school that works for their child. They want their child to feel safe. They want their school to have adequate resources and small enough class sizes. They want their school to have music, art and science. They want their child to soar in challenging classes and get support when they struggle. They want their child to fill the dinner table conversation with stories about what they did in school that day.

Our public schools are filled with dedicated professionals who are doing their level best—despite never having enough funding, despite the relentless attacks, despite misguided policies gussied up as “reforms” and despite the challenges children bring from home.

And with some key investments and the right strategies, we’ll not just have the will, we’ll have the way.

So as far as I’m concerned, the only choice is: Do we as a nation strengthen and improve our public schools, or don’t we?

We know what works to accomplish this: investment and focus on four pillars of powerful, purposeful public education:

• Children’s well-being;
• Powerful learning;
• Educators’ capacity; and,
• Collaboration.

Children’s well-being means meeting children where they are—emotionally, socially, physically and academically. Making sure they feel safe and valued. Since half of the kids in public schools are poor, that also requires confronting the reality of poverty. One way is to coordinate the services kids need in community schools. The AFT Innovation Fund is helping our affiliates open and expand community schools.

What about powerful learning? Public schools are asked to develop students academically and personally. That doesn’t happen by testing and test prep. It happens when learning engages students, and encourages them to investigate, strategize and collaborate. It’s why we fight fiercely for art and music and project-based learning like the computer animation career tech program the AFT Innovation Fund is supporting in Miami.

And what about developing our capacity as educators? How many times in your career have you been thrown the keys and told to just do it? No one would tolerate that for pilots or doctors or our armed forces. But educators? Please…

We continue to fight against the infantilization of teachers and the “teachers should be seen and not heard” sentiment of people who make decisions affecting teaching and learning, but who haven’t spent 10 minutes in a classroom. That’s the purpose of the AFT Teacher Leader Program, which now counts 800 participants. Thousands of members have participated in AFT professional development. And hundreds of thousands more have developed their skills through Share My Lesson and the professional development offered by our state and local affiliates.

The glue that holds all this together is collaboration: school employees, parents and community partners working together. When schools struggle, the response too often is top-down takeovers and firing staff. Those approaches are “disruptive”alright—another term public school deniers love—but they are not effective.

Just look at McDowell County, West Virginia, the eighth-poorest county in the United States, where coal used to be king. The state took over the school district for a decade. Nothing changed. But now, after an AFT-led partnership that utilizes these four pillars, graduation rates are up by double digits. Most importantly, we are helping change children’s lives.

These four pillars won’t be built on hopes and wishes, they’ll be built on learning effective strategies—which you’re doing here at TEACH —and on investment.

Investment is crucial. But Trump and DeVos, and many states, are actually going in the opposite direction. They tell the lie that public schools are failing, and they try to make huge budget cuts to make the lie real.

The Trump-DeVos budget zeros out resources for reducing class size and for teacher professional development, and strips all funding for community schools, and afterschool and summer programs. So offerings like the summer learning program at D.C.’s Brightwood Education Campus, which I visited this week, would be gone along with its Springboard program, a summer literacy course for students in kindergarten to second grade. This program not only prevents summer learning loss, but in the five weeks of classes, has increased students’ literacy levels by three-and-a-half months. In essence, the Trump-DeVos budget takes a meat cleaver to public education.

And it’s not just the education cuts. While Trumpcare might be on hold right now, the battle is far from over. Its $880 billion dollar cut from Medicaid was inhumane. And it would mean, for the almost 80 percent of school districts that rely on these funds, the loss of school nurses and health screenings, wheelchairs and feeding tubes, for our most vulnerable kids.

And for what? A tax cut for the wealthiest Americans?

These cuts rob children of opportunity. That’s why we fight them, with actions like the lobbying and rallying many of you did yesterday. And I want you to know, people are with us. The AFT recently commissioned a poll. Three-quarters of the people we talked to oppose the deep cuts to education that Trump and DeVos are proposing. And just as many oppose taking away funding from public schools to increase funding for private school vouchers and charter schools.

V. RESIST—AND RECLAIM

While people have always supported public education, what makes this moment different is that now, millions of Americans are hungry to fight for something better. But with the daily outrages and the relentless assaults on our values and our democracy, it can be hard to know where to begin.

Well, it begins with elections. They have consequences—big time. Voting really matters. But what can we do between elections? That’s where one of the books I’ve become obsessed with helps.

It’s by Yale history professor Timothy Snyder. It’s called On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. And you got a copy in your conference bag.

