Left In Lowell

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October 21, 2011

Open Thread: Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing Edition

by at 3:11 pm.

Folks, there is plenty of talk out there about expanding the MCAS tests to include more subjects. For sure, a standardized test has its place. We rely on the SAT to help evaluate High School graduates seeking to attend a college or university. However, let’s, as we move forward, be wary of any unintended consequences. I don’t want those test scores tied around teachers necks.

The privatizers are coming.

BOSTON — An advocacy group pressing for a ballot law that would force schools to prioritize teacher effectiveness over seniority in hiring, layoff, and transfer decisions says it has amassed more than 100,000 voter signatures.

The state’s largest teacher’s union is gearing up to fight the proposal in court.


Stand for Children: Our Vision

Our vision is to improve students’ outcomes by ensuring that all children have access to a quality education. Our members identified the following three-year planks to help guide our work from 2009 – 2011:

No more lost ground: Prevent further cuts to essential school services.
Efficiencies and cost-savings: Encourage efficiencies and cost-savings strategies so more of our education dollars are available for direct support of student learning.
Long-term funding: Develop adequate, equitable, and sustainable long-term funding solutions for education.
Innovation and investment to help all children succeed: Reduce persistent achievement gaps and help all children reach their potential.

Hmmm… This sounds reasonable, right?

Not so fast, says the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Among other changes, this initiative would diminish the role of seniority and experience in personnel decisions, impose limits on bargaining educator evaluation systems and preclude part-time teachers from attaining Professional Teacher Status. It would also impose a new layer of bureaucracy on school districts that already have their hands full implementing recently adopted educator evaluation regulations.
-snip

This is doing education reform to teachers, not with us. The MTA has been more than willing to discuss and promote proposals to improve the quality of our schools. The ballot initiative process shuts the door on teachers, administrators and other stakeholders having a meaningful role in shaping policies that directly affect us, our jobs and the quality of our schools.
-snip

It is an attack on our collective bargaining rights. The new educator evaluation regulations mandate certain standards and procedures, but still leave many fundamental decisions to collective bargaining. This ballot question would limit bargaining over the evaluations, curtailing the ability of local associations and school committees to develop systems that meet the needs of their own communities.

*head scratch*

My gut goes with the MTA on this. Folks, this whole Occupy Wall Street is really about economic and social justice. Public education, at its very core, is about economic and social justice. The brass ring is closer, if you stand on a diploma. As the gap between us grows larger, the further we slide away from what America is. Is our education system flawed? Yes. Have public unions become “Too Big To Bargain?” I’m saying, yes. But, the union rank and file are middle class folks that can be convinced to sit down and talk. For some reason, as we squabble for the 1%’s scraps, we have been taught to punch down or across. Let’s gather with our brothers and sisters and work this out.

Salmira and I sent both of our daughters to parochial school, K-8. Our oldest graduated LHS in 2010. Our youngest started there, this year. I can see the pros and cons of both public and private education. But, never have we advocated for pulling resources away from public schools. Vouchers are wrong, imho. Charter schools? I’m on the fence. I prefer public specialization institutions like technical high schools or Boston Latin, over a charter school. If a charter school was allowed here in Lowell, there would have to be controls in place to prevent its Administration from stacking the deck. The student selection process would have to be random or in line with the allocation system imposed on the other Lowell public schools. If a charter school is to act as an experiment to test an approach, then they must begin at the same point as the peer schools they wish to mentor. No other way would be fair.

I’m concerned we are a nation headed toward gated communities. Public education binds us together. Whatever choices we make, need to reinforce our basic value system. As Americans, we know we are always in this together. Those that spout of “Dog eat dog’ are likely looking to set you up, … as dinner.

18 Responses to “Open Thread: Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing Edition”

  1. Jack Says:

    More:

    Stand for Children – Massachusetts is part of the Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network.

    From PIE.

    bold mine
    Fostering other promising forms of education delivery (including quality virtual and “hybrid” options) and school choice.

    Funding students, not programs or institutions, via need-weighted and portable student-based funding that ensures transparency, equity, and accountability.

    Code?
    “School choice?” Private, Parochial, Charter?
    “Portable student-based funding?” Vouchers?

    This group is partnered with John Podesta’s Center for American Progress. A well known progressive organization. But, I smell a rat.

  2. pablo Says:

    As a former member of Stand, I was disturbed by the significant change in the focus of the organization.

    There is an article posted on the website Rethinking Schools titled For or Against Children that describes the transformation of Stand for Children into corporate policy in sheep’s clothing. It’s well worth a read.

    Here’s a sample from the article.

