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Balancing appropriate discipline with school safety, classroom effectiveness, and positive outcomes for students is a daunting task for teachers and administrators everywhere. Many schools continue to rely on exclusionary discipline, removing students from the classroom through suspension or expulsion for various innfractions. The damaging long-lasting effects of “zero tolerance” has gotten more attention over the past few years, sparking a movement among many schools to move away from these practices and focus more on social-emotional learning, restorative practices, and positive behavioral interventions.

 The Center for Promise, the research institute of America’s Promise Alliance, recently analyzed how and why students become disconnected from school after facing harsh disciplinary action. The findings can be found in a new report,  Disciplined and Disconnected: How Students Experience Exclusionary Discipline in Minnesota and the Promise of Non-Exclusionary Alternatives.

“The reality is that exclusionary discipline practices do not make schools more conducive to learning, do not help improve student behavior, and do not make schools safer. But these practices do force youth off-track,” says Dr. Jonathan Zaff, executive director of the Center for Promise.

The Center studied three school districts in Minnesota that had previously relied on suspensions and expulsions, interviewing 38 middle and high school students who had experienced these exclusionary practices. What the researchers found was that kids wanted to be engaged in school, but felt that the administration and penalization methods inhibited them from doing so.

“When students don’t feel heard or understood, that leads them to check out and disconnect not only from school, but their future. That is a terrible and unnecessary result,” explained John Gomperts, president and CEO of America’s Promise

Students who faced exclusionary treatment, the study found, felt silenced, undervalued, and misunderstood.

“All you got to do is get suspended one time and you’re labeled,” said one student interviewed for the study. “I see it, like they follow the same kids around, like everybody knows, hey, those are the bad kids….”

Another student commented, “It’s really dumb, ’cause my grades dropped because of it. I missed a lot of school. It was really stupid, and it didn’t even happen during school… They didn’t give me any of my work… I got suspended on finals. I didn’t get to take them…”

When students don’t feel heard or understood, that leads them to check out and disconnect not only from school, but their future. That is a terrible and unnecessary result.”

In analyzing student and administrators’ thoughts on the matter, the Center concluded that kids who were suspended or expelled were more likely to drop out and disconnect from their education for three reasons: the true root of the problem was not addressed, their learning was interrupted, or the students did not feel valued or connected to their school community. Additionally, students of color are disproportionally targeted by the exclusionary practices.

To reform their disciplinary system, the Minnesota districts decided to listen to students’ perspectives on discipline, make sure they know their rights and school rules, build trust between administrations and family, provide opportunities for students to make academic progress while disciplined, and invest more in research on non-exclusionary discipline.

As in many other districts across the nation, the communities in Minnesota found that students were being suspended for infractions that were not serious enough to warrant harsh discipline.

“Not only have suspensions and expulsions been disproportionately applied in Minnesota, but nearly half of suspensions and exclusions in schools are for minor, non-violent student behaviors that did not endanger others,” said GradMinnesota Director Alexis Goffe of the Minnesota Alliance With Youth. “What we’ve learned is that, without clear and objective standards, students may be subject to individual school personnel biases about what constitutes disruption.”

Source: Minnesota Department of Education

The National Education Association is a vocal proponent of improving disciplinary policies and has promoted bringing restorative justice programs to more schools. At the 2016 NEA Representative Assembly, educators approved a policy statement calling for a campaign of awareness and advocacy to address and end the school-to-prison pipeline.

In 2016, Dallas-NEA worked with the Dallas school districts to implement restorative programs in six of the schools across the city. They used methods like “circling,”which brings students and teachers together to discuss behavioral problems and lets the kids explain themselves and be heard.

Dallas educators found that when students feel heard, they are more likely to abide by the rules and engage in their learning process.

“This effort has focused on students building relationships with teachers in the hopes that in these relationships, problems can be addressed and solved before they become bigger issues” says David Griffin, a teacher in Dallas.

In Dallas, the rates of in school suspension dropped by 70%.

School districts across the country are following suit, turning to restorative justice and other programs that foster understanding and communication over excluding students from classrooms.

“If we want more students to stay on a path to graduation,” says John Gomperts, “schools should consider a non-exclusionary approach to their discipline practices and policies to make sure they’re not doing more harm than good.”

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(Photo courtesy of Aubrey Dane)

The first day of school is exciting—and also a little anxiety-provoking. But with a few calming classroom design elements from the popular Danish design trend hyyge (pronounced “hoo-guh”), you can help put your students at ease the minute they walk through the door.

Hygge is a Danish concept that means comfort, togetherness, and well-being, and it was what motivated third-grade teacher Aubrey Dane’s classroom design decisions.

“I’ve always been particular about design in my own home and I enjoy having a calm environment myself,” says Dane, who teaches at Redmond Elementary School in Washington, the state that introduced us to cozy coffee shops.

Dane used calming colors in her classroom, dimmed overhead lights and hung softer, string lights. She also created a cozy reading corner.

“The first step in setting up a space for ‘hygge’ is to designate a ‘hyggekrog’—the cozy nook,” says Jane Zhang, cofounder of room2learn.org, a classroom design website that’s been called the Pinterest of classrooms. “You don’t need a giant space to snuggle up in a blanket with a book. In a classroom, dedicate a corner or section of the room for cozying up.”

In Dane’s hyggekrog, she included a comfy chair with a big pillow, soft lanterns and string lights, and a cozy carpet. She also framed children’s book covers that pop with color on a dark background in dollar store picture frames that she spray painted to match.

