Educators Advocate and Organize For Big Wins!


(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Massachusetts—Ban on Bilingual Education Repealed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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Students Use Graduation Day Speeches to Promote Inclusion and Social Action


The 2018 high school graduation season featured many of the reliable and enduring traditions we expect to see and hear each year: yearbook signings, decorating of caps, counting honor cords, and reminiscences from teachers, staff, parents, and students. This year, however, also saw more students using their graduation speeches to speak their minds instead of platitudes.

Considering the prominent role young people played in social justice and anti-violence campaigns across the nation in 2018, this was no surprise. From the #MeToo movement to gun violence, students have been in the trenches, doing a lot of the hard work to create national change.

While national media focused on celebrity stories, high school students made waves in the #MeToo movement, creating sexual education programs at their schools that emphasized consent, sharing stories on social media, and organizing documentary screenings to educate classmates about sexual violence.

Student activists helped organize a National School Walkout on March 17 to honor the lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the March for Our Lives protests to demand action on preventing  gun violence, 

Earlier this month, two of these student leaders, David Hogg and Emma Gonzales, graduated from Stoneman Douglas. At the graduation ceremony, the community mourned the loss of their classmates and the lack of progress by politicians to address gun violence. Many of the graduation caps were decorated with pointed political statements.

“The class of 2018 has demonstrated time and time again that we may be a new generation, but we are not too young to speak up, to dream, and to create change.” – Lulabel Seitz, valedictorian at Petaluma High School  

Senior class president Julia Cordover used her speech to encourage the audience to vote, and Sabrina Fernandez, student government president, delivered a challenge to her classmates.

“Let’s be the generation that sees a problem and fixes it,” she said. “Our country is rooting for us … our country is depending on us.”

Lulabel Seitz, valedictorian at Petaluma High School in northern California, started to deliver the tried-and-true, classic graduation speech she had submitted to the school, but strayed from her script four minutes in.

“The class of 2018 has demonstrated time and time again,” she told the graduating class, “that we may be a new generation, but we are not too young to speak up, to dream, and to create change, which is why, even when some people on this campus, those same people –”

The school then turned off Seitz’s microphone, but Seitz continued her speech:

“… in which some people defend perpetrators of sexual assault and silence their victims.” Seitz was referring to the school, who in her opinion did not take action when she reported her sexual assault.

While people in the audience yelled, “Let her speak!” the school never turned her microphone back on.

Commencement 2018: Advice, Inspiration, and Humor!
Commencement speeches are full of advice and encouragement, and this year’s speakers are certainly doing their best to inspire graduating classes across the land. Here are excerpts from a few speeches, because let’s face it: Whether we graduated 30 years ago or yesterday, we can all use a little boost every now and then!

Seitz released her full uncensored speech on Youtube, which has more than 400,000 views. “The school continually censors students. It wasn’t an easy thing to do to go up there and say what I said or tried to say,” she told KPIX-TV.

The school’s principal defended the decision to cut her microphone, telling the San Francisco Chronicle, “We were trying to make sure our graduation ceremony was appropriate and beautiful.”

Seitz was not the only student to be censored from delivering a “controversial” message. Cait Christenson, valedictorian at Tomahawk High School in Wisconsin, planned to give a speech discouraging slurs, negative stereotypes, and disrespect toward others. Her speech mentioned “hot button” issues such as discrimination, school shootings, and gender inequality.

Christenson was obviously not the first student to speak out about gun violence, but school officials decided that the issue was too divisive for a graduation speech and that her speech would have to be edited before she could take the stage.

Rather than agreeing to these rules, she withdrew from her speaking role. In an interview with the Wassau Daily Herald, Christenson explained her decision:

“I felt like if I were to rewrite my speech, the message would be washed out. If I could not talk about those three things specifically, change against social injustice would be less likely in the future. The reasons I was not allowed to speak opposed exactly what I was trying to get across in my speech: being able to open a conversation civilly, and critically think about and accept others’ opinions and values.”

Christenson’s speech was published in the Tomahawk Leader weekly newspaper, the Wassau Daily Herald, and many other outlets. On June 20, the school principal apologized for censoring her speech.

Cait Christenson, valedictorian at Tomahawk High School in Wisconsin, withdrew from her speaking role at graduation after the school asked her to edit her speech.

More valedictorians broke tradition to ensure every single person could understand them. In Nebraska, Hannah Leeper and Mandy Montante Gonzalez of Fremont High School delivered their speech in English and Spanish, despite facing potential backlash in in their hometown. In 2010, Fremont garnered national attention when voters approved a local ordinance prohibiting hiring and renting to undocumented residents.

Representing a school with a large hispanic population, the two teens said they wanted to make the graduation enjoyable for all family members.

“I think it was a good step forward for the community,” Leeper told the Omaha World-Herald.

While some may argue that graduation speeches are not the appropriate venue for expressing opinions on sensitive topics, the students respond that their intent is not to divide, but to inspire. By taking a stand, Leeper and Gonzales, along with their counterparts across the country, found a way to deliver an important message, in the process perhaps redefining how a graduation ceremony can celebrate students and how a graduation speech can inspire them.

As Julia Cordover said at the Stoneman Douglas High School graduation, “Our struggle is part of our story. It doesn’t define us. Let it motivate us.”

Students Demand Right to Wear Native Regalia at Graduation
Many school districts enforce a strict dress code that prevent students from wearing anything other than school colors and graduation symbols that the districts provide. Across the country, however, Native American students are standing up for cultural pride and heritage at high school graduation ceremonies.

 

‘It’s Time To Take Action’: Students Lead Protest to Change Gun Laws
school shooting protestsThere’s a new face on the age-old gun debate: our students – and they are putting lawmakers on notice: They will not stand by and allow elected officials to fail them any longer. “We are going to be the last mass shooting,” Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez said. “We are going to change the laws.”



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West Virginia Educators Take Their Power to the Polls


(Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

As state election officials counted votes in West Virginia’s primary races last week and the results were broadcast on local TV stations, West Virginia’s teachers felt something unfamiliar but wonderful.

It was an electric surge of their own power.

“It was a great feeling watching the returns come in!” said Jonas Knotts, a high school teacher and president of the Webster County Education Association, an affiliate of the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA). “People and educators are really starting to see the power that they possess. We have a voting bloc that, if we turn out to the polls, can outvote anybody. Teachers are realizing this. It’s something that fills us with a very empowering feeling.”

Early this spring, WVEA members kicked off what NEA President Lily Eskelsen García has called an “education spring” with a statewide, nine-day strike that brought red-shirted educators from every one of the state’s 55 counties to the state Capitol.

Their massive show of solidarity, which ended with significant pay raises for all public workers, including teachers and education support professionals, and the establishment of a state task force to address public-worker health insurance, inspired educators across the nation and has been followed by statewide educator walkouts in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Kentucky, and huge Capitol demonstrations in Colorado and North Carolina.

Now, WVEA members are modeling what happens next: They’re taking their energy and passion for public education to the ballot box. In this May’s primary races, WVEA endorsed 115 pro-public school candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and the state’s House of Delegates and Senate. Of those, 99 candidates—or nearly 90 percent—won. One state lawmaker who had called union members “free riders” was shown the door.

This is exactly what public-school educators across the nation have promised to do in the mid-term elections this November. With this latest show of union strength, WVEA members have shown how it can be done—and how good it feels.

“This election was a huge vindication for the power of the movement because, of course, the opposition was saying ‘they’re going to forget, they’re going to stay home,’” said Knotts. “But we know it’s only one victory in a long war. We have to keep up those conversations, we have to keep people engaged, we have to show them how we’re working to improve everybody’s status—from teachers to support personnel to students to communities.”

Taking Power to the Polls

The West Virginia educators’ strike was the result of decades of neglect by state lawmakers. With school budgets cut to the bone and great teachers leaving the state in droves, dedicated educators just couldn’t take it anymore. “People were starting to ask themselves, what is my future here? What is the future for my students, my children? And they realized that unless action was taken, there isn’t going to be a future,” said Knotts.

Educators walked out because they couldn’t stay silent any longer, and they stayed out with the support of their students, families and community members until state lawmakers finally agreed to do something about the problem.

It was a bold lesson in the power of solidarity and civic engagement—and nobody learned it better than the striking teachers.

“The strike really opened up people’s eyes,” said Knotts. “In years past, people and educators felt like there wasn’t anything their vote could do. They felt like whatever happened in Charleston wasn’t connected to their lives. They couldn’t see the end game, how elections truly matter, and how they directly affect their work environment and their students.”

In the weeks leading up to the May primaries, WVEA members made their preferences known. “Word of mouth was the biggest thing,” said Heather White, president of the WVEA-affiliated Grant County Education Association. “We made sure to utilize Facebook. All of us who are on it have friends who are not educators, and they’d follow the articles we’d post and send.” Educators also helped register new voters, drove elderly people to the polls, and stood on street corners with posters for their preferred candidates.

WVEA members—and their friends and family members—remembered which legislators stood with them during the strike and supported the health-insurance task force, and which lawmakers talked about the need to keep great teachers in West Virginia.

They also remembered who didn’t.

“Going to the Capitol, sitting in committee meetings, listening to the debates and following [the legislators] on social media—it makes you think, ‘oh my, this is the person representing our interests?’” said Knotts.

Bye-Bye, Senator

That person—the one representing the interests and welfare of public-school educators and students—is not Robert Karnes.

Karnes, the incumbent senator in West Virginia’s 11th District, is known in the state as “maybe THE biggest teacher-hater, public-employee hater out there,” said Knotts. “This is a person who goes out of his way to antagonize and harass and destroy public education. He has no qualms about saying that because he homeschools his eight kids he should not have to pay taxes to support public schools.”

He got elected, suggested Knotts, because too many educators stayed home during the 2014 election.

In his challenger, state Delegate Bill Hamilton, a nine-term moderate Republican who supports public education and has opposed anti-union legislation, educators across the enormous, six-county 11th District found somebody that they could support with enthusiasm. Dozens went so far as to switch their party registration from Democrat to no-party affiliation so they could cast a ballot for Hamilton, said White.

“The thing about Karnes is that he just didn’t support public education,” said White. “Our local schools have the bare minimum of what they need. There’s just no way we could survive with any less, and still do what we need to do for our kids.”

Last Tuesday, on Election Day, WVEA members said no to less. They flexed their muscles. When the returns were counted, Karnes had been trounced, barely taking a third of the votes cast. “It had been our goal for four years to take him down. We succeeded. Not just mildly. He was destroyed in every county in his district,” said Knotts.

On Wednesday, the day after the election, in a show of celebration and solidarity, many WVEA members wore their red “55 Strong” t-shirts that they had worn to the Capitol a few months earlier. “It was like everybody knew the power!” said White.



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Regardless of Janus Decision, ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’


(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

With the U.S. Supreme Court only weeks, perhaps days, away from issuing a  potentially momentous decision in Janus v. AFSCME, what will the fallout be for unions, educators and schools? That was the question before a panel at the 2018 Education Writers Association National Seminar in Los Angeles on May 16.

The panel, moderated by journalist David Washburn of EdSource, featured Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, William Messenger, staff attorney for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and Julia Koppich, president of J. Koppich & Associates, a San Francisco-based education consulting firm.

The issue before the Court in Janus is whether government employees who are covered by and benefit from a union contract, though not members of the union, should have to contribute to the union’s costs –  by paying an agency or fair share fee for their share of those costs  –  that support strong public sector collective bargaining. The petitioner argues that the First Amendment prohibits fair share fees. If the Court agrees, the rights and freedoms of working people to join together in strong unions will be significantly weakened.

Pressed by moderator Washburn about the actual agenda behind the Janus case (“Is this not just window dressing for union-busting?”), Messenger insisted that the only pertinent issue is the “freedom” to choose whether or not to be in a union. As far as whether or not unions lose members, and the impact on schools, “This is about choice only and I don’t see the connection,” said Messenger. “The case is a few degrees removed from any of those issues.”

Julia Koppich suggested to the audience that anyone who believed Janus was merely about the First Amendment was indulging in “magical thinking.”

“It’s important that we understand the malign intent behind Janus,” Koppich said, namely to severely reduce the bargaining power of public sector unions.

The case is bankrolled by the National Right to Work Foundation, Messenger’s employer, an is part of a well-funded network of corporate billionaires to use the courts to rig the rules against working people.

Eskelsen García told the reporters that NEA has only around 90,000 feepayers members out of 3 million. “I don’t think the National Right to Work Foundation will be satisfied with just that.”

It wouldn’t, she added, because “the case is just a pretext to get union members to drop their membership.”

Eskelsen García also pointed out that groups behind Janus already have launched aggressive drop campaigns seeking to persuade current union members to drop their membership and enjoy the benefits of membership on the dues paid by others. This exposes the true intent behind the case: divide and limit union members’ collective bargaining power and take away the rights and freedom of working people to speak up for themselves and their communities.  

“They want to keep the megaphone as small as possible,” she said. “This is about silencing voices.”

If the Court rules for the plaintiff, Washburn asked, how will unions change how they organize and engage. There’s no question that NEA and others will have to open “a new chapter,” said Koppich. “We don’t know yet what the impact will be on membership but unions will have to be creatively nimble moving forward. I do worry, however, that collaborative relationships in schools districts will be undermined. That can happen when fairness and due process, once embedded in the system, is no longer there.”

Eskelsen Garca agreed that the Janus case could make NEA significantly adjust. “We have to become more and more relevant. What we are doing has to touch the heart and minds of members and potential members. But it’s already happening.”

janus decision

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García (far right) discusses the potential ramifications of Janus v. AFSCME at the 2018 Education Writers Association National Seminar on May 16.

Support for labor unions has risen to its highest level in years and millions of American workers have recommitted to their unions and launched new organizing drives.

“Everyone is looking at what is happening across the country and are saying ‘listen to the teachers.’ ”

Koppich agreed. “Parents see teachers as being unfairly treated,” and schools underfunded.

Through their union, 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.

As Eskelsen García told the journalists in the room, educators in Arizona were quick to reject Gov. Dave Ducey’s initial proposal to end the walkout because it focused on their salaries, not on reversing the chronic underfunding that has plagued the state’s schools.

These red state walkouts, in states without fair share fees many of which have no or very limited state bargaining rights, show the power of educators and their unions as advocates for students, Eskelsen Garcia said.

The question for the Court is whether it would rather see the power of those unions at the bargaining table in a controlled form or in the streets of state capitols.

Regardless of the decision, however, “educators are awake. There will be a new chapter,” said Eskelsen García.

“We’re seeing a greater level of activity now that we ever have before. But we still have to have one-on-one conversations with every educator. They need to know how we can help. The collective voice is all we have…and we’re not going anywhere.”



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Why #RedforEd Has Caught Fire in North Carolina


There are more than 1.5 million reasons behind Wednesday’s “March for Students and Rally for Respect” in North Carolina, where more than 20,000 educators from 40 or more school districts  traveled to Raleigh to demand the attention of state lawmakers. Those reasons include the 1.5 million public school students who often are learning in crowded classrooms with outdated textbooks and technology.

Here are a few more reasons:

  • State education funding! Last year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reported that state funding for North Carolina students had dropped 12 percent since 2008. That means bigger class sizes, cuts to academic programs, and outdated classroom resources. “We have to make sure our schools in North Carolina are fully funded,” says Ronda Mays, president of North Carolina’s Forsyth County Education Association. “The per-pupil spending has to be at least—at least—to the national average.
  • Educators want to send a message to lawmakers: Choose students over corporations. Since 2013, the GOP-controlled North Carolina state legislature has cut the corporate tax rate from 6.9 percent to 3 percent. The revenues lost to these tax cuts—about a half a billion dollars a year—make it impossible to adequately fund public education. And it’s only going to get worse! Corporate and person taxes are scheduled to drop again next year. The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) wants the legislature to cancel these cuts until school funding is improved.
  • They’re sick of seeing their colleagues forced out of the classroom because they can’t afford to stay. Nearly one in 10 North Carolina teachers left the profession last year, and the rates are even higher for new teachers. Months into the school year, some school districts had teacher vacancy rates of more than 10 percent. At least part of the reason is pay: Since 2009, N.C. teacher pay has declined 9.4 percent, when you adjust for inflation. The average salary is $9,600 below the national average. “And they’re still paying out of their pocket to make sure students have what they need,” Mays notes.
  • School support personnel are suffering, which means students are suffering. Nearly 7,500 teachers’ aides in North Carolina have lost their jobs because of budget cuts. Caseloads for counselors have increased. “There are people in our schools who are not classroom teachers, but who are just as vital to students,” says Mays, a school social worker. “It’s important that we have these people to work with students, and it’s important that they be fairly compensated, too.”
  • They just can’t take it anymore. North Carolina’s #RedforEd movement isn’t an overnight sensation. Educators have been watching the situation in their schools get worse for more than a decade. The movement, says NCAE President Mark Jewell, is “the culmination of years of starving our public school system.”









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As States Debate Anti-LGBTQ Bills, Educators Focus on Supporting All Students


(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

This year’s legislative session saw a wave of anti-transgender state bills all across the country. Ten states introduced 21 anti-transgender bills, many of which have been defeated or are pending final votes. In November’s general election, Massachusetts voters will have the power to strike down an anti-transgender ballot initiative. Overall, these bills and ballot measures limit people from accessing health care and updating identity documents, as well as create special exemptions that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Despite these efforts, the fight for equality remains strong.

In Alaska, voters in Anchorage defeated a ballot measure that would have allowed strangers to demand to check a person’s “sex at birth” before allowing access to certain restrooms and public facilities. On the opposite side of the county, the Maine House of Representatives passed legislation to protect LGBTQ youth from the discredited practice of “conversion therapy.”

While voters and legislatures nationwide continue to push for more LGBTQ-friendly policies, many educators are taking action in different ways.

