Sunday, February 22, 2015

#201 February 22, 2015- Power + Money Doesn't Equal Educational Opportunities

We live in a "democratic society" that claims as its cornerstones the concepts of liberty, freedom and equality.  Our national identity is based on the belief that anyone can rise to the top and achieve greatness, no matter what their starting place.  We have long put our nation's equity in opportunity above those of other countries and have created a history that touts our flexible, "classless" social structure.  We are taught that America was different from the "Old World" system of rigid classes and a notable lack of opportunity.  People came to our nation's shores to find equality and opportunity that they couldn't find in their homelands.  We want to believe this narrative and hold on to the belief that the system of government that was installed in the late 1700's is one that provides all of us with the best chances to live in a "perfect union" and to "secure the blessings of liberty" for every citizen. 

Yet, we also know that this vision of justice, equity and opportunity is one that hasn't been enjoyed by all members of our society.  From its very beginnings there were many people relegated to second (or even two-thirds) class citizenship.  Our history has been one of constant struggle to bring the reality of our social, political and economic landscape up to the standards set forth in our founding documents.  We have moved forward in short bursts followed by longer periods of settling out and even regression as different groups have struggled to make their case for a place in the existing power structure.

All through this process we see an effort made to overcome existing prejudices and to create new norms that govern our society at all levels.  Those who struggle for social justice find themselves combating well entrenched beliefs and a power structure that favors those who already have a place at the table.  The struggle for social justice also faces challenges created by the link between political and/or social power and the access that wealth gives to a small number of citizens. 
In short, we live in a nation that strives for equity, but falls short of our goals due to a human tendency to centralize power in the hands of the few.  This leaves the majority of citizens in an constant struggle to be heard, and to achieve success.  The competition that exists helps drive the engines of change, but those efforts for equity will always meet with staunch resistance from those in power.

The effects of power on individuals is well documented and warnings were being issued by many contemporaries of our founders.  The most famous of these warnings is attributed to Lord Acton writing in 1887 when he said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  Yet, his words were simply an extension of others' thinking.  People like William Pitt the Elder said in 1770, "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it."  Alphonse Marie Louis de Prat de Lamartine wrote, "It is not only the slave or serf who is ameliorated in becoming free... the master himself did not gain less in every point of view,... for absolute power corrupts the best natures."

It is also worthwhile to mention the link that has been forged between wealth and power.  While this connection has always existed in every human society, the current economic and political climate in America has magnified its impact.  The stratification of wealth in the hands of a small number of people and new rules around campaign finance and other ways to manipulate political leaders have simply codified what we already knew existed.  The wealthy have long had the ability to manipulate systems to benefit themselves.  In this way wealth and power intersect, something that we have been warned about in such diverse sources as the Bible ("For the love of money is the root of all evil" 1 Timothy 6:10) and Lady Chatterley's Lover ("Money poisons you when you've got it, and starves you when you haven't).

It is also worthwhile to note that here in America we have a visible fear of political power, but that same fear doesn't translate as clearly to the economic sphere.  Somehow, on a societal level, we equate political power with control and want to resist it, while at the same time coveting and elevating economic success.  The argument that we need to reduce government and reduce regulation while at the same time supporting our "job creators" is one that resonates well in the political arena.  Somehow it becomes fine to attack hard working public sector employees, but not acceptable to attack hard working business leaders.       

Throughout history we have recognized that we must have some sort of  power structures in place for any human society to function.  At the same time, how this power is shared, or not shared, matters greatly.  The social, political and economic goals of equity and opportunity that we claim for American society rest on the concept that power must not become absolute and that it is shared among the many.  The challenge has always been, how to accomplish this in the face of a relentless pressure to control and consolidate power.

Many believe that education is a key element in this process.  Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. . .They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."  While we can certainly debate what he meant by the "whole mass of the people" we can also apply the values of 21st Century America and expand his personal definition.  Education becomes a powerful force of change, hope and progress for all who have access to it.

Perhaps this is why the current Conservative leadership in Wisconsin and other places is targeting education, especially public education.  Our public schools, while imperfect institutions, provide the best opportunity to truly "educate and inform the whole mass of the people."  They are accountable to all, and accessible to all.  The ideas and values expressed in our founding documents support the belief that all citizens should have the opportunity to access all the tools they need to achieve success and gain a place in the decision making processes that guide our society. 

