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Tag: teachers

Teachers Union Warns A Million Education Jobs May Be Lost Without New Federal Aid

If federal relief funding is not provided to cities and states facing coronavirus budget shortfalls, nearly 1 million jobs in public K-12 education could be lost, according to a report released on Monday by the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest U.S. teachers union.

The report, titled, "A Time to Act: The Importance of Investment in Public Education and Other State and Local Services in the Time of COVID-19," found that K-12 public schools across the country are facing a $93.5 billion budget gap going into the next school year due to decreases in tax revenues received by state and local governments. Public schools receive the majority of their funding from tax revenues.

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Let’s Not Kill Our Heroes

Among the lessons taught by the pandemic is to value the people who make life possible in this country. They are hospital employees, ambulance drivers, cops and firefighters, of course, but also delivery workers, grocery clerks, utility workers, mail carriers and a panoply of others who confronted danger every day for months and still do. Most of us didn't notice how routinely they were overlooked, underpaid, dismissed and even disparaged until they helped us survive a lockdown.

Millions of parents have lately discovered, if they didn't already know, that teachers are among the most undervalued professionals in America. Trying to wrangle children at home every day, let alone induce them to learn, has schooled anyone who might have felt that our educators make more money than they deserve. So if we've discovered how essential these workers truly are, shouldn't we treat them as we would hope to be treated ourselves? And if we're committed to redressing fundamental inequities, shouldn't we start now — not wait until some distant day when the crisis is over?

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Teaching Across An Abyss Of Silence

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

Do you hear that silence?

That's the absence of footsteps echoing through our nation's public school hallways. It's the silence of teaching in a virtual space populated with students on mute who lack a physical presence. It's the crushing silence of those who are now missing, who can't attend the classroom that Zoom and Google built.

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In Crisis, We’re Rediscovering America’s Hardest Job

My sainted mother was a public school teacher until she married my father and immediately, as a married woman, was forced by local Massachusetts rules then in force to leave the classroom. (My own grade school teachers included Miss Galvin, Miss Harrington, Miss Donahue, Miss Keohane, Miss Condrick, Miss Loud … you get the picture.)

One happy adult memory is a lunch with my then-90-year-old mother in the leading Italian restaurant in our hometown of Weymouth, Massachusetts. The world-weary expression on our waitress’s face, herself already a grandmother, brightened immediately when she recognized my mother from more than 60 years earlier: “Miss Fallon,” she announced, “You were the best teacher I ever had. Remember me from the Jefferson School … Marie?” My mother did in fact remember and later unsentimentally recalled Marie’s losing encounters with the eights table in multiplication.

In addition to my mother, my only sister was a public school teacher. My only daughter was a teacher. After leaving the Marine Corps, I, too, taught high school history. I agree with former Democratic Texas Gov. Ann Richards who, before seeking and winning public office, had been a junior high school teacher. She said, “Teaching was the hardest work I had ever done, and it remains the hardest work I’ve done.” Republican presidential candidate and former Sen. John McCain echoed the same sentiment when he argued that a good teacher should not be paid less than a bad congressman.

Former White House Chief of Staff and later Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel shrewdly noted, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” meaning, “the opportunity for us to do things you could not before.” The current national and international crisis has closed schools and required parents to share confined indoor space with their children for hours and days on end.

All over America, mothers and fathers who had not thought much about it have been forced to confront, understand and appreciate what the American public school teacher does every day of the school year: manage, inspire, organize, discipline, inform and educate not one or two children but 30 children, all day long — some, sadly, with the attention span of a fruit fly.

While safeguarding people’s health and providing treatment to all afflicted are our overriding priorities, it may also be time for us Americans, beginning with parents, to recognize just how demanding, difficult and indispensable the work of the public school teacher is and that a school teacher deserves to be paid much more than the median salary, which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $58,230 for an elementary school teacher in the U.S. Recalling McCain’s rule, a congressman — bad or good — is paid $174,000 a year.