Lindsay Buck, a special education department chair and teacher for Lawrence High School in Kansas, sponsors the Total Equality Alliance, the school’s version of Gay Sexuality Alliance (GSA) clubs. At Lawrence, educators are creating affirming/welcoming schools by, for example, normalizing gender pronouns. Educators are making it common place to ask and share gender pronouns and to never assume pronouns, explains Buck.

“Just because society says there’s ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ pronouns, doesn’t mean they should be used or assumed. Some folks use pronouns other than she/her and he/him, and feel more comfortable in the they/them area,” she says.

Supporting students’ gender pronouns goes along way. “This lets non-binary and transgender students know you’re an ally.”

As a sponsor of Lawrence’s Total Equality Alliance, Buck meets weekly with LGBTQ students and allies. Her goal is to ensure students have access to student resources and support.

This support comes at a critical time for the LGBTQ community. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation released on Tue., May 15 the findings of their 2017 LGBTQ Teen Survey, a new survey conducted in partnership with the University of Connecticut of 12,000 LGBTQ teens. The survey explored the experiences, health and wellbeing of LGBTQ teens across the country and underscored high levels of anxiety, fear, and rejection LGBTQ teens face in places that should be safe areas: home, school, social settings, and their communities.

“I’m a member of the LGBTQ community myself,” says the educators of 11 years, “and I know from experience what it’s like to not have a support system in place. I want my students to know that they can be their authentic selves, and that they can be successful and have careers and families.”

Affirming and Welcoming Schools

The effort toward being an affirming/welcoming school has been well received by many at Lawrence. In fact, the school district, after hearing from their own LGBTQ+ advisory committee, took a stance to add gender expression to their non-discriminatory policies, after previously adding sexual orientation and gender identity.

Additionally, the district directed schools to move away from gendering activities, such as designating a “Queen” and “King” at homecoming events. Now, 12 students are selected to court. Of the 12, two are selected “Royalty,” regardless of identity.

“It could be two people who identify as male or it could be a female student and a non-binary student, for example,” says Buck. “Before, non-binary and transgender students felt they weren’t a part of homecoming or that it wasn’t even an option to be on court. Now everyone has an opportunity to participate without the fear of being discriminated against based on identify or expression.”

Thousands of NEA members, like Buck, serve as GSA advisors in their schools.

At Hale-Dale Middle School and High School in Farmingdale, Maine, school counselor Tara Kierstead helped students set up a GSA in 2013 and says, “[S]tudents find it a comfortable space to meet and talk. They do not seem ready yet to become highly visible advocates for LGBT rights, but when they’re ready, I will be right there to support them.”

If students are interested in creating a GSA, Kierstead suggests using the GLSEN start-up kit.

Kansas’s Lindsay Buck says that even if you’re an educator in a conservative area or are grappling with wanting to have a safe and inclusive school, educators can still show support by wearing a button with your gender pronouns or a rainbow flag. Small gestures of support “communicate that you’re a safe person who students can talk to.”

While some teachers feel out of their comfort zone or are not quite there in their understanding of the LGBTQ community, Buck suggests to challenge your beliefs, assumptions, and expectations about the world.

“Research and interact with others who don’t necessarily share your beliefs or your way of thinking,” Buck says. “You can also seek resources, like GLSEN or NEA Ed Justice, to learn how you can be an affirming and inclusive teacher.”

Educators are uniquely positioned to address these issues and work towards creating a safe, supportive and affirming school environment for LGBTQ students.

Educators can start by taking The Pledge to support LGBTQ equality. There’s also Gender Spectrum’s The Gender Inclusive School guide, which looks to expand the approaches educators can take to help all students feel safe within their schools or classrooms.

Additional Resources: Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2017 LGBTQ Teen Survey, Schools in transition Guide, What Do You Say?, Legal guidance on transgender students’ rights, GLSEN’s Model Laws and School Policies, and How to Support LGBTQ by starting a GSA.

 



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Colorado Educators Show Up in Force to Rally for K12 Funding


The math in Colorado is easy to understand.

Public schools are currently underfunded by $822 million, and per-student funding is $2,700 below the national average. What this adds up to is: larger class sizes, four-day school weeks, cuts to critical academic programs, thousands of unfilled teaching and support jobs, and a deficit of learning opportunities for students.

That’s why nearly 10,000 red-shirted Colorado Education Association (CEA) members from nearly 30 school districts across the states, joined by NEA Vice President Becky Pringle, are rallying at the state Capitol in Denver on Friday. Several thousand also rallied Thursday.

“For years, the Colorado Legislature has refused to do what’s right for our students…As educators, we see the real result of their chronic underfunding of public education—from ballooning class sizes to outdated and battered textbooks held together by duct tape,” said CEA President Kerri Dallman. “Members of the Colorado Education Association are at the state Capitol to ask the legislature to step up and fulfill their responsibility because students need and deserve better.”

In 1982, Colorado spent $232 per student above the national average. Today, even as it boasts of the top-ranked economy in the nation, it spends $2,162 below the national average, according to CEA analysis. Meanwhile its neighbors, Nebraska and Wyoming, spent $4,000 and $8,000 more per student, respectively.

As a result of these decades of neglect, half of Colorado school districts have switched to a four-day school week so that they can save money on transportation, and many have eliminated art, music, or high school classes like psychology or journalism.

Jessica Crawford, a second grade teacher at Crystal River Elementary School in Carbondale, moved to Colorado from Orlando last year. She said she believed her new school would be well stocked since Colorado’s economy was one of the best in the country.

“I thought I was going to walk into a classroom with the things I needed to teach my kids,” said Crawford. “It was a big shock to have no construction paper, no Sharpies, no magnets for my magnetic board. I spent over thousand dollars on my kids since they needed so much.”

She’s not alone—Colorado teachers, on average, spend $656 of their own money to make up the difference. But they also don’t make much money. According to a 2018 NPR study, which factors in the cost of living in each state, teacher pay in Colorado ranks 45th in the nation, and is a key factor in the more than 3,000 Colorado teaching jobs that still aren’t filled this year.

NEA Vice-President Becky Pringle joins Colorado educators at the state Capitol in Denver on April 27.

“My mother is a teacher, and I know how much she struggles with funding and I believe education is important to make America better in the future,” said 14-year-old Ella Wonder, a student at Aurora’s Range View High School who was rallying at the Colorado statehouse with her mother, to the Denver Post.

CEA members want state lawmakers to commit to reducing or freezing corporate tax breaks until the state’s per-student funding is restored to the national average. They point out that the cumulative shortfall in funding adds up to a whopping $6.6 billion since 2009. That’s money that should have gone directly into Colorado public schools to pay for smaller class sizes and counselor caseloads, new books and technology, and teacher pay that might be adequate to entice Coloradans to fill those thousands of vacant teaching jobs.

“Educators in Colorado and all across the nation are rising up and saying enough! Enough!” Pringle told the growing crowd on Friday. “When politicians continue to fail our students, it’s time to send them a message: we will remember in November.”



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A Look Inside Arizona Classrooms -NEA Today


An estimated 75,000 Arizona educators rallied at the state Capitol this week, demanding state lawmakers invest in public schools. Class sizes are increasing, classrooms are stocked with obsolete resources, and school conditions have deteriorated. Photographs shared by educators on social media provide the evidence of legislative neglect—the ancient textbooks, the rodent-infested classrooms, the broken-down technology, and more. (For more on the Arizona walkout, read this NEA Today story.)

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Arizona Teachers Poised for Largest Walkout in Nation


Teachers from Highland Arts Elementary School stage a final walk-in Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Mesa, Ariz. Communities and school districts are preparing for a historic statewide teacher walkout on Thursday. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Today, the Arizona teacher with 48 students in one class period—and 43 English-language learners in another—will aim to speak with every one of her students. The elementary school counselor with exactly 1,430 children in her care will triage countless emotional and academic crises.

And at least one of their colleagues will say, “Put the rubber band back on that textbook so we don’t lose the cover,” or “Sit over here. The lights work here.”

Tomorrow, they’re not taking it anymore.

In what may be the largest educator walkout in history, these educators will join tens of thousands of teachers and educational support professionals (ESPs) across all of Arizona in walking out of their neglected classrooms. Led and supported by the Arizona Education Association (AEA) and Arizona Educators United (AEU) through its #RedforEd movement, Arizona educators are bringing their demands for adequate educational funding directly to state lawmakers in Phoenix, where they will be joined by NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

“I’m walking out because I know that 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.”

No state in the country has cut school funding more than Arizona. Between 2008 and 2015, state lawmakers cut funding per student by 36.6 percent, according to a national analysis by the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (Second is Florida, which cut funding by 22.2 percent during those years.)

This year, Arizona lawmakers are spending 13.6 less on students than they did in 2008. Even as the economy has rebounded from last decade’s Great Recession, Arizona lawmakers have opted for more tax cuts, instead of investing in public schools. Last year, Arizona lawmakers cut school funding by another 1.2 percent.

“We can no longer allow the status quo in this state go unchanged. We need to bring the change our students and families need,” said AEU leader and AEA member Noah Karvelis. “We have kids sitting in broken desks, studying out of 25-year-old textbooks in rooms with leaky ceilings. This is unacceptable.

“We are truly in a state of crisis.”

Arizona teachers and ESPs have had enough. Their #RedforEd movement started this spring with teachers wearing red shirts in solidarity. It has led to multiple rallies at the state Capitol over the past few weeks, and feeble offers of salary raises from state lawmakers.

Last week, nearly eight out of 10 Arizona educators voted to walk out on Thursday. Their effort may be larger than statewide walk-outs in three considerably smaller states—West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.

“It is your courage, it is your voice, and it is your advocacy for all of Arizona’s students that have brought us to this historic [moment],” said AEA President Joe Thomas. “This is clearly a mandate for action.”

Pledge your support for Arizona’s educators as they try to get students the resources they deserve.

Salaries are not the issue—although they are terrible. The latest NEA Rankings & Estimates, released earlier this week, shows Arizona teachers earned an average $47,402 a year in 2017, putting them at 45th in the nation. Teachers describe earning so little money that their own children qualify for free or reduced price lunch, and yet they still invest hundreds of dollars a year to buy paper, books, mousetraps, and more for their classrooms.

What’s driving Arizona educators to take action is the lack of opportunities for their students. Arizona students are regularly denied physical education, music and art. Classroom technology is 22-year-old computers, held together with duct tape. Class sizes often top 30 in elementary schools and 40 in high schools.

“I’m walking out because enough is enough. 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 technology specialist Thomas Oviatt, an educator for 30 years. “Not only do I think Arizona students deserve better, I think every student deserves better.”

On the AEU private Facebook page, teachers describe how they struggle to provide what their students need to learn. “I teach in a self-contained special education classroom for students with high needs. Most are students with autism or intellectual disabilities. In the past four months I have spent over $500 on curriculum because I do not have any in my classroom,” writes one Arizona teacher.

We’re talking about school globes that spin to show two Germanys (the Berlin Wall fell in 1989…), or reading books that include “a cute dating story by Bill Cosby.” Teachers are using textbooks that are older than they are. Most Arizona school libraries haven’t had money to buy new books since 2008.

Forget about soap or toilet paper in the bathrooms. There are public schools that limit the use of air-conditioners from 10 am to 2 pm only. In one classroom, an inventive teacher set up a homemade air-conditioner using a Styrofoam ice chest and some electric fans. “The rooms were still about 90 degrees inside. The poor kids had headaches and couldn’t learn,” she describes.

“The 33 second graders in my classroom deserve to have smaller class sizes, they deserve to have updated technology, they deserve to have desks and chairs that aren’t broken,” says Phoenix teacher Alexis Aguerre.

Tomorrow, educators are going to let everybody know that Arizona can do better for its children: “I think the Red for Ed movement means hope,” says Aguerre. “It means that we are willing to fight for our families and for our students.

“Being a part of this movement has given me a renewed hope that we can do better for our kids.”



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Educators Continue Fight for K-12 Funding


By now it’s a familiar scene: tens of thousands of red-shirted teachers and education support professionals, rallying outside their state Capitol, demanding that legislators provide the money they need to educate their state’s public school children.

On Friday, the location was the Capitol steps in Frankfort, Ky., where Kentucky Education Association (KEA) members from the state’s 120 counties arrived by the busload to deliver a pointed message: Legislators must override Gov. Matt Bevin’s veto of the budget and tax bills, which would combine to modestly fuel an increase in K12 investment. By early evening, lawmakers proved they were listening. The Kentucky Legislature had overrode Bevin’s veto of the tax bill, and the House had sent its override of the budget bill to the Senate.

“We’ll remember! Come November!” educators chanted. “Fund our future!”

Meanwhile, in Arizona, on Thursday an anxious governor offered teachers a 20 percent pay raise over the next two years to forestall further walkouts, and in Oklahoma, where educators, students, and parents packed the Capitol for nine days, Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) President Alicia Priest enumerated the wins they achieved.

“The presence and persistence of Oklahoma educators and supporters have brought the largest pay raise in state history to teachers, a line-item pay raise for support professionals, and $70 million in recurring revenue for Oklahoma classrooms,” said Priest. “Each and every one who has marched at the Capitol, written, made calls, and worked in so many ways in their own communities should be overwhelmed with pride.”

“This is an absolute movement. It’s a moment in time for educators and it’s not just one state,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, who has called the movement an “education spring.”

In the background of these state battles is the Supreme Court’s impending decision this spring or summer in the Janus vs AFSCME case, which aims to weaken the rights of public-employee unions and make it more difficult for educators to raise their voices in unison. But educators are making it clear—from Phoenix to Frankfort—that they will not be silenced.

As a result of their advocacy, Oklahoma teachers will see annual pay raises ranging from $5,000 to $8,395, with an average $6,100, while support professionals see $1,250 raises. Additionally, through the first tax increases approved by Oklahoma lawmakers in more than a decade, public schools will get $70 million in new, recurring state funding, plus an additional $22 million next year.

Is it enough? It’s not, but Senate Republicans will not budge an inch on additional funding, said Priest. “They say Oklahoma students don’t need any more funding, and they’re wrong,” said Priest. But, as teachers return to their classrooms today, OEA members also will turn their attention to the elections ahead. “The state didn’t find itself in a school funding crisis overnight. We got here by electing the wrong people to office. No more,” Priest promised.

Between 2008 and 2015, Oklahoma lawmakers cut per-student funding by 15.6 percent, according to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In 20 percent of school districts, Oklahoma schools are only open four days a week because local boards can’t afford the fifth day. Textbooks are decades old, classroom desks and chairs are broken, and teacher pay ranks 47th in the nation. Teachers work two, three jobs, driving Uber and selling their blood—or they move to Texas or Arkansas, where they can earn $10,000 to $15,000 more a year.

But Oklahoma isn’t the only state where lawmakers have cut taxes for corporations, rather than spend money on their schoolchildren. Arizona has seen the worst school-funding cuts—36.6 percent between 2008 and 2015. As a result, Arizona’s average teacher pay was last in the nation, according to the 2016 NEA Rankings and Estimates report.

For the past month, Arizona educators have been protesting at the state Capitol. On Thursday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey proposed to boost teacher pay by 20 percent by 2020. The pay proposal didn’t include education support professionals, even though Arizona Education Association (AEA) leaders have made it clear that support pay is a critical part of their legislative demands. Not did Ducey address AEA’s key requirement that school funding be restored to pre-recession levels.

“My heart sank because he (Ducey) made no mention of support professionals,” said Vanessa Jimenez, vice president of the AEA-affiliated Phoenix union of support professionals. “It’s clearly an attempt to divide us, and we won’t be divided.”

Joe Thomas, AEA president, said the governor’s proposal reminded him of his days in a social studies classroom with the occasional student who wanted to do just enough work to get by. It’s not enough. Ducey has rebuffed efforts to meet with Thomas and leaders of the allied Arizona Educators United group. He needs to realize, said Thomas, that “the educator voice—both ESP and certified—has never been stronger in the state of Arizona.”

Many of these state’s educators have been inspired by West Virginia’s example, where teachers and education support professionals went on strike for two weeks in March and won significant new investments in public education. Since then, the rebellion against low pay and funding cuts has spread across the nation.

Back in Kentucky, KEA members know that the legislature’s tax and budget bills aren’t going to provide everything that their students need. “The recent budget adopted by the General Assembly is far from perfect,” acknowledged David Wade, a special paraeducator in Paducah, Ky. But Wade, as well as countless other KEA members, know that the governor’s veto likely would lead to a worse budget for their schools.

As is, the budget does provide for a base increase in K12 funding to the unprecedented levels of $4,000 per student. “My kids can’t wait! They can’t wait any longer!” said Jennifer Hawkins, a preschool teacher in Bowling Green.



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Despite Rising Fear and Anxiety, DACA Activists Keep Up the Pressure


Washington State University students and community members rally in support of the DREAM Act on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. (Geoff Crimmins/The Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP)

It’s been an emotional roller coaster for 800,000 Dreamers—young people brought to the U.S. as children, who have received the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, protections over the five years of the program.

In September, President Donald Trump rescinded DACA, sparking fear and uncertainty among Dreamers, including 600,000 who are high school or college students, and nearly 9,000 who are educators.

Five months later, Trump vowed to work with Congress to protect undocumented immigrants who entered the country illegally as children. “We are gonna deal with DACA with heart,” he said.

But just this month, he tweeted “DACA is dead” and “NO MORE DACA DEAL.”

“It’s hard being in this limbo,” says Karen Reyes, a 29-year-old teacher of Deaf pre-kindergartners in Austin, Texas. A former Girl Scout who has lived in the U.S. since the age of 2, Reyes attended U.S. public schools from kindergarten through graduate school, eventually earning a master’s degree in Deaf Education and Hearing Science from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

“One moment you have your hopes up, thinking a deal might happen, and then there’s a tweet and people think you’re back to square one,” she says. But that’s not the case, she explains.

“I had so many people call and text me as they heard about the tweet, asking what it meant and if we were back to square one. But they don’t realize all the work that we’ve done, the allies we’ve made, and the foundation we’ve built. Those of us in the movement know we’re not back to the beginning—we’re just on a detour.”