To create a hygge-inspired classroom, follow these tips from Dane:

Start With Calming Colors

Many classrooms are painted in dull industrial colors. If you can paint your classroom, choose calming colors like light gray or light blue paint, which are softer than typical school paint colors. A lot of teachers have been able to paint their classrooms—some do it themselves, others were lucky enough to get the district to do it.

Aubrey Dane

Fabric or Paper the Walls With Calm Colors

If you can’t paint, cover the industrial cinder block walls with a calming solid color paper or fabric. I used black paper in the book nook with bright borders, but I kept a color scheme of calming grays and blues. On the fabric, which doesn’t tear or get all wrinkly, I can hang the book covers so they really pop. I used lots of staples because I’m in a portable classroom where the walls can be stapled. It’s really easy to decorate as a blank canvas. If you don’t have that, you can cover your bulletin boards with calming fabric colors and your doors. Wallpaper works very well on doors, too. Choose calming colors or patterns. I like cohesive blues and grays, but pick colors that you love and that make you feel good. If you feel comfortable and calm your students probably will too.

Limit Wall Hangings

When I was a student I found walls with too many posters and colors distracting. There were too many things to look at and different colors. It was overwhelming.
Try to minimize what’s on your walls. Only include what’s necessary. So often teachers put all their posters about everything so that all the tips for students are there, but it frequently leads to information overload and students stop using them as reference. If you put up fewer posters, students will pay attention more carefully.

Change it Up

If you have a lot of great posters, you can still display them, just not at once. I have a select few posters that I’ve framed—get them at the dollar store and spray paint them and they look great on a budget. Then I swap them out rather than having them all up at once covering the walls. I immediately noticed that students were calmer, more engaged.

I also switch out the book covers that I frame and students sometimes choose which books we’ll have framed in the nook. It provides interest and a spot of color in the calming nook.

Aubrey Dane limits her classroom color scheme to two or three calming shades, and also keeps bulletin board content to a minimum so students are not overwhelmed by visual clutter. (Photo courtesy of Aubrey Dane)

Framing is Easy and Cheap!

Framing posters and book covers makes them seem fancy, important, and special and it’s an easy design hack. Remember, the dollar store is your friend!

Dim the Lights

A key element in hygge is soft lighting, like flickering candles or the glow of a crackling fire. To create softer light in your classroom, turn off the overhead fluorescent lights, make use of natural light as much as possible, and use lamps where you can. You can use hanging twinkle lights in your hyggekrog as well as a lamp or two, but check with your district first.

My string lights are very lightweight LED lights that don’t get hot, and if they fall they’re plastic so they don’t break. All my lamps are LED lamps as well, with low wattage, soft white bulbs. Together with natural light coming in through the windows, there is a good amount of light in the classroom that’s not as harsh as the overheads and allows the kids to feel calm and to think.

Cozy, Comfy Seating

Start with the book nook, but in addition to the hyggekrog, have different and comfortable pillows, chairs, and workspaces throughout the classroom so students can feel comfortable, even feel like they could be at home.

Calm, Cool Community

A hyyge classroom design takes away anxiety that many students have at the beginning of the year. They see that the classroom is their space, designed for their comfort. They see it as a place where they can sit down and relax and not feel threatened. Hygge creates a family type of environment and helps build our community as a class. The whole idea is to build a community environment. Once you have that, everything else starts to fall into place.


Farewell Desks, Here Come the ‘Starbucks Classrooms’
While the idea of modeling a classroom on a Starbucks coffeeshop may elicit skepticism, the move to more flexible seating is grounded in research that points to real gains in student health and classroom engagement. Meet some teachers who are happy they “ditched the desk” in favor of standing tables, stability balls, crate seats, couches, and beanbag chairs.
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Not only do some Arizona teachers have to contend with mice in their classrooms, they also have to buy their own glue traps.

Classroom globes that spin to reveal two Germanys, antiquated plumbing that regularly floods a school hallway also known as the “poo pod,” decades-old textbooks that overlook the last 10 elements added to the periodic table or call Ronald Reagan our current president—this is just some of the evidence of how Arizona lawmakers have neglected their public schools.

There also are the 48 students crammed into their high school English classroom, and the elementary school counselor who cares for 1,430 children.

No state in the nation has cut K–12 funding more than Arizona, where lawmakers slashed school support by 36.6 percent between 2008 and 2015, according to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). This year, school funding is 13.6 less than in 2008. Even as the state’s economy rebounded from the Great Recession, Arizona lawmakers opted for corporate tax cuts rather than investments in public education. Now Arizona students are paying the price.

“My students—and all students in Arizona—deserve more. They deserve more. They deserve to be learning in a fully funded classroom,” says kindergarten teacher Amy Ball, who has taught for 12 years in central Phoenix. “Every single student in Arizona deserves to have the most opportunities for success.”

The state’s educators aren’t taking it anymore. In late April, about 75,000 Arizona Education Association (AEA) members and allies held the largest educator walkout in history, flooding the streets in Phoenix to demand more state funding.

“I have spent 30 years in education and in that time we’ve seen cut after cut after cut and excuse after excuse. We’ve absolutely had enough,” says Phoenix technology specialist Thomas Oviatt, an educator for 30 years.

“Not only do I think Arizona students deserve better, I think every student deserves better. Arizona is a symptom of what’s been happening across the nation,” he says. “Every one of our students have been robbed of funding for decades.”

