Audrey Murph Brown (Murph), a school social worker of 26 years and a member of the Springfield Education Association (SEA) in Massachusetts, describes the events that occurred in the 2017 – 2018 school year as “a perfect storm at the perfect time.”
This storm was heavy with institutional biases, nepotism, and favoritism. Institutional biases kept many highly qualified educators of color from becoming lead teachers or being offered lateral promotions. “Rarely were those opportunities given to educators of color,” says Murph, “but what they would get was the unspoken bias that only educators of color can deal with difficult children, and as a result don’t get to show their academic skillset and abilities in classrooms.”
And when there were opportunities for advancement, explains Murph, administrators would often bypass the hiring process by burying job postings, not interviewing qualified candidates of color, and handpicking their friends. “This was nothing new,” she says. “It’s always happened, but it’s never been addressed.”
The Teacher-Student Racial Gap
In Springfield, 80 percent of public school students are of color while educators of color make up only 15 percent. The gap between the percentage of students of color and the percentage of teachers of color nationwide is large. Approximately 42 percent of PK-12 public school students today are students of color, and this number is expected to rise through 2024. Yet, about 80 percent of public school teachers are white, 9 percent are Hispanic, 7 percent are black, and 2 percent are Asian, according to the National Center on Education Statistics.
The Initiative was an outgrowth of the Next Generation Leadership Program, which ALANA leaders and allies had previously attended. Next Generation was designed to create a safe space to talk about the issues educators face and it helps to identify, recruit, and train members to be active at the work site level, resulting in local affiliates becoming powerful and effective organizations. The program is unique in that it works with educators with three years or less of leadership experience, and that it’s mostly conversation. There’s no agenda other than the topics participants bring up. There’s no PowerPoint. No flipcharts.
“It’s all based on the lived experiences of educators, which helps to create the kind of space where people can build confidence in that change can happen through collective action, and learn the skills to bring people together and overcome their fears of taking action,” says George Luse, who, at the time, was an MTA organizer before his retirement.
He explains that the blueprint of the training does what it’s supposed to do: give people skills, encourage them to act, and build collective member power. “Nothing works without members who are excited about the union and understand the union as a tool to improve their working conditions and the environment around them,” says Luse, who has 30 years of organizing experience…
Shiny apples, carrot bags, pre-packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, full containers of applesauce, sealed cartons of raisons, and unopened milk cartons. That’s what paraprofessional Lorraine Von Hess would see students tossing into the trash every day as she supervised lunch at Davies Middle School in the Hamilton Township of Atlantic County, N.J.
A shocking amount of food meandered from lunch line, to tray, to trash. It was nearly enough to fill several 50-gallon cans, the educator says. In a county struggling with food insecurity, Von Ness refused to stand idly by. She began to investigate ways to fix a system that she says was clearly broken.
“I was appalled by the food waste at school,” Von Hess says. “We have two food pantries in our town overwhelmed with people in need.”
Showing Community Spirit
Seeing an abundance of food in one corner of her life and a severe need for food in another, Von Hess knew what to do.
First, she contacted the cafeteria food services manager who informed her that all food was funded by a state grant which required by law that students receive an item from each food group. Once food hit the tray, it could not return to the kitchen. The obvious destination for unwanted food? The cafeteria’s large gray trash cans.
Von Hess continued to search for information. She found no rule that said the unconsumed food couldn’t be earmarked for a destination beyond the cafeteria.
Pointing to the closure of nearby Atlantic City casinos between 2014 and 2016, Von Hess recalls how the closures rippled into households.
“They’re struggling to keep their homes and feed their families,” Von Hess points out.
Many of the area’s families depend on food pantries to survive. And donations help to fuel the survival of the food pantries. Von Hess, a member of the Hamilton Township Education Association, explained the donation idea to the food centers in her area. They loved it!
Next, she created a detailed proposal, and headed to a meeting of the district school administration bearing a detailed plan with a name created by her son: “No Food Left Behind.”
“Administrators were excited by the idea,” Von Hess says.
The program began at Davies in March 2015 and exceeded expectations. According to Von Hess, students were eager to donate unwanted food items.