Approximately 22,000 DACA recipients have lost their status—including educators—since September. This means, they lose their work permits and the ability to teach and support themselves or their families.

“Lives are on the line,” says Andrew Kim, an immigration-rights activist who in 2015, as a student at Emory University in Atlanta, organized a successful campaign to provide need-based financial aid to undocumented students. Since then, the university has expanded their policies to include all undocumented students, not just DACA recipients.

What’s happening today, however, is more than just going to college, says Kim. “It’s about their existence because DACA affects people’s lives in every way.”

Reyes, for example, worries about having a job next school year, paying rent, and her car note. “There’s so much uncertainty,” she says.

Dreamer activists attend a press conference on Capitol Hill in September 2017 calling for passage of the Dream Act.(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

‘The Environment is Very Tense’

 While fear and anxiety is mounting, especially in places like Texas and Arizona, which forces local governments and law enforcement agencies to do the work of federal immigration officers by asking residents to show proof of citizenship and where in-state tuition was dropped for Dreamers, respectively, immigration activists are busy organizing their communities.

Hugo Arreola is a campus lab technician for the Phoenix Union High School District in Arizona. A DACA recipient himself, he sees his students and community in turmoil.

 We have a lot of students on hold,” says Arreola. “Many are afraid to renew their DACA applications, student anxiety is up, and people are still scared—the environment is very tense.”

Arreola, however, isn’t idle. Through his union, the Arizona Education Association’s Classified Employees Association and other local organizations, he’s involved with various workshops, information forums, and trainings that help inform people of their rights.

 “They don’t realize all the work that we’ve done, the allies we’ve made, and the foundation we’ve built. Those of us in the movement know we’re not back to the beginning—we’re just on a detour.” – Karen Reyes, teacher

“It starts in the local area and making sure you have representatives who understand the realities of the situation and how this impacts their area,” Arreola explains, adding that educators and community members can lobby their schools’ governing board to get friendly immigration policies passed, such as creating safe zones and protecting the rights and privacy of undocumented students.

Elizabeth Jiménez, for example, is an elementary school teacher in Westmont, Ill., and a school board member for Berwyn South 100, a district just west of Chicago with large populations of Latino, ELL, and immigrant students.

Jiménez was once undocumented herself. “I understand how it feels, however, I cannot imagine how it feels to be threatened, to be in danger of being forced to leave the only place that you know as your home … attacking our students, our neighbors, our friends and our family is un-American and immoral,” which is why she helped pass a school board resolution to create safe zones within the Berwyn school district.

The resolution passed, but more still needs to be done. “I need professional development for teachers,” says Jiménez, explaining that some teachers who don’t share the same experiences as their students don’t know what to do when parents of students get detained or deported.

Grassroots Organizing Continues

“Our fight is going to continue,” says Karen Reyes of Texas. “We still have to lobby for the Dream Act and lobby for a permanent solution because DACA was a band aid.”

Since September, Reyes has met with state and federal lawmakers. “Our biggest tool is sharing our story because once we humanize it we become more than just an acronym. I’ve met so many people who’ve said, ‘I had no idea you were undocumented.’’’ Reyes shares that many of the people who once spread anti-immigrant messages are now fighting for a permanent solution alongside her.

Additionally, the pre-kindergarten teacher has been involved with citizen drives sponsored by her local union, Education Austin, and United We Dream. “As educators we have this great niche where people trust teachers, and we can hold these trainings and reach a vast majority.”

Recently, Reyes helped organize a citizenship drive and assisted 112 permanent residents with their citizenship paperwork. “I now know there’s going to be 112 new citizens who will vote and that’s amazing,” she says.

Voting will be a critical aspect in realizing change. “We are watching,” says Elizabeth Jiménez. “Next election cycle, if you don’t support us, we’re going to campaign against you.”

Andrew Kim, originally from Georgia and currently a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University in Illinois, says the type of work Reyes, Arreola, and Jiménez do is critical and needs to be increased and sustained.

“We’re in a dire state,” he says, and suggests volunteering or donating money to legal aid clinics, advocacy groups, or non-profit organizations that provide direct services for undocumented immigrants. Kim underscores that the efforts of everyday people need to be more than just a “one-off.”

“A drastic shift needs to happen, from a one- or two-day volunteer trip to sustained active resistance and continued solidarity with organizations that are already on the ground providing direct resources,” he says, adding that “DACA isn’t dead, but we need to support these organizations.”

Karen Reyes agrees and says, “It’s all these little steps: building up the community, building up the people power, and showing people that they do have power—just because we’re undocumented doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice. We do have a voice and it matters just as much as anyone else’s voice.”

On the national stage, NEA filed amicus briefs in two lawsuits (University of California vs. U.S. Department of Homeland Security and New York vs. Trump/Batalla Vidal v. Nielson) urging the courts to strike down the actions of the Trump Administration to end DACA.

NEA’s amicus briefs contain the voices of dozens of educators from across the country who provided a view of why DACA is important and of the impact the threat of revocation of DACA has had from the frontlines of education.

  • Cindi Marten, the Superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, noted anxiety among students transcends immigration status, “Kids are worried about what’s going to happen to them. People think this is just . . . an immigration issue. That’s not what we’re seeing. Teachers and principals are saying that kids are scared for their friends. They’re also affected.”
  • Angelica Reyes, a DACA recipient and an A.P. History teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District where she was once a student says, that thanks to DACA “I could finally serve my community. And I could be an educator. DACA gave me a clear path to obtain the career I had been working towards.”
  • Kateri Simpson, a teacher in the Oakland Unified School District, has seen first-hand how DACA has motivated students to fully engage in school and work toward graduation because postgraduate opportunities like college were now within reach. Simpson says, “The basic sense of human dignity to be able to work for what you want—I don’t think can be underestimated.”

As Dreamers, educators, and families anxiously await a court decision, grassroots organizing continues around the country to pressure Congress to act.

Activism Cheat Sheet

  • Contact your elected leaders to renew DACA and demand comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship;
  • Call your local union and ask about partnering with organizations to hold Know Your Rights workshops. Download the Know Your Rights training to get started today;
  • Lobby your school board to pass immigrant-friendly policies. Start with NEA’s resolution on school safe zones;
  • Volunteer time and money to organizations that provide direct support to undocumented students;
  • If you can vote, vote for pro-immigrant candidates.



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Educators Push Teacher Pay Penalty Into National Spotlight -NEA Today


“Something has to change,” says Noah Karvelis, a teacher at Trios Rios Elementary School just outside of Phoenix. Only in his second year teaching, Karvelis has already seen too many colleagues walk away from the profession in a state where the salaries are so low. Arizona ranks last in teacher pay and in per-pupil spending.

“Being a teacher isn’t a viable career choice here any longer,” Karvelis says.“No one got into this profession to get rich. But we do expect to be able to make a living. And in Arizona, that’s not the case.”

Between 2014 and 2016, Arizona educators increasingly fled the state for jobs in neighboring California, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, where teachers make on average $10,000-15,000 more than their counterparts in Arizona.

“Each day that goes by without action by our elected officials, another teacher decides to leave Arizona,” said Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas.

In 2015, special education teacher Robin Edgerton left the Lake Havasu School District for a position in Needles, California, that doubled her salary. She commutes 40 minutes from her home in Lake Havasu.

“I went from living paycheck to paycheck, to where now I can buy a house,” Edgerton told The Arizona Republic. “With Arizona pay, it never would have happened.”

Over the past few weeks, educators across the state have mobilized to demand a 20 percent increase in teacher pay (which would still place Arizona below the national average) and a return of pre-recession school funding levels. With each unacceptable response from Governor Doug Ducey and the state legislature, the #RedforEd movement has grown stronger, joining educator-led protests in other states that have pushed low teacher pay and the divestment in public education into the national spotlight.

The walkout of Oklahoma educators has entered its second week and their counterparts in Kentucky continue to protest funding shortfalls and a bill that would decimate their pensions. The fire was lit in February by the historic nine-day strike by West Virginia educators (“That victory has been incredibly empowering for educators in Arizona,” said Karvelis). Since then, it has swept through other states as teachers and other school staff have become fed up with inadequate resources and the penalties they have to endure to stay in a profession they love.

The dramatic resurgence of the teacher pay issue specifically, says Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, has been simmering for some time.

“You’re seeing two factors—the debasement of the teaching profession and the erosion of wages and benefits to the point where educators are rightfully angry,” says Mishel. “They’re determined to protect their families and their profession.”

Video: Tulsa educator Jennifer Thornton supports herself and her teenage son on less than $2K a month.

A Man-Made Crisis

“Wages for teachers have been falling relative to comparable workers all over the country for many years,” says Mishel. This “teacher penalty” continues to grow,  forcing many educators out of the profession and making it less and less attractive to potential candidates.

And many who remain are forced to take second jobs just to make ends meet. A 2016 report from the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that about 16 percent of teachers across the nation work second jobs outside the school system.

According to a new EPI analysis by Sylvia Allegretto, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, teacher pay (adjusted for inflation) fell by $30 per week from 1996 to 2015, while pay for other college graduates increased by $124. Even when accounting for benefits, the teacher compensation gap widened by 9 percent, to 11.1 percent over that same time frame.

In Arizona, teachers earn just 63 cents on the dollar compared with other college graduates—the widest pay gap in the nation. The gap is 79 cents in Kentucky, 67 cents in Oklahoma, and 75 cents in West Virginia.

It’s a gap that is abated by collective bargaining, according to 2016 analysis by Allegretto and Mishel.  They found that in 2015, “teachers not represented by a union had a 25.5 percent wage gap—and the gap was 6 percentage points smaller for unionized teachers.” (See Mishel’s recent summary of the research into collective bargaining’s impact)

Since the successful strike in West Virginia, in which teachers and education support professionals pressured Governor Jim Justice to agree to a 5 percent pay raise, the message around education funding and teacher pay has clearly struck a chord with the general public.

“We’re seeing an outpouring of support and respect for teachers in these states,” says Mishel.

A new poll by CBS found that 68 percent of Americans say teachers in their community are paid too little—a majority that cuts across political party lines.

This community support is absolutely critical. For too long, lawmakers have degraded the teaching profession with myths, exaggerations that serve to undermine public education and advance a school privatization agenda.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin pulled out this rhetorical toolbox last week when she compared protesting teachers to “a teenager who wants a better car.”

There are clear cracks in the mantra that tax cuts are the panacea for everything and I think they’re going to grow wider as the public becomes more aware of their impact. How quickly this pans out remains to be seen but the signs are all there.” – Michael Leachman, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The remark was an offensive and clumsy attempt to divert attention away from the reckless tax cuts she and other politicians have championed that have decimated public services in their respective states.

“This is a man-made crisis,” NEA President Lily Eskeslen García told a rally of educators in Oklahoma City on April 2. “Tax giveaways to big business. Starving the revenue that pays for quality education—they’ve been digging this revenue hole for a dozen years.”

Michael Leachman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed the impact state tax cuts have had in Arizona and Oklahoma. While the individual tax breaks differ, the effect is the same: funding education has become increasingly difficult, which it turn makes it even harder to improve teacher pay.

Arizona and Oklahoma were cutting taxes before the Great Recession and haven’t stopped.

“While most states have gradually restored the school funding that they cut when the recession hit, Arizona and Oklahoma have not come close,” Leachman writes. “Most states have reduced average teacher pay since 2010, after adjusting for inflation, but Arizona and Oklahoma are among the deepest-cutting states.”

Although raising more revenue in these states is a daunting political challenge, the ground is shifting, says Leachman.

“There are clear cracks in the mantra that tax cuts are the panacea for everything and I think they’re going to grow wider as the public becomes more aware of their impact. How quickly this pans out remains to be seen but the signs are all there.”

No More Nickel-and-Diming

Arizona educators are all-too familiar with this stubborn allegiance to tax cuts for the wealthy. Derek Harris, a band teacher in Tucson, sat stunned at a meeting with lawmakers at the state capitol last month as educator protests began to gather momentum.

“They told us to our faces that the tax cuts were absolutely necessary and that the reason we had these budget shortfalls was because the district was spending the money fraudulently,” Harris recalls.

This spring the legislature stands ready to approve a capital gains tax cut that will benefit almost exclusively the 183 richest Arizonans — those making more than $5 million a year — to the tune of an extra $27,000 each.

Meanwhile, Governor Ducey has offered teachers a 1 percent pay raise.

Arizona teachers and education advocates march at the Arizona Capitol highlighting low teacher pay and school funding on March 28, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“It’s just another slap in the face,” says Harris.“It’s too much. We’re not going to be nickel-and-dimed anymore.”

On April 11, as part of the #RedforEd movement, teachers, education support professionals, and parents across the state are holding “walk-ins” to educate the community about the funding shortfalls facing public schools. Large-scale rallies will be held outside school buildings and are expected to attract huge crowds. The goal right now is to mobilize as much community support as possible to pressure Ducey—who on Tuesday dismissed #RedforEd as “political theater”—and the legislature to change course.

In addition to the 20 percent salary increase for teachers and the restoration of school funding to 2008 levels (approx. $1 billion), educators are also demanding competitive pay for all education support staff, a permanent salary structure that includes annual raises, and no new tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average.

What happens next is up to the legislature. If they take no action, lawmakers should not expect educators to put down the megaphone and go home, says Joe Thomas, president of AEA. “I  have not seen this many teachers this frustrated since I’ve been in Arizona.”

Educators will only be more empowered and determined to stand up for their students and their profession, adds Noah Karvelis.

“We are no longer willing to come to school each day unable to do the job that we love so much. An entire generation of students have not been given the education that they deserve. That’s devastating to all of us.”



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Educators Take to the Streets in Oklahoma and Kentucky


The crowd cheers during a rally at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Monday, April 2, 2018. Educators were holding separate protests in Oklahoma and Kentucky on Monday to voice dissatisfaction with issues like pay and pensions. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

More than 30,000 angry and frustrated educators from across Oklahoma walked out of schools and swarmed the state Capitol on Monday to demand that state lawmakers invest in public education, while thousands more in Kentucky also rallied to protest legislative neglect.

“Why are we walking? There are 700,000 reasons why! Our students deserve better,” said Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) President Alicia Priest in a video statement. “We’ve all heard stories from students, parents, and teachers affected by 11 years of [budget] cuts to our classrooms. They see broken chairs in classrooms, outdated textbooks that are duct-taped together, and class sizes that have ballooned.”

Meanwhile, as state lawmakers turn their backs on students and educators, Oklahoma teachers are selling plasma to make ends meet.

“This is a man-made crisis,” echoed NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, who joined Oklahoma teachers in their protests Monday.

“You are part of a movement that cannot be stopped,” Eskelsen García told the crowd. “For a dozen years, we sent emails and letters and phone calls and visits. For years, we’ve explained what was happening as they ignored the needs of public schools. And they ignored us. And now we are taking to the streets.”

Oklahomans aren’t the only ones who are fed up with state lawmakers who pay lip-service to public education. On Monday, thousands of protesting Kentucky educators gathered in Frankfort alongside NEA Vice President Becky Pringle to demand increased investment in schools and to decry a state bill that would decimate their pension. And, in Arizona, too, thousands of educators rallied in Phoenix this weekend to call for increased funding and pay raises.

Many educators are looking for inspiration in West Virginia, where teachers and education support professionals in a massive, sustained show of strength and solidarity walked out in every one of the state’s 55 counties for nine days last month, forcing reluctant state lawmakers to invest in teacher pay and commit to reducing health insurance costs.

“There’s a tipping point where people say enough is enough, we need to make some noise,” Eskelsen García told MSNBC on Monday. “We need to make everybody see what’s happening to our students.”

The frustration has been building for years, as state lawmakers have increasingly cut funding for public schools rather than raise revenues to pay for the services that students need. Arizona is the worst: between 2008 and 2015, lawmakers cut per-student funding by 36.6 percent, according to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In Oklahoma, it fell 15.6 percent; and, in Kentucky, 5.9 percent.

“You are in the front of the lines to ensure your students have the kind of education that inspires their imaginations and unleashes their brilliance. So don’t be shy about your business. Don’t be afraid of your power”- NEA Vice President Becky Pringle

As a result, in 2016, Arizona’s average teacher pay was last in the nation, while Oklahoma’s ranked 47th, according to the NEA Rankings and Estimates report. In both states, teachers can make $10,000 or $15,000 more just by driving across state lines. This makes it extremely difficult for principals or superintendents to hold onto qualified teachers, even as research shows that a well-qualified teacher is the key to student success.

But this uprising of educators isn’t just about teacher pay. It’s about investing in public school students. Last week, Oklahoma lawmakers put together a funding bill that union leaders called a “down payment” on education. “It’s enough to buy about one textbook per student, and our kids need a whole lot more than one textbook,” said Priest. “They need art and music and advanced classes, smaller class sizes and everything else they’ve lost in the past 10 years of budget cuts. One textbook per child isn’t going to cut it. The legislature needs to raise more revenue for our children.”

In Arizona, teachers are calling for a $20,000 pay raise, and also for education funding to be restored to pre-recession 2008 levels. “Every single kid that I’ve ever had deserves more than this,” said Arizona Education Association member Noah Karvelis, an organizer of Arizona Educators United, to NPR. “There are kids who are not being given a fair chance here.”

In Kentucky, schools in 20 counties closed last week and many closed on Monday because of teacher protests over pensions. Last week, House and Senate lawmakers passed a surprise bill that will move all new teachers into a 401K-style retirement plan with no guaranteed returns. It was originally filed as a wastewater services bill, but changed without public notice to a pension bill. The legislative bait-and-switch made it impossible for Kentucky educators to speak to legislators about their opinions on it.

Meanwhile, Kentucky also has suffered cuts in education funding. On Monday, Pringle told Kentucky educators: “You are in the front of the lines to ensure your students have the kind of education that inspires their imaginations and unleashes their brilliance. So don’t be shy about your business. Don’t be afraid of your power. My question this morning to you is, ‘What are you prepared to do?’”