In the area of public education we see the different visions for our society collide.  We've seen education used to expand the opportunities for many citizens, and at the same time have seen education used to control, indoctrinate and even eradicate different groups and cultural identities.  Just like any tool, education can be used in a variety of ways both helpful and harmful.  The way education is used and implemented in our society varies based on who is guiding the processes around our schools and other learning institutions.  In places with more democratic control the potential for good is often realized. 

Unfortunately, we are seeing a concerted effort being made to eliminate the voices of those who work and learn in our public schools.  Once again, the power is being centralized and resources and decision making processes are moving away from those directly working with students.  On the Conservative side this means we are seeing control over education being directed by financial means.   

Area school districts receive around $10.5 million through a funding stream Gov. Scott Walker has proposed to cut for 2015-16.|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin would spend significantly more on prisons and corrections than on helping students pursue their educations at the University of Wisconsin System,...

The national press has gained a sudden interest in the potential presidential contender's lack of a college degree. I wonder why.

There are many reasons why this is occurring, but the one of the most glaring is the profit potential that our children and schools represent.

Democrats and other supposed political supporters of public schools don't have a much better current track record when it comes to helping all students and schools succeed.

The people who wrote and pushed Common Core on the nation are making bank while the nation’s kids, teachers, and parents writhe in the grip of their...

Educators and students are speaking out with their voices, and sometimes their feet.

MADISON — Several hundred University of Wisconsin-Madison students, faculty and staffers braved subzero temperatures to protest Gov. Scott Walker's

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, she got a job in her field on graduating with a degree in education. Now in her fourth year on the job, she is a kindergarten teacher at Brighton Elementary School, a small, high-achieving school in western Kenosha County. It is her first year a…

In my eyes the most glaring problem that exists in our schools today is the fact that those who are most impacted by policies and initiatives are the ones who have the least power in deciding what direction our schools take.  The very people for which the system is supposed to function best are the last ones asked and the first ones hurt by changes, cuts and reforms.  Those who already have power and success continue to enjoy the benefits of a system that works for them, and those on the outside fall further behind.  This includes students, families and many employees in our public schools.  The current efforts to reform our schools too frequently benefit fewer students than they harm.   

When the governor and legislators in Indiana talk corporate education reform crazy talk, Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer knew how to respond during a rally at the State House. She is a mom who knows how...

We have turned a blind eye to the excesses in power and wealth that have created an environment where our students suffer the consequences.  I'm not talking about educator unions here either.  Unions have been vilified and painted as obstacles to reforms, but really occupy a different role in our current debates around education.  They provide avenues for educators to speak up with less fear of reprisal from employers and administrators who are often more connected with the power elite than they are the people they are hired to support and guide.  Many unions are now cooperating with organizations and individuals in communities in ways that other leaders can't or won't.  It is important that we recognize who our conflicts are with and don't allow ourselves to be drawn into struggles with those who are in actuality our allies.  Our ability to define our goals, and identify our allies is crucial in this struggle to help guide our nation on the pathway that our founding documents and ideology set for us.      

We teachers live in two worlds: One is of collaboration and democracy. The other is of contest and domination. We do well in the first, but not the second.
The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . While no one wants our, or any other, economy to struggle, or for our fellow citizens to suffer, the fact that many are seeing the negative aspects of Conservative political and economic ideas may be helpful in correcting the course our society is on in the long run.  

Hundreds of people packed the steps on the Kanawha River side of the state Capitol at noon on Monday to protest new legislation they believe threatens...
Governor Walker's presidential aspirations may also change his image in his home state as time goes on.

February 15, 2015 by WCMC So ... Scott Walker is all but officially running for president, and the country is getting a look at a man who we residents of...

Beyond its much-publicized assault on UW and its mission, Walker’s budget is replete with less-obvious insults to moderation and fairness.|By Paul Fanlund | The Capital Times

The news that a fiscally conservative, economic reform minded governor uses the same "tools" that "tax and spend liberals" do should be headlines across our state. 

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) has 2016 presidential ambitions, but he's facing budget problems in his home state. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)...

Since taking office in 2011, Walker has steered more than $2 billion in tax cuts through the Republican-controlled legislature.

The Bad . . . We have a real problem with over-incarceration of citizens in the United States.  While no one wants a "lawless" society, we have become a leader in locking people up, and often locking them away "for profit."