Snyder’s 20 lessons are told through the lens of history. They sharpen our understanding of what is going on around us. And these lessons are important because most of today’s students were born after Nazi genocide, after apartheid, after the Berlin Wall fell, and after de jure segregation in the United States had been outlawed. They could have, as Snyder writes, the “sense that history could move in only one direction: toward liberal democracy.”

Tragically, that’s just not true.

He writes “History does not repeat, but it does instruct. History can familiarize, and it can warn.”

He reminds us that we can’t take our institutions for granted. That dictators throughout history have built power by kneecapping trade unions and co-opting or undercutting public education.

Believe in truth. Listen for dangerous words. Contribute to good causes. Be a patriot. Defend institutions, such as unions. There is something that each of us can do to defend democracy and fight tyranny.

And if the next generation is to take up the fight, who better to teach them than America’s educators?

So I am asking you… Let’s take our responsibility to resist injustice full on… And let’s take our responsibility to reclaim the future full on. Classroom by classroom. Community by community.

If I could ask you to do anything, it would be this: Tell your stories. Advocate for your students. Do it in public. Shine a light. Use social media. Show the people here in Washington what’s happening at home. Show them what a budget cut means in very human terms.

Many of you are doing this already.

And we are not alone. Take a look. This is a photo of the inauguration last January. (Pause) And this is from the Women’s March just one day after. And so is this, and this, and this. [She shows photographs here, contrasting the half-empty Inauguration of Trump, and the vast crowds at the Women’s March.]

No, we are not alone.

Yes, those millions—yes, millions—of people who have protested since Election Day are, as the kids say, woke. They are energized—energized to fight against bigotry and hate, to fight for an economy that works for everyone and an America that leads the world.

Why do we teach our students about Dr. King’s letter from Birmingham jail? Or Cesar Chavez’s organizing of immigrant workers, or Mahatma Gandhi’s fasts, or Malala’s ordeal? Because we know that nothing is more inspiring than when people whom the powerful want to keep down, rise up.

And we, too, will rise.

To rise takes more than a moment, or even a hundred moments. It takes a movement.

And you are part of that movement. So:

• If you are a local union president, please rise!
• If you’ve been part of the AFT Teacher Leader program, rise up!
• If you have participated in an AFT professional development course, rise up!
• If you have downloaded or uploaded a resource on Share My Lesson, rise up!
• If you have bought school supplies for your students, or food for a hungry kid, please rise!
• If you’ve spent a sleepless night worrying about a student, please rise!
• If you have lobbied for a cause you believe in, rise up!
• If you are #Public School Proud, rise up!
• If you know that the union can help empower you to make our communities and our world a better place, please rise!

By resisting, and reclaiming the promise of public education for all of our students, we will preserve our democracy. We will protect our most vulnerable. We will strengthen our communities. We will take on Goliath. And we will win.

# # #

Randi Weingarten, president of the  AFT, gave the following speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on January 9:

 

 

 

Eight years ago, I spoke at the Press Club as the newly elected AFT President. At that time, President Obama was inheriting the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. America was losing 750,000 jobs a month. Next week, President-elect Trump will inherit a different economy, one that has added an average of 200,000 jobs every month for a record 75 straight months. While we still have a long way to go to combat social and economic inequality—and to address the effects of deindustrialization, globalization and automation, it’s wrong not to acknowledge the real progress of the last eight years.

 

Today we face a very different crisis. Voters have lost confidence in our institutions, and that confidence is lowered still by the distorted reality created by fake news. Our country is intensely polarized. And for the second time this century, more Americans – nearly 3 million more, in the case of Secretary Clinton—voted for a candidate who will not be their president.

 

So what can we do to address, head on, the deep anger and distrust so many Americans feel?

 

I believe–

 

whether one wants a less polarized environment…

…whether one wants a skilled workforce and more middle class jobs…

…whether one wants pluralism and democracy…

…whether one wants diversity and tolerance…

…or whether one just wants children to thrive and be joyful…

 

—the answer always starts with a powerful, purposeful public education.

 

The End of the Education Wars

 

And we have the opportunity to provide that education. After years of education being a battleground; after No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top and the tyranny of testing; Congress and the country, Republicans and Democrats alike, took on and moved past the education wars.

 

I was in the Senate gallery in December 2015 listening to Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Patty Murray, two folks who don’t often agree, agree about what was needed: pass the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. Senator Alexander, who marveled at the remarkable consensus around ESSA, said at the time: “We have created an environment that I believe will unleash a flood of excellence in student achievement, state by state and community by community.”