Oviatt is right—the education funding crisis isn’t just Arizona’s. In 2015, 29 states provided less school funding than in 2008. Since state funding fuels nearly half of the nation’s K–12 spending, these cuts have huge implications. They force school boards to either cut programs and hike class sizes, or raise more money locally. But for low-income communities especially, there is no choice. They must cut. And, research shows, those cuts do affect student achievement.

Educators across the nation have had enough. In what NEA President Lily
Eskelsen García has called an “Education Spring,” enormous rallies, walkouts, or strikes were held this spring in Oklahoma, Colorado, Kentucky, and most recently North Carolina to demand state lawmakers fulfill their promises to children.

Many were inspired by West Virginia Education Association members, who led a nine-day strike in February that closed public schools in every one of the state’s 55 districts.

“This is an absolute movement…and it’s not just one state,” says Eskelsen García. “Talking to legislators isn’t working. It’s like talking to a wall. We have to get the public’s attention. We have to rally. We have to be in the streets.”

The school funding crisis, says Eskelsen García, is a “man-made crisis” that lawmakers created and that they absolutely can fix—if they choose to.

In fact, in Arizona and elsewhere—Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma—state lawmakers have opted to enact tax cuts that cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

This is money that could have paid instead for lower class sizes, current technology and textbooks, or even a fifth day of school in the hundreds of districts that have been forced to cut back to four.

Mice, Mold, and More

With photos shared on social media, teachers and education support professionals have pulled back the curtain on classroom conditions that have shocked parents and community members.

In Oklahoma, where lawmakers cut K–12 funding by more than 15 percent between 2008 and 2015, the pages of 1990s textbooks are held together with duct tape. Classroom chairs and desks are broken. Class sizes are outrageously large.

In Arizona, where some schools restrict the use of air conditioners to 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and daytime temps can top 110 degrees, one teacher made her own homemade air-conditioner with a Styrofoam ice cooler and electric fan. Meanwhile, school librarians haven’t had money to buy new books since 2008. (Do Arizona kids think there’s just one Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Since 2008, Jeff Kinney has published 12 sequels!)

In Colorado, more than half of school districts have switched to four-day weeks to save transportation costs. Art, music, physical education, world languages, high school journalism, and more—in many states, these classes should be on an endangered or extinct species list.

Troubling trends in state funding explain why educators and allies have taken to the streets to demand more for schools.

In these states, pay is not the issue that has driven educators to the breaking point, but it is a fact that their pay is abysmal. In Oklahoma, there’s a teacher who sells his blood to help support his family. Everywhere, teachers work late into the night as Uber drivers or restaurant servers.

In Arizona, the weeklong walkout ended in early May after Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that he claimed would give teachers a 20 percent pay raise. (AEA’s calculations say the money adds up to less than a 10 percent raise, and union leaders point out it doesn’t provide a dime for support staff.)

Arizona educators aren’t satisfied. Their movement isn’t about pay. It’s about funding. They’re committed to fighting for more money in their classrooms—for their students—and they are prepared to set their next battle at the ballot box.

In Oklahoma, educators ended their week-long strike in mid-April when lawmakers voted to override Republican Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of the budget and tax bills, which combine to modestly fuel an increase in state K–12 investment.

Through their persistent presence in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) members won a pay bump for teachers and support professionals. Even more important, they won the first state tax increase in the past 28 years.

This is new, recurring revenue for Oklahoma classrooms, points out OEA President Alicia Priest, and the thousands of OEA members and parents who worked for it “should be overwhelmed with pride.”

But is it enough? No.

“They say Oklahoma students don’t need any more funding, and they’re wrong,” says Priest. OEA members now will turn their attention to state elections in November. “The state didn’t find itself in a school funding crisis overnight. We got here by electing the wrong people to office.

“No more,” she promises.

There Are Solutions

It’s up to educators to call on their state’s elected leaders to:
1. Stop subsidizing corporations
2. Ask companies to pay their fair share in taxes
3. Raise income tax rates for top earners
4. Eliminate ALL voucher schemes

Join us in the fight to convince elected leaders to invest in public schools.
Sign up at EdVotes.org today!

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Custodian Stephone Avery’s job is so much more than keeping his school building clean. He’s a friendly, familiar face to all the students, always ready with a wide smile, a high five or a fist bump. He’s a reliable presence — a source of comfort and security, and also a joke or two for students and fellow educators.

His title is custodial maintenance supervisor, but his most important duties are mentor and role model.

“They know I love them, and that’s the glue of our relationship,” Avery says.

In fact, Education Support Professionals (ESP) like Avery are the glue that holds a school and student body together. They’re with the students in the halls, in the school cafeteria, in the front office, and on the bus – where teachers and principals leave off, ESPs step in to fill the gaps.

“We call ourselves ESP—education support professionals, and we support the whole child,” Avery says. “A child has to be healthy. They have to feel safe. The bus driver is the first one to see the child. Cafeteria workers are feeding the child. And many times, we have the flexibility in our schedule to really stop, sit down, and listen and give the kids eye-to-eye contact. Everybody that works in a school should be called, in some kind of way, educators.”

And now that critical role has been recognized by the new federal education law, Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA).

ESP: It's More Than a Job, It's a Career! (Stephone Avery) - YouTube

ESSA gives paraeducators, referred to as “paraprofessionals” in the bill, and “other staff,” which includes everyone from custodians and nurses to bus drivers and food service staff, a voice in key decision making and professional development opportunities.