Here’s how it works: Students drop unwanted food in boxes. After lunch, paraprofessionals sort the items into categories for delivery to food pantries the same day.
Over the summer of 2015, Von Hess collaborated with principals and paraprofessionals from neighboring schools to help them start their own programs. By that September, several schools were collecting food too.
“The food that we take to the pantries helps a lot,” says Von Hess. Collectively, the schools donate about 40 reusable grocery totes of food to area pantries per week. Von Hess says schools contact her often seeking advice about pioneering their own programs.
“That’s very rewarding,” she says.
“My role as a paraprofessional has helped me to see community problems,” says Von Hess who is proud that her school got the ball rolling with “people who did not hesitate to jump in to help.”
School nurses are an essential component to the health and wellbeing of students, particularly those with acute and chronic health conditions.
“For many of these students, without nursing services, attendance would decrease or students would be unable to attend school,” says Louise Wilson, health services supervisor and a school nurse in the Beaver Dam Unified School District in Wisconsin.
Wilson recalls sitting at her desk recently when she received a call from a concerned mother questioning whether her four-year-old son, diagnosed with diabetes, would be cared for during the school day. The child had Type I Diabetes, a chronic health condition that requires constant monitoring and a level of medical knowledge most educators and school administrators do not possess.
“I knew this mother was overwhelmed,” says Wilson, a nurse for 37 years, the last 25 working at schools. “She herself was trying to learn how to manage and safeguard her child.”
In recent years, school nurses have transcended treating the traditional bumps, bruises, and scrapes, to become a central force in helping parents gain access to healthcare for their children.
For example, in some states, school nurses work in conjunction with private healthcare providers and parents to help manage students with chronic diabetes, asthma and other conditions. At many schools, nurses screen students for hearing and vision problems that could create a barrier to learning.
Three words describe Carol Stubbs’ experience at the recent NEA National Leadership Summit: “Energetic, exciting, and inspiring,” said the school custodian from Fayetteville, N.C., who serves as her local association president. “It makes me want to go home and do even more!”
More than 2,000 educators, ranging from future teachers to college professors, from school counselors to custodians, attended the three-day summit in Chicago from March 16-19. “You’re not here so we can make a leader out of you,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told the crowd. “There’s not anybody in this room who has not already demonstrated leadership.”
Summit attendees came to work on further developing the essential skills of union leaders, including advocacy, communication, and organizing skills. (Check out the six core competencies of NEA leadership development.) “What I’m learning is that my voice does matter, and I need to use it. I can’t sit back,” said California school counselor Erika Zamora. “Also, there is power in us doing this work together!”
The annual summit is the largest annual meeting of NEA educators, apart from the legislative NEA Representative Assembly, and it is an opportunity to “learn and to grow and to strengthen, and to gain a renewed sense of purpose and passion and perspective on how to lead more powerful and relevant associations,” NEA Vice President Becky Pringle told attendees. Powerful unions of educators are a necessity these days for public-school students to get what they need to succeed, she said…
In the summer of 2017, Charleena Lyles, a pregnant 30-year-old black mother was fatally shot by two white Seattle police officers in her home as her three young children looked on. Lyles, who had called the police to report a burglary, reportedly suffered from mental illness. She pulled a knife out of her pocket when the police entered her home, but rather than tasing or subduing her with pepper spray, they shot her seven times.
Days after the shooting, seven black Seattle high school students formed “New Generation,” a school activist group that led a walkout at Garfield High School to raise awareness about the young mother’s death and to organize in their school and community for racial justice. Uniting students with Charleena Lyles’ family on the one-year anniversary of her death, New Generation held a powerful assembly that launched the hashtag #RememberHerName to make sure that people don’t forget Charleena Lyles and the police violence that led to her death.
The death of Lyles is a symbol of the injustices the group of students has experienced and witnessed in their communities and even within their school. They wanted to take action not just for Charleena Lyles but for all people of color, especially their fellow students.
“We’re students of color and we share similar struggles, experience the same disadvantages, and strive to become more than what society has labeled us,” says Chardonnay Beaver, who founded New Generation along with classmates Janelle Gary, Myles Gillespie, Kevon Avery, Israel Presley, and Umoya McKinney.
