Teacher’s First Amendment Rights and the CEA’s recent problematic memo

Having just observed Memorial Day, a special time to honor military personnel who died while serving the United States, most Americans would probably be stunned to learn that teachers and other public employees DO NOT HAVE full First Amendment rights when working in their capacity as a public employee.

Considering we honor and memorialize American servicemen and women who gave their lives to protect the nation and its fundamental values, it is more than a bit disconcerting to think that public employees are treated differently than everyone else when it comes to what is arguably the most sacred law of the land.

But as the Connecticut Education Association wrote in a recent memorandum sent out to Connecticut’s teachers under the headline “Constitutional limitations on individual teacher advocacy for opting out,”

“There is no protection under the First Amendment’s freedom of speech for a teacher while on duty for advocating opting out of standardized testing for students.”

The CEA memo was drafted by the union’s Member Legal Services lawyers and released following the CEA’s recent Representatives Assembly meeting.

While Connecticut school teachers should take the advice and guidance from their union’s lawyers extremely seriously, the memo falls short of providing teachers with all the information they need about the legal issues surrounding what a teacher can or cannot say about the Common Core or the Common SBAC testing issue or when they can say it.

For examples, what are the First Amendment rights of teachers when they are speaking in their capacity as parents?

And what rights do they have when they are not speaking as teachers, but instead are functioning as citizens of the United States?

It would be extremely helpful if the CEA provided teachers with additional information clarifying what rights individuals, who happen to be teachers, have when they are not speaking in their capacity as public school teachers.

The CEA Member Legal Services memo opens with;

“There is no protection under the First Amendment’s freedom of speech for a teacher while on duty for advocating opting out of standardized testing for students.  Similarly, there is little, if any, constitutional protections for a teacher advocating opting out while off duty.  The reason for this is that school districts administer standardized tests pursuant to state law, specifically Chapter 163c of the Connecticut General Statues.  Since administration of standardized tests is part of a teacher’s job duties, a teacher’s encouragement of opting would be viewed by the district as being disruptive of its obligation under state law and district policy.”

Although the memo fails to cite the sources used to back up their definitive statement, it appears the CEA’s legal team is relying on the foundational 2006 case of Garcetti v. Ceballos in which the United States Supreme Court voted by a 5 to 4 margin to limit the First Amendment rights of all public employees.

The Supreme Court ruled that while the First Amendment protects the speech of public employees when they are acting “as citizens,” they don’t have the same protection for speech when it is spoken “pursuant to… official responsibilities.”

In this little known, but extremely important case, the Supreme Court reasoned that “[g]overnment employers, like private employers, need a significant degree of control over their employees’ words and actions” in order to secure “the efficient provision of public services.” Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 418 (2006).

The court decision goes on to explain that government needs “a significant degree of control over their employees’ words and actions,” and that therefore, they may restrict employees’ speech made “pursuant to their official duties.” Garcetti, 547 U.S. at 418, 421.

The result of this and subsequent cases is that public employee’s First Amendment rights can be limited if the government has a legitimate “proprietary interest in directing or controlling the individual’s speech.”

Like the National Education Association, the Connecticut Education Association has sought to warn teachers that they do not have unbridled First Amendment Rights when they are acting in their capacity of public employees.

However, the CEA memo unfortunately fails to explain that people, who are teachers, none-the-less have broader First Amendment rights when they are clearly speaking in the role as parents, elected official or citizens.

The underlying problem is that the courts have not been exactly clear about when those broader rights exist.

For one thing, it appears that there are no specific limitations on an individual’s First Amendment rights when they are exclusively acting in their capacity as a parent rather than a teacher.

However, the CEA memo reads,

“There is only a qualified protection for a teacher’s off duty speech insofar as advocating opting out is concerned.  A school district’s interest in its efficient administration of education can outweigh its public employee’s right to speak on issues of public concern.  In this balancing test, a first amendment challenge to discipline or termination is unlikely to succeed.”

Teaches should be cautious when speaking with their “teacher voice,” but CEA legal unit does a disservice to Connecticut’s teachers by simply stating that any, “first amendment challenge to discipline or termination (for “off-duty” speech) is unlikely to succeed.”

The case law simply does not support such a broad claim.

The real problem revolves around a teacher addressing issues while serving in their official capacity as a public school teacher.

The CEA memo notes that “Prohibited actions which could give rise to discipline and possible termination include but are not limited to the following actions;  conversations with parents encouraging opting out, posting on school sponsored websites, posting on private websites, or handing out flyers.”

As the law stands, it would appear that a teacher who encourages his or her students or the student’s parents to opt out of the Common Core SBAC test or posts such information on the school website could be successfully targeted by the school district.

It is far less clear that an individual who is acting solely in their capacity as a parent or as an American citizen lacks the right to address that Common Core and its related Common Core SBAC testing program.