There is not a school board or state legislature in the country in the spring of 2020 that would not be overwhelmingly urged by parents everywhere to support a major pay increase for public school teachers.

And while we’re on the subject of salaries, all those captains of industries, such as the airline CEOs, who’ve been pocketing multimillion dollar salaries and who are now coming to the taxpayers tin cup in hand to secure a public bailout, are now effectively public employees and should not be paid more than a good — or bad — member of Congress. It only seems fair, if the public pays their salary, that the public is able to set the pay scale. But first, let’s agree to pay the teachers a helluva lot more.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Democrats May Have To Choose Between Charter Schools And Teacher Pay

For years, the safe havens for education policy debate in the Democratic Party have been expanding pre-K programs and providing more affordable college, but in the current presidential primary contest, another consensus issue has been added to the party’s agenda: salary increases for K–12 classroom teachers. Kamala Harris has gotten the most press for coming out strongly for raising teacher wages, but other frontrunners including Joe BidenPete Buttigieg, and Bernie Sanders have also called for increased teacher pay.

But what will happen when a consensus issue like teacher salary increases comes into conflict with a lightning rod issue like charter schools? That’s a scenario currently playing out in Florida.

A recent law passed by the majority Republican Florida state legislature and signed by newly elected Republican Governor Ron DeSantis will force local school districts to share portions of their locally appropriated tax money with charter schools, even if those funds are raised for the express purpose of increasing teacher salaries in district-operated public schools. (Charter schools in Florida, as in many states, do not receive funds that are raised through bond referendums, mill levies, or other forms of local funding initiatives.)

Florida teachers have openly opposed the new law, and local school districts have taken it to court to have it overthrown. But given this new law, it’s not at all hard to imagine a scenario, even at the national level, where Democrats pushing to increase funds for teacher pay will have to confront an expanding charter school industry—and now voucher programs—that would claim their portion of that money to use as private institutions for whatever purposes they wish.

“The problem with charter schools isn’t that they’re competing with public schools; it’s that they’re supplanting public schools,” says Justin Katz. Katz, who is president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association, recently helped organize a rally in West Palm Beach where more than 200 teachers and public school advocates showed up to voice their opposition to distributing funds raised by local tax increases to charter schools.

The protest “was very specific, local, and personal,” Katz explains, because voters in the county had approved $200 million in funding for their schools in a measure that specified increases could be used for teacher raises in traditional public schools and not for funding charter schools.

The referendum was overwhelmingly approved by more than 72 percent of voters. But under the proposed new law, a proportional share of 10 percent, or about $20 million a year, would have gone to the county’s 49 charters. Only a late amendment in the state senate averted the loss, when the bill was altered to apply to future bond referendums only.

The language of the referendum that was passed was “crystal clear,” Katz says, that money raised by the bond efforts would not go to charter schools. But the loophole being used to argue for charters to get their share is the use of the term “public schools.”

The new law is “an effort to redefine what are public schools,” he says, in order to give charter schools a right to claim a portion of any publicly raised education funds, regardless of the intent for raising the money. He fears that once charters claim that right, private schools in the state’s school voucher programs will claim it too.

What Katz fears aligns to Governor DeSantis’ recent comment that “if the taxpayer is paying for education, it’s public education,” which seems to mean that virtually any education provider—charter schools, private schools, and even homeschooling—is “public education” and therefore has a rightful claim to public funds meant for teachers, local schools, and any initiative voters approve, regardless of the intent.

“Our objection to sharing bond referendum money with charter schools is that it’s not what the money was intended for,” says Anna Fusco, the president of the Broward Teachers Union.

Broward, the county immediately to the south of Palm Beach, also recently passed a local referendum that raised $93 million, enough funding to boost teacher salaries by as much as $8,000. Like the Palm Beach initiative, the Broward referendum funds were intended not to go to charters, although the language was not as specific. Broward has over 90 charter schools educating 45,919 students, over 20 percent of the district’s students.