“We’ve discovered that action is the first step in turning ideas of equality into reality. Because we’re students we have the opportunity to reach our peers directly.”
New Generation was a recipient of the 2018 Black Education Matters Student Activist Awards (BEMSAA), which gives recognition, support, and a $1,000 award to student leaders in the Seattle Public Schools who demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles against racism—especially with an understanding of the intersections with sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia, class exploitation and other forms of oppression—within their school or community.
Over the past three years, nine Seattle Public Schools students and one youth organization – New Generation — have been honored with the award.
The program was founded by Jesse Hagopian, an Ethnic Studies teacher and co-adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School in Seattle. Just like New Generation was spurred by violence, the award program was a positive outcome of a clash with police.
When Matthew Powell of Kentucky began his profession as instructional assistant and custodian, he was handed a big wad of keys and told to go upstairs. With no further direction, Powell figured out his professional path—for the most part—on his own.
Looking back now, “I wish I had a mentor,” he reflects, “someone to go along with me and explain the value of my role in that school and the different opportunities where I could be an educator for students.” Today, Powell is a custodial supervisor and bus driver for Graves County Schools in the Bluegrass State. He’s also night a night watchman and campus resident, meaning he lives on school grounds.
“Public education is my passion and my desire to live at school to look after students who are staying at school events or coming back from sporting events late at night is an example of my dedication to our children and their safety,” he says.
NEA members, like Powell, have always been passionate about their profession, appreciating the profound influence they have (in their many and varied roles as educators) on the health, safety, well-being, learning opportunities, and development of their students. So it’s fitting that NEA would become the vehicle for members to take the lead of their profession, express their voice, and make a difference for kids, schools, and the communities they serve.
Powell was one of several educators who were recently in Washington, D.C. to rollout two NEA developed reports, Great Teaching and Learning and the ESP Professional Growth Continuum. These reports offer teachers and education support professionals (ESP) recommendations to create a system of continual professional learning with an intense focus on student needs, and they were created with input from two expert panels and task forces focused on how educators, including ESP, can work even more effectively to help students, their families, and communities.
“Every student deserves to have a team of educators that cares for, engages and empowers learners, provides challenging instruction, and enlists the entire school community to ensure student success,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “The reports call for a new vision—a system of shared, mutual responsibility—that is founded on the premise that educators are ultimately responsible to students, to their colleagues, and to their professions.”
NEA began to chart a course to greater student learning through strong professional practice with its 2011 report, Transforming Teaching: Connecting Professional Responsibility with Student Learning, and its 2015 Accountability Task Force Report, which outlined a vision for shared responsibility and student success…
Terry Jess is a social studies teacher at Bellevue High School in Washington State. He’s also an equity leader within his school and district, and a founder and board member of Educators for Justice, a non-profit organization that works with teachers and education support professionals to create safe and supportive educational experiences for all students. He considers himself an anti-racist white educator, who’s determined to spread the message of social justice, equity, and racial justice in white spaces.
How does white privilege manifest in public education today?
Terry Jess: White privilege permeates education. The legacy and systems that have been put in place over the last 100 years continues into the modern day: the way we train teachers, how we interact with students, the factory mindset of compliance and obedience—all are centered in whiteness. As students of color try to navigate this system, their voices aren’t heard because they’re being seen as contrary to education rather than being seen as a strength of their diversity.
Are more of your colleagues seeing this “legacy” and wanting to get involved to change it?
TJ: More of my colleagues are becoming aware the role race continues to play in students’ lives. A lot of that is due to the courage of students speaking up about the experiences they have in our schools and in our classrooms. For a lot of people that’s changed them. In the past eight to ten years, people have come to grips that we’re not a color blind society and being color blind as an educator causes further harm and trauma to our students of colors and families of color.
How do we get to a point where people can accept that everyone is racist because we live in a racialized society?