In New York, the 600,000 member NYSUT union approaches the issue by stating,

“A teacher who, in conversations with students or parents, takes a position on testing contrary to the school district’s educational program may potentially be subject to disciplinary action, e.g. charges of misconduct or insubordination. The Supreme Court has held that when a public employee speaks in his/her capacity as an employee, the speech is not constitutionally protected.

However, because standardized testing is a matter of public concern, a local speaking as a union, or an individual member speaking as a parent or citizen, about educational concerns over standardized testing, for instance, in a letter to the editor or in a statement to the Board of Education, is protected by the U.S. Constitution at least so long as they are not encouraging other parents or students to opt out from a test.”

It would be helpful if the CEA put forward a statement agreeing with that stance or, if not, provided alternative guidance to Connecticut’s teachers.

While clarifying the First Amendment rights of teachers, Connecticut’s teacher unions should also join their fellow unions from around the country in making it extremely clear that the union will aggressively fight any efforts by a school district to harass, discipline or terminate any teacher who speaks out about a parent’s fundamental right to opt their children out of the Common Core tests.

In New York and in other locations around the country, the teacher unions have put state and local officials on notice that attempts to punish teachers for speaking honestly about the testing scheme will be met with the full resources of the union.

Public attention and legal action have an impact.

In nearby Rhode Island, a teacher was suspended early this year for telling students about their opt-out rights.  Following the suspension the backlash against the school district was immediate and significant and the teacher was soon re-instated.  (See RI Teacher Suspended for Discussing Opt Out, Students Demand his Return.)

So, in addition to providing accurate information about the legal issues surrounding teachers and their First Amendment rights, the Connecticut Education Association and American Federation of Teachers – CT Chapter should be putting the State of Connecticut and Connecticut’s school districts on notice that any and all un-American efforts to tread on the Free Speech rights of Connecticut’s teachers will be meet with swift and overwhelming force.

Meanwhile, the most important thing that all citizens can do for their children and Connecticut’s teachers and public schools is to opt out of the unfair and discriminatory Common Core SBAC test.

An Open Letter To Every Teacher in the State of Connecticut (By Matthew Valenti)

Connecticut educator Matthew Valenti sent in this “An Open Letter To Every Teacher in the State of Connecticut”

May 16th was a dark day for every one of the 43,000 public school teachers in Connecticut. 

For on that day, 1 percent of that number of teachers at the CEA-RA chose for a second term Sheila Cohen and Jeff Leake as president and vice president of the Connecticut Education Association.

In the words of Jonathan Pelto:  WAIT, WHAT?

What were the majority of these educators thinking when they cast their vote?  Obviously they were not.  I felt that the decisions the past three years made by these two leaders could not possibly have earned them a second term.  In my mind their biggest blunder in their first term was the decision to endorse the bully governor Dannel Malloy.  Even legislators in his own party are beginning to call Malloy a bully.  That has to tell you something.

Now some may argue that the endorsement was not Cohen and Leake’s decision alone, that the CEA Board of Directors were involved in it as well.  But I am sure that if Cohen and Leake were against the endorsement, the Board of Directors would never have over-ridden their wishes.

So, a governor was endorsed by CEA who:  Slapped every public school teacher in the face by proposing the most punishing evaluation model for teachers in the nation, slapped every public school teacher in the face by cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools, slapped every public school teacher in the face by giving a 25 percent increase to charter schools, slapped every public school teacher in the face by mandating and promoting Smarter Balanced Testing, and slapped every retired public school teacher in the face by trying to eliminate the state’s contribution to the retired teacher’s health fund.

The most egregious thing to me was that Malloy in February of 2012 said all a teacher had to do was show up and they received tenure, and then he was in Newtown 10 months later to honor teachers who paid the ultimate price, one of them a non-tenured teacher who “showed up” to work.   How does one answer for that absurdity?

And despite all the above, this is the governor CEA endorsed for a second term!  And then during their own first term, these two leaders resisted supporting the op-out movement that other unions backed.  And virtually at the end of testing this year, they scheduled a rally against testing!  TOO LATE!  They didn’t even defend themselves against points I made against them in my letter to Wait, What? on April 29th as to why they should not be re-elected.  If they wouldn’t or couldn’t  do that, how were they going to go toe to toe with Dannel?

I mailed to each representative that same letter that appeared in Wait, What? to each of their homes.  And yet, with all that information at their fingertips, 1 percent of 43,000 teachers who were slapped around for 4 years voted to re-elect these two neutralized individuals. So was it stupidity or loyalty by these RA members to re-elect Cohen/Leake?   That I can’t answer because it’s impossible to say.  Could have been both, but I actually would be more comfortable with just pure stupidity.  When something affects my pocketbook like the Malloy and CEA decisions have, loyalty should fly out the window.  Stupidity isn’t easily fixed. I just didn’t expect stupidity from teachers who were representatives.  But in this case, perhaps loyalty equaled stupidity.

