DeVos, the Teachers Unions, and Political Cartoonists

While not endorsing the message of the below cartoon, Eduflack was fascinated by the following piece that appeared in the Tampa Times last week (the newspaper of record for Eduflack’s parents during winter time). 

I recognize that far too many people are looking to sources like Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show for their news these days. But what was most interesting was that the DeVos confirmation rose to the level of a syndicated political cartoon (particularly one distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group) and that the cartoon would differ so strongly from the editorial content that the Post was publishing on the same topic. 

Any sightings of this in other newspapers? If so, please share.

A Surprising Backer of “Fair Share”

As just about everyone engaged in education policy knows, today the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing Friedrichs v California Teachers Association. For those who need the Cliffnotes, the case is about whether a public union (California’s NEA affiliate) can require those who choose not to be union members to still pay agency fees for the collective bargaining benefits they receive.

Or even more simply, if you are a school teacher who chooses not be part of the teachers union, should you have to help pay some of the costs for all of the work that goes into negotiating your salary and benefits and that provides you the job guarantees you expect, whether you hold a union card or not?

Longtime readers of Eduflack would probably assume that I come down on the side of Friedrichs, joining with many other reformers in a supposed effort to stand up to the unions. But you’d be wrong.

I believe in the “fair share” arguments that the CTA and their supporters are making. I believe in the editorial stance that the Los Angeles Times took this morning. I believe that since Friedrichs benefits, she should pay her fair share for the collective bargaining rights she enjoys. She doesn’t have to pay the full freight of being a union member if she doesn’t want to, but we have to acknowledge that fair is fair.

My reasoning for such is simple, and quite personal. Twenty five years or so ago, I watched as my mother, and NEA member and high school teacher in West Virginia, walked the picket lines for better pay and better rights for teachers. Most of her fellow educators walked with her, as did most of the educators across the entire state. They did so against great threat. Striking teachers were told they would not be paid. They were told they would be punished for their actions. They were sued in court.

In my mother’s school, there were two or three teachers who chose not to strike, as is their right. They went into school each day during the strike, sitting in empty classrooms and drinking coffee. These teachers would be paid. And then they would receive the pay increases, improved benefits, and greater protections that the striking teachers fought so hard for.

None of the risk, all of the reward. Those teachers who chose to cross the picket lines of their fellow teachers were in a win-win. They didn’t jeopardize their careers, nor did they have to wonder how they were going to pay their rent that month. And then they received all of the benefits that they themselves refused to ask for. They got it because the teachers union negotiated it. Everyone benefits or no one does. That’s what a union and collective bargaining is all about.

At the time, my mother explained to my younger sisters the importance of unions and of collective bargaining. Her father was a lifelong member of the Teamsters. After dropping out of high school, he joined the Army. The Army taught him to drive a truck. And the Teamsters turned that skill into a profession. Because of his union, he was able to provide for his family of seven. When he cast a vote as a Teamster, it was always what was best for the group, not what may be best for him personally. They were a brotherhood, believing a rising tide lifted all boats.

I realize that many believe the Court will side with Friedrichs and determine that “fair share” is unfair for those not wanting to be in the union. I hope that isn’t the case. Yes, it is the right of every worker to determine whether they want to be full members of a public union or not. Yes, it is the right of a teacher to not want to pay for lobbying or political activities if they choose so. But it is also the obligation of that teacher, if he or she benefits from collective bargaining, to pay their fair share of the costs of said bargaining.

 

Attacking #edreform and Progress, No Matter How Ridiculous

Throughout the years, I’ve heard a lot of ridiculous statements made in efforts to thwart education reform initiatives and to block efforts designed to provide all kids with access to a world-class public education.

I’ve heard legislators say it isn’t their problem because they represent districts without black and brown kids. I’ve heard the business community say we don’t want to give kids too many high-level skills, out of fear that they won’t be satisfied working in a blue-collar job for three or four decades. I’ve heard teachers tell parents to “sit down and shut up,” saying they had no business being part of discussion of education reform. And I’ve heard parents waxing eloquently about just going back to the “good ol’ days.” Yes, I’ve heard it all.

And I’ve also said my fair share of hyperbolic statements, of attacks on those who didn’t necessarily deserve to be attacked. Of making policy fights personal. All in the name of progress and improving our public schools.

