Seattle – What happens when teacher union leaders step up to support teachers, students, parents and public schools

For those union members, education advocates and parents who are consistently frustrated by the fact that some union leaders spend more time maintaining their close relationship with the power elite than fighting for their members and public education, the recent teacher strike in Seattle, Washington is proof that real champions have been stepping up in Seattle, Chicago, at the state level in New York and Massachusetts, and elsewhere.  These teacher union leaders are making a fundamental difference in the fight to improve public schools and provide greater support for teachers, students and parents.

For an update on the Seattle Teacher Strike check out, The surprising things Seattle teachers won for students by striking.

The post appears on Valerie Strauss’s blog, The Answer Sheet.  Strauss is a reporter with the Washington Post and her bog is one of the most important resources in the nation for information about education policy and the unprecedented assault on public schools and public school teachers by the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry.

If you don’t read Strauss’ blog you should book mark it and sign up for her regulator updates at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/

In The surprising things Seattle teachers won for students by striking, Strauss writes;

Seattle teachers went on strike for a week this month with a list of goals for a new contract. By the time the strike officially ended this week, teachers had won some of the usual stuff of contract negotiations — for example, the first cost-of-living raises in six years — but also some less standard objectives.

For one thing, teachers demanded, and won, guaranteed daily recess for all elementary school students — 30 minutes each day. In an era when recess for many students has become limited or even non-existent despite the known benefits of physical activity for children, this is a big deal, and something parents had sought.

What’s more, the union and school officials agreed to create committees at 30 schools to look at equity issues, including disciplinary measures that disproportionately affect minorities. Several days after the end of the strike, the Seattle School Board voted for a one-year ban on end suspensions of elementary students who commit specific nonviolent offenses, and called for a plan that could eliminate all elementary school suspensions.

Other wins for students in Seattle’s nearly 100 traditional public schools include:

Teachers won an end to the use of student standardized test scores to evaluate them — and now, teachers will be included in decisions on the amount of standardized testing for students. This evaluation practice has been slammed by assessment experts as invalid and unreliable, and has led to the narrowing of curriculum, with emphasis on the two subjects for which there are standardized tests, math and English Language arts.

Special education teachers will have fewer students to work with at a time. What’s more there will be caseload limits for other specialists, including psychologists and occupational therapists.

Seattle teachers had said they were not only fighting for pay raises but to make the system better for students. It sounds like they did.

Every teacher union leader in the country should be looking to Seattle for guidance on how to fight back against the forces seeking to destroy public education in the United States.

Madison Public School Superintendent Thomas Scarice makes national waves – again.

Thomas Scarice, the superintendent of Madison Public Schools in Connecticut, has been identified as a “Public Education Hero” by Diane Ravitch, the nations’leading public education advocate.  Scarice has been a leading Connecticut voice against “high-stakes test-based school reform.”

A few months ago, Thomas Scarice received national attention for a letter he sent to Connecticut State Legislators explaining why these “reforms will not result in improved conditions since they are not grounded in research.”

His latest commentary piece, “The greatest ‘crime’ committed against the teaching profession” was featured on Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post’s education blog this week.

Thomas Scarice writes,

On May 25th, 2006, former Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were found guilty of fraud and conspiracy in perhaps the most high profile scandal of corruption as a consequence of high stakes measures.  Lay and Skilling fraudulently inflated the company’s stock price to meet the high stakes demands of Wall Street’s expectations.  Not only did Lay and Skilling conspire to inflate stock prices, but they also distorted standard accounting practices to solely meet targets.  The seeds of high stakes schemes yield corruption and distortion.

The Enron case does not stand alone in the history of corruption and distortion amidst high stakes indicators, such as stock prices.  As academic scholars Dr. David Berliner and Dr. Sharon Nichols demonstrate in their work, the annals of corporate history are tattered with similar cases of corruption and distortion driven by high stakes pressures.  High stakes accountability and incentive system failures, as well as blatant fraud, at Dun and Bradstreet, Qwest, the Heinz Company, and Sears auto repair shops, illustrate that such schemes inevitably bring unintended consequences.  As people, we are free to choose our actions, but we are not free to choose the intended or unintended consequences of such actions.  As author Steven Covey has written, “When you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other end.”

The ubiquity of this principle is evident in the fields of medicine, athletics, higher education, and politics.  Quite simply, as the stakes rise, so do the occurrences of corruption and distortion.  Sadly, education is not immune to this principle.  Over a decade of high stakes accountability schemes thrust upon students, teachers, and schools have yielded sordid tales of outright corruption and cheating scandals.  Although such acts of indignity garner ornate headlines and self-righteous accusations about the lack of moral character, to which there is truth, given the inescapable unintended consequences of high stakes schemes, such corrupt behaviors and distortions of a given professional practice are inevitable and of no surprise.  Yet, we march on in the high stakes test-based accountability era with the high probability that posterity will ask an indicting question of how a generation of educators could commit such offenses when they knew better.

Beneath the surface of these obvious problems lies a more insidious threat to the quality of public education for all children.  This threat begins with the redefinition of a quality education and ends with a decimating blow to the professional practice of education.  While frivolous topics related to the common core are debated in the open arena, e.g. whether or not the common core is a curriculum, a redefinition of quality education has destructively taken root.  This redefinition, one that feebly defines quality education as good high stakes test scores, and quality teaching as the efforts to produce good high stakes test scores, leaves well-intended educators consequentially conflating goals with measures.  Without question, measures, qualitative and quantitative, representing a variety of indicators that mark the values of an organization, are necessary fuel for the engine of continuous improvement.  High quality tests, specifically used for the purposes for which they were designed, can and should play a productive role in this process.  But, measures are not goals.  Regrettably, just as Lay and Skilling did in bringing a multibillion dollar corporation to its knees, in this era, the shallowest of thinkers have passively accepted the paradigm that measures are goals.

And finally, we are left with the greatest crime committed against the professional practice of education as a result of the corrosive effect of the high stakes testing era.  In an effort to thrive, and perhaps, just to survive, in a redefined world of quality education, a soft, though sometimes harsh, distortion of pedagogy, has perniciously spread to classrooms, just as the Enron executives distorted sound accounting practices to meet high stakes targets.  This will indeed be our greatest regret.

Corruption and distortion as a result of high stakes schemes sealed the fate of Enron and many other organizations like it.  History will tell the story about the future of the high stakes test-based accountability era and its unintended consequences.  And again, we march on in this era with the high probability that posterity will ask an indicting question of how a generation of educators could commit such offenses when they knew better.

You can read the piece on-line at the Washington Post by going to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/06/20/superintendent-the-greatest-crime-committed-against-the-teaching-profession/