So, how do we fix this?  First, we need to change the way the CEA officers are elected.  The current election rules highly favor the incumbents. We need to have EVERY member vote.  43,000 teachers should not have 435 teachers representing them.   Second, the County Councils are a joke at election time. Candidates have a few minutes to make their case, and if you go one second over, you’re stopped.  Teachers need to hear the truth about what’s happening in their profession.  Currently, there is more time put on golf tournaments, teddy bears, socializing and food at County Councils than there are about teacher’s futures in public school.

I know how it works because I ran for president against Rosemary Coyle in 2003.  She was running unopposed on a ridiculous platform of “indoor air quality” when I felt she should  have been running on “secure teacher retirement” because it certainly wasn’t secure.  So I entered the race.  I made my platform “retirement” and she changed hers right after I made my speech at the first county council, a speech which I was rudely cut off from after 5 minutes.  I knew I wasn’t going to win, but I ran to achieve a greater good.  For during that election, teachers were pushed by Coyle to call legislators about the injustice, and that’s the year the contractual right of retirement was voted in by the legislators.  I believe it was done because she perceived me as a real threat.  I still took 1/3 of the vote with a campaign committee of me!

While it is true that the AFT leadership endorsed the bully two months before CEA did, at least AFT members elected someone who appears ready to fight Malloy instead of placating him.  According to Wait, What? (May 15th) Jan Hochadel is a fighter, unlike her predecessor, and is scheduled to take AFT over as president.  Maybe with a new president AFT can cross over and fix the teacher problems in this state, because if the past three years are any indication as to how CEA will function the next three, there will be little advocating for the membership.  As long as CEA continues to be an apologist organization for Malloy, the 43,000 members of CEA should probably start to look for other careers.  And it’s only going to get worse my fellow colleagues.  We had two real fighters that would have changed the face of public school teaching…but Martin Walsh and Scott Minnick lost, despite a tremendous effort on their part.  We all had a definitive chance with them.  And you can all thank the 1 percent that stopped that effort on Saturday.

I’m retired….the majority of you are not.  All I have to worry about now is having my measly 210 dollars a month for health insurance from the state getting cut completely, which I predict will happen this budget season with no one equipped to fight for us. And, I’m sure future teacher pensions will be in jeopardy soon with the passivity of the current leadership.  Remember all of this when you decide you can’t take it any more and want to leave the profession.  Look around you, because I’ve never heard so much discontent in our noble profession as I’ve heard the last four years.

Best;

Matthew P. Valenti
40.5 years public school teacher, Retired
12 year STRONG union president, Torrington

Connecticut Education Association (CEA) starts TV advertising campaign to promote their legislation

Following this past weekend’s CEA election, Connecticut’s largest union has begun a new television advertising campaign to push the “less testing, more learning message.”

While the TV ad urges the public to call state legislators in support of the CEA’s bill to phase out the SBAC test, the ad unfortunately fails to support the opt-out movement or even mention that Connecticut parents have a fundamental right to refuse to have their children take the unfair and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test.

During the recent CEA convention, the delegates did adopt a resolution in support of opt-out, but the message didn’t make it to their TV ad.

According to the CEA blog today,

“A new CEA TV commercial featuring Connecticut students, teachers, and parents is now on the air urging lawmakers to pass legislation ensuring less testing and more learning in our public schools. The commercial asks members of the public to call their legislators and ask them to amend Senate Bill 1095.

Watch the commercial below and then call your legislators and share how SBAC testing is affecting your students.”

You can see the TV ad by clicking the following link;  https://youtu.be/B3K2z5kob7k

Meanwhile, around the nation, parents, students, teachers, teacher unions and elected officials continue the push back against the Common Core testing scheme.  Here are just an example of the hundreds of recent newspaper articles on the opt out movement.

In California, Standardized Testing Sparks Backlash

In Delaware, House Overwhelmingly Supports Opt-Out Rights

In Florida, Citrus County School Board Calls on Governor to Suspend Testing Consequences

In Illinois, Illinois Legislature Still Considering Opt-Out Bill

In Louisiana, Test Overkill Fatigue

In Maine, Maine Testing Opt Out, Assessment Reform Movement Hits Legislature and Maine Moves to End Smarter Balanced Testing

In Minnesota, Minnesota Teachers Want Scores Thrown Out After Repeated Computer Test SNAFUs

In Missouri, Testing Misuses Students to Evaluate Teachers and Schools

In Montana, State Testing Will Not Come Close to 95% Participation

In New Hampshire, Legislature Sends Governor Bill Allowing Test Opt Outs

In New York, English Language Arts Test Opt Outs Topped 205,000 Statewide

In New Jersey, Bill to Restrict Use of Standardized Exams Continues to Advance

In North Dakota, New Smarter Balanced Computerized Testing Has Many Problems

In Ohio, House Overwhelmingly Votes to Reduce State Testing

In Oregon, One in Seven Portland Juniors Skipped Common Core Exams

In Pennsylvania, Students Opt Out of State Keystone Exams

In Texas, Study Finds College Readiness Declines When Public Schools Focus on Test Scores

In Vermont, Testing is Profitable But Not for Students

In Virginia, Virginia Parents Say “”No” to Standardized Tests and Parents Learn How to Keep Their Kids Out of Standardized Tests

In Washington, Students Protest Common Core Exams and Maryville, Washington, Teachers Hold One-Day Strike Over Funding, Testing

In Wisconsin, Assembly Passes Bill to Skip Test-Based School Report Cards

CEA Convention passes Opt-Out Resolution, re-elects incumbents

Congratulations to Sheila Cohen and Jeff Leake on their re-election and a big thank you to Martin Walsh and Scott Minnick for running for and helping to push the CEA forward on the critical opt out issue.