But my jaw just about hit the floor when I saw an old adversary, former Connecticut State Sen. Don Williams, make the most outrageous of outrageous statements in defense of the status quo. A few years back, Williams retired from the Connecticut General Assembly, taking a job with the Connecticut Education Association. (I’ll be honest, during my years in Connecticut ed reform, I assumed that Williams was already working for the CEA, based on his education positions.)

Earlier this week, as a CEA spokesman, Williams was railing on all things reform. speaking on WNHH radio, and as reported by the New Haven Independent, he held nothing back. Williams attacked testing. He attacked the “corporatization” of our public schools. He attacked the cost of college. And he did all of it, trying to wrap himself in the flag and American and all that is good and holy in the United States. Nothing most of us haven’t heard before.

Then he dropped the following, “Computers create achievement gap.” Yes, the Honorable Don Williams attacked technology and computers in the schools, blaming them for the achievement gaps that have existed well before technology was ever introduced into a public school classroom.

Let’s go through the roster. When it comes to the achievement gap, charter schools are to blame. And private philanthropy. And testing. And Common Core. And poverty, please don’t forget poverty. And now computers are to blame as well.

Are we serious? Does the CEA, and by extension, the National Education Association, really believe that technology is to blame for the achievement gap? Do they agree, as Williams says, that when we “digitize our children” we make it impossible for them to become problem solvers? And does the NEA really believe that today’s urban schools are “drilling and spending time on test prep instead of enrichment?”

I get that we are all trying to score rhetorical points in a battle that should be about what is best for kids. But in a 21st century learning environment, can we honestly say technology is bad for classrooms, particularly for high-need classrooms?

Education technology is the great equalizer. It brings knowledge and resources into classrooms that otherwise would be without. It allows a diverse student body to learn in diverse ways. It ensures we aren’t deskilling and unplugging our 21st century kids. At its very heart, edtech is the answer to our achievement, opportunity, and resource gap problems we seek to solve, not the cause.

The time for blame games needs to come to an end. We have spent too much time, wasted too much breath, and spread too much electronic ink on the negative attack. All the fighting back and forth is doing absolutely nothing to help kids who need  safe, good schools. All the vitriol does zero to close those gaps we speak so much of, and does nothing more than letting just another generation of students fall through the cracks as the adults protect their own interests.

Senator Williams, I’ve seen the power of technology to transform high-need schools and to empower teachers to deliver world-class educations to all students. It’s sad that you and the CEA have now added technology and computers to the enemies list when it comes protecting public education.

Continuing to Challenge the Reading Instruction Status Quo

As some may know, in 2005 Eduflack was part of a team that was asked to put together a book to help parents and teachers better understand scientifically based reading instruction. This came out of my work with the National Reading Panel, which looked at decades worth of research to determine the best ways to teach young children (those in kindergarten through third grade) how to read and how to read at grade level.

A lot has changed since 2005, both in education in general and with regard to literacy and reading instruction specifically. But the guidance SBRR provides hasn’t changed. We still know what works. We still know what is most effective for teaching kids – particularly those from historically disadvantaged backgrounds – to read. We still know if a child isn’t reading at grade level by the end of third grade, learning in the later grades just becomes harder and harder.

But since Why Kids Can’t Read originally came out, we’ve had knock-down, drag-out fights on everything from Race to the Top to teacher evaluations to new ELA standards under the Common Core. While these debates have garnered all the headlines, they haven’t diminished the importance of doing what works when it comes to teaching literacy skills. And they certainly haven’t reduced the importance of parents in the teaching and learning process.

That’s why I am so excited to announce that Why Kids Can’t Read: Continuing to Challenge the Status Quo in Education, from Rowman & LIttlefield, is now available to help teachers and parents navigate this important subject matter. Done in collaboration with my co-editors Reid Lyon and Phyllis Blaunstein, Why Kids Can’t Read offers personal stories from parents and educators on how they have “beaten the odds” when it comes to teaching kids to read. It also provides a deep understanding of what the research says AND how parents and teachers can use the research to ensure each and every classroom is doing what works when it comes to literacy instruction.

Contributing authors include Teresa Ankney, Diane Lyon, Phyllis Blaunstein, Norma Garza, Marion Joseph, Richard Long, Reid Lyon, Sara Porter, Benjamin Sayeski, Bennett Shaywitz, Sally Shaywitz, and yours truly. It also offers a foreword from Carol Hampton Rasco, the president and CEO of Reading Is Fundamental, and a preface from former U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley.