Correlation is not causation. This has recently become something of an all-purpose comeback from people who want to sound smart without really...

The Ugly . . . We already have a very flawed and corrupted way of electing our justices, now this!  The courts have long been a vehicle for social justice in our nation, but we are seeing the end of that avenue at the state level here. 

The Wisconsin state Senate has just paved the way for the state Supreme Court to elect its own chief justice—and the conservatives’ pick might shake up the...
No one should be surprised that this is being proposed.  Act 10 was the opening anti-union salvo that paved the way for right to work.  Conservatives in Wisconsin won't stop until they have done everything they can to destroy organized labor in the state. 

In a surprise announcement, the Republican leader of the state Senate says he will schedule a vote for next week on a yet-to-be-introduced bill that would make...|By Channel 3000

Sunday, February 15, 2015

#200, February 15, 2015- What Education Should Be

Milestones provide us with a time for reflection and an opportunity to collect ourselves as we move forward.  This 200th edition of "Open Forward Thinking" has gotten me to do just that.  What began as a "more efficient" way to share information with colleagues about the events and actions during the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising has evolved over the years.  It has changed from a summary of meetings, protests and actions and become a place where I can share my ideas and the ideas of others about the issues and events that are impacting all of us.  In some ways it is my "online therapy" where I can express some of my frustration with the current climate around public education and beyond.  The things that I share are things that are constantly on my mind, and the mind of many other concerned citizens. 

At the same time, I have always tried to provide hope for the future and share opportunities to have a positive impact on issues of importance.  I believe this combination of information along with potential positive actions is critical as we seek to make positive change happen in a world that often seems filled with pessimism and hopelessness.         

It is in this climate of negativity that this edition opens.  We know that we don't have to look very far to see the major problems that exist around us.  Some of them are "big picture" societal ones.   

America is a nation bound together by moral panics; in the absence of an actual moral center or a compass of justice, we find power in collective outrage in the...

This climate of constant fear, anger and "isms" gives some individuals an opportunity to gain and maintain power in many ways.  Wisconsin has become a "poster state" for the divide and conquer way of doing politics and policy making.  Add in the ability to corrupt the system with huge sums of money and we have a recipe for disaster.     

I was both surprised and bewildered last week when I saw a news clip of you stumping in Iowa about Megan Sampson, whom you called “The [2010] Outstanding Teacher of the Year in my State.” This was baffling to me since in 2010, I was named Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year (Maureen Look-Ainsw…

There’s more than 2 million reasons why Walker is backing school vouchers, as you’ll notice when you...|By Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

The negative climate and opportunistic "leadership" leads to policies that are counterproductive, ineffective and divisive. 

Prepare to be floored.|By Mic

The implications of this toxic climate are far reaching, but the impacts are very real for all of us.  These effects can be seen very clearly in the area that is of primary concern to me, public education.  I strongly believe that a thriving and vibrant public education system is vital to the long term success of our nation.  Public schools have the potential to provide opportunities for all students, no matter what their demographic or personal situation.  Public schools can provide a framework that gives everyone access to skills and knowledge that do more than build our economy, they build our national identity and create a foundation for future growth and success. 

Yet, these institutions are under attack in a number of ways.  One of the most obvious is the fiscal assault on our public schools.  This was a two pronged attack that hit employees through Act 10 and decimated school budgets by slashing state aid in the bi-annual budgets that have been proposed by the Walker administration.      

Facing a hit of about $900,000 under Gov. Scott Walker's proposed state budget, Wauwatosa School District officials are planning meetings with lawmakers to...

The governor's budget bill was released last week. If the education-related items within the proposal prevail, it will be a crushing blow to public education in several ways. I will touch upon just two of those...

The district reduced salaries for three teachers based on performance.

Public support is essential for the University of Wisconsin to be both good and affordable,

This isn't just a Wisconsin phenomenon.

Today, Jeb Bush and wealthy special interests will gather in Tallahassee for a self-congratulatory conference about how they have turned Florida’s education system into a profit-making machine for out-of-state corporations. (Of course,...

At the same time our schools have been weakened financially, we have also seen an ongoing effort to change the way we provide education to students, and even a fundamental shift in the way we define what education is.  Instead of providing a well-rounded education (one that so many of our founders valued) we are seeing a movement to narrow the definition of education to include only things that make an individual more economically desirable. 

