Over the years I have been a frequent reader of the many discussions at Bluemassgroup. Given that there have been a series of education initiatives in Massachusetts during the last several weeks, this is an opportunity to provide my unfiltered views on these matters. I encourage others to share their views on these proposed changes and have an open dialogue about what is in the best interests of students and the long-term sustainability of universal public education for all.
I understand that many advocates for some of the new approaches to education often blame teacher unions for stonewalling education reform, contending that we only care about the interest of teachers. As someone who was elected by a majority of Boston teachers to advocate for them, I’d never deny my role in representing the teachers of Boston. My members and I want both good teaching and good learning conditions. In fact we feel that we cannot have one without the other.
It is true that I and many teachers are very critical of the so-called reform proposals advocated by corporately funded organizations like StudentsFirst and championed by school administrators. But we are joined by scores of academic policy experts, parent groups and public officials who offer very strong critiques regarding the inconsistent results and funding mechanisms for charter schools, the unintended consequences of the over-reliance of standardized tests or the belief that inexperienced teachers can be as effective as experienced teachers. There is no definitive data that demonstrates these corporate-driven changes will improve the quality of education.
As educational professionals, we are joined by academic experts, public policy experts and parent activists criticizing these policies. But, unlike academics or parents who question these policies, our motives are attacked. This is not surprising: to achieve the kind of “reform” organizations like StudentFirst advocate, one has to create and demonize an enemy for people to rally against. Teachers and their unions are their target for demonization.
In fact, many people do not realize that teachers and their unions have been an integral part of the process that has molded many of the educational efforts that have made our schools among the best in the nation. Without question, more needs to be done, particularly in closing the achievement gap between urban and suburban schools. In Boston, during the last set of negotiations, we have tried to take some of those very necessary steps. While we promote what works, we will not back down from attacking what doesn’t. We will continue to express our concerns about so-called reforms that we believe are not in the best interest of educating students and support the principles of universal public education.
The Boston Teachers union and other teacher unions in Massachusetts, have been part of a process–along with the MA Dept. of Education, school administrators, parents and other stakeholders–that has placed our schools among the best in the world. Now this collaborative effort is beginning to see real progress in closing the achievement gap, with new data out that indicates graduation rates among Massachusetts Hispanic and African-American students are growing three times faster than White students.
So despite our critics who claim that teacher unions are part of the problem, we will continue to advocate for the best interests of our students., We will also advocate for our members, who have done the teaching that has catapulted Mass to the nation’s lead. In fact, we are very proud of the innovative approaches we have implemented in our own school, demonstrating that teacher unions are agents for innovation and educational excellence.
In the coming weeks, I look forward to joining others in discussing a range of recent educational proposals that will shape future generations and encourage others to do so.