Today is Sunday…. our hearts are heavy as we mourn for the unspeakable loss of young lives full of promise, the loss of the valiant educators who faced the unimaginable to protect their children, and their families who have to find a way to try to carry on.

Tomorrow is Monday… and every educator, every principal, every superintendent, school secretary, cook, custodian, nurse and guidance counselor in every corner of the country will be at school a little bit earlier, to quietly console each other before the morning bell and give each other the strength to greet their children bounding through the school doors, with arms and hearts outstretched…

We know that deep down underneath in their sub consciousness, as it dwells in ours, lurks the thought of a gunman charging into their school and into their classroom.

We will ease their worries, help them feel safe, let them know we love them… and then we will try to teach them.

We will carry on, we are a collective, we are a community and we come to school each and every day knowing that at any given moment, we might be the first responders too.

And we ask ourselves… how has it come to this?

High school students at Columbine, Littleton, Chardon…. and now kindergarteners and first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary… thousands of children taken down by gunfire on the streets of our neighborhoods, in their homes…. decades of senseless death and violence.

And we ask ourselves… what is next?

It is up to us as educators, to join together to make sense out of the senseless.

It is up to us take charge of our children’s futures and tell the real story of the complexities of our students’ lives and our teaching profession.

We are facing a frontline in our schools as a result of a rise in lax gun laws, a growing culture of violence and as a result of decades of growing poverty and alienation our society.

We teach children who are lost and suffering. We teach children who are desperate to be seen, to be heard, to be connected and cared for.

We help 20 – 30 students face their own frontline each day; divorce, parents losing jobs, deaths in the family, loneliness, addictions, depression, anxiety, extreme disabilities, new immigrants unable to speak English, struggling to fit in, we deal with it all… and then we teach, we inspire, we motivate, we challenge… we don’t give up on our children.

We are the voice of our students… they are our “special interest.” We need to take our kids frontlines to the front doors of our Statehouses across the country and demand more restrictive gun laws and an end to legislation that allows our children’s education to be used for profiteering purposes.

We need to demand that every penny of profit garnered by schools be re-invested in our children so that they grow up to be healthy, whole and well educated so that we are able to stop this cycle of violence.

We need to tell the story of CEOs building million dollar corporations off of the backs of our children and our public tax dollars. If there is a profit, how about hiring more guidance counselors, a full time school nurse, a social worker, more teachers when classrooms reach 25 or more students? How about hiring more intervention specialists for our special needs students, and a full-time school psychologist to help support children who are diagnosed with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses on the rise?

It is time to galvanize and charge forward into our communities and join the momentum growing from parent groups across the country fighting to preserve public education, superintendents and school board members writing open letters to their communities to fight for quality public schools for their students, teachers fighting for their voices of expertise to be heard, and state supreme courts finally ruling that it is unconstitutional to channel public funds to for-profit schools.

The train is on the track and poised to run across our country, we are lining up and ready to go… educators, parents, principals, superintendents, school board members, supreme courts, legislators…

Let’s get going… let’s demand stricter gun laws to protect our kids.

And let’s demand that we preserve our public schools, the heartbeat of our communities, where we educate, care for and keep our kids connected to one another and their communities.

Let’s do everything in our power to help keep the innocence of childhood as a civil right, not to be stolen away at point blank range in the blink of an eye.

We are the voice of our children, together, let’s take action to protect our kids, before it’s too late.

As a veteran 29-year elementary school teacher, I am giving the name of “Opposite Day” to what occurred last Wednesday morning in Room 313 at the Ohio Statehouse.

Teachers and parents both know that young children look forward to a special school day when they can do the opposite of what they are supposed to do; wear their shirt inside out, pants backwards, chew gum… some grown ups today may remember their Opposite Day tradition in school long ago.

On November 5th, in the name of “Education Reform,” Michelle Rhee’s “dream team” of Students First spent three hours in “Opposite Day” mode, describing their corporate, profit-driven vision for “transforming our public schools” to the Ohio House Finance Committee and its audience members.

 Let’s begin our StudentsFirst “Opposite Day” list:

 1)  “The money must follow the child in order to improve our schools.”

 Opposite Day!

Take a look at the evidence here in Ohio; for two decades the money has been following Ohio’s children OUT of the doors of our public schools and into the doors of charter schools.  Despite losing over six billion dollars over the past fifteen years longitudinal data shows that our public schools continue to vastly outperform their charter school counterparts.