New education standards emphasize technical reading skills over an appreciation for literature and the deeper values it can instill.|By Michael Godsey

Common Core continues to place greater demands on our youngest students with little to no regard to years of research on child development. For example,...


"Asking kids to meet target on standardized tests is like making them meet a sales quota. Our kids are not commodities." ~K.L. Nielson In many nations...

The harm that has been done to our students is measurable, and public educators have also been negatively impacted in so many ways.  While there are some who would discount the impact that undermining educator morale has on students, the reality is that students learning conditions really are educators working conditions.  The stresses placed on all parts of our educational system result in real, tangible and negative outcomes. 

By Kathryn Doyle The more depressive symptoms third grade teachers had in a new study, the less progress in math their struggling students made during the school year. Teacher depression may be one of many factors that determine...|By Kathryn Doyle

We know that our public schools are not perfect places.  We have achievement gaps, opportunity gaps and many other struggles that are all too well documented.  We can recognize the flaws in our public schools, while still holding out hope for the future, and also realizing that the alternatives of privatization and standardization currently being offered don't come anywhere close to solving the existing inequities and struggles of our public school systems.  Instead of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" we need to look for ways to retool, reconfigure and revitalize public education for the good of all citizens. 

We have to recognize that we can't continue with the status quo, and certainly can't continue on the path laid out for us by educational profiteers pretending to be reformers of the system.  The stress and animosity that exists is unsustainable and destructive.  We see groups that should be united, being divided and in conflict while a small number of people profit from the ensuing chaos.        

By Jonathan Stith | Originally Published at Huffington Post Black Voices. February 11, 2015 12:44 PM EST | Photographic Credit; Getty Images There is a war...
A federal report says students attack or threaten to injure Wisconsin teachers at high rates.

'Almost every day, I slip food to one of my students. Both of his parents are in prison. Or, one of his parents is in prison and the other is dead. We can’t quite...

As Gov. Scott Walker calls for scrapping a new state achievement test after just one year, the exam is coming in over budget and lacking key functionality.|By Erin Richards

The British publishing giant Pearson had made few inroads in the United States — aside from distributing the TV game show “Family Feud” — when it announced plans in the summer of 2000 to spend $2.5 billion on an American testing...|By Stephanie Simon

One other aspect of the educational challenges we face can't be ignored and that is the self interest and basic human nature that we all share.  No matter what ideological beliefs we have, and no matter our social and economic demographics, there is an immediacy to education that causes us to look out for our own children, school and community before considering the larger picture.  For many of us that means that we struggle to make our voices heard and have a say in policies at the most immediate, local level.  Yet, there are a larger number of people with time and money whose influence impacts policies and legislation in ways that help expand our existing gaps of all types.  Unless this demographic is "educated" on the impact of their policies they will continue to believe that they are doing no harm when they support "reforms" that sound good, but create divisions and inequities.  In other words, the world is filled with people who want a level playing field, just as long as it tilts in their favor.      

I first encountered the upper middle class when I attended a big magnet high school in Manhattan that attracted a decent number of brainy, better-off kids...

It is in this too real and demonstrably bleak educational landscape that we find ourselves looking for ways to address our challenges while at the same time maintaining our vision of equity and social justice.  We struggle to find ways to get our message out and to unite the diverse groups who share a common interest in preserving and promoting a strong public education system.  We are facing an uphill struggle against a combination of well funded and well connected opponents who see benefits in promoting the privatization of our schools.  We know that our vision of public education provides a strong and equitable way of providing a valuable resource to all citizens, but we also know that the message isn't being received by enough people. 

What exactly is this vision of public education that would close gaps, unite communities and provide opportunities for a more sustainable future for our society?  While there may be many versions of this vision, here is what I would like to see become the focus of discussion as we work to truly reform our public schools.

Stop living, working and educating in fear.  Right now everyone in education is operating under the specter of failure and fear.  Whether it is educators fearing the next cut, the next initiative or the next media story about failing schools, families wondering how their child is being disadvantaged or underserved, administrators looking over their shoulders or politicians using all this to garner votes the fear in public education is tangible.  Education is supposed to be about hope and opportunity, yet we have turned it into a quagmire of fear, anger and divisive dialog.  Instead of preaching about accountability and looking for ways to find problems, our leaders need to begin talking about a common vision for education that unites us.  This won't come at the higher levels of leadership, but rather must begin at the local and individual level.  We need to have conversations with neighbors, friends and families to change the climate around education and public schooling.    