 

Eighty-five senators, 359 Representatives, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the School Superintendents Association, civil rights groups, many parents across the country including the PTA, our brothers and sisters in the NEA, and the people I represent in the AFT, cheered what President Obama called a Christmas miracle.

 

So, despite the extraordinary political divisions in the country, and after the damaging failures of policies like NCLB, we finally reached a strong bipartisan consensus on a way forward to improve public education in America.   The AFT worked hard to shift the focus away from testing back to teaching, to push school decision-making back to states and communities, and to direct federal funds to the public schools that educate the kids who need the most.

 

That consensus- that fundamental reform of education policy is why K-12 education—as important as it is—wasn’t a major issue in the presidential campaign, the subject of not one debate question.

 

Well, it’s becoming an issue now.  On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee will hold its first hearing to consider Betsy DeVos’ nomination.

 

Instead of nominating an education secretary who sees her mission as strengthening public schools and implementing the blueprint Democrats and Republicans crafted and cheered, Donald Trump has decided to ignore the will of the people and has chosen the most anti-public education nominee in the history of the department.  Betsy DeVos lacks the qualifications and experience to serve as secretary of education. Her drive to privatize education is demonstrably destructive to public schools and to the educational success of all of our children.

 

If DeVos is confirmed; if she shatters this hard-won consensus; if she reignites the education wars it will demonstrate, that her ultimate goal is to undermine public schools. The schools that 90 percent of American children attend. It should come as no surprise that we are steadfast in opposing her nomination, and equally steadfast in our continuing work to advance reforms that will make a positive difference in the lives and success of children.

 

The Purpose of Public Education

 

Obviously, not all schools work as well as we’d like. Many “failing” schools have themselves been failed—by flawed policies, budget cuts, and a tacit acceptance of inequality. When parents send their children somewhere other than the local public school, it’s not because they believe the private market is the best way to deliver education or that their child will benefit from a longer bus ride. It’s most often because their local school is underresourced, is not safe enough or is otherwise struggling.

 

It’s our obligation, as a society, to provide all families with access to great neighborhood public schools—in every neighborhood in America. This must be a viable choice.

 

So how do we accomplish this?

 

In a world with more bullying and less tolerance, it starts by providing a safe, welcoming environment. This is not just a nice sentiment—there is a growing body of research showing the connection between a supportive school environment and student achievement.

 

And instead of fixating on tests—we must fixate on the whole child. Educating the whole child is not based on sanctions—it’s rooted in joy. And while technology is important, the goal of education is not digital, it’s personal. It’s not for-profit—it’s equitably funded. And it’s not one-size-fits-all—it meets students’ individual needs and aspirations.

 

Just as we came together to transform federal education policy, it’s time–guided by our innovation, our experience and our collective wisdom of what works, to work together to build that system of great neighborhood public schools. That rests on four pillars: promoting children’s well-being, supporting powerful learning, building teacher capacity, and fostering cultures of collaboration.

Promoting Children’s Well-Being

 

Let’s start with children’s well-being. We need to meet kids where they are, and that means recognizing that fully half of all public-school students live in poverty. The many effects of poverty—hunger, toxic stress, and untreated medical conditions are terrible in and of themselves, but they also hurt children’s ability to learn and thrive. Poverty is not an excuse for low expectations; it is a reality that must be acknowledged and confronted.

 

Educators and community partners are taking steps to meaningfully address the effects of poverty.

 

Community schools, like the Community Health Academy of the Heights, or CHAH, help meet students’ physical, emotional and social needs—needs that left unmet, are barriers to learning. CHAH is located in northern Manhattan. Nearly all of its 650 students live in poverty. Nearly one-third are English language learners.

 

CHAH provides vision screening for every student and free glasses to the nearly 200 who need them. Think about that. Kids were struggling to learn because they had headaches, or couldn’t see the board. What they needed were glasses.

 

CHAH stays open until 9:30 at night to offer adults GED and ESL classes, as well physical fitness and health classes. CHAH has a food pantry and a parent resource center. And it offers a full-service community clinic, with more than 6,000 enrolled members.

 

All 245 middle schoolers receive annual mental health screenings. Students also have access to social workers and a full-time psychologist.

 

All of this bolsters student achievement. CHAH reduced the number students reading at level 1, the lowest level, by 37 percent between 2013 and 2016. During that same period, the percentage of students reading at the highest levels rose 24 percent.