As reported by the CEA Blog,

“Teacher leaders from across the state took decisive action today to strengthen the organization’s position on the right of parents to opt their children out of high-stakes standardized tests and re-elect CEA President Sheila Cohen and Vice President Jeff Leake overwhelmingly.

The motion on opting out was unanimously adopted by teachers who were delegates to the CEA Representative Assembly (CEA RA), the highest policymaking body of the Association.

[…]

CEA has long supported the right of parents to make critical decisions about their children’s education. Today’s vote goes a step further by putting the full weight the CEA RA behind that position and providing great detail about teachers’ objectives in ensuring less testing and more learning in Connecticut public schools.

[…]

Essential components of the motion include:

  • Call on state policymakers and local school districts to formulate and pass legislation and policies that allow school employees to discuss standardized tests with parents and inform them of their ability to exclude children from state and/or district standardized tests.
  • Call on state lawmakers and school districts to formulate and pass legislation and policies that allow school employees to provide parents with their opinions on whether students would benefit from exclusion from a state/and or district standardized test and that no adverse action or discipline would be taken against employees who engage in such discussion.
  • Provide that a school and its employees would not be negatively impacted due to a student not taking a state and/or district-level standardized test, such as by ensuring that students who are opted out of standardized tests by a parent or guardian are excluded from performance calculations for state and local accountability measures and from employee evaluations.
  • Reexamine public school accountability systems throughout the state, and develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment that do not require extensive standardized testing, that more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools.

Also at the Convention,

The 2015 Connecticut Teacher of the Year, Cara Quinn, said that poverty is a problem that cannot be ignored. “Collectively we have the power to advocate for real and tangible things that will make a difference for our poorest students and families. First, we can insist that the state’s educational cost sharing grant is completely funded. We can push for universal, free, pre-K programs for all of our children living in priority school districts.”

She continued that teachers should work to protect funding for wrap-around services that meet the social, emotional, and medical needs of our students. She emphasized, “We can make phone calls, send emails, and meet with our legislators and tell them that we demand action on these issues. These are simple things that will make a profound difference for our kids.”

She concluded, “As teachers, we are the champions of equity and justice. As teachers, as citizens who vote, we can make these things a reality.

A new president for AFT-CT? 

Connecticut’s two major teacher unions, the Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut Chapter are meeting tomorrow to elect officers.

Word is spreading that the American Federation of Teachers will finally get a president who is actually an educator and will speak up and fight for the interests of the teachers who are members of the AFT-CT, in addition to the union’s health care affiliated members.

Multiple sources confirm that Jan Hochadel, who presently serves as the President of the State Vocational Federation of Teachers, appears poised to become the AFT-CT next president at tomorrow – May 15, 2015 – AFT-CT convention which will be taking place in Southington, Connecticut.

The selection of an educator to lead the AFT-CT would be a major leadership shift for the AFT-CT, a union that has been one of the loudest apologists for Governor Dannel Malloy, despite Malloy’s unprecedented and ongoing assault on teachers, the teaching profession and Connecticut’s public schools.

In particular, the news means former state senator and Malloy ally Melodie Peters would be out of the job.

Jan Hochadel’s career has been dedicated to the Connecticut Technical High School System, its teachers and 11,000 students who annually attend Vo-Tech high schools in the state.  The State Vocation Federation of Teachers is the union that represents teachers as these state run high schools.

The change in leadership would certainly send a strong message to government officials, not only about the importance of teachers and teaching, but the value of Connecticut’s Vo-Tech high schools which have been reeling as a result of budget cuts and abusive initiatives implemented by recent Republican and Democratic governors.

In his first term, Governor Malloy actually proposed disbanding Connecticut’s historic Vo-Tech system and farming the individuals schools out to local school districts.

In her present capacity as president of the State Vocational Federation of Teachers, Jan Hochadel is known as a leading advocate for vo-tech education at both the state and federal level.

In addition to fighting for better state funding and support for Connecticut’s Vo-Tech high schools, she recently served as a featured speaker at a major Washington D.C. Capitol Hill briefing last month about strategies to improve Career and Technical Education (CTE) in the United States.

The change in leadership would come as especially good news to the students at Connecticut’s Vo-Tech high schools who have been particularly hard hit by the negative aspects of the rapid move to the Common Core and the implementation of the unfair Common Core SBAC testing scheme.