Fusco says, “it was fair to not include charters in the referendum” for several reasons. Because nearly half the charter schools in the state are managed by for-profit companies, new funding voters had approved for teachers could instead be used to expand profits for charter management companies.

Fusco also believes many charter schools are “non-public” because they “get to choose their students.” Studies have shown Florida’s charter schools, compared to public schools, serve significantly lower percentages of low-income students, students with disabilities, and students who struggle with English.

She also points to other recent legislation that gave charter schools access to state funding for building leases and executive pay and big new loopholes for bypassing local school boards and employing uncertified teachers. She contends the law undermines the charter industry’s argument for needing local referendum money. And because of the new loopholes, bond referendum money would now go to charter schools even though they can bypass the very school boards that pushed for the bonds, and even if the money was earmarked for wage hikes for certified teachers, charters could use the money to hire uncertified teachers who lower the status of the teaching profession.

“This is part of an incremental and deliberate effort to take apart our public school system,” says Karen Castor Dentel in a phone call. Castor Dentel is a board member of Orange County Public Schools and former Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives. A native of Florida and graduate of the state’s public schools, she taught in an elementary school last year, and her mother was Florida Education Commissioner from 1987 to 1994.

Castor Dentel sources the assault on the state’s public schools to former Governor Jeb Bush, who initiated a series of reforms he called the A+ Plan that included imposing a school grading system based on test scores. Gradually the test-based system was used to evaluate teachers too—including evaluating teachers based on the scores of students they don’t even teach.

Bush’s plan also called for changing teachers’ salary increases from a traditional step plan based on seniority and continuing education to a system of bonuses and merit-pay schemes based on test scores and other measures. The most preposterous of these schemes based teacher bonuses on scores they earned on their college entrance exams. Districts are now rushing to abandon these plans.

“The purpose of this was to shame schools and teachers,” Castor Dentel insists. “We already knew which students needed help and which schools and teachers needed more support. But it’s easier to label schools and teachers failing and hand everything over to a private charter operator than it is to do what these schools and communities actually need.”

While Bush’s plan cracked down on teachers, it loosened the regulatory environment for charter schools and provided them with new funding sources. By the time Bush left office in 2007, charter schools across the state had grown from a modest 30 to well over 300. Today there are 655.

The educational success of the A+ Plan continues to be hotly debated, but it’s undeniable that the welfare of public school teachers in the state suffered significantly under its regime.

The state has dropped to 46 on a national scale of average teacher salaries, and at least one credible analysis has deemed the state the fifth worst state in the nation to be a teacher.

Due to low pay, deteriorating employee benefits, and demoralizing working conditions, Florida teachers have refused to work beyond school hours, increasingly called in sick, and are leaving their jobs at higher rates. The state now has an acute teacher shortage and struggles to fill vacant positions. And in what’s being called a “silent strike,” experienced teachers are leaving the profession early, and people who would be highly qualified for teaching are choosing other employment opportunities.

In the meantime, charter schools have flourished and now account for nearly all the state’s growth in student enrollment.

“It’s been a long game,” Castor Dentel says. “The agenda has been imposed so slowly over the past 20 years that people don’t notice. It’s a cancer that started in Florida and is now spreading everywhere.”

If the Florida model for education is a disease, Democrats have certainly been infected. Much of what was in Bush’s A+ Plan formed the policy agenda of the Obama administration, which also pushed for evaluating schools and teachers based on test scores and expanding charter schools.

“Democrats have been promoting a conservative ‘school reform’ agenda for the past three decades,” education historian and bestselling author Diane Ravitch observed. “Whatever the motivations, the upshot is clear: The Democratic Party has lost its way on public education.”

But because presidential hopefuls are rallying around teacher salary increases, have Democrats found their way back?