 

CHAH proves that great results are possible when you focus on the well-being of the child, the child’s family and the child’s community. And this is not an isolated example; schools in Austin, Cincinnati and dozens of other communities have taken similar approaches with similar results. And that allows teachers and their kids to focus on the second pillar: powerful learning.

 

Engaging in Powerful Learning

 

We set high expectations for our public schools, as we should—to develop students academically, prepare young people for work, equip them to be good citizens, and enable them to lead fulfilling lives. None of this is accomplished by requiring students to memorize information and regurgitate it on standardized tests.

 

It’s about powerful learning; learning that engages students and inspires them to tackle complex concepts and difficult material. Students learn when they collaborate in teams on innovative projects. They learn when they are interested and excited, when they are exposed to music and art, theater and robotics. They learn in environments that are safe and welcoming, with restorative justice practices that encourage responsibility and reduce discriminatory discipline. They learn in environments that cultivate critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and joy. They learn when class sizes are small enough to do all this.

 

The effects of powerful learning aren’t revealed by a test score. They’re evident in student engagement and confidence. They’re evident in the skills and knowledge students demonstrate on real-world assessments. They’re evident in how well students are prepared to thrive in a challenging, changing world.

 

Powerful learning is achievable and sustainable. One way is through project-based instruction. That’s when kids take on a long-term, real-life problem. They investigate. They strategize. They share responsibility. And they build resilience, initiative, and agility.

 

That’s also what happens in David Sherrin’s international law class at Harvest Collegiate High School, in New York City. Students don’t just memorize facts. They select defendants, choose witnesses, write affidavits and create exhibits. And the grand finale: they go to a Brooklyn courthouse and hold a mock trial of a perpetrator of the Rwandan genocide. That’s powerful learning.

 

Another area where we see such powerful learning is in career and technical education, or CTE.

 

While campaigning, Donald Trump said, “vocational training is a great thing—we don’t do it anymore!”[i]

 

Actually, Donald, we do.

 

And we’ve been fighting for over a decade to do even more.

 

Take the Toledo Technology Academy, in Ohio, where students are offered a chance to develop their STEM skills with local businesses, including a little outfit called General Motors. The director of manufacturing at GM said of TTA students, “they do as well as interns we bring in from places like Purdue and the University of Michigan.”

 

The AFT has devoted resources to incubate even more CTE programs across the country. Whether it’s connecting students with Peoria businesses to secure internships or partnering with Pittsburgh’s fire, police and EMS services to train high school students, CTE is part of the DNA of the AFT.

 

We’re glad the president-elect shares our desire to expand this work.

 

Building Capacity

 

Focusing on well-being and powerful learning gives our kids what they need most. But we can’t achieve powerful learning without a powerful conduit—their teacher.

 

We know how much teachers do to help children reach their potential. But what about helping teachers reach their full potential? That’s why building capacity is our third pillar.

 

Becoming an accomplished teacher takes time and support. And dignity and respect. Building teachers’ capacity begins long before they take charge of their own classrooms, and it should never end.

 

Take the San Francisco Teacher Residency program. Teachers in San Francisco’s highest- need schools start with a year-long residency alongside an accomplished teacher. The program has led to higher teacher retention and a diverse teaching corps reflective of the community it serves.

 

In Meriden, Connecticut, support never stops. They’ve got everything, from a New Teacher Induction Program for the rookies to the Meriden Teachers Sharing Success program for veterans.

Students benefit from this investment in their teachers. The district has seen a 62 percent decline in suspensions and an 89 percent decline in expulsions. And Meriden beats Connecticut’s average growth on the state English and math tests.

 

Building capacity is a shared responsibility. And unions are a crucial partner. AFT locals use their advocacy and collective bargaining to help teachers continuously hone their craft and build our profession. And a recent study found that highly-unionized districts have more rigorous and robust tenure processes.[ii]

 

Speaking of tenure, the AFT has worked with willing partners to ensure it is neither a cloak for incompetence nor an excuse for principals not to manage—but a guarantee of fairness and due process. With the recent surge in bigotry and hate, a teachers’ ability to stand up for her students and herself is more important than ever.
Far from being against evaluations, the AFT has fought for evaluation systems that support both teacher growth and student learning. With our Innovation Fund and a federal grant, 11 AFT locals and their districts took a hard look at evaluation. We learned that evaluation systems built through labor-management partnerships, that center on growth and improvement instead of punishment, consistently benefit students. That’s why we fought for ESSA to end federally-mandated, test-driven evaluation. And that’s why we support locally-driven evaluations with multiple, meaningful measures.