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Wasn’t Black History Month Last Month?


The shortest month of the year has come and gone, as has the celebration of Black History Month when we mark the many contributions African Americans have made to our history, culture, and society. But we’re almost two decades into the 21st Century and it’s long past time to incorporate and highlight the achievements of African Americans into year-round curriculum. Black history is American history.

NEA Today sat down to talk about Black History Month with Deborah Menkart, executive director, and Allyson Criner Brown, associate director, of Teaching For Change, a social justice education organization that encourages teachers and students to question and re-think the world inside and outside their classrooms, build a more equitable and multicultural society, and become active global citizens.

Why do you feel it is important to show students that Black history should not only be taught, celebrated, and acknowledged in February but year-round?

ACB: Concentrating Black history into a month perpetuates traditional narratives of whiteness as the norm in the United States, with the contributions of people of color on the side. Focusing on Black history only in February also inherently limits what students will learn since Black history spans more than 400 years, from the colonies to today.

Do you think that students are more receptive and engaged in lessons that involve their own ancestry as well as relevant issues that many face today such as excessive use of force by police and deportation? 

DM: Students are more engaged and successful when the lessons connect with — and help them explore — their own lived experiences, including race, ethnicity, class, gender, and geographic area. This is supported by a Stanford University study released in 2015 that shows the benefits of ethnic studies in middle and high school. Also, by examining the social and political issues that affect them, students can learn about the historical context and consider collective solutions.

What can educators do to show students that Black history is actually American History and shouldn’t be separated but combined?

ACB: Educators can start by teaching Black history all year long as U.S. history. We have to interweave timelines, events, people, and perspectives – and not just those of Black Americans. If you are teaching an accurate narrative of U.S. history, then African American, Native American, Latino, Asian American, and European American history should be front and center throughout.

How has the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement impacted students?

DM: In many classrooms, the D.C. Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools opened a dialogue that led to deeper understanding of the Movement for Black Lives and the 13 principles of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Going beyond the all too typical “I have a dream” lessons on the Civil Rights Movement, students learned about Bayard Rustin, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Black Power, Dr. Martin Luther King’s stand on the war and labor, and much more. A second grader remarked, “Black Lives Matter is like the Civil Rights Movement.”

Do you believe this movement is political? 

ACB: Yes, everything in education is political. To not teach accurate history, to leave out Black history and other people of color, to use a ‘neutral’ approach to teaching history, are also political acts. At Teaching for Change, we believe that education should provide opportunities to collectively envision just and fair schools, communities, and the larger society; and that education should inspire and empower us to do the necessary work to make those visions come true. As Lerone Bennett Jr. said, “An educator in a system of oppression is either a revolutionary or an oppressor.” 

How can we challenge traditional history lessons and show students the significant impact people of color have always had on the shaping of our nation?

DM: Students will learn that the traditional narrative of U.S. history, which places people of color in the margins or refers to diversity as a new phenomenon, is wrong. An honest examination of U.S. history demonstrates the central role that Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians have played since throughout U.S. history. This is true for the labor and ingenuity that has built this country, in addition to our democratic traditions. For example, public schooling for white and Black students in the South resulted from legislation by African American elected leaders during the Reconstruction era. (Tragically, when Reconstruction was violently ended by white supremacists, African Americans were then denied equal access to public schooling. White students of all economic classes continued to benefit from the policies that African Americans had fought for.)

There are countless examples of the role of people of color being erased from history. For example, the traditional narrative often credits President Abraham Lincoln for “freeing the slaves.” Missing is the central role of the enslaved in securing their own freedom. Also missing is the role that African American labor, skills, and knowledge played in building the entire economy of the United States during slavery and beyond. This stolen labor has yet to be compensated and has a direct impact on racial inequities today. If students learned the full scope of this theft, there would be greater understanding of the demand for reparations today. The invisibility continues today.

Why do you think teachers focus so heavily on the household names of leaders from Civil Rights movements and slavery when there are many more luminaries that students should know about other than renowned figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman?

ACB: Test-driven instruction, textbooks, and tradition are among the factors explaining why teachers focus so heavily on the household names of leaders from the Civil Rights movement and slavery. Teachers often also have a lack of knowledge themselves about Black history and are repeating many of the names they learned about in textbooks. It’s also worth noting that this country has a tradition of creating and elevating heroes. Now, many of the people we celebrate – Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to name the key figures – should be lauded for their life’s work. However, hero celebration – in Black history – takes away from our understanding and appreciation of the role everyday people played in creating change in this country. How will students see their role in our democracy if we teach them that the occasional ‘heroes’ we learn about in U.S. history are the only people who affect change in this country?

Where is a good place to start for educators who wish to broaden their curriculum? 

DM: This year we are focusing on two periods of history. We encourage teachers to check out our Zinn Education Project (with Rethinking Schools­) campaign to Teach Reconstruction and our online resources for our publication, Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching.

NEA Resources:

NEA EdJustice Black Lives Matter at School

The “Correct(ed)” Series 



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Standing Up for the Rights and Freedoms of Working People to Organize


Photo: Jay Mallin

Union and non-union workers from across the nation stood together and raised a strong collective voice Monday morning outside the U. S. Supreme Court in their fight for working people’s right to join unions.

At issue in the Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) case being argued inside the courtroom is the question of whether government employees who are covered by and benefit from a union contract, though not members of the union, should have to contribute to the union’s costs for contract negotiations.

Outside of the courtroom, one speaker after another commented on the impact Janus could have on public employee unions and the need to beat back wealthy special interests and their attack on workers and communities.

“The Janus case is extremely harmful to labor,” said Terrence Wise, a fast food worker from Kansas City, Mo., and labor leader with Fight for $15, an organization advocating to raise the national minimum wage. “In the words of Abraham Lincoln, ‘All that harms labor is treason to America.’”

When the Rev. Michael Seavey from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Ore., took the podium, he quoted Pope Francis: “There is no good society without a good union.”

“A true community transforms society,” the reverend said. “Go back home and form those true communities.”

The Rev. Seavey and Wise were among a dozen speakers representing a wide range of social justice, civil rights and labor organizations. Another speaker, kindergarten teacher Kember Kane from Silver Spring, Md., said it is through negotiating collectively that educators can advocate for the conditions that support student learning such as safe schools, small class sizes, and for resources that help educators do their jobs.

“The Janus case is a threat not just to working people but to children themselves,” said Kane, a member of the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA). “The National Education Association (NEA) is built on unity. NEA advocates for all of our needs and for all of us.”

Make no mistake about it, we are living in a system that is rigged to benefit special interests and billionaires at the expense of American working people.” – NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

A media conference was also held on the court’s plaza following the conclusion of oral arguments. Featured were attorneys arguing on behalf of AFSCME and working Americans, as well as for plaintiff Mark Janus, primarily supported by the National Right to Work Legal Foundation. Janus is an Illinois state employee who is suing AFSCME while asking the court to reconsider long-standing rules that have made it possible for people to stand together with one voice at work and in their communities.

Illinois is one of 23 states that allow unions to charge “fair share fees.” At job sites, workers vote on whether or not to form a union in the workplace. Even if a majority votes for a union, workers who don’t want to join don’t have to, they just pay a reduced “fair share fee” or “agency fee” to cover the cost of bargaining and representation that the union is legally required to provide for all workers. Such fees are reduced amounts charged to workers who opt out of union membership yet continue to receive the union representation and bargaining services that unions provide for the benefit of all employees. These fees are not charged for any political purposes.

Janus argues that these fees violate his First Amendment rights on the theory that collective bargaining is inherently political and therefore requiring him to pay the fee is no different than forcing him to pay for political activity he disagrees with. But the Court has never found collective bargaining to be equivalent to straight up political activity. And Janus arguments on that score seem to be a stalking horse for attacking strong unions and the benefits they provide workers.

A Rigged System

In the nation’s 27 right-to-work states, where employees are not obligated to join a union as a condition of employment, union density is significantly lower and, as a result, educators have less negotiating power to advocate for student learning conditions. According to several speakers, as nurses, educators, firefighters, sanitation workers, and other public employees enjoy the benefits, job security, and other protections the union negotiates, it is only fair that all employees contribute to the cost of securing those benefits and protections.

“Today, thousands of working people rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court and around the country to send a message that, whatever the decision in this case, these oligarchs won’t stop working families from realizing our American dream,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. “Make no mistake about it, we are living in a system that is rigged to benefit special interests and billionaires at the expense of American working people.”

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said at the post-hearing conference that the case was not about impinging anyone’s First Amendment rights.

janus supreme court

Photo: Jay Mallin

“This is a case where there are a group of very well-funded right-wing extremists that want to eliminate unions throughout this country,” Madigan said. “If that happens we are going to see an even steeper decline in the middle class and we’re going to see an even greater economic inequality than we already have.”

The corporate special interests behind this case are, according to Eskelsen Garcia, “dead set on eliminating the rights and freedoms of working people to organize, to negotiate collectively and to have any voice in working to better their lives. It is no shock to most that is has become harder and harder for working people to get ahead and provide stability for their families.”

In 2016, a similar case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, asked the court to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education — the 1977 case in which the court unanimously upheld fair share fees that support collective bargaining. Each state was left to decide for itself whether to permit such fees.

A decision in the Janus case is expected in June, before the court adjourns. The deciding vote might be the Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch. The other justices split 4 to 4 in the Friedrichs case, which was decided after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

If the court bans fair share, it will mean that some workers will have to pay for the benefits enjoyed by all workers. Also, such a decision will make it harder for teachers, firefighters, nurses and other public service workers to negotiate for decent wages and benefits. Every public employee who benefits from a negotiated contract should contribute to the costs of securing that contract.

Lee Saunders, president of the AFSCME, the nation’s largest public employee union and the defendant in the Janus case, said the intention behind the legal action was to gut the power of progressive forces.

“The billionaires and corporate special interests behind this case don’t believe we should have a seat at the table,” Saunders said.

Conservative organizations, think tanks, and other right-wing activists backed by corporate donors including the Koch brothers, the family of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and the Bradley Foundation, have long been preparing for a case like Janus as part of a larger campaign to break unions. Secretary DeVos, a staunch proponent of reducing the power of teachers’ unions attended courtroom proceedings.

Despite the potential for setbacks from Janus and other attacks, NEA and its affiliates will remain the leading voices of the education professions and will continue to work on behalf of students and public education.

For more, visit neatoday.org/janus.



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Politicians Create Havoc With Class Size Law, Hit Wall of Opposition


Educators across the country have been advocating for smaller class sizes for more than a decade because, as research has continually shown, class size is a key determinant of student outcomes. So when a state legislature actually passes a bill mandating smaller class sizes in every K-3 classroom in every district, that might be welcome news.

But if that requirement doesn’t attach the necessary funding and imposes an inflexible timeline, the result – as educators in North Carolina can tell you – is nothing but chaos.

In spring 2016, the GOP-led General Assembly slipped a provision into a state budget bill that lowered maximum K-3 class sizes from 24 students to between 19 and 21 students, depending on the grade level. So far so good. But the new policy was slated to go into effect in the 2017-18 school year, giving districts precious little time to implement the mandate.

And the necessary funding to hire new staff and build new classrooms? That was nowhere to be found.

According to an analysis by the North Carolina Justice Center, fully-funding the necessary increase in staff (4,375 new teachers) would cost $304 million statewide – not to mention the additional tens of millions of dollars for new classroom construction.

Why would they do this? It makes sense when you couple this move with the push to privatize public education in the state. This is about creating chaos and disruption in our public schools, to make them look less desirable to parents” – Todd Warren, Guilford County Association of Educators

It was an unfunded mandate, said Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), and compliance would force districts to make deep cuts to programs and staff. “That’s what we call a false choice,” said Jewell.

Lobbying from NCAE was instrumental in persuading the General Assembly to delay the mandate until 2018-19, but once again no additional funding was allocated. With the deadline looming, districts spent the better part of the school year scrambling to come up with plans to defray the costs and comply with the mandate.

To help pay for new teachers, districts were faced with placing so-called “enhancement” positions – arts, music, physical education, and technology teachers – on the chopping block. Without the money or time for new classroom construction, schools would have to resort to trailers or other temporary classrooms, including locker rooms or cafeterias to house students. Another option was packing more students into grade 4-8 classrooms to free up more teachers for K-3.

“The plan really threw us into budgetary and logistical chaos at the local level,” says Todd Warren, a Spanish teacher in Guilford County, the third-largest district in North Carolina.

Just a case of lawmakers oblivious to the consequences of unleashing an unfunded mandate on a school system already wreaked by budget cuts? Not likely, says Warren, who is also president of the Guilford County Association of Educators.

“Why would they do this? It makes sense when you couple this move with the push to privatize public education in the state,” explains Warren. “This is about creating chaos and disruption in our public schools, to make them look less desirable to parents who may be looking at that charter school down the street as an alternative.”

Setting Public Schools On Fire

The past seven years in North Carolina, says Kris Nordstrom of the North Carolina Justice Center, have seen the steady deterioration of the state’s reputation for academic excellence.

“It’s been dominated by a series of not just bad policies, but bad policies that are incredibly poorly crafted,” explains Nordstrom. “Nearly all initiatives were moved through the legislature in a way to avoid debate and outside input from education stakeholders. The result has been stagnant student performance and increased achievement gaps.”

According to the 2018 Quality Counts Report Card released in January by Education Week, the state has dropped to 40th in the nation. As recently as 2011, North Carolina ranked 19th, the same year Republicans took control of the state legislature and proceeded to slash education spending (per-pupil funding has plummeted to 43rd, $3,000 below the national average), promoted unaccountable charter schools and school voucher programs, and eliminated due-process rights for teachers.

In 2017, the General Assembly passed another around of tax cuts, reducing the corporate income tax rate from 3 percent to 2.5 percent –  $100 million in revenue that could have been allocated to help schools adjust to smaller class sizes.

Against this backdrop, it’s difficult to believe lawmakers were merely blindsided by the “unintended circumstances” of an unfunded mandate.

“They’re just being more stealth in the way they create dissatisfaction with our public schools,” says Michelle Burton, a library media specialist in Durham County. “Who doesn’t want smaller class sizes, right? But they’re just using a common sense position to cloud what was an unfunded mandate that was going to cause disruption and result in a lot of teachers losing their jobs.”

Burton is particularly outraged at the term “enhancement positions” to describe arts, music, and physical education teachers.

Since the passage of the unfunded class size mandate in 2016, educators and parents in North Carolina have kept up the pressure on lawmakers to reverse course.

“Calling those key positions ‘enhancements’ makes them easier to cut. They’re trying to make them somehow dispensable. But we know how important they are to a well-rounded education,” Burton says.

On a brutally cold Saturday afternoon in January, Burton joined roughly 300 educators and parents at a rally in Raleigh, organized by NCAE and parent advocacy groups, to pressure the General Assembly to act. Public school advocates across the state joined the mobilization against the mandate, signing petitions, talking to lawmakers, and taking to social media to #StopClassSizeChaos.

Educators had an ally in Gov. Roy Cooper, who called the mandate “artificial class size change—one that shrinks classes on paper but in reality hurts students and teachers.”

“The pushback from NCAE and parent groups has been effective,” says Warren. ” I think some of the legislators began getting nervous about their prospects in the 2018 election if they didn’t address the concerns.”

Amid the mounting outrage, lawmakers, who had hoped to delay action until May, called a special session in early February to try to undo the mess they created.

“This body set fire to our public schools and now we are the firefighters,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, who opposed the mandate.

Breathing Room –  For Now

On February 8, lawmakers announced a proposal to phase-in smaller class sizes over the next four years instead of lowering them at once in 2018-19. During that time, $61 million a year will be included to help school districts pay for art, music, and physical education teachers.

NCAE President Mark Jewell called the revision a step in the right direction that would, at least for the time being, allow schools to breathe a little easier.

“The phased-in plan has always been the more reasonable approach for local school districts, but whether the resources are adequate is still a question mark,” Jewell cautioned. “This doesn’t address the other class size challenges in higher grades, and it doesn’t provide funding for much-needed school construction, which many local districts will find a significant challenge.”

Jewell says any plan to reduce class size needs to be strategic, fully-funded, and involve educators at every step of the process. The issue is too important to be done haphazardly. “Class size affects all levels of the public education spectrum,” he said.

Although North Carolina’s public schools are still facing a largely unfunded mandate, Todd Warren believes the mobilization by educators and parents was critical in staving off the chaos that was on the verge of engulfing the entire system.

“Parents, teachers, NCAE, PTAs, and advocacy groups forced the General Assembly to take action that they otherwise would not have. Our organizing relationships and infrastructure are responding and growing more effective,” says Warren. “We’ll keep working and  redoubling our efforts.”



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U.S. Students’ Disturbing Lack of Knowledge About Slavery


Only 8 percent of U.S. high school seniors can identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War, according to a new report released by the Teaching Tolerance Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Teaching Tolerance surveyed U.S. high school seniors and social studies teachers, analyzed a selection of state content standards, and reviewed 10 popular U.S. history textbooks to evaluate how slavey – the nation’s “original sin” – was being taught in the nation’s schools.

The verdict: “It’s clear that the United States is still struggling with how to talk about the history of slavery and its aftermath.”

The findings are troubling, says Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello, because “learning about slavery is essential for us to bridge the racial differences that continue to divide our nation.”

“Schools must do a better job of teaching American slavery and all the ways it continues to impact American society, including poverty rates, mass incarceration and education,” said Costello, a former history teacher. “This report places an urgent call on educators, curriculum writers and policy makers to confront the harsh realities of slavery and racial injustice.”

As part of the study, Teaching Tolerance administered a multiple choice survey to 1,000 high school students. The results revealed a disturbing lack of knowledge about the basic facts surrounding slavery. In addition to being unable to correctly cite slavery as the central cause of the Civil War (almost half of the respondents selected “to protest taxes on imported goods”), two-thirds don’t know that it took a constitutional amendment to formally end slavery. Overall, not one question on the survey was answered correctly by 2/3 or more of the students.