Not only have the Vo-Tech schools been required to implement the new Common Core standards without the appropriate resources to make it happen, but the system’s state administrators have been among the worst offenders when it comes to misleading students and parents about the Common Core SBAC testing requirement.

In recent weeks numerous Vo-Tech high school students or their parents have reported that they have been misled, harassed and told that they must take the Common Core SBAC test in order to graduate, a requirement that clearly violates state law.

A new leader for AFT-CT would provide the nationally renowned union with a unique opportunity to return to a leadership position on behalf of public education in Connecticut.

More on this breaking story as it develops.

The CEA convention starts this evening with an election for officers tomorrow.  Challengers Martin Walsh and Scott Minnick are challenging the incumbent slate of Sheila Cohen and Jeff Leake for the position of President and Vice President.  Walsh and  Minnick have been especially vocal on behalf of the Common Core SBAC opt-out movement and have been pushing the CEA to join the opt-out effort here in Connecticut.

John Bestor on CEA Election – Just look to Massachusetts to see what new Teacher Union leadership can bring

In July 2014, the Massachusetts Teachers Association elected a new union President and Vice-President.  The benefits were realized immediately.  Dr. Barbara Madeloni and her V.P. Janet Anderson breathed new life into an educational organization that had been failing to meet the needs of its membership.

According to an article by Michael Levinson in the Boston Globe (6.6.14), Barbara Madeloni “won her race by openly criticizing the current union president…for his record of negotiating with – rather than fighting – officials on the development of teacher assessments and the Common Core…”  He went on to say:  “Her agenda forcefully rejects those policies, which have gained increasing support from Republicans and Democrats over the last 20 years. She supports a three-year moratorium on standardized testing and teacher assessments and denounces charter schools.  Though these initiatives have never been popular with teacher unions, the MTA, under [the previous President] Toney, took a softer line, seeing compromise rather than confrontation.”  Sound familiar?

In an article in Boston Magazine (September 2014), entitled “How tests are failing our schools”, author Zachary Jason reported that “rank-and-file teachers across the state hail Madeloni as a savior.  She’s the first MTA leader willing to listen to their agony, and to tell the truth about how teaching in an age of accountability can be, as Holyoke teacher Cheryl Cluff puts it, ‘like waiting tables in a busy restaurant; you’re running and running and running, and you’ve lost your head’.  Whereas past presidents and her opponent…were willing to compromise with state administrators, Madeloni is combative, unapologetic, and, as Augustin Morales, another Holyoke teacher, says ‘unafraid to make her life uncomfortable’.   (bostonmagazine.org)

Wow! that resonates!!

For further evidence reflecting how new blood and inspired leadership can bring change to a staid status quo, read Barbara Madeloni’s interview, called “Standing Up to Superman” in the 7.7.14 issue of Jacobin Magazine.   Just last week, the MTA made national news when delegates at its annual meeting voted their support for the opt-out movement…and so much more.

Click on http://massteacher.org/news/archive/2015/annual_meeting_coverage.aspx and consider the possibilities!!!  I especially liked the post-convention press releases…read on and dream. That is leadership!!

There comes a time in any organization when it becomes necessary to make a change.  In the CEA, that time has come; it is NOW!!

There is no doubt that CEA leadership feels that it has done an effective job pushing back against the onslaught brought on by the politically-driven Common Core State Standards initiative, the unproven and rushed change in standardized testing requirements, the systematic yet false narrative of failing schools and ineffective teachers, and the questionable storing and sharing of private, personal, and confidential information on students and their families.  However, many teachers disagree as they see their freedom to deliver instruction as they determine they should based on their understanding of each student’s learning needs erode.  Teachers find themselves testing student progress on standardized measures continuously and then spending hours of planning time entering student results into data storage systems.  And then, to add to their frustration, teachers are threatened with having their expertise measured by student test results on unproven standardized assessments.  Teachers feel overwhelmed by rapid changes in curricula practices in multiple academic areas with little or no professional input as to developmental readiness and continuity of instruction.  Teacher satisfaction with their chosen vocation ranges from apathy to frustration and anger; many seek to retire early and others will simply leave teaching for more personally satisfying circumstances.

That said, CEA leadership has repeatedly lost opportunities to protect the integrity, love, and commitment that teachers have historically had for their profession.

– Slow to respond as the Common Core was forced top-down by the federal department of education onto state departments and subsequently onto locally-elected school boards.

– Slow to educate its members of the continuous threats to the delivery of instruction that teachers work hard to present to their students every day across the state.

– Slow to recognize that the old paradigm of political gamesmanship is no longer effective in defending teachers and enhancing student learning.

– Failure to mobilize teacher energy and commitment when hundreds of teachers articulately spoke out during 2014 Regional Winter Meetings across CT.

– Failure to take the opportunity to deliver a Minority Opinion or Report at the conclusion of the Governor’s Common Core Implementation Task Force which was prevented by design from asking the right questions.

– Failure to publicize its own member-supported positions that were passed overwhelmingly by delegates at the 2014 CEA Representative Assembly.