TJ: The first step is to get rid of this idea of the false binary. Since the civil rights movement, people were taught—then believed and assumed—that if you’re racist, you’re bad. When somebody says “All (or) white lives matter,” and an African American person responds with, “that’s because you’re a racist.” The person experiences such discomfort because they’re seeing it as either-or. “Either I’m a good, non-racist person or I’m a bad, racist person, and you just put me in the bad racist box.” We need to understand that racism is a spectrum of actions and beliefs. All of us fall on that spectrum at different points in our life. It’s not about who is more or less racist. It’s understanding we are all impacted by a racialized society. We have been conditioned to believe and behave in certain ways. It’s not your fault you grew up in the system, but it is your responsibility to challenge that system and overcome that implicit bias yourself.
You call yourself an anti-racist white educator. What’s the difference between “not a racist” and “anti-racist?”
TJ: The “not racist” is coming from a binary perspective: “I’m not going to use the n-word.” If you’re more in tune with social justice, then it’s “I’m not going to use the word ‘illegal.’ I’m going to wear a black lives matters T-shirt. I’m going to make sure I’m not perceived as doing something outlandishly racist.” Even if you do all this, you can still perpetuate stereotypes and systems of oppression. How do you conduct your classroom and enforce late work and homework policies? Is your content supporting systems of white oppression and supremacy? Anti-racism is to engage in owning the privilege that you have, dismantling it when you see it, and where you’re exposed to it. An anti-racist is someone who puts some skin in the game. Are you willing, for example, to lose your job in order to achieve justice for everybody?…
We asked educators on NEA Today Facebook about the best thing that happened in their classrooms and schools last week. Some raised money with their students for disaster relief, others attended fun school-community events, and a whole lot had break-through moments with their students that sometimes brought tears to their eyes. We can all use a little positivity, so here’s a roundup of the good news they shared:
A discouraged dyslexic third grader has realized he can read the books I have set in a bin for him… and asked for permission to take some of the books to his after school program! This is the boy who normally says thing are too hard and puts his head down!Theresa Early, Fairfax, Virginia
Through the generous donations of my friends, I took my low-income, urban, Boston-area students on a field trip to New York City – the Empire State Building, Times Square, Ellen’s Stardust Diner, Liberty Cruise, Pizza Suprema – because they got the highest growth percentile on our state exam, because they worked their butts off every day in class, reading six more books than were in the curriculum, and because they are AWESOME.Nancy Petriello Barile, Boston, Massachusetts
My two newcomers with very little English yet, and who are both still pretty reluctant to attempt to speak in front of the whole class, enthusiastically volunteered to share their mathematical thinking and strategies during a math session this week. They were beaming from ear to ear with pride… Not only proud of them for putting themselves out there, but also for how supportive and encouraging the rest of the class always is of them. Made my week! Jennifer Gage Moke, Portland, Oregon
My seniors and AP juniors hosted a college and career fair for younger students (5th-10th graders). Each of my students became an “expert” on a college, military branch, or career field he or she hopes to pursue, created a table display and one-page informational handout, then they shared their research knowledge with their visitors. Barb Brown Andres, New Lothrop, Michigan
My first grade students performed All You Need is Love at our monthly assembly. We had picked the song long ago but it was so timely. Children remind all of us how beautiful the world is. They inspire me and drive me to be the best I can be every single day. Marianne Vasquez, Bakersfield, California
We presented a check for $5,100 to fund childhood cancer research at a local charity, the N8 Foundation. I work at the same school as Marianne Vasquez. Our school had a good week. Karen Nguyen, Bakersfield, California
I was subbing this week and when I introduced myself to the teacher she screamed and started crying because I had been her 2nd grade teacher!! I was so touched but felt old! Linda Morgan, Highland, California
During a math review quiz, one group worked together and only missed one question. But better than that was the collaboration. I heard things like, “We both got the same answer, do you agree with us” and “yes, I agree because…”. I was so happy I could cry! Megan Rene, McMinn, Lewiston, Idaho
We had a kindergarten potluck at a local park. It was so fun for the kids, parents and grandparents to have a chance to meet each other. I loved spending time with my students’ families and meeting families from the other K classrooms with my K team. Carol Harris, Steamboat Springs, Colorado
I have a student that is passing a high school math class for the first time… the joy on the student’s face makes all the daily struggles so worth it! Nell Dearing, Carlsbad, New Mexico