Teaching Tolerance also surveyed 1700 teachers on their attitudes on teaching slavery. Almost all teachers (97 percent) agree that learning about slavery is essential to understanding American history. Forty percent of teachers, however, believe their state offers insufficient support for teaching about slavery, and 58 percent find their textbooks inadequate.

Although a high percentage of educators claim they are comfortable talking about slavery in their classroom, the report found that their “responses to open-ended questions reveal profound unease around the topic.”

For example, one teacher from Washington state told the reseaerchers, “I dislike that it can turn into a race issue, although there are other forms of modern slavery continuing in the present day.” Another expressed concern that “it is challenging to establish a classroom in which race can be talked about openly. They are ready to label each other as ’racist.’”

As Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Associate Professor of History at Ohio State University, makes clear in the preface to the report, teaching slavery is a challenge:

“Slavery is hard history. It is hard to comprehend the inhumanity that defined it. It is hard to discuss the violence that sustained it. It is hard to teach the ideology of white supremacy that justified it. And it is hard to learn about those who abided it. “We the people have a deep-seated aversion to hard history because we are uncomfortable with the implications it raises about the past as well as the present.”

Resources are not the issue. An already abundant supply of online materials are augmented by centers and museums dedicated to the study and teaching of slavery. What’s missing is a national consensus and leadership that leaves many teachers, despite their enthusiasm for the subject, ill-equipped to design let alone implement sound pedagogical practices.

Instead, schools turn to specific practices or approaches that miss the mark. Teachers, when asked by the researchers about some of their favorite classroom strategies, would often describe classroom simulations, which, for a subject like slavery, can be a risky and ineffective approach. Also, slavery is usually presented as an exclusively southern institution, which is inaccurate. And too often we skate over how the racist ideology of white supremacy was used to justify and reinforce slavery.

The tendency not to delve into the nation’s disturbing past is a sizable obstacle, writes David Blight in the introduction to the report. It’s a need “to conceive of and understand our history as ‘progress,’ as the story of a people and a nation that always sought the improvement of mankind, the advancement of liberty and justice, the broadening of pursuits of happiness for all.”

Removing our collective blinders on the integral role white supremacy and slavery has played in the building of the nation first requires a national conversation. By doing a much better job of teaching about slavery, schools can help create a climate for such a dialogue.

Teaching Tolerance assembled an advisory board of distinguished scholars, and partnered with teachers and institutions of higher education, to develop a framework and offer a set of recommendations for teaching about slavery. These include fully integrating American slavery into lessons about U.S. history, expanding the use of original historical documents, improving textbooks, and strengthening the curriculum on topics involving slavery.

Read the complete report here.

Illustration: Teaching Tolerance, Southern Poverty Law Center

 



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How did Graduate Students Get a Win From the Tax Bill?


A long list of Americans will lose in the GOP tax law—homeowners, retirees, people with chronic illnesses, people who don’t run hedge funds or own private jets…and many fought hard to protect themselves from a plan that puts the richest Americans first.

Most were ignored by Congress. But one often overlooked group, with the support of NEA and its affiliates, managed to protect itself: the graduate assistants.

“It was a win, so hopefully it gives people some hope that they have a voice in political issues, and that their voice actually matters,” said Brianne Pragg, chief organizer of the NEA-affiliated Coalition of Graduate Employees (CGE) at Penn State University. “And also, hopefully, we can build on this in the future.”

The original tax bill, passed by the U.S. House in December, would have taxed graduate assistants (GAs), also known as grad students or grad employees, on the value of the tuition grants or remissions that they commonly receive. At Penn State, where GAs account for nearly half of the instructional workforce and do the lion’s share of research in its labs, the average tax bill would have increased from $1,092 to $3,182.

Within days of the bill’s introduction, NEA members, leaders, lobbyists, and allies mobilized. Calling it “devastating for higher education,” the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS) helped launch an all-out attack on its progress, fueled by social media, involving tens of thousands of phone calls to Capitol Hill and countless visits to local Congressional offices.

Many listened. Days before the final House vote, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, an Illinois Republican whose district includes the University of Illinois, delivered a letter to GOP leaders, co-signed by 25 other Republicans, including Glen Thompson from Penn State’s district, asking for the GAs to be exempted. When the final GOP bill was approved by Republicans in late December, the GAs were no longer a target.

What happened? And what can educators and their advocates learn from their success for the next legislative battle?

A Master Class in Political Power

In Tampa Bay, at the University of South Florida (USF), Erin Sauer and Marcy Cockrell first heard about the bill from another grad student, who had heard about it from a department colleague. The United Faculty of Florida-USF-Graduate Assistants United co-presidents immediately reached out to their statewide union, the United Faculty of Florida, and to their members.

Sauer and Cockrell spoke to reporters. They used social media—Facebook and Twitter—to spread awareness of the tax bill, and emailed more than 2,000 GAs at USF, urging them to contact Congressional offices. They provided simple scripts for phone calls and emails. And they met personally with staff in two U.S. House district offices, both Democrat and Republican, to explain what GAs do and how the bill would affect their work at USF and the economics of the Tampa Bay region.

Meanwhile, GAs across the country—alerted by their national unions or by the NAGPS—did the same. Facebook and Twitter blew up with grad students posts and photos, and the calls kept coming.

“It seemed very organic, but in reality it was very strategic,” says Samantha Hernandez, director of legislative affairs at NAGPS, which coordinated weekly calls among GA leaders and several “call-in” days to Congress, and made sure sure that GAs were consistent and unified in their message.

Key lessons from their experience include:

  • Use social media to build awareness. The bill moved quickly. Facebook and Twitter matched its pace, spreading awareness of the bill and its implications. “I have mixed feelings on whether social media can mobilize people, but it is very successful in at least making people aware of an issue,” says Pragg.
  • Make the calls. The first NAGPS national call-in day to Congress delivered more than 5,000 recorded calls. Meanwhile, NAGPS also coordinated call-in days for specific states, and many local union chapters hosted their own calls. The calls are tallied and logged by Congressional offices, and serve as a gauge to lawmakers of voters’ interest.
  • Be consistent with your message, but tailor it to your audience. When Sauer and Cockrell met with an aide to Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, they stressed how the bill would damage Tampa Bay economics. (Key point: USF’s research labs—and its 2,200 GAs—bring millions of dollars to Tampa Bay!) When they met with Democrat Rep. Charlie Crist’s staff, they also talked about how poor and middle-class Floridians would be shut out of USF’s programs and cut off from careers that require graduate degrees, ranging from school counseling to marine science.

This isn’t the first or last time that graduate assistants, or other college students, staff and faculty, will need to get political. The reauthorization of the federal Higher Education Act could be taken up by Congress in 2018, while statehouses continue to struggle to adequately fund their public colleges and universities. “There is no lack of legislative issues in Florida,” says Sauer.

“This was good practice.”



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The High Cost of Random Student Searches


(AP Photo/The Mountain Press, Curt Habraken)

Random student searches “… are not random,” wrote Los Angeles high school senior Grace Hamilton in October.

In her Advanced Placement classes, Hamilton isn’t searched for weapons. But in her regular classes, which are attended mostly by Latino students, she is. And, in meetings with students from all over the city, Hamilton has heard that Black students also are targeted with more frequency, as are Muslim students.

Although L.A. school officials may contend that random searches make their schools safer, “the only purpose these ‘random’ searches serve is to criminalize, traumatize, and degrade racial and ethnic groups in schools,” writes Hamilton, a leader of L.A. Students Deserve, a grassroots organization of parents, students and educators who seek to end the Los Angeles Unified School District policy that, since 2011, has required teachers and education support professionals to do daily random metal-detector wand searches on students in every L.A. middle and high school.

In May, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other community organizations in calling on school officials to put in place an immediate moratorium on its random search policy. The policy runs counter to educators’ goals around positive learning environments, they said.

“Our concern is that so-called ‘random wanding’ alienates students, discourages them from attending school, creates a negative environment that undermines trust and respect, runs counter to restorative justice practices, and effectively treats children as young as 10 years old as criminal suspects,” they wrote.

These kinds of searches, while legal, may be among the practices that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, which disproportionately sends Black and Latino students, both boys and girls, as well as students with disabilities, into the criminal justice system. (Join thousands of NEA educators in signing the NEA pledge to end the school-to-prison pipeline.)

In their letter to Los Angeles School Board President Steve Zimmer, L.A. educators encouraged school officials to focus instead on restorative practices, which have been shown to help students feel more respected and empowered, and to support a positive school climate. The district also should hire more school counselors and community intervention workers, they said.

Restorative approaches is an approach that NEA strongly supports, and is actively working to sow in schools across the U.S. Check out NEA’s guide for educators around restorative practices, and read more about how teachers have put them into place.

About  4 percent of U.S schools used random metal-detector searches in 2014, down from 7 percent in 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. A much more common tactic is drug-sniffing dog searches—57 percent of high schools did this in 2014, according to NCES. The most common strategies—and ones that can be equally applied to every student, and therefore avoid bias or racism—are controlled access to schools and security monitors (about 90 percent.)

In October, a researcher from the UCLA Civil Rights Project presented to the L.A. school board on the results of the “random” metal-detector searches in L.A. schools. After reviewing two years of logbooks, researcher Amir Whitaker found that weapons were discovered in 0.5 percent of searches, L.A. Weekly reported.

No guns were found, Whitaker reported.



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‘White Privilege Permeates Education’: Q&A With Anti-Racist, White Educator


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?

While some educators may care about equity and justice, they’re overwhelmed with teaching and other responsibilities. How do you manage?

TJ: That’s a very real thing: being asked to do too much. I’ve had to fight for our district and school to value this work and start having some compensation for it. It doesn’t make you have less things to do, but at least it’s starting to feel valued. Get the administration and parents invested so you’re not the only one to bear the burden. I empathize with educators who say they “don’t have the space to do this work,” but as an educator, I don’t accept it either. This work needs to be done. We’re in the next wave of the civil rights movement. We have a chance to rectify centuries of systemic oppression in education. Anyone who believes in this work needs to put in the effort.

Are white educators some of the best allies in this fight?

TJ: I don’t know if they’re the best allies. I certainly think they’re a necessary ally because they make up over 80 percent of the teaching population. I’ve gotten audiences with people that staff of color have been trying to do for a while, a byproduct of privilege and oppression: people are willing to listen to white educators more. So how can you amplify the stories of people of color? If we can get involved and overwhelmingly say “this needs to change,” then that would create a critical mass—and we can change our system.

“The Profound Impact One Teacher, In One Moment, Can Have on the Life of a Child is Beyond Measure”

by Michael Simanga, PhD – activist, artist, author, and lecturer

From infancy to what was then Jr. High school, I grew up in an all-black neighborhood on Detroit’s west side. I went to an elementary school named after a notorious U.S. Calvary general, George Armstrong Custer. Inside those walls were teachers we revered. They had college degrees and some of them told us tales of their travel to other countries. They seemed more sophisticated and worldly than the factory laborers and domestic workers or telephone operators and other working class folk whose children we went to school with. They had large vocabularies and used language in a way that was uncommon but not at all haughty.

Most of them lived in our community and we’d see them in the store or library or church. But more than any other reason, we revered them because it was clear they loved us and wanted the best for us. Not one time can I recall one of those teachers saying something to us that punched a hole in our humanity or demeaned us while damning us to some lower place in society. They lifted us up and demanded we rise to a high standard of learning and personhood.

Music was always calling me. My father introduced us to Jazz, my mother took us to see the free performances of the symphony in the park, and Motown was everywhere. I started playing trumpet in the 3rd grade and was exceptional at it. My teacher was a very kind and brilliant Polish man who’d endured the horror of Nazism in World War II.

In 7th grade my family bought a house in Northwest Detroit, a predominantly white neighborhood where black families were just beginning to beginning to move. I told my music teacher we were leaving and he wrote a letter to the music teacher at the new school extolling my musical abilities and advanced technique on the trumpet.

Michael Simanga, PhD

Michael Simanga, PhD

The only black student and the new student, my apprehension was pretty high as I entered class. It was mitigated by the piece of paper in my pocket that would tell this teacher, this white male teacher that I should be in an advanced music class. I extended the letter and told him my teacher sent it for him. He took the envelope from my hand, ripped it in half without opening it, and dropped it in the trash while saying, “You have to start in a ‘beginners’ class.”  He turned back to the white students and left me standing in front of the class full of rage. That day after school I placed my trumpet in the closet and never played music again.

The profound impact one teacher, in one moment, can have on the life of a child is beyond measure. As I was reading the interview with Terry Jess, it reminded me of the power and importance of teachers who consciously confront and wrestle with narratives and practices that clothe black children and girl children, gay children and others in layers of inferiority.

In an endless war with thousands of battles the white teacher who challenges societal, systemic and personal racism has made a decision to live outside the borders of the privilege of being white while still having those privileges bestowed upon them. This is a dilemma that comes through in the Q&A with Terry Jess, which gives us a glimpse of the endless war with thousands of big and small battles for a just society.  It requires us as teachers to ask, “what am I here to learn from my students, their community and history?”

The anti-racist work that Jess describes is essential because racism that black people experience and fight in every aspect of life has to be confronted by white people in order for real alliances for social justice to exist. It is tiresome and it will always be painful.

Challenging racism and sexism requires significant change in our beliefs and behavior. It is an unyielding demand for change that begins in our conception of two interrelated ideas. First, human rights. Who is worthy of them and who gets to decide? How is power used to enforce those decisions and who benefits? Second, civil rights. Who gets to be a citizen of the U.S.? Who decides, based on what? How is power used to enforced the decision and who benefits?

Centering social justice practice on those two questions in our teaching and work against racism, allows us to present a common framework to understand the issues and also for addressing the injustice. Ultimately, the civil rights movement was successful because it exposed the denial of civil rights to the black citizens of the U.S. as unconstitutional and unsustainable. It challenged the core belief held by a majority of white Americans that black people were not deserving of civil rights even though they were citizens.

Centering social justice work on the issues of human rights and civil rights also gives us a set of common ideas to aspire to collectively. It makes it easier elevate the discussion of racism from the practice of some individuals to an understanding of it as a major form of violence in the lives of those who are its target. Racism is a violation of our humanity and human rights. It is a violation of our citizenship and our civil rights. This contextualization creates a framework to teach each other as educators and our students.

As an activist teacher, Terry Jess tackles these issues daily within the walls of the school and in the community. His practice encourages others to do so even if it is not always apparent. The consciousness to be an anti-racist social justice advocate is empowering to others even if that power has not been accessed yet. But there is also no one way or perfect way to make a contribution to the transformation of our education practice. There are endless battles to fight and there is no one way to fight them.

As teachers, we have to take care that what we teach validates the humanity of our students and that our words and practice affirm our students’ right to play their own music.

Racial Justice Resources

Books NEA leaders are reading: 

  • Between the World and Me; Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The New Jim Crow; Michelle Alexander
  • Brown is the New White; Steve Phillips
  • Just Mercy; Bryan Stevenson
  • Waking Up White; Debby Irving

Online Resources

NEA EdJustice. Join NEAEdJustice, your source for social and racial justice activism—see and hear from fellow educator activists, collect resources and have a chance to share your activism learning experiences. Visit NEAEdJustice.org.

Structural Racialization by the Kirwan Institute. Racial inequity can persist without racist intent. The word “racism” is commonly understood to refer to instances in which one individual intentionally or unintentionally targets others for negative treatment because of their skin color or other group-based physical characteristics. Research conducted by the Kirwan Institute. Read Position Paper here: kirwaninstitute.osu.edu

Race Matters: How to talk about Race by The Annie Casey Foundation. Conversations about race are never easy. Here are a few tips on how to keep the conversation productive. This is part of a comprehensive Race Matters toolkit. Visit: aecf.org/resources/racematters

For more resources click Racial Justice in Education Pre-reading/Resource Materials.



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Follow the Money: The School-to-(Privatized)-Prison Pipeline


About 34,000 American youths are behind bars, the Prison Policy Institute estimates, and two-thirds for non-violent offenses. An additional 20,000 are confined to residential facilities, and another 10,000 are imprisoned on any given night in adult prisons and jails.

Consider this: The reason might be money.

Most educators have heard of the school-to-prison pipeline—the practices that criminalize misbehavior and push students, mostly Black or Hispanic, out of schools and into the justice system. These practices include the presence of police officers in schools.

In 2013–2014, about 70,000 students were arrested at school, according to a federal analysis that also shows that 70 percent of those arrested or referred to law enforcement are Black or Hispanic. Black boys are at the highest risk. They are three times more likely to be arrested than White boys. But Black girls are not immune from the pipeline: They are 1.5 times more likely to be arrested than White boys.

One reason for the racial disparity may be that Black students are more likely to attend schools with officers in them. Another reason is racism. Either way, more students, mostly Black, are feeding the profit margins of privatized prisons.

“We actually have procedures that prepare certain children for life behind bars,” writes Pennsylvania teacher Steven Singer on his blog. “Why? Because people make money from it…”

In Florida, one of the first states to embrace “zero tolerance” policies, nearly 50 percent of schools have police officers. In 2012, they arrested 12,000 students nearly 14,000 times, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The vast majority were not committing “criminal acts,” the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice told the Sentinel. They were arrested for misdemeanors like disrupting class—say, refusing to put away their cell phones.

Florida also has privatized all of its residential juvenile prisons, which means they are funded by the state but run by corporations. Their reputation is scary: A 2017 Miami Herald investigation describes “12 questionable deaths since 2000, including an asphyxiation, a violent takedown by staff, a hanging, a youth-on-youth beating, and untreated illnesses or injuries.”

The private employees who work at these Florida facilities routinely offer their prisoners “honey buns” to carry out attacks on other detainees, prosecutors told the Herald. These employees don’t work for the state, and get minimal pay and support. The private company that runs the most Florida youth prisons starts its employees at about $19,000 a year, and expects them to work with youth who have mental illnesses, drug addictions, and the lingering effects of trauma.