Just in the last year…

•  $ 771,000,000.00 of our hard earned tax dollars were taken from our public schools and given to for profit charters in the name of “the money follows the child.”

The “return” on Ohio’s investment:?

•  77% of Public Schools were rated Excellent with Distinction, Achieving or Effective

•  23% of Charters were rated Effective/Achieving, none were rated Excellent with Distinction

•  And the bottom 111 performing schools in Ohio last year?

All were charter schools.

This is the opposite of proven educational reform, let’s call it for what it is;  “the money follows the child to build corporate enterprises under the guise of school choice.”  Ohio’s top two charter school CEOs, David Brennan of White Hat Charters and William Lager of ECOT charters are earning multi-million dollar salaries while graduating only 30 – 40 % of their students, an “F” average and paying their teachers about $34,000 a year.

Let’s follow the money when it leaves our public schools… it is not coming back to our children in the form of a quality education.

2) “85% of Parents approve of their neighborhood public school and its teachers, giving them an overall “B” rating, yet the public schools overall receive a C or D rating.”

 Opposite Day!

Sacramento, California is a long way off from Ohio so maybe our Students First guests aren’t aware that in Ohio, YES… our parents overwhelmingly approve of their neighborhood public schools and their children’s teachers BECAUSE 77% of our public schools are receiving A, B and C ratings while 77% of Ohio’s charter schools are receiving D and F ratings.

Parents and teachers have seen the negative effects of students “ping ponging” back and forth from their public schools to charters and back to public schools again. As charters are closed, often times at mid-year, hundreds of children are shuffled back to their public schools without adequate records and a significant loss of instructional time.  Just as tragic is students’ loss of community and social connections with classmates which contribute to academic deficits and delays.

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2012/11/16/charter-school-could-close-soon.html

Draining our public schools of vital funds by continuing to invest in underperforming charter schools is the opposite of proven education reform. Now is time to stop experimenting with our children’s academic progress, sense of stability and community and re-invest in our public school system which has proven to be the most effective over time.

 3)  “There is no correlation between class size and student achievement;” StudentsFirst recommends changing Ohio’s law to lift the limit of 25:1 teacher to student ratio so that the “best” teachers can be recruited and paid a “CEO’s salary” to reach possibly hundreds of kids at a time on-line.

Opposite Day!

Every professional, experienced educator knows that reaching each child and building a close relationship is key to designing strategic, effective instructional strategies and interventions for each student in their classroom. Building a close-knit community to motivate and inspire our students to work as hard as they can to become the best students and human beings possible is the foundation to successful teaching and learning.

This is impossible to do when 100 plus children are connected to their teacher on-line in a virtual classroom.  It doesn’t matter if the on-line instructor is making a CEO’s salary and has won the Nobel Prize for Science or not. Educating and caring for our kids is about face-to-face, heart to mind connections between students and their teacher many times over during the course of the school day.

Here is evidenced based research supporting smaller classroom sizes the StudentsFirst team seems to have missed:

The federal government’s non-partisan Institute of Education Sciences examines “rigorous scientifically-based research” to make recommendations for producing major advances in the effectiveness of American education.

One of the top four recommendations from the IES is reducing class size in grades K – 3 where the average student in small classes scores about 60% higher on reading and math achievement tests.

http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/evidence_based/evidence_based.asp

 4)  “Teaching is not a profession because there are no rewards for performance:” as stated by Ms. Rebecca Sibilia of StudentsFirst.

Opposite Day!  Opposite Day!

Excuse me?  I have to wonder what criteria Ms. Sibilia is using to judge the career and commitment of educating our children as a “non-profession?”

Ms. Sibilia, in your profession as the Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Fiscal Strategy for StudentsFirst, have you spent six years earning your bachelors and masters degrees plus decades of post graduate work to keep abreast of current research and best practices in your chosen profession?

Ms. Sabilia, in labeling teaching as a “non-profession,” have you ever spent the days, weeks, months, years and decades of your life with 22 – 30 children each day under your care, guidance and instruction every step of the way?

Like most educators, I have been inspired and changed by the teachers who challenged, encouraged and cared for me.

Like most educators, I have chosen to give my intellect, my energy and a large chunk of my heart over the course of my career to thousands of children in my classroom and school community.