Thursday I returned as a volunteer at our highest poverty school to help some of the most dedicated teachers and work with kiddos that fill my heart! Phyllis Schneider Winkley, Vernon, Connecticut
New student came into our classroom and did not have a “rest buddy” of his own for rest time. The next day, a concerned child brought a gently used and carefully chosen stuffed animal of his own for his new friend. Heartwarming! Shelly Hess, Vincent, Ohio
Our association members attended events in the 3 communities that make up our district, raffling off 12 baskets of books, three Kindle fires and three family memberships to the Philadelphia zoo. Raffle tickets were free as prizes were donated by the teachers. Nicole May Armbruster, Aston, Pennsylvania
I got to see a second-grader who is struggling with behavior be a great role model to a first-grader who is struggling with behavior. ^_^Seeing them interact in such a sweet, friendly manner made my heart happy! Sarah Wood, Keizer, Oregon
An email from a parent informed me that her child loves my class and is excited about learning to love reading and writing, a subject she’s struggled with in the past. Joel Elrod Melsha, Orlando, Florida
A student who had done poorly in his first test put forth great effort at home studying, coming for extra help and really focusing during the test. ( that is hard for him). He finished early so I graded his test and it was a perfect test –100%. It was his birthday too. Right from the classroom, we called mom in front of the whole class and celebrate him. His mom was happy and the class applauded him. His smile lit up the whole room. Debra Calle, Bergenfield, New Jersey
A student who is homeless was going to have to transfer schools and be uprooted from all that is stable in his life. Our transportation department figured it out and will be busing him! Autumn Schultz, Toledo, Washington
How wide is the disconnect between the public and the current administration on what should and shouldn’t be done to strengthen our schools? According to the 2017 Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, the gap is significant. A majority of Americans opposes using taxpayer funds to pay for private school tuition and supports a reduced role for standardized tests. An overwhelming percentage also want local school districts to provide “wraparound services” and favors increased funding to pay for them.
“These and other results suggest that some of the most prominent ideas that dominate current policy debates – from supporting vouchers to emphasizing high-stakes tests – are out of step with parents’ main concern: They want their children prepared for life and career after they complete high school,” said Joshua P. Starr, the chief executive officer of PDK International.
Given the current spotlight on vouchers, PDK dug a little deeper on the issue this year, asking respondents if they supported using public funds to pay for religious private school tuition. Presented with this detail, opposition to vouchers surged to 61%.
According to the 2017 PDK survey, a majority of Americans oppose using public funds to pay for private schools. If the question is expanded to include religious schools as an option, opposition rises to 61 percent.
In addition, when told that a voucher system either could help public schools by making them compete or hurt them by reducing their funding, support for only funding public schools increases to 67%, compared to 26% support for vouchers – a 41-point gap.
Support for standardized testing as a measure of student success continues to decline. According to the poll, 42% see student performance on standardized tests as “highly important,” scoring significantly lower than art and music classes, extracurriculars, advanced academics, career-focused technology and engineering classes, and interpersonal skills. Only 6 % rated standardized tests as the “most important” factor in determining school quality.
The lack of confidence in standardized tests can be attributed to the public’s growing unease over the narrow path our schools have been forced to follow over the past 15 years. By overwhelming margins, Americans want schools to educate students more than just academically. Eighty-two percent of respondents support job or career skills classes – even if it means some students might spend less time on academics. The public believes it is highly important for schools to help students develop interpersonal skills, such as being cooperative, respectful of others, and problem-solving.
Large majorities also said schools should offer certificate or licensing programs that qualify students for employment upon graduation. Furthermore, 82% see technology and engineering classes as “extremely or very important” measures of school quality.
“Taken as a whole, the American public is saying it thinks public education has tilted too far in pushing or emphasizing academics to the detriment of vocational or career skills classes,” Starr added. “They support the academic mission but they also want local schools to position students for their working lives after school.”
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The PDK poll also reveals high level levels of support for “wraparound services,” such as health and after-school programs – a central tenet of the community school model that is taking root across the nation. Ninety-two percent favor after-school programs, and 87% support providing mental health services to students who can’t get this help outside of school.