Nationwide, about half of juvenile facilities, both short- and long-term, are privately operated, according to the 2012 U.S. Department of Justice prison census. This is a higher percentage than the rate of privatization among adult prisons. In 2015, for-profit companies held 7 percent of state prisoners and 18 percent of federal prisoners—but those rates are growing. Today’s juvenile offenders eventually could be the profit-makers for adult prisons.

This is not merely cynicism, advocates note. In 2009, in a “kids for cash” scandal, a Pennsylvania judge was discovered to have accepted $2.2 million in bribes to send children to privatized juvenile prisons. These include one teen who created a fake MySpace page, and another who cursed at somebody’s mother. The judge, Mark Ciavarella, was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison.



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Schools in Farming Communities Surrounded by Dangerous Pesticides


(AP Photo/Mike Fiala)

Driving through the streets of Salinas, Calif., teacher Oscar Ramos is never far from a field, or a school.

“Strawberries here,” he says, pointing through a car window to a plastic-covered expanse. “And that’s the middle school there,” he says, a beat later.

School, field. Field, school.

The combination is dangerous.

Salinas Valley is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the U.S.—nearly two-thirds of our lettuce is grown here and one-third of our strawberries. It also is home to tens of thousands of students, the vast majority of them Hispanic. Because of their proximity to the fields, these students risk frequent exposure to pesticides like chlorpyrifos, which is sprayed on crops even as numerous university studies have linked it to cognitive and health problems in children and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists have concluded it should be banned.

“Every year, I look at my incoming class list and it tells me, these certain kids have asthma, and these other ones have ADD or ADHD, and their numbers grow every year,” says Ramos, who, alongside other California Teachers Association members, has been raising the alarm about pesticides and their effects on students for years.

Recently, they achieved a small victory: a new rule from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation that bans pesticide spraying within a quarter-mile of schools, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It’s a nod to the fact that pesticides endanger to students, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough, says Ramos, who is president of the local teachers’ union. Studies show pesticides have drifted as far as 2.9 miles, and they don’t evaporate with a snap of the fingers at 6 a.m.

Corporate profit has been judged more important than children’s health, Ramos says.

Salinas teacher Josh Ezekiel puts it this way: “We are Flint.”

Flint, of course, is the majority Black Michigan city whose water was poisoned with lead through the negligence of city officials, and whose families have been drinking and bathing their babies in bottled water since 2015. In both places—Flint and Salinas—residents may be poisoning themselves just by breathing the air, or drinking the water. Also, in both places, those risks are borne mostly by people of color.

“This is a flaring example of environmental racism,” says Lucia Calderon, an organizer with Safe Ag, Safe Schools, who works with Ramos, Ezekiel, and other Monterey County residents on pesticide-reform issues. “We have Flint in the news, Standing Rock in the news, but not a lot of people are talking about what is happening here in the Salinas Valley.”

Many schools in the Salinas area are adjacent to agricultural fields, where growers commonly spray pesticides and fungicides. (Photo: Mary Ellen Flannery)

What is Environmental Racism?

The term includes the “deliberate targeting of communities of color for toxic waste facilities, the official sanctioning of the presence of life-threatening poisons and pollutants for communities of color, and the history of excluding people of color from leadership in the environmental movement,” writes former NAACP executive director, Ben Chavis, who was also an assistant to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and coined the term in 1984.

One of the first historic examples is Warren County, N.C., one of six counties in the state’s “Black Belt.” In 1979, after collecting 31,000 gallons of PCB-contaminated soil that had been illegally dumped by a local trucker across 14 North Carolina counties, and over the loud objections of Black residents and groups like the NAACP who feared groundwater contamination, the state chose Warren County—the county with the highest majority of Black residents—as the site to bury the toxic soil.

 In California, Hispanic students are 91 percent more likely to attend schools with the highest exposure to agricultural pesticides

Their decision prompted the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice (CRJ) in 1987 to study the makeup of communities near hazardous waste sites. Its study found that race—even when controlled for income and geography—was the most influential factor. Twenty years later, CRJ returned to the subject and found not much had changed: If you live near a hazardous waste facility, chances are you’re not White.

And it’s not just landfills. It’s exposure to lead, too. Between 1999 and 2004, Black children were three times more likely than White children to have lead in their blood at levels that cause permanent damage to their brains, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control (CDC).

People of color also are 38 percent more likely to breathe in polluted air—the kind that leads to asthma, heart disease, and cancer, a 2014 University of Minnesota study found. Again, race is key. Poor White people are more likely to have clean air than wealthy Hispanic people.

Meanwhile, in California, Hispanic students are 91 percent more likely to attend schools with the highest exposure to agricultural pesticides, a 2014 California Department of Public Health study found.

More recently, advocates also see environmental racism as a key factor in the disproportionate effects of climate change on indigenous people. From rising seas, to droughts in the Amazon basin, the effects of climate change endanger the lives of indigenous people in a way that they do not yet threaten the wealthier, Western, and White world.

Ironically, even as they suffer the most exposure, studies have found that people of color are least likely to contribute to pollution.

Have We Forgotten Flint?

In Warren County, N.C., Black residents eventually got some justice—environmental justice. After decades of suspected leaks, the state and EPA pledged $19 million in 1999 to de-toxify the landfill. Warren’s residents had held tenaciously to the goal of an onsite, permanent cleanup that would not foist their poisons on another community. Eventually, they got it.

Residents in Flint, on the other hand, are still pressing for fair treatment and clean water, says Jessyca Matthews, a Flint high school teacher and nominee for NEA Education Votes’ 2017 Social Justice Activist of the Year.

“Things have not changed dramatically in Flint. No, they’ve not,” says Matthews. It has been nearly four years since Flint residents could turn on their tap and safely drink what comes out, and local, state, and federal officials still don’t have a permanent solution.

Flint’s problems started when its profit-motivated managers—appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder—decided in 2014 to stop buying water from Detroit, and siphon it from the more corrosive Flint River for an estimated savings of $8.5 million. Almost immediately, Flint residents could see and smell a difference. Eventually, a local pediatrician noticed an elevated level of lead poisoning in the city’s children.

Flint Water Crisis

Families in Flint still can’t be sure that their drinking water is safe.

Today, the effects are becoming known. Since Flint changed its water, fetal deaths—pregnancies that lasted 20 weeks but did not result in births—have increased by 58 percent and fertility rates fallen by 12 percent, a recent study found.

No amount of lead is safe in children’s blood, experts say. At the highest levels, it can cause permanent damage to children’s brains, making it difficult for them to learn. A child who has been poisoned with lead is seven times more likely to drop out of school, and six times more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system, studies show.

So why hasn’t the world rushed to save Flint’s children? “It has to do with two things: race and money,” says Matthews. “It’s not just a Black issue because Flint is not all Black. But a large percentage of the people who live here are Black, and if this had happened in Ann Arbor or Royal Oak? We have to look at why the system isn’t working for communities of color.”

The Seeds of Justice

Back in Salinas, on a recent Thursday night, Ramos, Ezekiel, and other concerned citizens meet with organizer Calderon during their regular “Safe Ag, Safe Schools” meeting. After years of protesting and pressuring state officials, they have the new buffer zone. It is something, they agree, but nowhere near enough.

The science is irrefutable. Since 1999, UC Berkeley scientists have been following a group of nearly 800 children of primarily Latino farmworkers in Salinas, studying the effects of their exposure to pesticides, specifically organophosphates like chlorpyrifos, which were first developed as nerve-gas weapons during World War II. The study includes more than 150,000 biological samples—blood, urine, saliva, baby teeth, and hair.

Oscar Ramos

Salinas teacher Oscar Ramos at an anti-pesticide rally last summer.

What they found is chilling. At age seven, the children with higher exposures scored seven points lower on IQ tests—the equivalent of being a half-year behind the others. They also found more likelihood of autism, attention disorders, and hyperactivity. Their brains actually look different in brain scans, with less volume in the areas associated with cognition and memory. Years later, those students were more likely to have dropped out of school.

All of this is apparent in classrooms, say Ramos, Ezekiel, and other members of the California Teachers Association, which is why educators have become the loudest voices in demanding change, says Calderon.

“Without the teachers working in these schools and seeing the problems of childhood cancers and learning disabilities firsthand, without them being able to advocate for their students, we wouldn’t be as successful as we’ve been,” she says.

Next, teachers want at least a mile-wide buffer zone, and at least 48-hours’ notice from growers before they apply pesticides or fumigants to fields near schools. Any agricultural commissioner in any California county can write more stringent rules—Imperial County has a one-mile-wide buffer zone, for example—and teachers are determined to make it happen. Lately, they have been holding informational meetings with parent groups.

“My favorite quote from Cesar Chavez is, ‘The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. The fight is always about the people,’” says Ezekiel. “We understand this is a business. We understand we need food. But it doesn’t have to come at the cost of our community. All we want is for them to find a way to grow more responsibly, to think about the health of the children.”



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Talking About Race, Inequity, and Injustice


The National Education Association 2017 Equity Leaders Summit.

More than 150 educators from 50 states gathered in Chicago on Oct. 21-22—on behalf of their students—to attend NEA’s Equity Leaders’ Summit. The summit’s goal was to build action plans that push against issues of inequity and injustices.

Why? Because “It’s the corner stone of everything we want to be as a society,” says Gabriel Tanglao, a social studies teacher from New Jersey. “What we’re realizing now in the 21st century is that people put a period after the civil rights movement, and that’s not where it ended.”

For example, recently a teacher in New Jersey was filmed telling her Spanish-speaking students to “speak American” to which the offended parties walked out of their classroom in protest. The video was posted to Facebook, where it’s been met with mixed reviews. These aren’t isolated cases, either.

Instances of inequities and injustices shared during the summit highlighted how quality programs are inaccessible to many students of color, students as young as five are telling Spanish-speaking classmates to go back to Mexico, schools with large populations of students of color lack access to technology, and some teacher attitudes perpetuate ideas about what certain groups of students, such as kids who have a disability, can and cannot do.

Intensifying these issues are national statistics that show 50 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch, black students are 3.8 times more likely to be suspended than white students, and 60 percent of the nation’s Bureau of Indian Education schools lack access to quality digital broadband.

While the education landscape has some roadblocks, not all is lost, as more and more educators work to identify the tools and skills needed to help level the playing field so that every student has equity, assets, and opportunity.

Arun Puracken, a middle school social studies teacher from Maryland, says these types of gatherings are in place because educators care about equity, and it’s up to people who care, like him, to organize around issues that benefit their students and get more people involved.

Arun Puracken

Arun Puracken

“If an educator isn’t involved in the union, and may care about equity, but doesn’t go to a conference … it’s up to individuals who are involved in the union to go back and advocate in the buildings, hold workshops and seminars, and develop personal relationships to get support,” says Puracken.

And NEA’s Equity Leaders’ Summit provided a safe space to have honest conversations about the work educators could take back home.

Summit Takeaways

It’s not easy to talk about race, inequities, and injustices, but it’s a conversation that needs to happen, and it takes courage.

“If we are considering the questions of racial justice, equity, and social justice, the fundamental needed for that fight is courage,” says Keron Blair, national director of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools and guest speaker at the summit. “Courage isn’t easy … [it’s] a muscle. It’s not poured into us like a liquid. You’ve got to build it … daily.”

On hand to help build this muscle were NEA leaders, members, organizers, and policy analysts, who armed participants with the tools and skills needed to address inequity and injustice within their school and community.

Part of this learning is to lean into uncomfortableness and …to do something with it because you don’t build social justice warriors from just saying ‘we have a problem,’” Maxine Mosely, school counselor, New Hampshire

Specifically, participants learned how to identify inequities and injustices, hold a conversation around these issues, handle an oppressive situation, engage others, and develop an action plan focused on achieving equity and justice for all students. These action plans will be submitted to the NEA, and some will be selected to receive funding from the association.

To push these plans to action, participants focused on leveraging the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which provides an opportunity to lead,” says Johanna “Hanna” Vaandering, a physical education teacher from Oregon now serving as an NEA executive committee member. “It tells us, we can lift up our voices, we can bring parents and students together and we can thrive.”

The federal policy can be used to help ensure opportunity for all students regardless of ZIP code, as it requires state accountability systems to include at least one indicator of school quality or student success. School improvement plans can examine resource inequities, school wide program plans, which may include strategies like school-based mental health programs and district plans that improve learning conditions.

The Road to Equity and Justice

NEA has developed various indicators that helped guide many of the action plans developed by summit participants, such as the association’s Your School Checklist, which helps educators think through what schools need.

The checklist, for example, can identify the resources needed in schools, such as libraries, world language, or science labs. Summit presenters pushed participants out of their comfort zone to come up with concrete ways to organize around inequities and injustices.

“Part of this learning is to lean into uncomfortableness and learn to be OK with that and to do something with it because you don’t build social justice warriors from just saying ‘we have a problem,’” says Maxine Mosely, a school counselor from New Hampshire.

To “do something with it,” as Mosely indicates, means educators can use ESSA and NEA’s checklist as a conversation starter with parents about what their school is missing. Ask them to fill out the checklist and compare the results with your checklist. End the conversation by brainstorming ways to move forward, such as organize to pass a school board resolution or speak at a school board meeting on the need of more funding for a full-time nurse or advanced courses in math and science.

Depending on the school’s environment, educators can advocate and organize around several issues, such as a safe and welcoming schools, which ESSA recognizes as a measure toward student and school success.

One participant from New Jersey, for example, shared how educators organized the community that led to the firing of the local police chief after several reports of police brutality. The tipping point came when students were maced by police officers.

Lindsey DIckenson

Lindsey DIckenson

NEA’s Checklist also officers ideas around healthy and modern schools, well-rounded curriculum, school climate, and quality educators.

Lindsey Dickenson, an eighth-grade math teacher from Illinois, is hopeful that through ESSA’s accountability plan she could move toward creating a safe and welcoming school for her students, especially for those whose parents are undocumented.

“Our local union has been pushing the district to reconfirm the Dream Act and adopt a local policy about welcoming school,” says Dickenson.

This issue came to the forefront last year when a student shared how she feared immigration officials would deport her parents. Dickenson encouraged the student to share her story with school board members and how her life would turn to shambles if her parents were to be deported—impacting her learning opportunities. The student also urged school officials to adopt friendlier language when it comes to the status of undocumented students and families and stop using language that is divisive, coded, and used to dehumanize immigrants.

Today, the issue has made some gains and steps to create policies to support students of undocumented families will be explored at the next school board meeting.

To get connected and engaged on the issues you care about go to neaedjustice.org. NEA EdJustice engages and mobilizes activists in the fight for racial, social, and economic justice in public education. Readers will find timely coverage of social justice issues in education and ways they can advocate for our students, our schools, and our communities.

Other Tools

Gone are the days of using a single test to measure student and school success. NEA’s Great Public School (GPS) Framework addresses research and evidence-based resources, policies, and practices that are proven to narrow opportunity and skills gaps. Specifically, the Framework elaborates on the criteria integral to school and student success, such as quality programs and services that meet the full range of all children’s needs so that they come to school every day ready and able to learn, as well as a qualified, caring, diverse, and stable workforce.

NEA’s “Opportunity Dashboard,” also looks at more than just test scores. The Dashboard look at things like robust arts and athletics programs. Full time counselors and nurses and librarians. Strong parent and family engagement programs. Rigorous AP classes and engaging electives.

Another tool is the union itself. Ana Batista, who teaches bilingual, talented, and gifted students in Connecticut, says she wants to use recruitment and retention to increase teachers of color in her district, and plans to “see our state president and her executive board who could guide me in this area.”

Other participants have also recognized their unions that help push the needle toward equity and justices for every student.

“If it wasn’t for the union giving me opportunities like this,” say Maryland’s Puracken, “I wouldn’t have the courage to do what I’m doing now. When [the union] talks about being a leader, activist, and change agent … I listen and I hear it loud and clear … and I owe a great deal of success to unionism and union work,” which has given him the opportunities to build networks of support, grow his skill set, and raise his voice as a leader in the profession and union.

Photos: Jim West



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Filling Leadership Gap, Educators Sound the Alarm on Mold in Schools


 Parents dropping off their children at Williamstown Middle School in Monroe Township, New Jersey, a few weeks ago were greeted with a jarring sight: maintenance crews carrying out ceiling tiles stained with mold.

“It caused a little bit of a panic,” recalls John Staab of the New Jersey Education Association. “Parents have little or no faith in the health or safety of the school buildings.”

For good reason it turns out. Holly Glenn Elementary School – one of six schools in the district – had already been closed due to an extensive mold infestation, and its 500 students were being temporarily relocated to available classrooms in other schools, including Williamstown Middle. So to those parents watching those confiscated ceiling tiles being hauled out, it became abundantly clear that Holly Glenn wasn’t the only school contaminated with mold.

Soon every school in Monroe Township – affecting 6,000 students in all – was suddenly closed down as a “precautionary measure.”  In early October, emergency inspections went into overdrive and furious parents demanded answers. The district scrambled to get a handle on a tense and volatile situation.

Six closed schools and a potentially serious health crisis – just one of those unforeseen emergencies that can and do materialize during a school year? Not really. The Monroe Township Education Association and the Monroe Township Association of Education Secretaries had been sounding the alarm on mold in schools for a few years, carefully documenting the issue with photos, emails, and repeated maintenance requests for the district to pay greater attention and move beyond temporary band-aid solutions.

When the air quality in the schools became a full-blown crisis, the administration’s approach was no longer tenable, forcing it to correct a long-standing problem in just five months.

Educators in Monroe Township weren’t interested in a game of one-upsmanship with the district, but it was obvious that it had a credibility problem.

“We could have prevented this crisis had they listened to us years ago,” says Staab. “Now they’re taking it seriously.”

