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

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