ESSA Brings Opportunities for ESPs

Avery is a busy man. Not only is he head custodian at the Camden/ Fairview Intermediate School in Camden, Arkansas, he represents his district on the Arkansas Education Association (AEA) Board and on the ESP Advisory Committee.  He’s also his school’s association building rep, which is how he spread the word about how to create a school improvement plan for ESSA, and he served on the local leadership team that planned several events to inform the staff and community about the Arkansas plan for implementing ESSA.

“At first I was a little skeptical, bracing myself for another law that focused on the test, but I soon saw that ESSA is different,” Avery says. “The new law changes how schools will be rated for success with many factors other than test scores.”

Avery grew up in Camden and went to college in Monroe, Louisiana on a football scholarship. A defensive back and running back, Avery helped lead the squad to a conference championship. That earned him a tryout with the Green Bay Packers. “I got to play in some preseason games before I got cut, so I have lots of football stories,” he says. “The kids ask me about it all the time.” Photo Courtesy of Arkansas Education Association.

Avery says ESSA recognizes the need to educate the whole child, which requires everyone who works at the school. ESSA says that school success is no longer solely dependent on a teacher whose students do well on a test.

“ESPs are being integrated more intentionally,” Avery says. “All of the arms starting to come together.”

The Gospel of ESSA

Avery is actually a very busy man. Not only is he an educator and association activist, he’s also the pastor St. Paul Christian Church in Camden and a leading member of the area’s Ministerial Alliance, a group of local pastors who come together to talk about issues facing their congregations and the larger community.

“At one of our meetings, I spoke to them about ESSA, about the invasive nature of testing, and encouraged them to take the survey,” Avery says.

The church figures prominently in the community and Avery asked the pastors to come to a town hall he was organizing about the promise of ESSA for improving schools and measuring their success on what really matters.

“I knew that if they came, the parents would come too,” Avery says.

After learning about how ESSA can be a game changer for their schools and students, all of the pastors in the alliance attended the town hall. Parents saw them filling out the My School/My Voice survey and followed suit.

The faith-based community is already active in many Arkansas schools, and ESSA will make that partnership stronger. In Avery’s district, he says pastors act as mentors. They come and pray, walk the halls, sit down with students at lunch, or give a motivational talk to all of the students in the cafeteria.

“We’re part of the fabric of the school community,” says Avery. “As a custodian and as a pastor, I bring a spiritual nature into the school, a working love to help shepherd our children.”

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Judge Brett Kavanaugh speaks to the crowd after U.S. President Donald Trump nominated him to the Supreme Court in the East Room of the White House July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Photo by Olivier Douliery/ Abaca Press (Sipa via AP Images)

This week, President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh, a D.C. circuit court judge who once predicted that the Supreme Court would uphold the constitutionality of school vouchers, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

His nomination was immediately decried by pro-public education groups, including NEA, who predict that the 53-year-old could tip the balance for generations on Court decisions of critical importance to public school students and families, including school vouchers and the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

“Americans deserve a Supreme Court nominee who will apply the law fairly for all and not favor corporations, the wealthy and the powerful; Judge Kavanaugh is not such a nominee,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “We oppose this nomination and urge all senators to do the same.

Visit NEA’s Legislative Action Center to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.

If confirmed, Kavanaugh could play the deciding role on Court decisions that include whether it’s constitutional to divert taxpayers’ money to pay for private schools; whether educators have a voice on the job in advocating for themselves and for their students; and whether all Americans, including children and families, will have access to health care. Other issues that may face the Court include reproductive health, guns, voting rights, and separation of church and state.

Kavanaugh would replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has been a critical swing vote on the court for nearly three decades, sometimes voting with more liberal judges on issues like LGBTQ rights and the death penalty but also voting with conservatives on voting rights and gun control.

Almost certainly Kavanaugh would push the court to the right on issues that matter to students and families. His record shows support for school vouchers—during his 2004 Senate confirmation group, he said he previously served as co-chair of the Federalist Society’s “School Choice Practice Group,” and that he worked on voucher litigation in Florida “for a reduced fee,” Politico reported on Tuesday.

His record also shows support for school prayer—he headed the Federalist Society’s “Religious Liberties Practice Group”—and opposition to the consideration of race in college admissions. In 2016, he also argued against the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has aggressively assisted students victimized by for-profit colleges and predatory lenders.

Additionally, in 2011, when the D.C. Circuit Court upheld the legality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—Kavanagh dissented, voting against ACA, which has provided health care for millions of poor and middle-class Americans.

He is exactly the “rubber stamp” nominee that NEA expected—and will not stand for, Eskelsen García said. “President Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and their wealthy and powerful allies envision an America where public schools lose public funding to private, religious, and for-profit schools, and educators lose their ability to advocate for themselves and their students,” said Eskelsen García.

“These ideologies have been at the core of the Trump administration’s playbook, and the majority of Americans continue to reject them. Yet, if Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed, Trump’s agenda would be more than a temporary departure from our ideals and values.”

With the stakes for students so high, Kavanagh “can’t be trusted to protect the interests of students and educators,” said Eskelsen García.

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(Photo Maryland State Education Association)

From West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky to Colorado and Arizona, educators took to the streets last spring to rally for adequate K–12 funding, properly equipped classrooms, better wages, and stronger public schools. And in all sorts of other places, they’re winning victories that serve students, create stronger public schools, and strengthen the education profession. Here are a few of
these important wins.