Truly share decision making power with employees and those knowledgeable about education at the classroom and school level.  Few, if any, of the major decisions about education are made by educators who are directly connected to classrooms.  This is true at all levels of the system and simply put, needs to change.  Once again, this needs to happen at the local school and district level.  Instead of having decisions made by administrative groups in isolation, educators need to be consulted, and need to be a part of the decision making processes from start to finish.  This will not only result in better policies, but also will eliminate some of the barriers that come with the existing mistrust that exists between educators and administrators.  There is a long history of adversarial relationships here, and it needs to change.  Everyone in a school system should be united and supportive of each other for the system to work.  This doesn't mean lock-step agreement, but rather mechanisms for productive dialog to occur. 

We also need to build on the existing strengths that exist within every school and every district.  Too many times we see decision makers looking outside of their own staffs to find answers to the challenges that exist.  Yet, the professionals who were hired to work in schools are where the answers can be found.  Whether curricular or policy decisions, the professionals who work in schools, with students are the best resource for potential solutions.  This doesn't mean we ignore the expertise and resources that exist outside our schools, but we start our conversations internally first.     

Make things relevant and important, not easier.  As an educator I am constantly hearing about how this policy, this curriculum or this resource was chosen to make my job easier, or to take something "off my plate."  I can tell you that I am not alone when I say that I knew I was getting a "full plate" when I decided to become an educator.  I knew I would be putting in long hours and spending sleepless nights trying to address the needs of my students.  I don't want an empty plate, nor do I want a plate filled with desserts and "fluff."  I want to tackle the "meat" of the challenges that exist and am fully prepared to do so on all levels. 

This means that I don't want to spend my time figuring out how to fill out a form, administer an assessment, learn how to teach a standardized curriculum, or gain knowledge about another initiative that doesn't really help my students or improve my teaching.  Too much of my time is spent doing these things and creating a system that makes this easier isn't in my or my students best interest.  We are overwhelming educators with non-essential tasks masked as "vitally important" and then giving them "relief" in the form of more efficient bureaucratic procedures, or standardized curriculums.  It is no wonder that educators who worked in the time when we could develop our own integrated curriculums and teach students based on their individual needs are leaving the profession in droves.        

Dismiss the myths of rigor and elevated standards.  Part of the fear and apprehension around education exists in the myth that somehow our students are not being challenged and our educators are not being held accountable.  Yet, most non-educators I talk to who come into a school are amazed at what students are learning and what we are expecting them to do on a daily basis.  Our students are being exposed to a variety of challenging tasks and concepts every day, and are being assessed beyond any reasonable expectation.  In fact, in many ways they are being asked to do things beyond what is developmentally appropriate and then labeled as "at-risk" or "behind" when they fail to achieve the set benchmark.

The new standards and increased "rigor" that we are experiencing in education isn't a reality.  After spending a half day of professional development exploring new rubrics for writing, several veteran teachers I was with looked at each other and shrugged off the idea that the "bar had been raised" for our students.  Instead, we had new words and more concrete ways to express what we were already telling our students. 

It is also true that "raising expectations" such as knowing math facts, applying algorithms and reading more non-fiction text at earlier grade levels doesn't close achievement gaps.  Instead we see our students who were already "successful" maintaining their status, while our at-risk students fall further behind.  In part this is due to the disconnect between applying culturally and linguistically relevant practices in classroom activities and then assessing students in more traditional, individualized ways.  It is also a product of the fact that not every student will learn in the same ways and forcing traditional methods of problem solving on them won't change this reality.

Finally, rigor and high expectations already exist in classrooms in ways that our new assessments and curriculums don't demonstrate.  Take for example the skills involved in opinion writing.  In my classroom students are expected to use multiple sources to develop an informed opinion and then work to express this in written and verbal formats.  Using this type of instruction we have had discussions about achievement gaps, affirmative action and how to get more time to eat in the cafeteria (and better lunch selections as well).  Many of our current assessments and curriculum require students to rely on only one or two sources for information.  In our effort to expose students to a wide variety of types of writing we restrict our ability to explore any genre in greater depth.    