In turn, coming full circle, my students have inspired and changed me.

In closing, here lies the disconnect between the “business model movement” to privatize public education and the true nature of the teaching profession; drawing the definition of a professional as contingent upon “rewards for performance” diminishes the very essence of our teaching profession.

Educating our children is a collaborative endeavor rather than a competitive one.  Teachers spend a good deal of their time before, during and after school supporting, encouraging and advising each other on how to lift up our students.  We are a collective, we pull together as a community.

Who is to say whether a child’s 11th grade calculus teacher is more important in her journey forward or her first grade teacher who taught her to read so that she could decode, decipher and analyze her calculus text?

Who should be valued more with additional monetary compensation, the guidance counselor who helps a family on the brink of homelessness find temporary housing or the school nurse who tests the blood sugar level three times a day for our diabetic students?  Where are the test scores to determine 50% of their merit pay?

We teach our students to research the facts, let’s examine the research regarding merit pay reward systems for the teaching profession.  Extensive studies have been done in New York City, Chicago and Nashville.  There has been no proven link over time to support an increase in student achievement linked to a merit pay system for teachers.

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-09-21-merit-pay_N.htm

 5) Here is a novel idea:

Let’s reverse this “Opposite Day” course in these muddled methods of applying a market-driven, competitive business model to educating our children.

How about examining non-partisan, evidenced based scientific research for effective educational reform?

How about examining the best components of Ohio’s Evidence Based Model of school funding which won a national award for being the country’s most “bold, courageous, non-partisan” education reform of 2009?

How about if we open the doors of the House Finance Committee in Room 313 of Ohio’s Statehouse and invite a team of experienced, professional educators, principals, superintendents and educational policy experts to present recommendations for effective and proven educational reform for Ohio’s children?

Let’s make decisions collectively and collaboratively, as a diverse group of professionals based on rigorous, non-partisan scientific research rather than follow unilateral recommendations by profit driven corporate enterprises such as StudentsFirst.

Finally, we are standing up for our children and public education has been the foundation of our democracy and the democracy they will inherit. Let’s commit the process of educational reform to preserving equal educational opportunities for all Ohio’s children so that they can build secure and successful futures in a strong democratic society.

 Let’s do it now, together, before it is too late.

• Maureen Reedy is a 29-year veteran educator who was honored as Upper Arlington’s Teacher of the Year in 2001, Ohio’s Teacher of the Year in 2002 and has advocated for Ohio’s children and public education at the local, state and national levels.  Maureen was one of the state leaders representing educators in the repeal of SB 5.

• Most recently, Maureen ran for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives, narrowly losing in a gerrymandered district.  StudentsFirst spent $250,000 in a direct mail campaign endorsing Maureen’s opponent as the pro-education candidate, even though she has never before been a classroom teacher.

• In this era of targeting massive educational funding reform by pushing legislation for the privatization of public schools for profit, the Ohio Republican Party spent well over a million dollars in the last 2 weeks of the campaign in a massive negative tv, radio, direct mail and robo call campaign to make sure that a public school teacher would not be representing Ohio’s children and citizens in our Statehouse.

Hey all you dedicated career educators out there giving your all to your students day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year …. your intellect, your expertise, your empathy, your guidance, your coaching, your humor… your creative energy even when you feel depleted…

We keep coming back to our classrooms and our students because it is who we are and what we do… we are the teachers and the caretakers of children.

I have a new concept to propose for the next lively discussion we are bound to encounter “out on the streets” about the ubiquitous proposals of merit pay systems for teachers.

I am thinking of calling it, “Merit Beyond Measure…”

When I think of why I believe in Teachers, I think of the immeasurable contributions that come from the heart and souls of educators to lift up their students who are vulnerable, fragile and perhaps lonely and in need of something extra.

I could cite many stories of “Merit Beyond Measure” that come to mind;

… a colleague who went on a snow day to meet a parent with limited English at Children’s Hospital to help them navigate and support their child in a comprehensive evaluation…

… a teacher who spent hours after her school day before going home to her own family helping the parent of one of her students fill out forms to receive emergency health insurance after an unexpected job loss…

… a group of friends who teach all day, attend staff meetings, plan for the next day, assess student work, answer emails and THEN leave school to shop at thrift stores once every few weeks for outfits for children who come to school with inadequate clothing.