Massachusetts—Ban on Bilingual Education Repealed

For four decades, Massachusetts has required public schools to provide language acquisition programs for all English learners. Districts with large numbers of English learners in a single language group typically used transitional bilingual education—teaching in a mix of the students’ native language and English—with an increase in the use of English along the way. In 2003, that all changed when a Massachusetts law made sheltered English

immersion the default model and greatly restricted the teaching of students in their native languages. No more.

Last November, the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) supported a successful coalition effort to enact the new Language Opportunity for Our Kids Act. The new law gives school districts the flexibility to implement programs that best meet the needs of their students. It also provides parents with more power to ask for alternative language acquisition programs.

“This new law respects the diversity of learners and their native languages and cultures,” says MTA President Barbara Madeloni. “It is especially meaningful that parents will have more voice in advocating for the needs of the children.”

North Carolina—Education Community Pushes Back on School Takeovers

Two years ago, North Carolina’s general assembly created the Innovative School District (ISD), a state managed district that typically—like Tennessee and Louisiana—turns public schools over to charter operators. This year, several local school districts were in line for a takeover by for-profit charter companies.

That was until parents, educators, principals,advocacy groups, and some school board members pushed back.

In Durham, five schools were among 48 tapped for a takeover. Organizing efforts by members of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), and other allies, brought out thousands of people who pressed the state to remove all five schools from the takeover list.

The momentum spread to other districts, like Nash-Rocky Mount Public and Northampton County Schools, where schools were removed from the takeover lists. Robeson County was originally home to five potential school takeovers. But after local pushback, only one school—Southside-Ashpole Elementary School—was selected.

Although four schools were saved, the takeover of one is still hard to swallow. “The weight of balance was either close a school and subject 300 children to an extra hour ride on a bus—and [loss of] a foothold in the community—or submit to a school takeover,” says Dee Grissett, president of the Robeson Association of Educators (RAE). And in rural areas, like Robeson, shuttering a school could mean the demise of a community.

The collaborative efforts to gain knowledge, find answers, and seek resolution for their students united RAE members and the community. Together, they will remain vigilant.

“We united teachers, parents, clergy, and community leaders,” says Grissett, “and together we will hold the charter operator accountable for the performance of Southside-Ashpole.”

Mark Jewell, president of NCAE, says that the state association “has strong local presidents and members across this state who have been leading and standing up in community events and forums to educate our citizens about this unproven and unaccountable takeover scheme that does nothing to improve student achievement.”

‘Test Reform Victories Surge’ Nationwide

After pressure from parents, students, and educators, many states and local school districts rolled back the amount of testing and reduced high-stakes exams, according to a report released by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest). The report, “Test Reform Victories Surge in 2017: What’s Behind the Winning Strategies?” detailed victories that eliminated tests such as graduation exams or reduced testing time. It promoted better forms of assessments, too.

Monty Neill, the executive director of FairTest and the report’s lead author, explained in a news release that “these wins often resulted from effective grassroots advocacy by parents, teachers, students, and their allies. They reflect the growing public understanding of the damage caused by the overuse and misuse of standardized testing.”

The report brings to the forefront the hard work of public school educators, with their unions and other allies.

Here are some of the biggest wins:
Cut the amount of state or district testing or the time spent on testing. Maryland capped the time districts can devote to testing and ended its requirement to test all kindergartners. New Mexico eliminated the requirement that ninth and tenth graders take at least three assessments each year in reading, English, and math. West Virginia ended English and math tests in grades 9 and 10. Hawaii dropped three end-of-course high school exams along with the ACT in grades 9 and 10.

Districts that eliminated or significantly reduced local testing mandates include Las Cruces and Santa Fe, N.M.; San Diego and Sacramento, Calif.; Knox County, Tenn.; Clay County, Fla; Vancouver, Wash.; St. Paul, Minn., and Jefferson County, Ky. Victories often occurred in districts with large percentages of low-income, African American, or Latino students.

Stopped or reduced use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. In 2017, Connecticut dropped this requirement. At least seven states have done so since former President Barack Obama signed into law the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind. New Mexico joined several other states in reducing the weight of test scores in teacher evaluations.

Now allow students to opt out of tests. New policies in Idaho and North Dakota brought to 10 the number of states that allow parents to opt their children out of some or all exams.

Implemented performance assessments. Half of New Hampshire’s school districts have replaced standardized tests in most grades with local, teacher-made performance assessments. Nationally, many districts that cut their testing mandates are joined by local unions in developing better assessments.

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Delegates stand to vote during Red For Ed Day at the 2018 NEA Representative Assembly in Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 5th 2018. (Photo/Calvin Knight)

The 2018 National Education Association Representative Assembly (RA) convened less than week after the U.S. Supreme Court struck a blow against working people with its decision in Janus v. AFSCME. How to thrive in post-Janus  world was just one of the many pressing issues on the minds of the 6,200 delegates the as they entered the Minneapolis Convention Center on July 2.

The challenges to educators and public schools are mounting, but by the closing gavel four days later, the delegates left Minneapolis ready to harness the energy of burgeoning Red for Ed movement and meet them head on.

These are dark days, NEA President Lily Eskselsen García told the gathered educators in her keynote address, because “billionaires have placed themselves over the rest of us; they have no sense of servant leadership; Billionaires believe that they are our rulers.”