– Failure to respect the opinions and recommendations of membership and its own Political Action Committee in overriding their gubernatorial choice for “no endorsement” in order to give approval to Governor Malloy and his failed education agenda.

Despite their combative rhetoric at in-house meetings and their better-late-than-never rally against egregious and unproven standardized testing, CEA leadership continues to negotiate and accept minor revisions to reformist policies and promote these as victories with membership.  CEA leadership is shortsighted, has failed its membership, and continues to allow the destruction of public education across the state.  Although change is hard, the time for change is NOW.

As veteran Glastonbury teachers with a range of recent classroom experience, local union leadership activism, and political experience in their local school districts,

The WALSH/MINNICK Team offers

NEW INSIGHTS … NEW ENERGY … TRANSPARENCY … RESOLVE.

Like our neighboring state to the north, Connecticut’s teachers are ready to move on and push-back against the failed educational policies of the last few years.  As educators, we represent a consistently strong record of performance results with our students.  It’s time to change the narrative and it will require a change in leadership to do so.

John R. Bestor

2015 CEA RA delegate

Westport Education Association

A teacher writes to endorse Martin Walsh and Scott Minnick for President and Vice President of the CEA

Note – The election for the leadership of the Connecticut Education Association is taking place this coming weekend.  An open invitation was made to readers to use this venue to discuss who they were voting for and why.  There is still time to send in your views. 

The following was sent in by Connecticut educator John Landry;

I have known Martin Walsh and Scott Minnick for their entire public teaching careers.  Our bonds are rooted in public education and our commitment to students, but my friendship was earned by their character.  Above all else Martin and Scott stand for courage and commitment.

On a steamy hot day in August, 2000, Martin and I were sitting across the table from our building principal, the superintendent of Glastonbury Schools and the town’s attorney.  The principal had repeatedly flaunted teachers’ Weingarten rights and Martin was instrumental in convincing a teacher that I originally represented to testify in an unfair labor practice, ULP, case against the principal.  Martin dedicated hours of his summer collaborating with our local’s leadership to make the case happen.  This was my first time seeing Martin’s courage to stand against a wrong and his commitment to do something about it.

In 2010, Martin was named “Democrat of the Year” in the Town of Wethersfield where he served on the Town Council and Board of Education.  However, in 2013 Martin chose to distance himself from the Wethersfield Democrats in order to protect them from any fallout.  “Fallout for what?” you may ask.  Martin decided to take a strong stand against Governor Dannel P. Malloy for his position on charter schools, labor unions and public education.  Despite being a life-long award winning Democrat, Martin knew that supporting the current Governor was wrong and being silent was unacceptable.  He has written numerous letters to the Editor and editorial pieces defending teachers and informing parents and the general public about issues with high stakes testing and parental opt out rights. He has also spoken to these issues as and interviewee on radio stations  WTIC and WELI.

Scott Minnick, too, is an emblem of courage and commitment.  Scott was concerned with unrestricted commercial development in his home town of East Hampton spearheaded by the Town Council.  He and other concerned citizens got together and were instrumental in the passage of an ordinance setting sensible limits on and accountability for the construction of commercial buildings in East Hampton.  Despite being personally sued twice with “slap suits” by construction developers, Scott persisted in his efforts.  In 2005 Scott and a few other concerned citizens decided a more permanent way to change the entrenched status quo political system in the town was to form their own minor political party and win.  This was the birth of the Chatham Party which continues to be an active “common sense” alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties in East Hampton.  Scott’s courage and personal commitment to fight an entrenched local system of government and leadership that had grown too complacent and unresponsive to constituent concerns has been proven by his actions.

I was not at all surprised to learn that within an hour of the CEA’s announcement to endorse Governor Dannel Malloy that Scott sent Martin an email saying, “There it is.  Are you ready to run?”  Martin and Scott have jumped “all in” to this effort.  They are in it to fix a problem.  They are in it for all the right reasons, not for personal gain.  Robert F Kennedy said, “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”  I have a hope and belief that after May 16th, Martin and Scott will lead our Connecticut Education Association in a bold new direction.  I encourage all delegates to learn more about Martin Walsh and Scott Minnick at www.walshminnick2015.org and vote for the Walsh Minnick ticket on May 16.

-John Landry

John Landry is currently the library media specialist at Smith Middle School in Glastonbury.  He has been a professional public school educator for 23 years and a Glastonbury Education Association building representative since 1999.

Will anything convince Connecticut’s teacher unions to join the Common Core Opt-Out Movement?

All across the nation, teacher unions at the state and local level are joining parents, students and teachers in an unprecedented uprising against the massive unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing scheme.

Here in Connecticut, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing craze began on March 27, 2015.

Yet six weeks have gone by and there is still no public sign of support for the opt out movement from Connecticut’s two teacher unions – the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) and the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut Chapter (AFT-Connecticut).