No national standards exist to govern how public schools should monitor, detect, and address air-quality problems and states have none of their own. This often leads to Inaction or, at best, half-measures on the part of individual districts, forcing educators and their unions to fill the leadership and trust vacuums that inevitably open up.

The mold infestation at Holly Glenn Elementary has closed the school for at least three months. Inspections revealed mold on doors (pictured here), bookcases, tables, toys, lockers, ceilings and in bathrooms. (Photo: TTI Environmental, Inc.)

Risks to Students and Staff

The massive rains that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma bought to Texas and Louisiana left behind an array of public health threats stemming from bacteria, pollutants, and mold. Even as flooding recedes, the lingering excessive moisture in buildings and houses make infestations almost inevitable. The basic structural soundness of a school building doesn’t negate the very real possibility that students and staff could soon be breathing in mold eight hours a day, five days a week.

But it doesn’t take Category 4 or 5 hurricanes to generate the conditions that lead to mold infestations. Students across the country are learning in old and decaying buildings that are in dire need of repair. Portable classrooms, in particular, are notorious breeding grounds for mold and mildew.

In addition to the absence of national and state standards for mold testing and remediation, the chronic underfunding of public education has exacerbated policymakers’ and school officials’ neglect of school upkeep and maintenance.

When technicians conducted tests at Holly Glenn Elementary, they found visible mold everywhere – on ceilings, floors, walls, lockers, desks, and toys. While most schools in Monroe District reopened after one week, Holly Glenn will stay closed at least through the end of the year because its HVAC system – probably not updated since the 1960s – has to be dismantled and replaced.

“It’s going to take a while to fix this,” says Staab. “No parent is going to let their kids anywhere near that building until It’s done.”

Parents know that exposure to molds can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation. According to the Centers for Disease Control, otherwise healthy children can become sick if exposed to mold indoors. Studies have warned that children who are exposed to mold can develop asthma, which now affects 1 in 10 children.

“Schools are more densely occupied than office buildings, and children aren’t little adults. They’re uniquely vulnerable,” explains Claire Barnett, director of the Healthy Schools Network.

School staff are also at risk.

“When everyone is away for the summer and they feel fine, and then they come back to school and start feeling sick, you know something is wrong,” says Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union (BTU) in Broward County, Florida.

“This School Is a Health Hazard”

Broward County is not only one of the largest school districts in the country, it’s also one of the most humid. Mold has been an unwelcome presence in the district’s schools for years.

In 2010, a grand jury ordered the state of Florida to get a handle on a widespread mold problem that was plaguing its schools. But most of the panel’s more sweeping recommendations were ignored in Broward County and subsequent legislation to address the issue always ran aground over concerns over the cost of the needed repairs and a barrage of lawsuits.

Union leaders raised the issue again in 2015, demanding the district take the necessary measures to address the toxic air quality in the schools. “This has been going on for too long,” Fusco says. “We were getting emails, photos of spores and mushrooms growing on doors, student desks, lockers. Mold was everywhere.”

“When everyone is away for the summer and they feel fine, and then they come back to school and start feeling sick, you know something is wrong,”  – Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union

“We knew the union had to take action and push the issue so that the people who can make something happen will finally listen. We’re talking about our students’ health and everyone who works in the building,” she adds.

In 2016, BTU conducted a survey of its members to determine what, if any, experiences they had with mold in their schools. The response was overwhelming and, in light of the inaction of the district, damning.

“There is mold present with the naked eye on doors on the second floor in classrooms and you can smell it in classrooms on the second floor just across from the library,” one educator responded.  “The first floor library stinks of mold upon entering the room. There are also visible water stains on ceiling tiles in rooms on the first and second floors.”

“Mold issues have been prevalent at this school for years and years,” wrote another. “Many teachers and students have gotten sick as a result. If a person is sensitive to mold, this school is a health hazard.”

Another respondent said the health affects on the students were unmistakable: “My students have suffered this year with what seems to be an unusually high amount of colds and daily allergy issues. One child has congestion and even bloody nostrils, but does not show these symptoms at home (as per parent).”

The results of the survey were made public and local news outlets reported on the rash of illness in many of the contaminated schools. Broward Teachers Union also announced it would bring in their own experts to conduct inspections. In September, Fusco and some colleagues showed up at one school to demand (successfully) that a teacher, sick from the mold-infested classroom she was assigned to, be moved.

The pressure and publicity appeared to work. Soon, the district announced it was going to deploy assessment teams at some of the infested schools. After years of intransience, the district is beginning to move in the right direction, says Fusco.

“We’ll have to see where it goes, but they’re sitting down with us and we’re talking about solutions. That’s the biggest step we’ve taken in years.”

“Parents Trust Us”

Like the Broward Teachers Union, the Monroe Township Education Association and Monroe Township Association of Education Secretaries collected extensive information from its members about mold contamination in their schools. They are also paying for independent tests for mold to verify the results from the district’s own contractors. The New Jersey Education Association also partners with the Work Environment Council (WEC) to advocate for healthy schools.

At an emergency Board of Education meeting on Oct. 9, parents in Monroe Township demanded answers about the mold infestation that had temporarily closed every school in the district.

The community’s frayed trust in the administration was on full display at an emergency meeting of the board of education right after the schools were closed. Twelve hundred parents packed the auditorium at Williamstown High School to express their dismay at what they saw as a mishandling of the situation and lack of transparency on the part of district officials.

“It just got to the point where I think the district lost credibility with the parents,” Staab explains. “So the local associations stepped in and told the administration, ‘We can help with this and get it fixed.’”

The union leadership formed the Indoor Air Quality Communications Task Force to assemble and disseminate accurate information about the monitoring and cleanup of the mold contamination. The group includes teachers, school secretaries, support staff, parents, and a liaison from the administration. Not a decision-making body, the task force will make sure all stakeholders are getting the right information about the schools’ air quality and in a timely manner.

“Parents in the district have developed a connection with us on this issue,” Staab says. “They trust us.”

District officials have promised to be more proactive and do what is necessary to clean up the schools, Holly Glenn Elementary in particular. While educators are supporting these efforts, they will continue to monitor the situation for any lingering signs that corners could again be cut as public attention around the mold contamination begins to fade.

“This isn’t about creating controversy,” says Staab. “Our goal is and always been to get our schools clean and safe and back open for our students.”



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After Strike, Vermont Educators Win More Time for Planning


Emily Ide recalls a student in her third grade class at Edmunds Elementary in Burlington, Vermont, who dreaded lunch time. A sensitive, quiet girl, she found the cafeteria too loud and she had trouble finding someone to sit with.

“I would have loved the opportunity to invite her to have lunch in the classroom so she could escape the fray of the cafeteria, but when she had lunch, I had lunch duty,” Ide says. “There are so many students like this who would benefit from a little TLC from their teachers, but we’re stretched too thin.”

More Time for Planning, Student Meetings

Throughout Burlington, elementary teachers are expected to cover “supervisory duties” like lunch and recess monitoring, morning door duty, dismissal duty, and breakfast duty – often more than one a day – despite a lack of planning time or time to meet with students.  The duties could range anywhere from fifteen to nearly forty minutes, making a teacher’s ability to plan and prepare for student contact impossible.

That’s a primary reason why Ide, a member of the Burlington Education Association (BEA) and a negotiator on the bargaining team, joined her colleagues in a four-day strike earlier this month when the team couldn’t reach an agreement with the school board on terms for a new contract.

“The board continues to claim that it wants to work collaboratively with us to address the achievement gap, but their actions say otherwise,” Fran Brock, a Burlington High School History teacher who serves as president of the 400-member union, said the day before the strike. “They had an opportunity to work with us to address the achievement gap in our elementary schools. They did not take that opportunity. They had an opportunity to work with us to stem the exodus of teachers by reaching a deal that attracts and retains the best for our city’s students. They failed to do so. And they continued their years-long quest to institute top-down approaches that do nothing for our students.”

Board Wouldn’t Budge

Brock said the union compromised on health insurance and salary, going along with the recommendations of a neutral fact-finder, but the union couldn’t get the Burlington School Board to understand that elementary teachers are having too much of their time drawn away from one-on-one interaction with students. For more than three years, she said, they wouldn’t budge.

“As would be expected, salary and health insurance were issues, particularly since Vermont is undergoing state-wide changes to the healthcare program for teachers,” says Brock. “But more importantly, the teachers needed the contract to protect planning and collaboration time for teachers, particularly elementary school teachers.

Teachers, who increasingly need to plan and provide for one-on-one teaching of each student, need time to plan and collaborate with a team of teachers/specialists and non-teaching duties like recess and lunch needs to be the responsibility of trained para-educators or someone other than a teacher.”

At Ide’s school, the students arrive at 8:10, and go home at 2:50, and if educators can’t get a meeting in with them during that time, it’s not likely to happen.  A rare few have families that can facilitate staying after school for help, but most of the time, the kids who need the most help are the ones whose families can’t arrange that time. Teachers are left scrambling to find time to provide that one-on-one, often sacrificing critical planning time.

Kids Deserve Quality Instruction

“Having more planning time allows teachers to improve the quality of their instruction, plain and simple,” Ide says. “Teachers who spend more time planning are able to teach with more intention and clarity. That’s what kids deserve. Much of what we use now for curriculum requires a lot of planning and preparing. When teachers do this work in a vacuum it’s not valuable.  As a fairly new teacher (less than 5 years)  it’s invaluable for me, and others like me, to be able to work with my colleagues who have 10,15, even 25 years of experience. They provide insight when I struggle.”

Finally, after four days, the strike ended. Ide worked with her colleagues on the contract language and they were able to include some changes to scheduling for elementary school teachers that will go into effect in the 2018-19 school year.

“And all we could get right now was the promise that no teacher will be assigned more than three non-teaching duties per week, and that at least one time block would be available for team work,” says BEA president Brock. “It’s a start.”

Radical Actions Move Us Forward

In a statement she provided the day the strike ended, Brock thanked the citizens of Burlington.

“I know the teachers’ strike was stressful and all were anxious. But sometimes it takes a radical action to move us all forward.”

She also thanked the hundreds of people who helped, “the folks who made sure there was water and lots and lots of apples for the teachers; the students who offered babysitting to parents who needed child care; the neighbors who let teachers use their bathrooms; and the army of community members who made sure their voices were heard by both school board members and the teachers.”

Ide says she was very proud of her fellow BEA members for banding together and showing strength through unity.

“People worked very hard to keep the mood positive and optimistic in a situation where it would have been very easy to have things become toxic,” she says.

Collective Bargaining Works

This year’s strike was only the second to occur in Burlington in forty years. The system works, but according to Brock, the crucial aspect of collective bargaining is having two sides that respect one another.

“Our board, and some of the administration, clearly made it known that they did not respect the union, thought little of teachers and really had no interest in understanding how schools need to function in today’s world. Going up against that sort of arrogance and obstructionism will be problematic regardless of the system used,” she says. “But to borrow from Winston Churchill, ‘collective bargaining is messy but it is better than any other alternative.’”



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“All I Want to Do is Teach And Help My Kids,” says DACA Teacher


(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

An estimated 20,000 teachers in the U.S. could be deported because of President Trump’s cancellation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), the federal policy that has protected some young people brought to the U.S. as children.

Among them is Karen Reyes, a 29-year-old teacher of Deaf pre-kindergartners in Austin, Texas. A former Girl Scout who has lived in the U.S. since the age of 2, Reyes attended U.S. public schools from kindergarten through graduate school, eventually earning a master’s degree in special education from the University of Texas-San Antonio.

“I love my job. I love it!” says Reyes. “I get students who have zero or very limited language skills, and we help them reach the outside world. I had a student last year who came to my class with two words—at the end of the year, he was looking over my shoulder at a photograph and saying, ‘Who that? That Julian’s mommy? I like her!’”

There are about 1.2 million DACA-eligible young people in the U.S., according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), which estimates that 365,000 of them are high-school students and 241,000 enrolled in college. The rest are workers whose deportations would cost the federal government an estimated $60 billion in revenues and the national economy an estimated $215 billion in productivity, according to a Cato Institute study.

The additional costs of replacing the 20,000 teachers is mind-boggling. Replacing just one teacher is estimated to cost as much as $17,872, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. That means replacing the 20,000 could cost school districts—and local taxpayers—as much as $350 million. This does not include the emotional price paid by students or the toll on these young teachers, who are fiercely dedicated to their students and careers.

“As a teacher, all I want to do is teach and help my kids,” says Reyes.

[Help Reyes by asking Congress to support the 2017 DREAM Act.]

Tell Congress To Do The Right Thing

While Trump’s revocation of DACA is “immoral and un-American,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, she is hopeful that Congress will pass compassionate, just legislation that will allow young immigrants to pursue their American dreams.

“Now more than ever, we need a permanent legislative solution to DACA so these young people have the certainty they deserve,” says García. “Congress should…act immediately to protect DACA recipients and Dreamers, and pass into law the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017.”

First introduced in 2001, and re-introduced this July by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), the DREAM Act is a bipartisan bill that would offer permanent legal status to qualifying young people who arrived in the U.S. as children. According to a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll, 76 percent of Americans believe these young people should be allowed to stay.

daca teachers karen reyes

Teacher Karen Reyes earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas public universities.

But, for the legislation to pass, members of Congress need to hear from those Americans who support their neighbors, their classmates, their soldiers, their teachers who have lived in the U.S. for nearly all their lives.

Reyes is far from the only NEA member with DACA certification. Among the 20,000 DACA-mented teachers, MPI estimates about 5,000 work in California. Texas and New York each benefit from about 2,000 DACA teachers, while Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania have about a thousand per state, Education Week has reported.

Jorge Resendez, a DACA-certified, 9th-grade social studies teacher, is among a group of Denver teachers originally hired through Teach for America (TFA), which has actively recruited DACA recipients. He loves teaching, his school, and his students so much that he stayed beyond TFA’s typical two-year commitment, and now is in his fourth year.

“I heard so many stories when I was in college about undocumented young folks who graduated but couldn’t go into a career,” says Resendez, who graduated from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2013. “Fortunately for me, I was able to apply for DACA, and I was able to do something I’m passionate about, which is education.”

Resendez’ students know his immigration status, and they joined him in protest on the day this month that Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the cancellation of DACA. “It was a really proud moment for me—to see them standing up for me, and standing up for their peers,” he says.

As a student organizer, Resendez worked on the passage of California’s DREAM Act. He knows what is possible when people get organized and speak with a united voice. He also knows it’s going to be hard. “The first thing we can do is protest,” he told his students. “But moving forward, we need to write letters, talk with our legislators. I know this isn’t going to be our last battle, but I have hope of protecting our community.”



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Public Schools Offer Shelter from the Storm


Lamar Butler, left, and his wife Rosa settle in with their children at the Twin Lakes Elementary School’s storm shelter in preparation for Hurricane Irma, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Will Dickey/The Florida Times-Union via AP)

As Hurricane Harvey charged into Port Arthur, Texas, 90 miles east of Houston, Wren Lloyd was one of the brave volunteers driving school buses to take hundreds of people to safety in emergency shelters.

Lloyd, a bus route supervisor and driver for Port Arthur Independent School District, admits that hauling busloads of people through driving rain and strong winds was scary.

“We didn’t show it, but we were very apprehensive,” she said.

She was right to be afraid. Driving evacuees to safety is dangerous work and storm waters are unpredictable.

A Boat Rescue

After delivering a busload of people to the Bob Bowers Civic Center, brown, murky water began to seep in. Before long she and several other district bus drivers were marooned with their passengers by rising floodwaters. Eventually, on Wednesday they were rescued by boat.

People in the Bob Bowers Civic Center, meant to be a shelter in Port Arthur, Texas, were surrounded by floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Harvey, in this photo provided by Beulah Johnson.

Exhausted and shaken by the experience, Lloyd could have taken a much-needed rest. Instead, she got back on another bus and and shuttled hundreds more evacuees to safety until the wee hours Thursday morning.

Lloyd has spent most of her life in Port Arthur. It’s her home and community, and when it was in crisis she was determined to find a way to help. After all, those were her students and their families in the path of the storm.

Public Schools Center of Community, Especially in a Storm

Public schools and public school staff are the hub of a community, and in hurricane-prone parts of the country, they can be relied upon to open and staff shelters and transport evacuees during the storm.

They did it in Texas, and a few weeks later, they did it in Florida, too.

On the heels of Harvey came Hurricane Irma, a monster storm that prompted the evacuation of 6 million people. Again, public schools and public school staff stepped up to respond.

“Our state’s public schools serve a vital role in our communities as shelters for displaced residents and staging areas for hurricane recovery efforts,” said Florida Governor Rick Scott.

Florida’s Educators Offer Shelter and Comfort

Across Florida, counties have agreements with their school districts to use their school buildings as evacuation shelters during hurricanes. The reasons are clear – public schools are in every community; they are safe, public spaces that are solidly built, and officials know how many people they can hold. What’s more, school staff are always at the ready to help their students, families and community members. It’s at the heart of what they do every day.

As Hurricane Irma approached, Miami-Dade County opened 42 schools to shelter more than 20,000 evacuees, some of them with their pets. Palm Beach County schools sheltered 17,000 evacuees at the peak of the storm, according to Superintendent Robert Avossa. Throughout the state, schools opened shelters for their communities – some at the last minute as the track shifted west.

There were public schools that became shelters for the elderly and for disabled people. Johns Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg was full service (video) – its library housed the elderly and disabled with hospital beds, wheelchairs, and oxygen tanks; its locker room became a pet motel with animal crates lining the floor.

Custodians helped set up cots, cafeteria workers cooked and served hot meals, librarians read to children, nurses offered first aid – whatever was needed, educators delivered.

Now Schools Need Community Help

In Texas last Monday, about 80 percent of the Houston Independent School District’s 287 schools opened after a two-week delay. The rest won’t open until late September or even October. Flooding destroyed infrastructure and many schools will be uninhabitable for weeks.

About 270 Houston area teachers have been unable to go to work because of damage to their own homes or other disruptions after the storm, school officials said. In Port Arthur, where schools will open this Monday, Wren Lloyd estimates more than 200 district employees have damage to their homes.