But there is a groundswell of energy and support for public education  that is already having an enormous impact. The movement started in West Virginia in February and quickly spread to Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García addresses the 2018 NEA Representative Assembly. (Photo/Scott Iskowitz)

“You spoke the powerful truth that we are fierce fighters who will stand up for ourselves and for our students and we will be heard!” Eskelsen Garcia told the cheering delegation.

Educators have a powerful ally in students. Whether its demanding lawmakers properly fund our schools or take action to help keep students safe from gun violence, young people have taken up the call.

“You see them come together in a collective voice. You feel the power of their action – they’re not complaining. They’re not waiting for permission,” Eskelsen Garcia said, before she yielded the stage to one of those student leaders, David Hogg, survivor of the Parkland school shooting and outspoken advocate for common sense gun laws.

Student activist David Hogg speaks at the NEA Representative Assembly. (Photo: Calvin Knight)

“We have been speaking up, mobilizing, and standing strong because our friends and family mean the world to us,” Hogg said. “We are young and that means we don’t have to accept the status quo. And we never will. We intend to close the gap between the world as it is and what it should be.”

In a display of union solidarity, Eskelsen Garcia bought to the stage Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, to address the delegation.

Building union strength and national coalitions was the focus of NEA Executive Director John Stocks’ speech.

“We can’t be in a movement by ourselves and for ourselves,” he said. “What the Red for Ed movement has shown us is that when members and non-members, parents, communites, and students stand together, we are a formidable force and together we can fight and win.”

The RA also honored three of the nation’s most outstanding educators of 2018: Education Support Professional of the Year (ESP) Sherry Shaw, Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning, and – for the first time ever – the NCHE Higher Educator of the Year Loretta Bagsdell.

2018 ESP of the Year Sherry Shaw on the RA stage (Photo: Rick Runion)

Shaw, a special education paraeducator in Wasilla, Alaska, manages a program that provides food, clothing, and hygiene products to families affected by drug abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness. In her speech Shaw urged the delegates to “crack the code” of students’ worlds.

“They show up in our classrooms, our hallways, on our busses, and in our cafeterias in all kinds of ways,” Shaw said. “Often, there is no room for learning. They are just trying to figure out how to survive the day.”

ESPs play critical roles in helping these students navigate through this uncertainty.  “We get up every morning before the sun rises and do our jobs, and do them well,” she said. “We care for our kids. We nurture them. We love them. We educate them. We challenge and guide them,” Shaw said.

RA delegates celebrate July 4th. (Photo/Calvin Knight)

Teacher of the Year Manning spotlighted immigrant and refugee students, a population she serves so loyally  at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington.

“In the past month, we have seen children ripped away from their families, families detained indefinitely as a tradeoff for keeping them together, the Supreme Court upholding the President’s xenophobic travel ban, and naturalized citizens now have no assurance they’ll maintain their status. We live and educate in a time when not all students feel wanted, welcomed, loved enough or that they matter,” Manning said.

Manning introduced two remarkable students to the delegation, Iya and Fayaah. Both came to the United States with their families only a few years ago and have thrived in their public schools, thanks in large part to the educators who looked out for them.

“[Students like Iya and Fayaah] are showing us how it’s done,” Manning said. “They prove that in our schools we are creating confident, strong citizens, who are collaborative, compassionate, and powerful.”

And the first-ever NCHE Higher Educator of the Year Loretta Ragsdell addressed the RA on July 4. A self-described “guerrilla educator,” Ragsdell said she educates at every opportunity — “the grocery store, the laundromat, Macy’s! I like to think I was born with a textbook in one hand and a lesson plan in the other.”

2018 National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning backstage at the NEA RA with students Fayaah (left) and Iya.

The RA also heard from Ted Dintersmith, entrepreneur and author of “What School Could Be,” and the 2018 recipient of the 2018 NEA Friend of Education Award.the

Speeches and celebrations are always a highlight of any RA and 2018 was no exception, but the business of the RA is … business. Delegates spent the lion’s share of their time in the Convention Center debating and adopting new policy statements, resolutions, amendments to existing policies and more than 100 new business items, which, taken together, create a detailed NEA education policy blueprint for the upcoming year.

RA delegates also held elections for NEA’s Executive Committee.  This year, Eric Brown, a biology teacher in Evanston, Illinois, was elected to the Executive Committee for a second three-year term.  Shelly Moore Krajacic, a high school English and drama teacher from Ellsworth, Wisconsin, also won re-election to the Executive Committee.

The delegates also sent a new face to the committee: California special education teacher Robert Varela Rodriguez.  Delegates elected Rodriguez, from San Bernardino City Unified School District, for a one-year term to begin September 1.

Higher Educator of the Year Loretta Ragsdell acknowledges the cheers of the RA delegates (Photo: Rick Runion)

“We are living in difficult times, but I believe that only through organizing and collective action can we effect change,” Rodriguez said.

On the final day of the RA, Marisol Garcia, vice president of the Arizona Education Association, stood on the convention floor to deliver remarkable news about how educators and RedforED are creating this change.

On July 5, public education activists in her state submitted 270,000 signatures (100,000 more than was nedded) to put an initiative on the November ballot that, if approved, could raise hundreds of millions of dollars in new education funding.

“This spring, when we walked out, we walked out for our children, and we did with the support of NEA,” Garcia said as the delegates stood and applauded. ” We knew you were with us, and when we go to the polls in November, we will win!”

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2018 National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning at the NEA Representantive Assembly in Minneapolis.