No doubt, what got Democrats to pay attention to the plight of school teachers was the series of teacher protests staged across the country last year and into 2019. The highly visible strikes emboldened candidates running in 2018 midterm elections to campaign for increasing investments in public schools. The teacher uprisings also took the schools issue away from Republicans and made it less about “accountability” and more about the massive cuts political leaders in both parties have enacted to the system.

In Florida, teachers are forbidden to strike by law and the state constitution. “Any teachers engaging in such action would endanger their professional status,” explains Fusco. “They could lose their licenses and jobs for life and lose their pensions too. Our union will never, ever encourage a walk out.”

However, the laws haven’t stopped teachers from speaking out against efforts to divert local tax dollars for teacher pay to charter schools. Their protest messages are about educating voters on the impact of charters rather than opposing them outright.

Teachers who protested in Palm Beach County, according to Castor Dentel, “made their protests more about the responsible use of tax dollars.”

“Parents and voters are just starting to get engaged, but they aren’t always clear on the issues,” she says. “They don’t understand that charter schools aren’t really like public schools.”

“For now, our effort to push back has to rely on educating people on what these bills in the state legislature are really doing,” says Fusco. “We hope people who aren’t in education and don’t even have children in schools listen to us.”

“This obsession with crushing public schools to promote privately operated things that are being called ‘public’ is not universally accepted,” says Katz, “and people are just starting to sour on it.”

Maybe Democrats will too.

This article was produced by Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Schools Look To Puerto Rico In Search Of Bilingual Teachers

By Tim Henderson, Stateline.org (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Even with 16 years of teaching experience and two master’s degrees, Nathalia Moreno had a hard time finding a new job in the financially stressed schools where she lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Her prospects brightened when she began considering working in schools on the mainland, where bilingual teachers are in high demand. She got an offer from Florida, but took a job teaching physical education in Las Vegas where recruiters were more persistent.

It’s worth being persistent to hire a good teacher, especially one like Moreno who speaks English and Spanish, said Staci Vesneske, chief human resources officer for Las Vegas’ Clark County school system.

“It’s not uncommon for our recruiters to follow up two or three times to say, ‘Hey, we really want you to finish your application,'” Vesneske said.

Growing demand for bilingual teachers, fed by increasing numbers of Spanish-speaking public school students, is forcing local school districts to get creative in their recruiting. A major target for their efforts is Puerto Rico: the teachers, already U.S. citizens, don’t require a visa if they decide to leave the island and its struggling economy to go work on the mainland.

Oklahoma City Public Schools, for instance, started the school year in August with more than a dozen new teachers from Puerto Rico, including Iriana Sanchez, a kindergarten teacher who left because “it’s hard to get a job there, and here I feel very welcome.”

Houston-area schools are organizing recruiting conferences locally and in San Juan. The Dallas Independent School District, which already recruits in Puerto Rico, is this year looking to Mexico and Spain for candidates, while starting a training program for local bilingual professionals to become teachers.

“As bilingual programs in Dallas and across the state continue to grow, the need for bilingual teachers increases exponentially each year,” said Jordan Carlton, who heads a recruiting team for the district.

A smaller share of U.S. college students is getting education degrees. Relatively low pay and declining job benefits can make the profession look less attractive. State certification of teachers varies widely, and states don’t always recognize each other’s teacher certifications.

A 2013 study by the Council of the Great City Schools found that about half of large city school districts either have a shortage of teachers for so-called English Language Learners, or ELLs, or anticipate one in the next five years.

“This makes recruitment a challenge,” Carlton said, “and requires us to look at all possible alternatives for gaining the educators that we need.”

Students who speak another language and need help learning English are one of the fastest growing populations in public schools. Using the latest data available, the National Center for Education Statistics found that the number of ELLs rose 6 percent between 2008 and 2013.

ELLs make up 9 percent of all public school students, the center found. Their share of the student population ranges from less than 1 percent in West Virginia to 23 percent in California.

About 71 percent of them speak Spanish, according to information compiled this year by the Migration Policy Institute, although in some states more students speak another foreign language.