For those parents with struggling readers at home, it is worth a look. For those seeking a refresher on SBRR, it is work a read. And for those looking for inspiration from parents and educators who are doing extraordinary things, it won’t disappoint.

Of course, I’m biased. As the lead editor, a contributing author, and the father of a struggling reader, this book is quite personal to me. But it should be personal to all of us. We should want every kid reading. We should demand every fourth grade reading at grade level. And we should never make excuses for so many children – particularly kids of color – struggling with reading.

Why Kids Can’t Read is really a story of empowerment, helping parents take an active, positive role in their children’s educational journey. As Bob Chase, a past president of the National Education Association said about the book, “Parents and teachers working together can be an unstoppable force in solving our children’s reading problems. This book will guide all who strive for a nation of readers.”

Couldn’t say it any better myself.

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How About Those Edu-Elections?

If anything, yesterday’s midterm elections were entertaining. We saw incumbents defeated. We saw incumbents previously left for dead winning big. We saw darkhorses win in the end. We races long written off come in within recount range. For those without a vested interest in a specific candidate, it was a heckuva night.

While yesterday’s results will be deconstructed ad naseum in the coming days and weeks, let’s take a look at some of the edu-implications.

The Power of Teachers’ Unions

It was the best of times and worst of times for the teachers’ unions. Teachers were able to start the night by crowing loudly about Tom Wolf’s win for the Pennsylvania governorship, knocking off an incumbent Republican governor who had slashed state education spending and sought to cancel out teacher contracts in Philadelphia. The unions also got to wrap up Election Day wit a big win, as Tom Torlakson was re-elected as state superintendent for public instruction in California, turning back reformer-backed Marshall Tuck. (And we will set aside the fact that the job has very little actual power in California education, with the real strength lying with the state board of education).

But what happened in between will have many people questioning the political power of the teachers’ unions. AFT and NEA put major dollars and major GOTV muscle into taking the governorships in states like Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, and Colorado. All went Republican. Strong union support couldn’t even help true-blue states like Massachusetts and Maryland elect Democratic (presumably pro-union, pro-teacher) governors.

Those Dems that did win the big chairs have some “history” with the teachers’ unions. In Connecticut, Dannel Malloy barely won re-election, and likely owes his win to teachers after just two years seeking to eliminate teacher tenure. In Rhode Island, Dem Gina Raimondo won the race, largely because she took on unions as part of a pension reform push she led.

Put all together, and the unions had limited impact in statewide elections, particularly in those states they targeted.

The Role of Ed Reformers

Yes, the AFT and NEA had a rough night. But it wasn’t all rainbows and lollipops for education reformers either. They lost their biggest prize of the evening when Torlakson beat Tuck in Cali. Reformers only won half the prize they sought with a big spend in the Minneapolis school board race.

Ed reform Dem governors like CT’s Malloy and NY’s Andrew Cuomo only won by seeking to reframe or rewrite their past support for reforms, as Cuomo practically came out as anti-CCSS.

In fact, reformers seemed most proud by Raimondo’s win, believing pension reform is a sure path to more education reform.

While much of the edreform community tends to focus on Democratic reformers, it was a good night for GOP edreformers. NM Gov. Susana Martinez., MA Gov.-elect Charlie Baker, and GA Gov. Nathan Deal to name but a few.

Common Core Impact

When it comes to the political impact of Common Core, support of opposition seemed to be neither help nor hindrance. The Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli says that half the Republican governors are pro-Common Core. For those like Ohio’s John Kasich, such support didn’t hurt him at all. School Reform News reported that nine of the 10 GOP govs up for re-elect yesterday were against Common Core. For those like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker or Florida’s Rick Scott, opposition to the Core helped. (Though I have to question School Reform News’ math, as with OH’s Kasich and NM’s Martinez, I already have two of the 10 GOP govs pro-CCSS, without adding voices like NV’s Sandoval and GA’s Deal.)

Those Pesky Statehouses

Over the weekend, John Oliver ranted about how few were paying attention to state legislature elections. And he is absolutely right. For education, that’s where the action will be, from CCSS to testing, from teacher evaluations to school funding. We still need to wait for the dust to settle, but the initial returns seem to show that GOP governors will have more supportive legislatures behind them, while Dem governors will have a few less supporters on their benches. Issue coalitions may very well win the day in state capitals, particularly on issues such as education.