Washington educator Mandy Manning was named the 2018 National Teacher of the Year in April for her unwavering commitment to the immigrant and refugee students she teachers at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane. Her devotion to newcomer students was on display today at the NEA Representative Assembly. Honored by the more than 6,000 delegates at the Minneapolis convention center, Manning spoke briefly so that she could pass the microphone to two students who, she said, “teach us how to keep on marching, and, ultimately they give us hope.”

When Manning, a member of the Spokane Education Association,  visited the White House in May, she handed President Trump notes from some of her immigrant and refugee students expressing their concerns about the current toxic political climate. Manning’s students come to the U.S. from all over the world: Syria, Chuuk, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Myanmar, Sudan, Mexico, and Tanzania.

Her students’ fears, Manning told the delegates, have been confirmed by the inhumane rhetoric and policies that have come out of the White House in recent weeks.

“In the past month, we have seen children ripped away from their families, families detained indefinitely as a tradeoff for keeping them together, the Supreme Court upholding the President’s xenophobic travel ban, and naturalized citizens now have no assurance they’ll maintain their status. We live and educate in a time when not all students feel wanted, welcomed, loved, enough or that they matter,” Manning said.

While there’s a lot to talk about in one speech, Manning chose instead to share her time on the RA stage with two newcomer students. “They are the ones most impacted by these policies and because, frankly, right now, our students are our role-models. They’re showing us the true power of a collective voice,” she said.

With that, Manning introduced Iya, a Hmong student from Laos, who just graduated from LEAP high School in St. Paul, and Faaya, a Muslim student from Oramia, who is about to attend FAIR Senior High School in Minneapolis.

Iya came to the United States only three years ago. She recounted how happy she was at LEAP.

“I felt happy and excited going to school everyday. LEAP is a small school with less students and loving teachers and that’s all I want,” Iya said. “It is a safe community and is another place where I can call home. It gave me hope.”

Faaya is about to become a freshman at FAIR Senior High School in Minneapolis. She’s more comfortable in school now, but the transition was difficult. When she was in 7th grade, students teased her and pulled off her hijab. 

After a teacher stepped up to stop the bullying, school life began to get easier for Faaya.
Educators should always be prepared to create safe and culturally-inclusive learning environments, Faaya said.
“Take the voice you have to speak,” she urged the delegates. “Students are your stars and you are the night sky. The power of education has no borders.”

During her speech, Mandy Manning turned the microphone over to newcomer students, Iya (right) and Fayaah.

Visibly moved by the students’ remarks, Manning returned to the microphone and closed by telling the audience about one of her own students, Safa, who arrived in Spokane in 2012 as a refugee from Sudan. A dedicated student, Safa graduated from high school in 2016. Now a junior at Eastern Washington University, she is studying to be an elementary school teacher and she recently became a citizen. 

Safa recently appeared with a proud Manning before a legislative K-12 committee at the state capitol to advocate on behalf of English Language Learners.

“Just like these amazing students you heard from today, Iya and Faaya, Safa is a shining example of the potential all of our students represent,” Manning told the delegates.

“They are showing us how it’s done. They prove that in our schools we are creating confident, strong citizens, who are collaborative, compassionate, and powerful.”

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Education Support Professional of the Year Sherry Shaw addresses the 2018 NEA Representative Assembly. (Photo: Scott Iskowitz)

Following a video introduction by one of her students from Tanaina Elementary School in Wasilla, Alaska, Sherry Shaw confidently took the stage Monday at the NEA Representative Assembly. Not only did she hold a copy of the speech she would deliver as the 2018 NEA Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year, but she was carrying a gray Osprey backpack.

With photographs of her students in the background, Shaw, a special education paraeducator and member of NEA-Alaska and the Matanuska-Susitna Classified Employees’ Association (MSCEA), said her students, “are the reason I do what I do.”

Shaw asked her fellow educators to imagine they were carrying a 100-pound backpack around all the time.

“That would be about the equivalent to the baggage some students are carrying around that we don’t see,” she said.

Students don’t leave the trauma of poverty and exposure to violence, insecurity, loss, hardship and neglect, instability in their homes and communities at home, she added.

“They show up in our classrooms, our hallways, on our busses, and in our cafeterias in all kinds of ways,” Shaw said. “Often, there is no room for learning. They are just trying to figure out how to survive the day.”

She acknowledged that she was once one of those students carrying a “heavy backpack.”

“School was tough, but you know what I had,” she said. “I had a teacher, an ESP, and a coach who helped me unload my backpack and refill it, with empathy, love, respect, grit, drive, and tools to be successful.”

In Wasilla, Shaw manages a program that provides food, clothing, and hygiene products to families affected by drug abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness. Many of those affected are students.

Cracking the Code
For 13 years, Shaw has worked closely with teachers to prepare classroom materials, modify curriculum, work one-on-one and in small groups with special education students, as well aid in the students’ socialization and behavior management.

“As educators, we’ve seen it all,” she said “Some students lash out. Some tune out. Some are preoccupied, impulsive, unable to concentrate, distrustful or nervous.”

Shaw told delegates they need to ask what is in students’ backpacks and then work to “crack the code” of students’ worlds.

Pointing to an image over her shoulder, Shaw spoke of one of her students with severe autism who she worked with when he was in fifth grade.

“There was one thing he loved and that was, Star Trek,” she said. “That’s all he cared about. That was his world.”