Give real opportunity and flexibility to our students.  In this day and age of "unlimited opportunity" we are seeing many policies enacted that actually limit our students choices.  By testing and tracking student progress from the moment they enter school, we force them into programs that "intervene" and remediate when they really want to explore other options for learning.  By the time they reach the upper elementary level they have established a view of themselves as learners that restricts their vision of what they can explore, learn and become. 
Students become pieces of data very quickly as the numbers of assessments that are required and performed on them increases. 

In our effort to give students a sense of purpose, or pathways, in their educational careers we also constrict their opportunities.  My son's, a freshman in high school, course selection sheet included a career pathway section that would guide him towards a vocational or technical track.  If he wanted to take more AP or broader liberal arts classes this wasn't a real option.  In other words, we are tracking our students away from a diversified learning experience in order to guarantee a sense of concrete purpose.  Of course few, if any of us, really know at the age of 14 what we want to be when we grow up and need to have a wide range of experiences in order to fully develop our potential. 

At the same time we know that the more traditional methods of instruction haven't reached a significant number of students.  Many groups of students are simply dropping out before graduation because they don't see the connection between school and success, or are unable to fulfill the educational demands placed on them.  However, instead of turning their high-school experience into a tech school it would be worthwhile to explore some of the strategies used in alternative educational settings and apply them in all of our schools.    

Identify what we value in education.  Education needs to be more than simply a pathway to prosperity.  Education is valuable simply for the role that it plays in developing complete, happy and engaged humans.  Yet, it also needs to prepare students for employment and citizenship.  These two purposes are not mutually exclusive.  However, for us to blend them together we need to be able and ready to talk about our collective vision for our schools.

This means having difficult conversations, forging alliances and compromising for the good of the greater collective whole.  It also means accepting that education will occupy different roles for different people.  For one person a concrete, technical education serves their purposes well.  For another a liberal arts education with more ambiguity is more desirable.  Our systems need to be able to fulfill the needs of all our students and our community as a whole. 

It also means that our educators need to have a voice, and need to make sure that their voice focuses on social justice and representing the needs of all our students, families and the communities we serve.  Often educators are the only people at the table who are able, or willing to give voice to those who need it the most.  In order to be most effective in this role our educators need their unions, and their unions need to be focused on social justice issues that extend beyond simple contractually bargained items. 

Accept, embrace and guide change as it happens.  Education isn't a static field.  New concepts, information and techniques are constantly being developed and implemented in our effort to best meet the changing needs of our students and society.  Change is difficult, but also a sign of societal health.  Some of the angst that surrounds education today is a symptom of the growing awareness that our society needs to do a better job of addressing the needs of all citizens.  We can no longer simply do things the way they've always been done.  Yet, we must also realize that our public education systems have never been fully supported in ways that would make them equitable and accessible to all.   

There are many positive things happening in education today and we need to build off of our successes while effectively communicating about the reality that currently exists.  At the same time we must also pressure our political and economic leaders to fully support real educational reforms that benefit all students.  Public education deserves the full support of our entire society.  With all of the resources our nation enjoys, there is no reason why our public education system shouldn't be of the highest quality possible for every child and every community.

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . We are seeing more and more educators becoming active politically in recent years.  This should translate into more political power for educators and a more positive political climate around education in the future.  

An unusually high number of teachers are running for Chicago City Council seats, propelled by Karen Lewis and financial support from the Chicago Teachers...

A “Stop the Cuts – Save UW” protest will gather at noon Saturday at the Library Mall and march to the state Capitol.|By Pat Schneider


When: February 16th; 6:00 - 9:00 pm
Where: Edgewood College, Madison (Anderson Auditorium, main building)

Leaders from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s teaching assistance union say there is a possibility they would walk off the job in response to Gov. Scott...
The Bad . . . We know that economic inequality is not healthy for our society, and extreme inequality is extremely unhealthy. 

Your portal for news, analysis & facts on economic inequality.

The Ugly . . . Costs for health care continue to rise, health insurance costs are increasing, and MMSD employees may soon be asked to foot the bill.  At the same time we are hearing about how public educators need to tighten their belts top executives in local health care are drawing hefty salaries.  Something needs to be done to correct this imbalance and alter this unsustainable trend.  

