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.
Mark L. Bail says
here. It’s good to have your voice.
is similar to the corporate approach we’ve been seeing for many years now in the delivery of human services in this and most other states.
In both cases, those who question the bottom-line, cost-cutting measures that tend to characterize these “reform” efforts are demonized as being against progress and excellence.
In fact, like the teachers unions in their criticism of corporate education reform, COFAR, the organization I work for, and many state employee union people have simply tried to point out what works and what doesn’t work in achieving the best-quality care for people with developmental disabilities.
In both cases, we need to recognize that well-trained and experienced public employees play a key role in providing high-quality services and that the public institutions they work for are among the best in the nation in what they do.
Mark L. Bail says
The corporate assault is at all levels. Government should run as business sees itself doing. When we don’t take in money, which for us means when tax revenues fall, we should cut services. Never mind the fact that if they have their way, tax revenues will always fall.
Our problem is that there are few of us and aside from some small groups, we are largely poor and disorganized. In education, we’re organized, but that only buys a seat at the table. The business lobby is well-organized and well-heeled.
This is one issue where the powers that be felt the Republicans were polling better and we just adopted all of their ‘solutions’. I really wish we could see a truly progressive alternative to education reform. And I especially hate the notion that if you are against charters and for unions somehow that means you are not ‘pro-reform’.
I am agnostic about charters and unions. Charters don’t always do a great job and unions are not always obstacles to progress but they can be sometimes. A key difference though is that teachers by and large when surveyed are much happier, better paid, and better treated when they have unions. The reverse cannot be said about charters (that either teachers or students are happier with them).
And funding charters at the expense of community schools just shows how transparently anti-public education some of these ‘reforms’ are. Lets look at teaching strategies and teaching methods, if we look at Canada and Ravitch one area that they agree is innovative solutions to keep kids fed and out of trouble before and after as well as during school help address a lot of the big problems facing inner city schools. We also need a truly national curriculum and national policy, having states and towns do most of the legwork has been a recipie for disaster. Again no one has the courage to be honest here either.
I’m a teacher in a public school and I’m a witness to the shenanigans the charters are getting away with. They say they have an open lottery, but none of the students from my school that scored “W” (Warning) on the MCAS were either recruited or chosen, and the 10 they took (25% of the class) were high “NI” (Needs Improvement) or already “P”(Proficient). Now our school must sustain “growth” on the MCAS even while the highest scoring students were skimmed off the top. Not 1 special needs student got in, and not 1 student below an ELD (English Language Development) level 4 (from a scale of 1-5). My school is just one of many that this happened to. Our schools are threatened with closure or “turnaround” status based on MCAS scores. Who will teach our students most in need of the highly qualified professionals who are being blamed for “failing” schools? Charters do not care if they replace their teachers every 2 years, and it’s actually part of the plan to keep costs down. And do the charters keep any students with academic, behavioral and attendance issues? No, they don’t. We, the publics, take all comers. If the charters are finally forced to take their share of high needs students, will everyone still think they are the answer? After the unions are broken and the quality of teachers plummets, who will teach these students? But does anyone really care?