Sunday, August 24, 2014

#176 August 24, 2014- Changing The Post Act 10 Landscape

Public Education, Teaching
and Activism
In a Post Act 10 Wisconsin. . .
By now we all know the "reality" about public education in Wisconsin, and around most of the United States for that matter.  The issues, problems and challenges around our public schools have been pushed into the spotlight of politics and the arguments around school "reform" are well documented in the press and social media.  If you haven't heard about vouchers, standardized assessment, Achievement Gaps and the arguments for and against collective bargaining for public educators then you have just not been paying attention.

The problem is that the "reality" that is presented to the general public about public schools is not the reality that our educators, students and families really live, work and learn in.  The dialog around public education isn't shaped by the participants in the process, but rather is based on a collection of mis-perceptions, political ideology and widely divergent views about just what education means to our students and our society as a whole.  In other words, we are having conversations and making decisions about our schools based on political, social and economic ideology and not on the needs of our students and educators, or on the educational value of any specific policy or initiative.

This isn't to suggest that education and teaching isn't a political, social or economic endeavor.  Public education is, and always will be, firmly entrenched in these different spheres of human thought and activity.  If our schools are to live up to their responsibility of guiding students towards becoming productive, contributing citizens then we must engage our students in critical thinking and problem solving.  Once we move beyond simple rote learning we immediately enter into the more challenging, and even controversial aspects of education.  There is little controversy involved in teaching students basic facts, however, once we want our students to apply their knowledge and look at the realities around them, the process becomes more uncomfortable for those not directly involved in schools and classrooms. 

As an educator I believe it is my job to get my students to question as much as possible.  They need to use the skills that they are learning to look critically at the world and to use their knowledge as a tool to guide their thinking as they decide who they are, and what they stand for.  Education is neutral, but the results are not.  We know that different people can use the same knowledge and skills and arrive at very different solutions or results.  We also know that this challenges everyone involved in the process, and even provokes some anxiety as our long standing beliefs are challenged and even overturned.  Yet, we also need to accept that, as Frederick Douglass said, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress."  Our ethical and moral growth as a society is based on the challenging of the status quo and the refusal to accept things as they currently are, but to constantly strive for something better, a more socially just society.  This is something that is difficult for many to accept and embrace.  It is easier to live in a reality that we already know than it is to move ahead and explore a new vision.  This isn't a condition that is new to modern Wisconsin.  Change is always difficult and challenging in some aspect or another. 

We also know that self-interest is another factor that contributes to the "charm" of a more conservative way of thinking.  Our children are our hope for the future, and every family has a huge stake in making sure that the members of their family get the best opportunities.  We may, or unfortunately may not, want others to succeed as well, but it is only natural that we put our own interests ahead of others.  This means that we will see support for programs and efforts that benefit our own, and will see resistance  against putting resources into things that will benefit others, especially if those efforts are seen as impacting our own interests in a negative way.

What has happened is that political leaders have taken these two aspects of human nature and used them for political gain and to benefit their financial supports who gain economic advantages from the enactment of specific policies.  Never mind that this is harmful to our society as a whole, instead these small number of wealthy and influential people have taken advantage of the struggles that so many of us are facing to advance their own agenda, and to reap huge profits as well.  They have manipulated public opinion so that enough voters have forgotten that most people like their public schools and the educators who work with their children, and instead are accepting propaganda that paints our public schools as failing and our educators as uncaring and inept.               

Eighty-nine percent of Wyoming residents believe their local teachers are...|By Gallup, Inc.

Here in Wisconsin we have seen some very extreme measures put in place.  Whether it was the record cuts to public education in the 2011-13 budget, or one of the many other anti-education acts by our so called "leaders", the effects have been significant and negative.  Unfortunately, Wisconsin's public educators aren't alone in facing these challenges.  Some of the biggest threats to our public education system are. . .

Vouchers and Privatization- We know that there are those who view our schools and students as an untapped opportunity for financial gain.  Privatizing our schools gives them an opening to gain access to the profit potential that exists. 

Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch have secured over $100,000, combined,...|By Lee Enterprises

Across the state, 8.9 percent of students were enrolled in a private school last...|By Lee Enterprises

Anti-Union Efforts- There has been significant effort put into destroying the power of public sector unions.  Educator unions are among the last bastions of unionism in America and the efforts to discredit our public schools are often based on the desire for the removal of a political obstacle that stands in the way of conservative political gain.  What is forgotten is the fact that unions are one of the primary reasons that America has had a prosperous middle-class and are often the only voice that speaks for the workers of America.  These attacks take on many forms, but are all aimed at reducing the ability of workers to organize and to influence policy that impacts their jobs, and the opportunities that their students enjoy.       