Hospital leaders in Madison earn more than the national average of roughly $630,000, and compensation last year for the top executives at Dean Health...|By DAVID WAHLBERG | | 608-252-6125 | @DavidKWahlberg
The Madison School Board discussed the 2015-16...|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal
Following is MTI Executive Director John Matthews’ response to the State Journal, as regards the discussion of the proposed 2015-16, by the Board of Education Monday evening.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

#199 February 8, 2015- Then and Now, An Educator's Journey of Change

Five years ago. . .

I was just a teacher.  This meant that I was busy planning my lessons, working with students and their families and enjoying the career path that I had chosen.  Of course there were flaws in the system centering around equity and achievement for all students, and Wisconsin's educators had been targets of some political posturing, however, at the same time these problems seemed like ones that all of us could work cooperatively on addressing.  When I would tell people that I was a teacher they would respond with affirmations and positive comments about the profession I was proud to be a part of.       

I was just a union rep in my building.  It was a role that I took seriously, yet at the same time wasn't central to my identity.  I knew the need for and the power of the union.  Yet, at the same time I was confident that the staff and leadership at MTI would be able to address the concerns that I, and my colleagues might have.  I attended meetings, when I was able to, and shared information with fellow educators about upcoming issues and events that were of importance to my profession.  My union membership was something that, in hindsight, I truly took for granted. 

I was just a citizen who was concerned about public education, equity and social justice.  I talked with friends and family, but didn't act on my ideas or my philosophy about social, political and economic issues.  I voted on a pretty regular basis, but didn't put a whole lot of thought into my decisions at the polls.  I certainly didn't take an active role either in elections, or in communicating with elected officials. 

Looking back on it, there is no doubt but that I was naïve and complacent.  I felt confident that I was secure in all aspects of my future.  The problems that I knew existed around me were peripheral to my daily concerns.  Things happened to other people, in other places, but Wisconsin was a safe and secure place for me to live and work in.  I wanted to make change happen, but at the same time didn't have a sense of urgency, or a real vision of how to make these things happen.       

Four years ago something fundamentally changed my world and impacted both my present and my future.  Scott Walker dropped the bomb that was Act 10 on the state of Wisconsin.  Suddenly everything was different. 

I was still just a teacher, but the word just began to take on a whole new meaning.  Now instead of being another professional in the community I was a part of a system that was portrayed as damaging to my home state's economic, social and political stability.  My professional expertise was questioned and my value to our society was critiqued and lowered.  The dialog around education shifted away from working cooperatively to improve educational outcomes for all students and towards privatizing and standardizing our public school systems.  I was awakened to the truth that not everyone supported public education, and in fact for some public education was something to be dismantled and reconstructed in a very different, and troubling way.    

I was still a union rep for my building.  The meaning of being an MTI member had fundamentally changed.  Wearing a MTI shirt, hat or button now made me a target either for adoration, or condemnation.  My union membership wasn't an accepted part of the educational landscape, but now was a point of political contention.  I also realized that I could no longer take my union for granted.  I needed to become a more active member and recommit to the power of collective action in the workplace.     

I was still a concerned citizen.  Yet, at the same time I was becoming more active politically, I felt my ability to have an impact on events slipping away.  As part of a crowd of 100,000+ I felt the power of the people, and at the same time saw this outpouring of emotion and dedication ignored by a small number of decision makers who felt no need to honor our voice.  I became more aware of how the system had worked to benefit me over the years because I was faced with the realization that this system was now working against me.  I, and many of my colleagues were now on the outside of the system looking in.    

Now here I am the product of a lifetime of complacency jolted by four years of intense action.  I live and work in a climate that has been fundamentally changed through a combination of legislation, policy and rhetoric designed to demean and undermine both my profession, and the public school systems of Wisconsin.

The legislation and economic decisions that have impacted public education in Wisconsin are easy to see.  It is clear that we live in a state where public schools are not valued by those who hold the purse strings.   

Walker also calls to stop using Smarter Balanced exams, which students are scheduled to take next month.|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

Education officials say Walker's proposed aid cut doesn't go far enough to help struggling districts.

The policies that have been enacted also show a fundamental lack of understanding and respect for educators and the job that we do.  Educators in Wisconsin are now held hostage by a combination of evaluations and ratings that ignore the realities and goals of a public school system. 

There's no convincing research to show that value-added models have done anything to help teachers improve or kids learn, and growing evidence shows them to be wildly inaccurate and erratic....