To connect with the student, Shaw began to study the interstellar adventures of Captain Kirk and his crew aboard the Starship USS Enterprise.

“I even wore the blue Star Trek uniform that Commander Spock wore,” she said, while a photo of her and six other educators in Star Trek attire was displayed.

After a few months, Shaw said her student started to separate the fiction of Star Trek from the real world and he began to read and communicate.

Amid applause from the audience, Shaw said her student finished eighth grade and is set to start at a career and technical high school in the fall.

“Now, his backpack is a little lighter because he is stronger,” she said.

Leadership and Professional Growth
As a local leader, Shaw has helped to promote ESP Appreciation Week in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District by raising funds for gift packages going to ESP. Within the 900-member MSCEA, Shaw is a building representative at Tanaina.

During her speech, Shaw celebrated the launch of a new initiative focused on identifying universal standards of professional practice by ESP that contribute directly to student-centered learning environments. It’s called the ESP Professional Growth Continuum.

“With the launch of the continuum and with the continued emphasis in leadership development, we have the opportunity to own our (ESP) professional learning journeys,” she added. “This is clearly an exciting and important time for ESP professionalization.”

Shaw then acknowledged the “pain and struggle” of working as an ESP.

“We get up every morning before the sun rises and do our jobs, and do them well,” she said. “We care for our kids. We nurture them. We love them. We educate them. We challenge and guide them.”

According to NEA, more than 2 million school support staff work in the nation’s public school systems comprising more than one-third of all public school employees. Within NEA, ESP are categorized in nine career families:
• Paraeducators
• Clerical services
• Custodial and maintenance services
• Skilled trades
• Technical services
• Security services
• Transportation services
• Food services
• Health and student services.

“No matter if we drive the bus, serve the food, clean the halls, or support our teachers, we cannot allow the winds of indifference to sway us away from our beliefs and values,” Shaw said. “We must continue to be united, engaged and involved at all levels of the Association.”

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NEA President Lily Eskelsen García addresses the 2018 NEA Representative Assembly. (Photo/Scott Iskowitz)

On the first day of the 2018 NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly in Minneapolis, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García used her keynote address to stress the challenges facing educators and public school. While the climb ahead is steep, she assured the more than 6,000 delegates that a growing army of activists – educators, parents and students – are showing a way forward.

There is something different about this particular moment in our history, Eskelsen García said.  “Billionaires, like Betsy DeVos and the Koch brothers, have never been more embedded in political power. Billionaires are trumping the rights of working people to organize.”

The recent Supreme Court ruling in  Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees,  a case bankrolled by corporate interests, dealt an undeniable blow to the ability of educators to come together and bargain collectively on behalf of students. But the assault isn’t ending there.

Billionaires are not only selling out our public schools in favor of voucher schemes and unaccountable charter chains, but they are bolstering an administration that is pushing inhumane and unjust immigration policies.

The bottom line, said Eskelsen García, is that billionaires have placed themselves over ordinary people and are determined to escape blame from the escalating crises engulfing the nation. ”

“They have no sense of servant leadership; Billionaires believe that they are our rulers …They demand our silence. They demand we pretend. Instead of speaking out on racial injustice, they demand that we stand in silence and pretend that everything’s just fine.”

“These are dark days, but Martin Luther King reminded us, “…only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars,” Eskelsen García said. “And we have seen true stars align. We have seen the people march and speak up and refuse to be silent and refuse pretend; we have seen the resistance rise?

In 2018, educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina have been speaking up and advocating for their students. They are speaking out against broken chairs, outdated textbooks that are duct taped together, mold on the ceilings, classrooms with more students than desks, and four-day school weeks.

“You spoke the powerful truth that we are fierce fighters who will stand up for ourselves and for our students and we will be heard!” Eskelsen Garcia told the cheering delegation.

“But I’m not sure that any shine brighter than our own fearless students,” said Eskelsen Garcia, who, through their tireless and inspiring activism, have put lawmakers on notice that that they will not stand by and allow elected officials to fail them any longer.

In a first for the RA, Eskelsen García then yielded the RA stage to one of the most visible student leaders, David Hogg, recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate.

“We have been speaking up, mobilizing, and standing strong because our friends and family mean the world to us,” Hogg told the delegates. “We are young and that means we don’t have to accept the status quo. And we never will. We intend to close the gap between the world as it is and what it should be.”

Arm educators? Yes, said Hogg. Arm them with books, papers, pencils, computers, and the supplies and resources school staff need to help all students succeed

Student activist David Hogg at the 2018 NEA Representative Assembly. (Photo/Scott Iskowitz)

“We want our schools to be places for learning…where hands are raised for discussions and debates, not to show SWAT teams that we’re unarmed.”

Students across  the nation are ready and energized, Hogg continued, and they understand that they have the power. “They know that when they show up this time, the young people will win.”

It’s the passion in Hogg and the countless other young people who have taken up the call that should gave us all hope in these dark times, said Eskelsen Garcia.

“You see them come together in a collective voice. You feel the power of their action – they’re not complaining. They’re not waiting for permission; they’re not waiting to be saved; they’re not pretending. They are demanding something from all of us and demanding something of themselves.”

Eskelsen García closed her speech by urging the delates to stay angry and motivated but not to resort to the destructive, polarizing tactics deployed by many of our opponents.

“I feel like we’re in danger of losing something. And I want it back.  I don’t want to turn into what I’m fighting.  I don’t want to use fear and hate to win.You win by saying what you love.”

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