    The education policy environment has changed significantly during the past 10 years. Particularly since the onset of the economic crisis, teachers have increasingly been blamed for “failing public schools.” Major foundations have spent millions in efforts to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores, make it easier to hire and fire teachers, and restrict teachers’ rights to due process and to strike. Co-opting organizations like Stand for Children Reshapes the public face of corporate education reform and helps make anti-union and privatization schemes more palatable to liberals and progressives. It’s clear that conservative foundations and corporate-backed operatives recognize that organizing parents is a promising way to further their agendas.

    The real danger with Stand for Children is a facade designed to transform grassroots support for local schools into a corporate agenda zombie. These folks are slick, and not to be taken lightly.

    Needless to say, if someone offers you a chance to sign a petition to improve public schools, remember the sage wisdom of Nancy Reagan. Just say no.

  3. joe from Lowell Says:

    Jack,

    The CAP is a well-known progressive organization that has long pushed the anti-teacher, Michelle Rhee-style “education reform” agenda.

  4. Publius Says:

    Public education is NOT about economic and social justice. Economic justice means taking something from some(or their forbears) who has worked hard and smart. Social justice is nothing more than an extension of this expropriation policy.

    Horace Mann saw the public school as “the great equalizer”. This would give everyone, rich and poor, the OPPORTUNITY to improve their lot in life. It was not a a guarantee of equality of results.

    The MTA is objecting to the diminished role of seniority and experience. We must remember the MTA is a union trying to protect it s members. Those interests do not always mesh with the student’s education interests. If the MTA truly believe that their positions are correct why are they afraid of an open public debate? Let them convince the public of their position rather than using political gamesmanship to achieve their goals. Or does the MTA believe that the voters are not intelligent enough to make the correct decision?

    Joe, Michelle Rhee was not anti-teacher but rather pro-student. Rhee insisted on measuring results.

  5. Lowell Resident Says:

    Let’s count the ways this is a ridiculously awful idea.

    #1. The push for a citizen petition without any major effort to enact legislation through traditional channels. This should be a major red flag to anyone. Some might say the proposal would be D.O.A. in the Mass Legislature (and maybe it would be) but people pushing to make such major changes through citizen petition know they better are playing to the voters’ feelings rather than going through a more analytical legislative process. There will be no public hearings, no floor debates, people will vote on this not having the slightest clue of its ramifications. I hate citizen’s petitions in general because they are usually attempts at things like this, rolling back sales tax, etc. There are professional legislators whose job it is to study and research legislation before its voted on (whether you believe the actual elected officials do or not, it is definitely vetted fully before it ever reaches the house or senate floor).

    2. Process aside, its just a stupid idea. You think teaching to the test is bad now, what would happen when individual job security is on the line.

    3. Students are individual children and education is not a simple A to B process. Bad parenting has more effect on student’s learning than bad teaching. A student from a stable home with a stay at home parent who helps them with their homework is going to have an advantage over a student with a single parent who has to work three jobs. Maybe those students are in the same class with the same teacher, but what if they aren’t. Which teacher is going to have an easier time.

    The Achievement Gap is a socioeconomic gap, not a teacher-quality gap! You can’t “measure results” because the factors leading to the results are almost entirely out of the teacher’s hands. They can only do their best to help each student. If you wanted to measure by how much a teacher “cares” that would be a much better measure than whether students do well on a test. Students aren’t robots.

    4. Then once you change the basis of personnel decisions, you inevitably will change people’s motivations. Urban school systems tend to pay more because of the increased degree of difficulty I just mentioned. But if a teacher’s job security is going to be at the whim of the next year’s classroom, wouldnt they still be more likely to flock to the suburban schools that are going to be less volatile. Why would anybody want to deal with all the problems that are present in urban schools if there was no job security attached.

    5. Also what are you going to do with the arts? I doubt they will start testing kids on how well they draw or how well they sing. Allied Arts teachers are already being forced to use their class time for MCAS prep. This will just further reinforce the stupid idea that these classes are not important and the teachers are less of a “real teacher.”

    I could go on, but look, are there bad teachers? I’m sure there are, although I must say in all my time in the Lowell Public Schools, I never felt like I had a bad teacher. Maybe I’m lucky in that regard, I doubt it though. The idea of the “bad lazy teacher” is just another myth out there to get us all to punch down or sideways as Jack said earlier. I always did well in school too and just finished graduate school. Imagine that, a kid went to public school and was taught by unionized teachers with job security and made out alright? Of course I came from a secure home with supportive parents and I know that was an advantage to me. And while that is getting to be a few years ago now, its not that long ago. The problems of today are not the same, but are still similar.

    Any push to take away teacher security or benefits is not pro-education, its simply anti-worker. Make it less attractive to be a teacher to a risky population and that will increase the quality of educators? I hate this idea.

    And also, Michelle Rhee sucks. She absolutely was anti-teacher and ultimately anti-student as well.