Teacher job protections are being challenged, and a lawmaker and former school principal explains why that’s good.|By Frank Bruni

"The more we give, the more they want. They more they want, the more they take....

Act 10 and the "Marketplace"- The anti-union effort's crown jewel in Wisconsin is Act 10.  Now that the Supreme Court has ruled it appears that Act 10 is here to stay for the immediate future.  While we can make many predictions (almost all of them dire), the full impacts of Act 10 remain to be seen. 

» Act 10 is having far-reaching repercussions on schools from one end of the state to the other |...
New models for teacher pay are a result of legislation that allows districts to...|By Edgar Mendez

The district’s superintendent has resigned amid high staff turnover and...|By Erin Richards

There are those who will tout the effects of Act 10 as being positive, and who will point to the power of the "market" and its ability to provide solutions to the challenges we face.  This is a na├»ve and harmful attitude to take.  The idea that a market will provide our most at-risk communities with educational opportunities is simply not realistic.  Instead, what we will see is a shortage of qualified instructors, a lack of educational opportunities for our communities of poverty and color, and a stratification of education that will mirror our existing discrepancies in wealth and health care. 

TIPPECANOE CO., Ind. (WLFI) - It's a problem for area school superintendents who tell News 18 they are losing experienced teachers at a rate…

Testing and Standards- No commentary on education would be complete without mentioning these two features of the "reform" movement.  In highlighting the "failures" of our public schools, "reformers" have made it clear that we need to increase both the "rigor" and the "accountability" in our schools.  Even supporters of our schools have turned to using tests to validate our students' achievement, while ignoring the fact that success on a test does not equal success in life, or even real academic achievement.  Our standards and tests have become a cornerstone in the education for profit schemes sweeping across America.  They are also becoming an integral part of efforts to evaluate educators and to influence curriculum.   

ACT composite scores in Wisconsin and the nation as a whole did not change substantively from last year’s results.|By Karen Herzog

The union's board voted unanimously to declare no confidence in State...|By Allie Bidwell

Read what's going on in Florida.

It has come to our attention that your older brothers and sisters have been showing up to Kindergarten completely unprepared for the requirements of a rigorous education. It is time to nip this indolent behavior in the bud....

Is there hope for the future?- With our unions reeling (Madison is now the only district in Wisconsin with a collective bargaining agreement in place), school budgets slashed, educators retiring and/or leaving the profession in droves, and private schools gaining footholds in many communities, the question of hope for the future becomes vital as we work to hold on to what we have.  There are many people who are articulating the views and needs of public educators.  In many ways the message is quite simple, we are dedicated professionals who, with adequate support, resources and time, can do our jobs very well.  We are frustrated with the message of failure being delivered so publically and want to engage in a real and meaningful discussion about what education means and what our students and schools need to succeed.  In other words, we don't want to just hold on, but rather to change the direction that our society is currently moving in.    
Teachers overwhelmingly report that they love their jobs, but hate their workplaces. Teachers weigh in on why they love the classroom and how things could change to make their lives easier.

'Don’t tell us that you know more about good instruction than we do." And six...

Reformers misunderstand how central human relationships are to the educational process.|By David L. Kirp

However, we are learning that being right, having excellent ideas and working hard in our own classrooms/schools/neighborhoods isn't enough to change the course that our current educational policies are taking.  While we may be exhausted after our 3+ years of struggling against the Walker administration, and we may feel that we can't continue our fight against what seems to be an inevitable tide of "reform" (who hasn't heard an educator give up and say, "I don't like all the testing, but our kids need to know how to score well on a test.") everyone who is committed to our public schools needs to continue the effort and work collectively to make a difference.  Every little bit helps and there are many areas we can put our energy into. 

Make the best of what we have- There are often opportunities to find a positive in any initiative or policy.  Here in Madison we have an opportunity to collaborate with our colleagues during the contract day (during our Monday PCT/Early Release times) and we need to make the most of this.  We need to claim this time for our own and not allow it to become the realm of administration and data.  Our discussions about students, curriculum and school policies need to be focused on making the best possible outcomes for our students a reality.  Working together we can achieve more, if we retain the power for ourselves as professional educators.   