In Montana, for instance, German-speaking students outnumber Spanish-speakers. In Vermont, it’s Nepali. In Maine, it’s Somali. Lincoln, Nebraska, budgeted $1.2 million for more bilingual teachers and support staff this year after 866 students needing services arrived, mostly from Iraq and Mexico.

Some states have responded to the growing numbers of ELLs in their classrooms by requiring bilingual education. Bilingual education advocates say that learning subjects partially in a student’s native language, while also studying English, increases comprehension and brings up standardized test scores, including those required by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated that annual testing be conducted in English.

Even in some English-only education states, such as Arizona and Massachusetts, some bilingual teachers may be hired because they’re considered well qualified to teach ELLs under the English immersion programs required there. In Arizona, bilingual classes are possible if parents sign waivers.

“There’s growing awareness in the states that fluency in the original language is helpful for learning English,” said Micah Ann Wixom, a policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States. “The states are very much aware that the number of these students is growing and they’re actively seeking out ways to help them.”

Connecticut, Illinois, Texas, New York and New Jersey are under special pressure to find bilingual teachers because they mandate bilingual education plans in schools where there are concentrations of a single foreign language, said Julie Sugarman, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.

This year Connecticut’s General Assembly formed a working group on expanding bilingual education because of a 50 percent increase in demand for services in a decade, combined with some of the nation’s highest gaps in achievement among ELLs in subjects such as eighth-grade math and reading.

To address teacher shortages, the group recommended streamlining the process for certifying teachers for classrooms, which varies across the states. It also recommended allowing teachers with credentials from other states to teach in Connecticut schools.

It’s a nationwide issue, according to the New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program. “Different state-by-state certification processes and requirements limit teachers’ mobility, and stop the flow of bilingual teachers from areas with little demand for them to areas with great need for them,” a post on the center’s Ed Central blog concluded.

The bilingual teacher shortage comes against the backdrop of a general teacher shortage in many states. A federal report shows teacher shortages in many areas for math and science, as well as special education.

Vesneske of Clark County, Nev., said many potential teachers were frightened away from entering the profession by layoffs after the recession.

“It always seemed like maybe not a high-paying job, but a dependable job, and then with the layoffs it didn’t seem too dependable anymore,” said Vesneske, whose district has hired 1,800 teachers this year and still needs more.

In Wisconsin, State Superintendent Tony Evers said in his State of Education address last month that the number of teacher licenses had dropped 12 percent in two years, and 2,000 fewer students were preparing to be teachers than there were three years ago.

“Good people are leaving the profession and young people are choosing not to become teachers,” he said.

In Minnesota, teacher licenses are down 7 percent in the last five years according to a state report. In Illinois, teacher licenses have grown by 2 percent a year since 2006, but the state still can’t fill some jobs, including 76 bilingual education jobs, according to a state report issued in March.

Financial troubles in Puerto Rico have made the island territory a more tempting spot for recruiting. Moreno, the PE teacher in Las Vegas, said she’d been looking for a better teaching job for years.

“Nobody wanted to pay me. They kept saying I was overqualified,” Moreno said. “In Puerto Rico, it’s really hard. They’re closing a lot of schools. I was really struggling financially.”

Almost 16,000 working teachers moved to the states from Puerto Rico and Latin America between 2008 and 2013, with about two-thirds of them going to Arizona, California, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Texas, according to a Stateline analysis of American Community Survey data from the Minnesota Population Center.

Recruiters are drawn to Puerto Rico for more than teachers, however. Other government agencies and the private sector also need bilingual staff, particularly social workers.

“There is definitely a great need for Latino social workers who are bilingual Spanish speakers,” said Migdalia Reyes, a professor of social work at San Jose State University. “Many social work schools on the East Coast have historically recruited students from Puerto Rico to their programs.”