 

Fostering Collaboration and Community Collaboration

 

And the glue that binds everything else together is the fourth pillar: collaboration.

 

Rather than fix and fund struggling schools, too often in the last two decades, the response has been to privatize, to pauperize, to disrupt. Let’s be clear: In the wealthiest country in the world, 23 states still spend less on K12 education than they did before the 2008 recession. “Disruption” may be in vogue in business schools, but disrupting—rather than fixing– struggling schools has come to mean mass firings, school closures, and district or state takeovers.

 

These approaches are disruptive alright, but they are not effective–especially when it comes to improving student outcomes. As the president of a teachers union and the former president of the largest local union in the world, I can attest that, in education, if you set out looking for a fight, you’ll find one. But you probably won’t find a solution.

 

You don’t hear as much about the many quiet successes that result from educators and administrators working together to improve student achievement and well-being.

 

In the southern suburbs of Los Angeles, the ABC Unified School District and its teacher union have an intentional and purposeful collaboration to improve their schools. District personnel are paired with a union counterpart. They meet frequently, attend trainings together and hold an annual retreat. When there is a decision to be made—they make it collaboratively.

 

The results speak for themselves. ABC Unified performed better than the state as a whole, with Latino students, African-American students and students from low-income families performing much better than their counterparts in the state. Again, this is not isolated. A 2015 study of more than 300 Miami-Dade public schools found that high-quality teacher collaboration—giving teachers the time and space to work with each other—increased student achievement.[iii]

 

And we need to collaborate more broadly: the entire school community: with teachers, paraprofessionals, school counselors, bus drivers, school nurses and administrators; schools with parents; schools with community partners. Parents and students must see neighborhood public schools as their schools. That means creating environments that respect and value their voice and input rather than discourage them.

 

A great example is Chicago’s Parent Mentor Program, through which parents are trained to help out in overcrowded classrooms to work with struggling students one-on-one. Parents learn how to help not only their child but all the children in the community.

 

So too are parent-teacher home visit programs, such as those in Baltimore and St. Paul. Teachers visit students’ families at the beginning of the school year and again later on, to talk about the family’s hopes and dreams for their child, and share any concerns or questions. Results include increased parent involvement in school life, more positive behavioral outcomes, and increased student achievement. And teachers report greater job satisfaction.

 

Encouraging this kind of partnership is why the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools—AROS—was formed. AROS is a national alliance of parents, young people, community and labor organizations including the AFT and many of our locals, fighting to reclaim the promise of public education as the gateway to a strong democracy and racial and economic justice.

 

On January 19, AROS will mobilize tens of thousands of people in hundreds of communities to protect our students from the bigotry and hatred that have been unleashed in this incendiary period. We will stand up for our Dreamers and other youth fearful of deportation. And we will stand up for strong public schools and the very institution of public education.

 

 

ESSA: The New Education Federalism

 

When you see a neighborhood public school that’s working anywhere in the country, you see these four pillars I’ve described. They’re not one-size-fits-all; they’re tailored to different communities and needs. And they’re not a magic elixir—they need to be funded and supported. One thing they don’t need is a change in federal law—that already happened with ESSA. ESSA creates the potential to put these pillars in place, although it doesn’t guarantee it.

 

The frontier in education has moved from Washington to state capitols, districts and school communities. This doesn’t mean that the federal government has no role. We still need it to promote equity by funding schools that serve disadvantaged children and protecting the civil rights of all children, still vitally important 60 years after the landmark Brown decision.

 

But ESSA quelled the education wars, and enabled our shared attention to turn to what works… collaboration… and capacity building… and powerful learning… and the well-being of all children. Practical concepts that are scalable and sustainable. That Republicans and Democrats can support. And that red states and blue states, rural, suburban, and urban schools can implement with the right investment and management.

 

One speech cannot encompass everything we need to do for children, families and communities. We need to fight for a living wage, for retirement security, for affordable and accessible healthcare and college, and for universal preK, to name a few. And you can be sure we’ll continue to fight for those.

 

But the passage of ESSA has created a moment of opportunity to use these four pillars to help make every neighborhood public school a place that parents would want to send their kids, educators want to work and kids want to be.

 

 

Betsy DeVos and the Attack on Public Education

 

So as Republicans and Democrats, parents and teachers, all came together around ESSA, where was Betsy DeVos?

 

She was working in Michigan to undermine public schools and to divide communities. And now—she’s poised to swing her Michigan wrecking ball all across America.