Mastering the craft demands time to collaborate—just what American schools don't provide.|By Sara Mosle

Participate in unions and pro-education organizations- No one can fight these battles alone.  We need the support of like-minded colleagues and organizations that can help us maximize our efforts while maintaining our morale.  Organizing for action is the cornerstone of any movement and we can take heart at the many examples that can be found, some even in our own "backyard."  We should never underestimate the power of a group of like minded individuals, working together to change things for the better.

Over one hundred Chicago public school students, parents, and community...

Chicago teachers show how to organize an effective boycott of standardized...

Back to school: Once political allies, the National Education Association and President Obama are now in conflict over teachers' tenure, students' testing.

We must be able to think for ourselves and remember that our leaders/bosses may not have our  best interests or those of our students at heart. 

A Texas court bans employee claims for fraud.

Work for social justice- Done well, public education is the cornerstone of a socially just society.  As educators and supporters of public education we need to be activists.  This will allow us to build connections with our communities, other organizations and will help fuel our efforts and engage our colleagues and friends.  What is good for our families and communities is good for our schools and vice versa .

'There is no need for innocent children to go hungry because' of the civic unrest...

Eligible students will no longer need to fill out paperwork to receive free or...|By Lee Enterprises

School has been canceled for the week in Ferguson, Mo., as civil unrest...|By Elise Hu

Spend our money wisely- We can't keep giving our money to the very companies and individuals who seek to destroy our public schools. 

I just signed a petition to Public School Teachers, Parents, and Supporters:...

Have a little fun and smile along the way- This is serious business, and incredibly hard work.  Don't forget to celebrate, laugh and recharge on a regular basis.  

The Holderness family went viral in December of last year with their...|By Zoe Marcus

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .

The Good . . . It's great to see Mary Burke's campaign becoming more aggressive in going after Walker about his economic record.  Walker's administration has played around with jobs numbers, given huge amounts of public money away to his political supporters and failed to be accountable for managing public funds, yet they will tout themselves as being economically sound and the best choice for Wisconsin.  Burke needs to make it clear that her ideas are better for most Wisconsinites and that she is more accountable to the "everyday taxpayer" that Walker claims to be so supportive of. 

She tells an interviewer that slower growth was a product of a different time in...|By Lee Enterprises

MADISON (WKOW) -- Democratic Gubernatorial Nominee Mary Burke said people are starting to hear her message that Wisconsin's economy is falling behind the rest of the Midwest in an interview she did for Capitol City Sunday that will air this weekend on WKOW 27.|By Greg Neumann

Scott Walker told Wisconsin he'd have a new plan for job creation in his second term by the spring, but spring has come and gone, and a lot has happened since then.|By WisDems

Coming soon to Wisconsin.  We need to recharge and regain the energy that we had during the 2011 protests.  Putting the focus on what we can, and should, achieve as a united, inclusive society is a huge piece of this effort. 

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Organizers of regular protests at the North Carolina...|By Lee Enterprises

The Bad . . . Thanks to Governor Walker (and other Conservatives around the country) for "saving" us a little money in the short term and costing us a lot of money in the long run.

If officials decide to change course and expand the program in the next state budget, taxpayers would save $261 million to $315 million through June 2017.|By Patrick Marley

The decision by Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican lawmakers not to expand...

The Ugly . . . Too many people still believe that those on welfare are lazy and are trying to cheat the system.  As a society we need to remember that we are all in this together and support our fellow citizens.

As the unrest continues in Ferguson there are many issues to think about.  One is the role of the press in bringing these stories to our attention in a meaningful and productive way.  We have Constitutional Rights that are an outgrowth of our nation's historical efforts to hold those in power accountable.  The current efforts by those in power that are directed against a variety of groups is in direct opposition to these long-defended beliefs.  For Conservatives to tout the 2nd Amendment while ignoring the rest of the Bill of Rights is irresponsible and hypocritical.  It is up to all of us to hold those in power accountable and help our nation live up to the sentiments expressed in our founding documents by applying them to all citizens regardless of race, religion or political ideology.     

Ferguson police were caught on camera Sunday night threatening to mace one...|By Gabrielle Bluestone

Since the 1990s, police agencies across the country have armed themselves...

The lack of passion of white youth across the country for Michael Brown says a...|By David J. Leonard

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