Starr says it’s clear from the results that the public wants balance. “Americans want a course correction.”
Here are some additional highlights from the 2017 PDK International poll:
49% of Americans give their local public schools an A or B grade. Among public school parents, the approval increases to 62%.
70% of parents say they’d prefer to have their child in a racially diverse school, including equal numbers of whites and nonwhites. But the PDK survey notes that this may “reflect a socially desirable answer,” instead of a commitment to act or support policies that might decrease segregation. For example, very few parents say they would accept a longer commute for their children to attend a more diverse school.
61% of public school parents expect their child to attend college full time, while 22% expect a mix of part-time study and part-time work. Seven percent expect their child to seek a full-time job after high school.
On July 4th, the vast majority of the 7,000 delegates from the National Education Association (NEA) voted to adopt a new charter school policy statement. The new statement is an overhaul of NEA’s former charter school policy statement that they had adopted in 2001.
Context for Charters Nationally and in Minnesota
A lot has changed since 2001, when chartering was just ten years old and the national enrollment was only 571,000 students. Since then, charter school enrollment has increased dramatically. Today, more than 3 million students are enrolled in charter schools across the country, which comprises 6.1 percent of national public school enrollment.
In Minnesota, even though charter school enrollment has grown by 36 percent in the past five years, it still accounts for just 6 percent of the state’s public school enrollment. According to Eugene Piccolo, executive director for the Minnesota Association of Charter schools, “We’ll see probably steady, slow growth” for charter school enrollment and expansion.
NEA Provides Criteria that “Charters Must Meet”
NEA President, Lily Eskelen Garcia, said that, “This policy draws a clear line between charters that serve to improve public education and those that do not.” Specifically, NEA’s new policy statement lays out three criteria that charter schools must meet in order to provide students with “the support and learning environments they deserve.”
Criterion #1: Charter schools must be authorized and held accountable by public school districts. Specifically, the statement asserts that charter schools only “serve students and the public interest when they are authorized and held accountable by the same democratically accountable local entity [school board] that authorizes other alternative school models in a public school district such as magnet, community, educator-led.”
Criterion #2: The charter school must demonstrate that it is necessary to meet the needs of the students in the district, and they must meet those needs in a manner that improves the local public school system. Additionally, charter school may only be authorized or expanded only after the public school district has “assessed the impact of the proposed charter school on local public school resources, programs and services.”
Criterion #3: The charter school must comply with the same basic safeguards as other public schools, which includes open meetings and public records law, prohibitions against for-profit operations, and certification requirements, among other things.
The policy statement contends that if these criterion are not met then no charter school should be authorized, and that NEA would support state and local moratoriums on “further charter authorizations in the school district.”
In addition to the three criteria, the policy statement asserted that “fully virtual or online” charter schools should be not authorizer at all because they “cannot, by their nature, provide students with a well-rounded, complete educational experience.”
NAPCS, NACSA Respond to NEA Policy Statement
On July 5th, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) issued a response to NEA’s statement. The response provided clarifications to some of the assertions that NEA had made. In response to NEA’s claim that charters are largely held “unaccountable” and are for-profit, NAPCS wrote, “Eighty-five percent of charter schools are either independently run or part of a non-profit network, but no matter their structure, all charter schools are public schools and all are held accountable to their authorizers and the families they serve.”
Further, the NAPCS noted several achievements in the charter sector over the past year, including that six of the ten best high schools in America, as ranked by U.S. News, were charter schools and that the National Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee, is a Massachusetts charter school teacher.
Greg Richmond, President and CEO for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), asserted that NEA’s policy statement seems to indicate that “they are not against charter schools as long as they operate just like district schools,” and have union contracts and school board politics. Richmond asked, so then “What’s the point?”
He also said the statement missed some of the “nuance in the sector”. He noted that some charters are far more transparent than others due to state and local rules, but also indicated that virtual or online charters have consistently yielded poor results for students. He admitted that, “there is work to be done, but that won’t happen by making charter schools run exactly like district schools.”