Teachers don’t do these things to earn merit pay; this is the spirit of our commitment to our students, their families and ultimately bettering humanity through our service.

How do we propose to measure the merit in these actions by educators who silently support their students and their families beyond the scope of the school day?

Forget about merit pay…

Teachers’ merit is indeed beyond measure.

**************

I would love to hear stories of “Merit Beyond Measure” from you too, please share…

~ Maureen

 

Newark Public School Teachers: Why We Must Say No

I will make an additional $20,000 if the Union passes the contract on Wednesday. I will vote no. It’s not about the money.

 Under the old contract, it wasn’t hard to abuse good teachers. Under this new system, the highest levels of unchecked disrespect are institutionalized. I personally understand how arbitrary evaluations can rip idealism and joy from teaching. The same year I coached my first New Jersey State Champion in debate and coached a debater who placed in the top 8 in the United States at the National High School Tournament of Champions, had 100 percent passing on the State Exam, had no behavior problems that had to be dealt with administratively, and wrote and received a $20,000 book grant for my school, I was labeled an unsatisfactory teacher and punished financially (increment denial).

Part of my department chair’s reason was that she claimed I was “not proficient in the English language.” I had to fight for six months, without union help, to get my pay and respect back. If not for former Newark Central Office administrator Gladys Hillman Jones, another current Newark administrator, who at the time had just arrived in Newark, and my former high school debate coach who happened to work in Central Office, I would not have been able to have the decision overturned, and I would have left teaching. The old system where that was allowed was far more objective than the system that would be in place if this destructive contract passes.

This contract institutionalizes a system of merit pay and punishment without giving any clear standard for getting either additionally paid or additionally punished.  The new teacher evaluation tool is laughably vague. How will your administrator determine whether some students are “enthusiastic” verses whether many students or few students or no students are enthusiastic? How is that measured objectively? We are not told how teachers will be chosen to be on an evaluation committee, but we are clearly told in the contract that this committee is only an advisory committee, and, like the Newark Advisory Board, it can be ignored. Without clear standards of evaluation our careers become political. Ironically, Newark’s version of merit pay guarantees that merit will be the least likely thing to determine your career’s future.

And when you are deemed partially effective or ineffective, our union will not be able to help you and the media will assume, like they do about everyone from Newark, that you are incompetent. The Star Ledger editorial board said as much when they implied that only ineffective teachers would resist such a contract. Ineffective, to them, simply means you disagree with their naive politics of reform.

Some level of academic freedom is necessary for us to effectively teach and advocate for students. Grades should not be political, but there is common administrative pressure to pass or fail students to appease parents or do favors for the politically connected or make the reports of the school look better. There is pressure to not complain when 40 students are placed in your class. There are times when teachers may need to advocate for students things that administrators and people who have not taught a class for years may not understand, but need to know. And then there are the administrators who are well meaning, but may simply disagree with you about what good teaching is. This contract institutionalizes an insidiously vague vision of teaching in a way where two well meaning people could simply disagree, without one being fully right; however, the teacher would have his pay limited and her work stigmatized.

This contract is rooted in a fundamental disrespect of our profession. That is why it does not differentiate between a BA, a Masters degree, or a Doctorate. Our contract institutionalizes contempt for classroom teachers with higher degrees. It says that the additional work that was done in your field is irrelevant. This type of thinking is, by definition, anti-educational. It replaces the long-term incentive for a classroom teacher to increase knowledge, pay, and institutional respect with the cynical, short-term politics of your school. If you do not have a great personal relationship with your department chair that year, you will not be highly effective. If you park in your administrator’s parking space one day, or disagree with them when advocating for a student, or dare complain about having forty students in your class, you may be deemed only partially effective. And what is worse is if we ratify this contemptible contract, we would be giving our consent.

For teachers who have been primarily concerned about money, a very modest pay increase, being placed on our proper steps, and some level of retroactive pay could be found through arbitration. Any additional pay promised in this contract can be taken from you in the future because we would have given up our rights. How much pressure will there be on administrators to find a certain number of teachers partially effective or ineffective? Our District teachers have been forced into a pay freeze for the past three years. There is no precedent for that. However, if we ratify this contract, we set contractual precedent for everything we hate: pseudo accountability, a neutered voice, and institutional disrespect embodied in the calculation that teachers would sell off all of our rights for partial pay. If we ratify this contract, arbitrary pay freezes for an administratively determined percentage of our membership could be the norm. It is easy to justify a “partially effective” label on a quality teacher at the wrong end of school politics.