At this point, Connecticut’s teacher unions have forever lost the opportunity to help lead the charge.  But even running to jump on the opt-out train would be an important and appreciated gesture of support for Connecticut’s public school students, parents and teachers.

What is so incredibly strange, even bizarre, about the utter lack of action by Connecticut’s teacher unions is that it is in such stark contrast to what other teacher unions are doing around the country.

In New Jersey, the headline on the New Jersey Education Association website demands that Republican Governor Chris Christie and his administration, “Stop attacking parents…” for opting out of the Common Core Tests. 

And the pushback against New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is just as strong, as  NYSUT, the union that represents more than 600,000 New York State teachers, school-related professionals and academic and professional faculty in higher education continues its full-fledged campaign to help educate and support parents who are opting out of that state’s Common Core Testing.

In New York, the union’s well-funded program has provided needed support for parents and students, which, in turn, has helped to boost the number of students opting out from around  40,000 last year to as many as a quarter of a million this year.

Numerous public high schools in New York State are reporting more than 50 percent of high school juniors have been opted out of the destructive Common Core test and many high schools are seeing opt-out rates exceeding 80 percent.

But here in Connecticut, Governor Malloy’s administration’s goes unchecked as it continues to lie and mislead parents about their right to opt their children out of the testing scam and some local school superintendents go unchallenged as they inappropriately tell highs school juniors that they cannot graduate unless they take the SBAC test – a policy that would be illegal if true.

In state after state, teacher unions have stepped up to leverage their political power and visibility on behalf of the opt-out effort.

This weekend, the Massachusetts Teachers Association joined the effort endorsing the fundamental right of parents to opt their children out of the Common Core testing.

The MTA’s resolution states;

That parents in Massachusetts deserve the choice to opt their public school students out of high-stakes standardized assessments.

That districts should be required to provide all parents with yearly written information explaining their right to opt students out of assessments.

That students who opt out should not be included in data used by state or federal entities in “grading” schools.

That no parent or student should be penalized because of a parental decision to opt out.

That no educator should be disciplined for discussing with students, parents or community members the options for opting students out of high-stakes tests.

Barbara Madeloni, who as a challenger became president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association last year wrote,

 “Supporting the right to opt out is one of the strongest statements we can make as educators against standardized testing.”

Madeloni added,

“The MTA will vigorously defend any educator who is disciplined for supporting the right of parents and students to opt out. The more people step up and speak out, the clearer will be the message to our legislators that the people of Massachusetts want to put a stop to the madness of standardized testing.

Standardized testing is distorting the goals of public education and choking the creativity and joy that should be at the center of teaching and learning.”

Even now at this late date Connecticut’s teacher unions can and should step up and join the opt-out battle.

Just as Connecticut’s public school teachers need and deserve the support of the state’s students and parents…

Connecticut’s students, parents and teachers need and deserve the help and support of Connecticut’s teacher unions in this historic battle against the corporate education reform and testing industry and those like Governor Dannel Malloy who continue their anti-teacher, anti-student, anti-parent, anti-public education initiatives.

The Time Has Come For the CEA to Formally Announce It’s Support For the Opt-Out Movement

Regular Wait, What? contributor and Connecticut educator James Trifone provides a clarion call for action by the Connecticut Education Association…

The Time Has Come For the CEA to Formally Announce It’s Support For the Opt-Out Movement (By Jim Trifone)

Recently, I emailed Jeff Leake, Vice President for the Connecticut Education Association, requesting that the CEA follow the Education Associations of our neighboring states, as well as Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, in supporting the Opt-Out Movement.

He promptly responded that;

“We [CEA] have always supported a parent’s option to opt their child out of the crazy testing regime, and many of our teachers have indicated that they are doing just that”.  He also went on to state “All of us here in Hartford are fully supportive of this sometimes difficult parental decision, a decision I advocated for just yesterday at the CT Coalition for Public Education meeting.  In addition, I hope you are aware of our testing legislative proposal, which would do away with SBAC completely”.

This week in a blog entitled, The Opt Out End Game, the President of the National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, joined AFT President Randi Weingarten, in her support for the legal right of a parent to opt their child out of the Common Core assessment.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia writes: 

“Parents should have the right to know for what purpose a test is designed and whether it’s valid and reliable for that purpose; how the results of that test will be used; whether or not testing companies will have access to private student information and for what reason those companies need that information.

They should have a right to demand that any testing companies hired by the district sign the Student Privacy Principles developed and endorsed by major student advocates from the PTA to the NEA to the School Boards Association to the American Library Association and the Thomas Fordham Institute.

And they should have the right, if they are not satisfied with the answers to their questions, to opt their children out of any mandated standardized testing that they believe is inappropriate or harmful to their child. NEA fully supports parents and supports our affiliates who take a stand against tests that serve no educational purpose.

 Her blog post can be found at: http://lilysblackboard.org/2015/04/the-opt-out-end-game/

As a 40-year veteran high school educator and member of the CEA I want to applaud the CEA’s efforts in proposing to eliminate the SBAC completely.