The leaders of our political majority ignore some basic realities in their ongoing pursuit of wealth and power for a limited few.  The simple truth is that a healthy society supports all its citizens, and as a result thrives and grows.    

A research group says that by improving educational performance, the United States could increase its gross domestic product over the next 35 years.|By PATRICIA COHEN

Yet these so called leaders continue to divide and conquer the citizens of our state and in the end create enough dissent to not only maintain their power, but expand it through purchased elections and a disregard for the public good. 
New data reveals our public—not private—school system is among the best in the world.

They attack the cornerstone of our democracy and applaud things that destroy the foundations that a healthy society needs to prosper.  

In a stroke of whimsy or irony, two new studies about American education have been released in time to get the most media coverage during School Choice Week. The first, from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), looks at the international tests that rank students worldwide in reading,…

Whether it was a "drafting error" or intentional, the ongoing disrespect for education is clearly evident in everything this administration says and does.  In this thinking, education is useful only in terms of job training and economic growth, even then only tailored for the needs of the employer, and loses its value as an exploration of the world around us and a tool for questioning our reality.   

And he wants to add a line about meeting the needs of the workforce.

The drafting file for Gov. Walker’s budget bill includes at least two references in which the administration’s budget shop had requested the removal of key...|By Jason Stein

Suddenly all the ongoing aspects of my life blend together, educator-union member-citizen, become one and of equal value.  There is no way to be "just" anything in the world we currently live in.  Every role that we fill is of value and adds to the collective potential that exists in a democratic society.  If we are ever to fulfill the vast potential that our founding philosophy espouses then we must be more than "just" citizens, educators and organizers (labor or otherwise).  We must look out for the collective good and be the voice for all those who are silent, either because of apathy, depression, suppression or repression.  We must truly become the change that we wish to see in the world. 

All too often I hear my fellow educators speak with despondency and hopelessness.  It is true that public education is under siege, that the initiatives and "reforms" that are being foisted on us often run counter to what we know to be best practices for children, and that our own personal financial and professional circumstances have changed for the worse.  Yet, at the same time we must continue to fight and hold on to hope for the future.  It is in the blending of the roles that it becomes possible to keep the optimism going.  Labor organizers joined with community activists, joined with educators can forge a powerful coalition that can strike back against the wave of negativity and privatization currently buffeting public education.  Our goals and vision of social justice overlap and enhance each other.  Collectively we can overcome the pessimism and not only regain what we have lost, but even improve on what previously existed, not only in public education, but in society as a whole.           

United Opt Out National serves as a focused point...

The Chicago Teachers Union is an organization of educators dedicated to advancing and promoting quality public education, improving teaching and learning conditions, and protecting members' rights.

For years, states have cut education spending and put policies in place that left our schools and students "failing." Recently, contentious reelection races often included criticism of budget cuts and reduced education spending. It would...

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . On February 16th take the time to go to Edgewood College and be part of an open discussion about public education reform.   

The Public Education Reform train left the station long ago. Various political and corporate agendas, from both parties, are at the throttle. Recently the Wisconsin legislature held hearings...

While it would be great if MMSD didn't have to ask the public for funding and that the state would pick up its share of the costs of educating students, the upcoming referendum provides an opportunity to build a positive coalition around Madison's public schools.

Español Referendum Resources & Open House Dates and Locations Find dates and locations of upcoming informational sessions, frequently asked questions and answers, print materials like brochures and posters and more on our...

The Bad . . . The argument for privatizing schools is that families and students need to have freedom and choice about where and how they receive educational services.  Never mind that the choice that is offered is often less in many ways than what exists with our public schools.  An educational marketplace won't do much more than turn out an educational version of the Walmarting of America.  Is that something that is best for all of us, or really any of us?

Tuesday's annual release of state test scores of students attending private schools using vouchers included scores from students in the statewide...|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

The Ugly . . . Virtually every time Governor Walker speaks it gets ugly for Wisconsin.  This effect is magnified when he is speaking about something with such wide ranging implications like our state budget.  This budget is another mess of cuts, hypocrisy and recycled failed policies.    

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Highlights of Gov. Scott Walker's $68.2 billion two-year state budget released on Tuesday:|By By SCOTT BAUER

Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal would turn the Natural Resources Board into an advisory panel to 'to strengthen leadership.'|By Steven Verburg | Wisconsin State Journal