If the District wants to institute merit pay in the future, at the very least they must first create objective standards for determining merit, if merit and “good teaching” is the intent. Unfortunately, I believe that the disrespectful nature of this contract can be seen in the same light as the continued disrespect of Newark residents in education. Predominately Black and Brown citizens of Newark are seen as too stupid to make decisions about education. That is why elected boards are ignored. The New Jersey Commissioner of education said in a recent editorial that Newark parents vote on education with their feet. Citizens don’t vote with their feet; they vote with their ballot in elections. The residents of Newark are not seen as citizens capable of deciding how to educate their children with an $800 million dollar budget, but as consumers who should choose from the choices created for them by people outside of their community. If our parents have been reduced from citizens to disrespected consumers, then this contract reduces us from professionals to “overpaid” workers who need our unions broken.

In Chicago, teachers fought for their communities and their professions with a weeklong strike. They understood that they must push back on the corporate and media driven educational reforms because those ideological reforms destroy much and build nothing. In Chicago they realized that they were fighting for the soul of our profession, not just in their city, but nationally. In Newark, we are also fighting for the national soul of our profession, but we don’t have to strike. We simply need to reject this disrespectful and contemptible contract. Continued arbitration is better than selling out our communities and ourselves. Please, fellow quality, dedicated, beautiful Newark Public School Teachers, think of our professions, our District, and the future of public school education in our country and vote loudly and proudly, “No!”

Jonathan Alston

English Teacher

Newark Public Schools

 

Personal Note: After getting my increment back I coached 6 more NJ State Champions in debate, received three Superintendents Awards for Teaching, created a growing and successful AP Language and Composition course in my school, and helped my schools Advanced Proficient rate on the Language HSPA rise from 9 to 33 percent. I have also run workshops on debate and writing in the District and would be happy to run workshops for your school as my schedule permits.

Hello Friends of Teachers, Parents, School Administrators and Community Members who BELIEVE in Public Education,

Good news on the movement to Preserve Public Education as the Foundation of our Democracy !

~ Ohio is starting a movement, Strong Schools / Strong Communities ( see below…)

Jeb Bush is not fooling anyone ~ He is part of the premeditated, national assault on Public Education by promoting the privatization of our public schools for profiteering purposes and corporate gain.

http://dianeravitch.net/2012/11/27/right-wing-school-reform-conference/

Would Jeb Bush want his own children in a “classroom” behind a computer with 225 other children and 1 educator? Would Jeb want his child in a school with no connection to building Community? No drama club, no band, no debate team, no sports teams, no orchestra… the list goes on…

I have a simple question: Why in the WORLD do we seek to garner profits off of our children?

If there are profits, how about RETURNING them to our children and our schools instead of paying million dollar salaries to CEOs with no educational expertise who employ teachers on “at will contracts” where they can be fired at any time for no reason?

If there are profits, how about using the $ to provide our children and families with more resources so that students are taken care of and their academic deficits and/ or academic strengths can be addressed…

How about using PROFITS to hire a full-time nurse, a full time guidance counselor, a social worker, teachers’ aides for classrooms with over 25 students, purchasing some Smart Boards to engage students with short attention spans, funding enrichment classes, and hiring more Intervention Specialists for our special needs students?

Why are we seeking to PROFIT off of our children when it is our charge to use everything in our power to lift our students up, take care of them, educate them and help them become the best learners and human beings they can possibly be?

Ohio’s Teachers, Parents, Superintendents, School Board members and Citizens have launched a new movement ~ Strong Schools / Strong Communities

Strong Schools Strong Communities is a non-partisan movement dedicated to informing and engaging Ohioans at the community level to understand, appreciate and support our system of common public schools.

Visit our website at http://www.strongschoolsohio.com
Friend us on Face Book at : http://www.strongschoolsohio.com
~ Maureen Reedy ~ Believing in Teachers, Believing in Public Education ~ Ohio Teacher of the Year, 2002
• 29 year Public School Educator
• graduated from Columbus, Ohio’s public school system
• BA and MA, The Ohio State University
• Ohio Teacher of the Year, 2002
• Candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives – Dec. 2011 – Nov. 2012
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