Unlike the CAPT, which IS an educationally sound, time-tested and valid Mastery test, the SBAC is NOT.  Moreover, the SBAC is based on the developmentally inappropriate Common Core State Standards, which were NEITHER created NOR approved by educational curriculum experts. Therefore, I think the time has come for the largest teacher union in CT-CEA- to join both National teacher unions in their support for the Opt –Out movement, as well as in reducing standardized testing in general.

Formally announcing their support for the Opt-Out Movement would, in no uncertain terms, make it clear to the remaining recalcitrant Superintendents, as well as the newly appointed Commissioner of Education, Diana Wentzell, that they need to cease and desist with their claim that parents CANNOT opt-out their children from the unfair and discriminatory SBAC test.

Below is my response to Vice-President Leake.

Dear Vice-President Leake:

Thank you for your prompt reply to my email. I applaud your efforts to provide the legislature with a solid argument to eliminate the SBAC in the near future. I hope you are also willing to make it clear to the legislature that the current administration is being misguided in their attempt to increase funding for the privatization of schools at the expense of adequately funding public education. The entire corporate education movement is based on the false assumption that our schools are failing because of ill-prepared educators. This is especially the case in urban districts. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Over the years in my capacity as The Graduate Institute’s Academic Director for the Master of Arts in Learning and Thinking degree program, I have had the fortunate experience of working with hundreds of Connecticut educators from around the state, many of whom are from urban districts. Contrary to what the corporate reformers want the public to believe, the educators I have worked with have been hard-working, dedicated professionals committed to educating the youth of today and preparing them to be “college and career” ready. However, as you are fully aware, the major issue underlying the disparity of performance of students between urban and suburban districts is POVERTY rather than the lack of competence, dedication or qualification of teachers. Until this issue is more fully addressed there will continue to be a disparity in academic performance and graduation rates between impoverished and affluent districts.

The unfair, developmentally inappropriate and educationally unsound SBAC test was never created to enhance public education. Rather it was designed by non-educators (those educators who did review it refused to approve its use) and arbitrarily decided by the Malloy administration to FAIL upwards of 70% of Connecticut’s students in order to argue the need to replace “failing” public schools with inadequately regulated charter schools.

I hope you will keep up the effort to help our governor, SDE and legislators see the errors in their thinking and assumptions. Moreover, it is my hope that you can convince them to do what they can to bolster financial support for public education and stop this insidious and ineffective approach to corporatizing education and treating it as a new marketplace for entrepreneurs. Children are more than test scores and teachers are more than test administrators. I thank you in advance for taking the bold and courageous path to EDUCATING those elected to serve Connecticut.

Warm Regards,

Jim

Footnote from Jonathan Pelto

As a Connecticut educator and public education advocate, Jim Trifone truly understands the impact the corporate education reform industry is having on Connecticut’s children, teachers and public schools.   He speaks for many with his powerful call to action to the Connecticut Education Association.

The CEA’s efforts to push legislation to phase out the Common Core SBAC testing system is important and appreciated but Connecticut’s students, parents and teachers also need the state’s largest union to take a public and unequivocal position in support of parents and their fundamental right to opt their children out of the Common Core testing scam.

The teacher unions in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and numerous other states have already stepped up to announce their support for the opt-out movement.

While it is true that Governor Dannel Malloy’s backing of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC standardized testing program is unwavering, and anyone who disagrees with  him become a target, Connecticut’s parents, students and teachers need and deserve the public support of the CEA leadership.

The Time Has Come For the CEA to Formally Announce It’s Support For the Opt-Out Movement

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García says every parent should have the right to opt their child out of Common Core test

In a blog entitled, The Opt Out End Game, the President of the National Education Association has announced her strong stand for a parent’s fundamental right to opt their child or children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing system.

While explaining that the real goal is to do away with the fixation on standardized testing, NEA’s President is joining the call to recognize that parents do have the right to opt their children out of the testing.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia writes,

Parents should have the right to know for what purpose a test is designed and whether it’s valid and reliable for that purpose; how the results of that test will be used; whether or not testing companies will have access to private student information and for what reason those companies need that information.

They should have a right to demand that any testing companies hired by the district sign the Student Privacy Principles developed and endorsed by major student advocates from the PTA to the NEA to the School Boards Association to the American Library Association and the Thomas Fordham Institute.

And they should have the right, if they are not satisfied with the answers to their questions, to opt their children out of any mandated standardized testing that they believe is inappropriate or harmful to their child. NEA fully supports parents and supports our affiliates who take a stand against tests that serve no educational purpose.

The rest of Eskelsen Garcia’s piece focuses on why the testing is so inappropriate and the NEA’s position is to permanently reduce the use of standardized testing.  Her blog post can be found at: http://lilysblackboard.org/2015/04/the-opt-out-end-game/

Now that the presidents of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have announced their support for parents who want to opt their children out of the destructive common core testing, hopefully the Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut Chapter will come out strongly on behalf of Connecticut students and parents and their right to opt out of the SBAC test.