 

If Donald Trump wanted an ideologue, he found one. DeVos’ involvement in education has been to bankroll efforts to destabilize, defund and privatize public schools. She hasn’t taught in a public school. She hasn’t served on a school board. She never attended public school—nor did she send her kids to one. She’s a lobbyist—but she is not an educator.

 

One wonders why she was nominated. Well, like a lot of Donald Trump’s cabinet choices, she’s a billionaire with an agenda. As she herself boasted: “my family is the single biggest contributor to the Republican National Committee—we expect a return on our investment.” By the way, those investments do not exempt her from the ethics disclosures required of all cabinet nominees. Frankly, her failure to disclose should delay her hearing.

 

In 2000, DeVos and her husband bankrolled a multimillion-dollar ballot initiative to create private school vouchers in Michigan. Voters rejected it by more than a 2-to-1 margin. No surprise, as the evidence over a quarter century shows that vouchers have failed to improve student achievement significantly or consistently.

 

That’s when she shifted her focus to diverting tax-payer dollars from neighborhood public schools to for-profit charter schools.

 

And give her her due. Over the last 15 years, Michigan has become America’s Wild Wild West of for-profit charter schools. Eighty percent of Michigan’s charter schools are for-profit.

 

Yes, give her her due… but don’t give her responsibility. Here’s why:

 

When the option was to bolster underfunded public schools—she fought instead for a tax cut for the rich.

 

When the option was to support neighborhood public schools—she disparaged public education and fought to divert taxpayer dollars to for-profit charters.

 

When the option was to strengthen charter schools with real accountability—she fought for NO accountability. No accountability even in cases like the Detroit charter schools that closed just days after the deadline to get state funding—leaving students scrambling to find a new school, but the charter operators still profiting.

 

She’s devoted millions to elect her friends and punish her enemies, and, at every critical moment, she has tried to take the public out of public education.

 

What is the result of all this? Student performance has declined across Michigan. Nearly half of all its charter schools ranked among the bottom of American schools.

 

Just look at the yearlong investigation by the Detroit Free Press which revealed rampant problems in the state’s for-profit charter schools—corruption, cronyism, poor performance and lack of accountability.

 

That’s Ms. DeVos’ legacy.

 

Walk the Walk

 

Back when I taught Tamika and her classmates at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn, they would say, “You can’t just talk the talk; you’ve got to walk the walk.” For a secretary of education, that means doing all you can to strengthen and improve public education. To do that, you have to first experience it… and be willing to walk the walk.

 

To that end, I extend both a challenge and an invitation to Ms. DeVos. Spend some time in public schools. There is no substitute for seeing firsthand what works in our public schools, or for seeing the indefensible conditions too many students and teachers endure.

 

Come to some of the places AFT members are working their hearts out for our students. Come to rural McDowell County, West Virginia, a county where many voted for Donald Trump. A county where the AFT is leading a public-private partnership to improve the public schools and health outcomes in this county that is the eighth-poorest in the country. Join me at Harvest or CHAH, or Toledo Technology Academy or in Meriden, Corpus Christi, ABC or Miami. Spend a day or two in a class for severely disabled students. Before you try to do what you did in Michigan to the rest of the country, see firsthand the potential and promise of public education.

 

The Trump administration can follow the will of the people, and walk the path laid out by Congress a year ago.

 

Or they can follow the destructive dogmas of the past, and reignite the education wars.

 

Let’s be clear, if they do the latter, communities across this country, will stand up and defend their public schools and our children. Like hundreds of thousands have done so far in open letters and petitions. Like AROS will on January 19.

 

Whatever this new administration does, we will be walking the walk for great neighborhood schools by investing and supporting the four pillars I’ve described today.

Using the AFT Innovation Fund to kick-start community school projects and investments in CTE literally from coast-to-coast.

 

Building the capacity of educators through AFT’s Share My Lesson, the largest free website of teaching resources in America with more than one million users.

 

Fostering collaboration through collective bargaining and labor-management partnerships, and working with parents, civil rights and community groups.

We are walking the walk. Across America, we are living our values and protecting our kids.

[i] http://www.slate.com/articles/life/schooled/2016/12/the_damage_donald_trump_could_do_to_public_education.html

[ii] https://ourfuture.org/20151208/study-finds-unions-improve-teacher-quality-high-school-dropout-rates

[iii] https://learningforward.org/docs/default-source/jsd-october-2015/high-quality-collaboration-benefits-teachers-and-students.pdf