  6. evelyn Says:

    It seems the MTA’s biggest objection to the proposal is the elimination of seniority as the final deciding factor when layoffs occur. Under the present system, new, energetic teachers trained in the latest teaching skills (I would argue they are actually a science since there is a heavy emphasis today on HOW children learn, not just wrote recitation) are the first on the chopping block during a layoff. The new system would give them an equal chance of keeping their employment ONLY IF they are effective educators.

    The MTA Union can work well within a new scheme - similar to players’ unions in professional sports… they advocate for good standards for ALL members, and understand that the decision about who stays in the Majors and who gets sent back to the Minors will be based on performace.

  7. evelyn Says:

    oops… *rote - not “wrote.” I rely too much on dragon.

  8. joe from Lowell Says:

    Publius,

    Michelle Rhee has recently been exposed as having presided over a massive cheating scandal. The entirely of the gains in standardized test scores under her tenure have been proven to be illusory. They were manufactured by changing the answers on students’ tests.

    She is a miserable, corrupt failure, and it is a testament to how irrelevant the well-being of students is to the union-bashing cause that people like you still hold her up as an icon. She literally accomplished nothing except harming teachers - but, then, that’s good enough for you, because that’s the point.

  9. Jack Says:

    Joe,
    Please provide a citation/hyperlink, re: Michelle Rhee.

  10. jdayne Says:

    Bill Clinton had it correct in a recent interview in The Financial Times in which he commented (paraphrasing) that the day women were able to get better paying jobs than teaching, public education lost access to a well-educated workforce willing (by necessity) to be underpaid. My mother, a teacher, (now retired and, at 96, sharp and lucid) rued the coming of the football coach-math teacher trained at a teachers college to “teach” rather than educated at a college or university as a student of his or her subject. If we want excellent public schools we need to pay more, demand more and appreciate more. As long as anyone with a modicum of means thinks it better to send their child to private/parochial school (many of which below the top tier have no better academic outcomes than public schools with similar demographics, ironically) and the tax-paying population does not grasp the link between public school reputation and housing value, I fear we are doomed.

  11. Mr. Lynne Says:

    Michelle Rhee is a former chancellor of DC schools.

    Bio including testing scandal:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelle_Rhee

    Rhee for the DREAM act:
    http://www.studentsfirst.org/blog/entry/the-dream-act-is-good-for-kids-and-good-for-our-country/#

    Yglesias’ take on Rhree’s reform legacy in DC:
    http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/10/19/348253/controversial-dc-education-reform-has-raised-teacher-salaries-substantially/

    Thinkprogress articles on Rhree:
    http://thinkprogress.org/?s=Michelle+Rhee&x=0&y=0

  12. joe from Lowell Says:

    The requested link:

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2011-03-28-1Aschooltesting28_CV_N.htm?loc=interstitialskip

    Two points here:

    1. After years of implementing union-busting, test-centric “reform,” the actual improvements generated by the poster child “reformer” were approximately zero.

    2. The actual, real-world effect of these reforms on the functioning of the DC school systems has been to encourage teachers to cheat and lie to promote themselves. Michelle Rhee and her type of school reformers sought to implement a new incentive structure, based around standardized test scores, threats to people’s jobs, and the distribution of merit pay, in a way that would cause teachers to change their practices. Well, it worked. Now we see what this incentive structure produces. I wonder how many equally good teachers were fired or quit because they didn’t cheat.

  13. joe from Lowell Says:

    BTW, this isn’t me singling out Michelle Rhee and her tenure at the DC Public Schools.

    It is the “reformers” themselves who singled her out, and selected the DC schools as the model we should be paying attention to while judging these reforms.

  14. evelyn Says:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/opinion/sunday/will-dropouts-save-america.html?pagewanted=2&ref=general&src=me

  15. Jack Says:

    Anyone watch the UTL farce, this evening? The candidates are in “drone mode.” More the CC than the SC.

    Blah, Blah,..Taxes.., Blah, Blah, ..Safety.., Blah, ..Burden.., Blah, Blah, ..Jobs.., Blah, .. Hire Lowellians .., Blah, Blah, Blah!

    It’s like looking at the sun. I have a frickin’ word cloud, constructed from rote, pandering, rhetorical meanderings burnt into my brain.

  16. evelyn Says:

    cool… you used the word rote in a sentence :)

    I have been less than excited by the election season. No one is saying anything to rock the boat… everyone agrees with each other. Like everyone is afraid of upsetting anyone - zombies.

  17. Jack Says:

    Tonight’s standouts were Rita and Patrick. I really like Murph. He is true to his “vision” of the city. The more I’ve seen him, the more that rings true. Rita is just classic. She is not for me, but I can see why she wins so handily.

  18. joe from Lowell Says:

    No one is saying anything to rock the boat… everyone agrees with each other. Like everyone is afraid of upsetting anyone - zombies.

    Reversion to the norm. We had two really exciting elections in 2007 and 2009, with sharp distinctions between two sets of candidates, and a reach choice that went beyond personal traits, but those were unusual.

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