Photo: Despite all the Spanish speakers in the U.S., some districts are going to Puerto Rico — as well as other Caribbean areas — to recruit bilingual teachers. Emily/Flickr

Gates Foundation To Keep Pushing On Teacher Quality

By Katherine Long, The Seattle Times (TNS)

SEATTLE — Working on reforming the U.S. education system is the hardest job they’ve ever tackled, Bill and Melinda Gates said Wednesday — more difficult and complex, even, than trying to find a cure for malaria.

In the first major retrospective address on their educational philanthropy work in seven years, the couple that leads the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation acknowledged that many issues surrounding education improvement have become politicized, and success has been hard to prove.

But they reiterated their focus on teacher training as a key to improving education, defended the use of testing as one way to measure teacher and student performance, and said the Common Core state standards are starting to show results.

The Gateses both spoke at length during a Gates Foundation-sponsored event, the U.S. Education Forum, a two-day conference being held in Bellevue, Wash., that is bringing together about 250 national education leaders and politicians. It marks the 15th year the foundation has been involved in U.S. education philanthropy.

In 2009, at a similar event, the foundation launched the Empowering Effective Teachers initiative, an attempt to help school districts identify and reward their best teachers, help all teachers improve and weed out the worst. By 2013, according to an Education Week analysis, the Gates Foundation had spent nearly $700 million on its teacher-quality agenda.

Bill Gates acknowledged Wednesday that the foundation is still learning how it can help move the needle on improving the American education system. But he said he believed “we are working on the right problems” — that all students should meet high standards, and that they should be taught by the best teachers.

From the beginning, the Effective Teachers initiative was controversial, in part because of efforts to tie teacher performance to test scores. Many teachers were suspicious of the efforts, fearing they would be ranked on a measure that they argue isn’t a good or reliable measure of their work.

Although he believes teacher training is the right approach, Bill Gates expressed concern about whether the teacher initiative will ultimately have an impact. “A majority of teachers are in systems that don’t really help them improve all that much,” he said.

The foundation’s work to advance Common Core — the set of learning standards that 42 states are now using — has also met with fierce resistance.

Bill Gates acknowledged that the foundation was taken aback by the pushback on Common Core. “The foundation, and some others perhaps, were naive about these rollouts” and what kind of political fallout would come from it, he said.

Melinda Gates said she believes a few states moved too fast into Common Core, particularly in introducing a new layer of tests, which upset parents. “At the political level, there’s a lot of noise,” she said. “But if you go out and survey teachers, they are for the Common Core.”

And the state of Kentucky — the first state to implement Common Core — is starting to see significant improvement in student achievement, she said.

Bill Gates said he thought Common Core became mixed up with issues of over-testing, a concern that the federal government was playing too heavy a hand in local education and Internet-fed myths about the difficulty of the subjects.

Still, he said, “I’m always glad when education becomes a political issue … It’s fundamental to the future of the country, it’s good to see it being discussed.” But he was disappointed that the discussion went “a little off the rails in terms of facts.”

The Effective Teachers initiative focused much of the work on three school districts (in Florida, Pittsburgh and Memphis), and one consortium of charter-school operators. Those districts created new evaluation systems and rewarded effective teachers with bonuses.

But in Florida, the effort cost the Hillsborough County school district far more than officials projected, and the foundation cut about 20 percent of the funding it had promised. Very few teachers were fired, and there’s little evidence that the system boosted student achievement.

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the foundation threatened to pull its grant funding after the district and teachers could not come to an agreement over teacher evaluation standards. The two sides eventually came together earlier this year.

Bill Gates said in order to be successful, teacher evaluation systems must be balanced, embraced by teachers, include data that teachers trust and have resources behind it to drive improvement.

“This is where we’re focused,” he said. “Over the next decade we hope to see incredible progress in this.”

But, he added, “it’s a difficult task.”
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(Note: The Gates Foundation provides financial support for The Seattle Times’ Education Lab project, which focuses on promising approaches to address the biggest challenges in education.)

Photo: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been studying education initiatives, but despite so much effort, success has proved elusive. WoodleyWonderWorks/Flickr