No doubt there is more to come. The one thing we know with certainty? With Sen. Lamar Alexander taking over as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, it is safe to say we have a Senate chairman who, as a former gov, former EdSec and former university president, knows a thing or two about the issue of education.

Make Roar Happen

First things first. Eduflack is a huge Katy Perry fan. I have purchased all of her albums. I have been known to use her songs as my ringtones. I have seen (with my wife) Katy perform a live show, and it was one of the best concerts I’ve seen in years. Yes, I am Eduflack and I am a Katycat.

As the son of a retired schoolteacher, I also know it is that time of year when my mother used to start dipping into her own pocket (I know it is an ongoing activity for teachers) to pay for materials for her classroom. I can’t even think the likely tens of thousands of dollars she spent over her career to have the best 10th grade English classroom she could.

So I was thrilled to see that Katy Perry has teamed up with Donors Choose and Staples to help direct $1 million to help support teachers. Dollars that can be used to make up for recent cute and fill the funding gaps that have persisted for far too long.

20140720-143314-52394348.jpg Then it hit me. The teachers unions are advocating a boycott of Staples stores across the country, showing solidarity with the postal workers union. The issue is that Staples is working with Congress to turn its stores into quasi-post offices, but non-union branches.

So it begs an important question. Can one support Katy and Donors a Choose in this important effort, even with Staples involved? Can we #MakeRoarHappen for teachers, and help send a million bucks to educators in need, without it betraying the union? I certainly hope so.

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AFT Yells, “Game On!”

Some were wondering how AFT, at its annual assembly, would top NEA and its official vote calling for EdSec Arne Duncan’s ouster. Would AFT call for the same? Would they seek heads on pikes?

Well, AFT has responded, and they decided to do so in the most political of ways. First, they announce the formation of “Democrats for Public Education,” a new 527 that will seek to inject addition teacher unionism in political races. While details of the new org are still being worked out, it’ll be co-chaired by former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Dem political consultant Donna Brazile.

It is best seen as a direct counter to Democrats for Education Reform, a group that has grown more and more active in political campaigns. So,me traditional Dems in Los Angeles even tried to block them from using the “Democrats” word, questioning their allegiance to the party.

In welcoming the new group to the fold, DFER ED Joe Williams offered an appropriate Guns n Roses response, “Welcome to the jungle, baby!”

Then over the weekend. AFT also issued an email missive to rally the troops. Under the header of “Are You In?” AFT sent the following:

The promise of America isn’t disappearing by accident. We are being ripped off.

Today, I stood in front of 3,500 AFT members and leaders and asked them to pledge to push back and fight forward. Now I’m asking you.

Our students are suffering. Our families are being squeezed. Our communities are being starved. But it doesn’t have to happen this way.

Will you pledge to stand with us—in our communities, in our workplaces, and at the ballot box?

Our enemy is organized and motivated. They blame teachers for struggling schools. They blame public employees for budget deficits. They blame workers for the broken economy. They sell austerity as the solution while they buy elections, push radical legislation and fund court cases to strip us of our rights.

They use their wealth to build power. Our strength is people-powered. It’s in our members, our leaders and the communities we serve. Despite the vast challenges we face, our ranks continue to grow. Today, our union is 1.6 million members strong.

We work every day to create a better life for our members and the communities we serve. More and more, we’re fighting together to reclaim the promise that’s being stolen from us.

Take the pledge, and join us as we push back and fight forward.

This is the promise we believe in: If you work hard, you have a fair shot to get ahead. Your children can attend a great neighborhood public school, no matter where you live. You can get high-quality healthcare without going broke. Your tax dollars will help build and support a safe community for all of us. You’ll be treated fairly at work, and you’ll get a real raise once in a while. A lifetime of work will earn a retirement with dignity.

While we’re fighting for big things, no action is too small. We need you to do whatever you can. Commit to engage your colleagues in the fight. To build power at the ballot box. To share our work online and in person. To work hand in hand with the communities we serve.

Joe, it seems Randi Weingarten’s retort is “game on.” The big question is whether the new AFT response results in the sort of power they seek come Election Day. Will the new AFT call be a reason for folks to vote in coming elections, or will it be an also ran, as education issues have been for decades. Only time will tell.