She continues to pitch in, making calls and seeking donations for her friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

“It’s all about trying to help somebody,” she says.

Find out how what you can do. Visit nea.org/hurricanerelief to help and for additional information.





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The Next Generation of Educators is Prepared to Make a Difference


Two million. That’s how many educators are expected to begin their careers in the next 10 years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Sure, the landscape they’re crossing will include some roadblocks, but early career educators are just as committed to their students, peers, and the profession as our beloved veteran educators. These young educators are building networks of support, growing their skillset, and raising their voices as leaders in their profession and their union. Who are these educators? Well, let’s just say, this next generation of educators comes with a lot of heart, spirit, and determination. Here’s a glimpse at 30 young educators who—early into their professions—are already creating change.

Courtenay Alexander, Fourth-Grade Teacher
DEKALB COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, GEORGIA
Courtenay Alexander has been on the go since realizing the many opportunities offered by her local, state, and national Associations. A member of the Georgia Association of Millennial Educators—an arm of the Georgia Association of Educators— Alexander says her proudest moment came when, through an initiative called Early Leaders Institute (ELI), she and her counterparts started an action plan to protect planning time from being misused. The next ELI cohort will see the plan to completion.

Lydia Bustos, Kindergarten Teacher
LARAMIE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT 1, WYOMING
Rigorous academic demands have pushed many kindergartners to read and write by June, leaving behind their building blocks and pretend food items. But not in Lydia Bustos’ class. “My philosophy of education is a ‘play-to-scholar’ approach,” she says. While academics is a focus, this kindergarten teacher sees the value in letting “kids be kids.”

Bailey Danielson, Fourth-Grade Teacher
PROVO CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, UTAH
Bailey Danielson says, “I realized … the amount of students I could reach could greatly increase by becoming involved in my local,” which is why, as vice president of the Provo Education Association, she works to introduce the student program to universities in her area and travels to Salt Lake City to help legislators create education-friendly policies.

Keion Dorsey, Technology Support Technician
ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, MARYLAND
Keion Dorsey does more than technology support. He mentors, creates clubs, and finds funding sources to increase student participation in after-school organizations. He’s the vice president of the Secretaries and Assistants Association of Anne Arundel County, too, where he works with early career members, identifies new leaders, and focuses on the local’s legislative and lobbying agendas.

Tammy Marie Eitner, Special Education Paraeducator
CAPE HENLOPEN SCHOOL DISTRICT, DELAWARE
Advocating for education support professionals is what Tammy Marie Eitner does best. The secretary of the Cape Henlopen Support Staff works with a team to help increase union membership by 65 percent in the next two years and lobbies state legislators to pass a house bill that would give school professionals who are named Delaware Support Staff Employee of the Year the same recognition now garnered by those named teachers of the year, including a monetary stipend.

Jenisha “Jay” Fair, Physical Education Teacher
CLARK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, NEVADA
“I am involved because I want to use my voice—as a young educator—to advocate for my students [and] raise awareness about the importance of social justice in every classroom at every school,” says Jenisha “Jay” Fair of her involvement with the union. To help her voice become stronger, Fair became involved with the Early Career Leadership Fellows, an effort between NEA and the Consortium for Educational Change, which provided the tools she needed to be a successful leader in her local and state Associations.

Kayla Gleason, Math Teacher and Math Department Chair
VAL VERDE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, PERRIS, CALIFORNIA
From athletics to academics to work for the union and her community, Kayla Gleason’s influence has a far reach. As vice president of the Val Verde Teachers Association, Gleason coached the 2016 Early Career Leadership Fellows through NEA, working with 10 early career educators to build and foster their leadership skills and abilities. Gleason also collaborates with the Moreno Valley College to help seniors make a smooth transition into college.

Henoch Hailu, Special Education Teacher
MONTGOMERY COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, MARYLAND
“Working closely with our union allows us the opportunity to fight for what we believe in. Sitting around and complaining about the state of education doesn’t get us anywhere,” said Henoch Hailu to Action Line, a publication of the Maryland State Education Association. And Hailu is certainly busy: He’s a building representative at his school; member of his local’s contract negotiations team; promoter of education-friendly candidates; and an advocate for affordable family housing.

Morgan Harms, Music Teacher
BROKEN BOW PUBLIC SCHOOLS, NEBRASKA
Three years ago, Morgan Harms was a first year teacher for Creek Valley Public Schools. At the end of that year, she was elected president of her local. “I kind of felt thrown to the sharks,” she says, “but it turns out that it fueled a passion I didn’t know I had.” The early career educator says she gets excited learning about school law, legislative processes, and professional engagement. Today, Harms is applying that same passion to a new school district in Broken Bow, Neb.

Sara Holley, Eighth-Grade English Teacher
FILER SCHOOL DISTRICT, IDAHO “I went into teaching because I want to make a difference in the lives of children,” says Sara Holley, who once thought of becoming a veterinarian. “I want [my students] to learn life lessons from me. I want them to feel safe in my classroom and know they can trust me if they need a shoulder to lean on.” Last year, Holley received a letter from a student, who thanked her teacher for helping her make better decisions, find better friends, and for believing in her.

Amy Hull, Early Childhood Special Education Teacher
BYRON UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA
At one time in the Byron Union School District, preschool-aged students with identified disabilities who were on an Individualized Education Program were bused to non-public schools outside of their own neighborhoods. Then along came Amy Hull. She helped the district open their own Specialized Academic Instruction preschool program and brought “our kiddos back to their neighborhood [public] school,” she says.

Josh Jackson, Fifth-Grade Teacher
MILWAUKEE PUBLIC SCHOOLS, WISCONSIN
At the local level, Josh Jackson strives to make the lives of Milwaukee students the best they can be. He does this by pushing back against bad policies. A member of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, he’s fought a state-sponsored takeover plan, and helped to raise the voices of early career educators.

Tanner Jesso, Fifth-Grade Teacher
ORANGE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, FLORIDA
“I quickly became active within my teacher’s union because of its purpose as a crucial vehicle for education rights,” says Tanner Jesso, a third-year teacher and member of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, where he was recently named chair of Florida’s Young Remarkable Educators (FYRE), a branch the local Association. FYRE empowers and engages young educators to get involved in the union with the ultimate goal of ensuring teacher rights to lead to student success.

Larry Joynt, Fifth-Grade Teacher
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS SCHOOL DISTRICT 25, ILLINOIS
“Building strong school, family, and community relationships is a building block for all the work I do,” says Larry Joynt. His statement is supported by his non-stop Association involvement. Joynt is an active member of Region 43 Council; a participant on the SCORE Grant Advisory Committee and the Bylaws Committee for the Illinois Education Association (IEA); a volunteer for the IEA Student Program’s Outreach to Teach events; and a builder of a community garden where families meet and bond.

Jesse Martinez, Seventh-Grade Science and Social Studies, Spanish Immersion Teacher
SCHOOL DISTRICT OF LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN
Last year, Jesse Martinez was a first-year teacher. On Day One, he jumped into Association work by becoming a building representative, where he helped organize walk-ins throughout the district and improve member communication.

Andre Leon Mathis Student, Records Specialist
UNION-ENDICOTT CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, NEW YORK
Outside of his everyday duties (registering new students into the district and maintaining the records of nearly 4,000 students) you’ll find Andre Leon Mathis at Union-Endicott High school, serving as an advisor for the Mock State Senate, an after-school club that simulates the legislative process for students. They learn to introduce their own legislation, meet in committees, and debate and vote on bills. Afterward, students travel to Albany to share the bills with state legislators.

Julia Morrison, Paraeducator
JEFFCO PUBLIC SCHOOLS, COLORADO
Julia Morrison graduated from Swanson Elementary School in Jefferson County, Colo. Now she works there—supporting students with autism and advocating for their social needs. Morrison is the building representative for the Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association, where she promotes union values and educators’ rights.

Roosevelt McClary III, Education Support Professional
BROWARD COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, FLORIDA
Roosevelt McClary III is the first education support professional (ESP) and the youngest to be elected as secretary of the Broward Teachers Union, where he’s the co-chief negotiator for the ESP unit contract. McClary also coaches girls’ track for a local middle school. Within his community, he helps feed and clothe the homeless, and conducts seminars on how to start a business.

Michael McGowan, High School Math Teacher
GLENDALE UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT, ARIZONA
“I love my job, it is the best job in the world,” says Michael McGowan, who is considered a master teacher in his district. And loving his job also means being involved. McGowan serves as a site leader for his school and is the communications chair for his local. He’s also held positions within the PAC fund council and has organized political action rallies and events.

Jeanene P. McGraw, Instructional Assistant
SEATTLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS, WASHINGTON
Supporting students is what Jeanene P. McGraw does best. The instructional assistant helps teachers with classroom management and general support during academic lessons. This may include one-on-one assistance, behavior management, and small-group instruction.

Elyse Cannon McRae, Social Studies Teacher
PITT COUNTY SCHOOLS, NORTH CAROLINA
For Elyse Cannon McRae, one too many teachers have left North Carolina to work in other states. To stop the exodus, McRae helps her school’s new teachers with instruction, classroom management, and mentoring. County-wide, she provides classroom management instruction for all the new hires and beginning teachers. For her local and state Associations, McRae helps educators in the first five years of their career via social avenues, professional development, and opportunities so they can grow roots in their county and state.

Allison O’very, Fifth-Grade Teacher
PATTONVILLE SCHOOL DISTRICT, MISSOURI
As an active student member, Allison O’very wanted to remain connected to the Association after graduation so she joined Pattonville NEA and Missouri NEA, where she collaborated to help establish eMERGE, a support network that provides opportunities for educators in the first 10 years of their careers. Her work has not gone unnoticed. In 2016, she was appointed to the Missouri Advisory Council for Certification of Educators, where she’ll work on Missouri’s Educator Quality and State Standards.

Jessica Evan Page, Arts and Humanities Teacher
HENRY COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, KENTUCKY
For Jessica Evan Page, unionism runs deep. Her parents were educators and union members. In 2004, they took her to a march, organized by the Carroll County Education Association to protest a proposal by the governor to strip public school teachers of several health insurance benefits and double their premiums. That day, a new education activist was born. Today, Page is president of the Henry County Education Association and represents the Fifth District on the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) Board of Directors. She recently completed a two-year term as chair of the KEA Membership, Organizing, Visibility and Engagement Committee, and has been tapped to identify and nurture future KEA leaders.

Samir Paul, Computer Science Teacher
MONTGOMERY COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, MARYLAND
“Teaching turned me on to politics,” says Samir Paul. When he became a teacher, he started to understand the persistence and virulence of American inequality. So he jumped into activism as an organizer, and now urges the county’s 13,000 public school educators to make their own leap, and become educator activists.

Matthew Cory Powell, Custodial Supervisor and Bus Driver
GRAVES COUNTY SCHOOLS, KENTUCKY
Matthew Cory Powell is dedicated to the students at his school, and here’s how he shows it: in addition to being a custodial supervisor and special events bus driver, Powell is a night watchman and campus resident—meaning he lives on school grounds.

Emily Sibilski, High School English Teacher
ALTOONA SCHOOL DISTRICT, WISCONSIN
As the former state president of the Aspiring Educators of Wisconsin, Emily Sibilski continues to stay involved in the Wisconsin Education Association Council. Sibilski is a member of the Early Career Educator Task Force, a new initiative that works to increase membership and leadership of early educators in the union.

Cody Sigmon, English Teacher
CHESTERFIELD COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, VIRGINIA
Meet Cody Sigmon, who has led statewide efforts to tackle lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) issues in education policy and practice within school districts and local governments. He’s also co-designed and co-facilitated professional development on supporting LGBTQ students and educators for members of the Virginia Education Association. This year, Sigmon was accepted to his district’s National Board Certified Teachers cohort and was elected vice president of Chesterfield Education Association.

Gabriel Tanglao, Social Studies Teacher
BERGEN COUNTY TECHNICAL SCHOOLS, NEW JERSEY
The son of a union nurse and the product of public schools, Gabriel Tanglao’s educator-activist roots run deep. He has created networks, organized members, and facilitated leadership development. Within his local community, Tanglao has also built coalitions around the intersecting issues of racial, economic, and environmental justice.

Mattie Walton, Seventh-Grade English Teacher
BILLINGS PUBLIC SCHOOLS, MONTANA
Mattie Walton uses technology to connect with her peers to help improve their practice. She started the #observeme movement in her district. It’s a call-to-action for educators to invite their counterparts into their classrooms to observe and offer feedback. “I see relationships, humor, and passion for teaching as a positive way to influence my students, colleagues, and community,” Walton says.

Shaniqua Denise Williams, School Counselor
FREDERICK COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, VIRGINIA
As a school counselor, Shaniqua Denise Williams manages academic grades and works with teachers and students at the Northwestern Regional Educational Program, a preK-12 regional-based school. Her main task is to help students transition back to their home schools by helping them manage their behaviors.

Meet More Young Educators Who Are Already Creating Change



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“They Will Have to Come Through Us,” NEA President Tells DREAMers


Axel Herrera Ramos, a 19-year-old sophomore at Duke University, remembers the sound of the rain on the metal roof of his childhood home in Honduras. But that’s about all he remembers. Since age 7, he has called the U.S. his home.

“Let me put it this way—I can name every U.S. president, but I have no idea who is the president of Honduras,” he said.

On Friday, just days after President Trump formally announced the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a federal program that has protected from deportation more than 800,000 young people who were brought to the U.S. as children, Ramos accompanied NEA President Lily Eskelsen García to the National Press Club in Washington D.C. Eskelsen García delivered a speech in which she pledged publicly to protect Ramos, his peers, and the hundreds of thousands of other immigrant students, undocumented or not, in U.S. public schools.

“You have our hearts and we will be fighting for you. Whatever it takes,” she said.

DACA, which was implemented in 2012 by President Obama, has worked to protect eligible young people from deportation for two years, subject to renewal, and provides them with a work authorization permit. Its recipients—often called DREAMers—have graduated college to work in U.S. technology, health fields, and public education. Public school teachers in Texas, Florida, Colorado, California and elsewhere are among the nation’s DREAMers.

“DACA is an unqualified success on every level. It’s humane. It’s just. And it’s pumping millions of dollars into our economy,” said Eskelsen García. “These are our students and we want to comfort them, but it’s hard to tell them the president can’t hurt them. They know the truth…

“But they will have to come through us to get to those students.”

Sign the NEA pledge to protect DREAMers.

The Best Public Schools

Earlier this year, Eskelsen García sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in response to DeVos’ invitation to meet. Eskelsen García’s letter asked her three questions: Will you hold privately managed voucher and charter schools to the same standards of financial transparency as public schools? Will you privatize federal programs, like special education? Will you protect all students from discrimination—our students of color, our immigrant students, etc?

Axel Herrera Ramos at the National Press Club on September 8.

DeVos has never answered—not explicitly. But the administration’s abandonment of 800,000 young people is a kind of answer. Its new multi-million dollar federal voucher program also is an answer. “Her actions scream,” Eskelsen García told the National Press Club on Friday.

These are the wrong answers for America public schools, she added. The right answer is to make sure every public school is as good as the best public school—and this is possible. “Some of the best schools on the planet are among American public schools,” Eskelsen Garcia said.

But schools aren’t great because they have fantastic test prep programs. Or because they’re in cutthroat competition with for-profit charter schools, she said. These schools are great because they have excellent educators, who have “the collaborative authority to make instruction decisions for their students. They have technology that works and books in their libraries, and after-school programs and field trips and choirs and a debate team.”

Something that actually works to improve schools, Eskelsen García noted, is to treat students as whole people with complex needs, and involve their families and communities in their schools. Across the nation, community schools are feeding students, providing them—and their parents—with health care, even teaming up with local orchestras to provide music instruction.

From Honduras to Duke University

“I am frightened that these people who don’t know what they’re talking about will destroy our nation’s brightest crown jewels—like public education,” said Eskelsen García.

But she is also hopeful—and her hope includes the promise that Congress may actually legislate a compassionate, just solution for the 800,000 DREAMers in the U.S.

For his part, Ramos, who is studying economics and public policy at Duke, one of the premier private universities in the nation, also has promised to stay and fight for that solution. “Personally, I’m not going anywhere. The magnitude of having to transition from here to there is incomprehensible,” he said. “What’s in it for us, for students like me, is everything.”

Ramos also thinks about his mother, who crossed the border more than a decade ago, alone with her 7-year-old son, 3-year-old daughter, and a 12-year-old cousin. She has worked ever since, investing in her dreams for her children. “I see the efforts of my mother. I see the efforts of my teachers and counselors, and all the people who told me I could find a way.

“Being a DREAMER…for me, it’s about working to achieve something great.”



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Revoking DACA ‘Immoral and Un-American,’ Says NEA President


(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Upon taking office in January, President Donald Trump pledged to treat with “great heart” the 800,000 young people who are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program recipients. On Tuesday, Trump abandoned that promise, announcing through Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he would be rescinding DACA – an inhumane decision that will disrupt the lives of countless Dreamers, aspiring young Americans, neighbors, colleagues, and students, said National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García.

“This decision is immoral and un-American,” Eskelsen Garcia said.  “It will turn lives upside down and lead to unprecedented peril. After meeting all of the requirements to live and work in the United States, they will face deportation and separation from their families and our communities. They will again face anxiety and uncertainty about their future, stripped of the ability to live normal lives.”

The program, implemented in 2012 by the Obama administration, protects eligible youth from deportation for two years, subject to renewal, and provides them with a work authorization permit.

Take Action. In the wake of President Trump ending the DACA program, Congress must act swiftly to pass the DREAM Act of 2017, which provides a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and DREAMers.Urge Congress to Pass the DREAM Act

The NEA believes DACA has been a resounding success, making the nation’s immigration policy more fair and more efficient, and brightening the futures of the nearly 800,000 aspiring young Americans who live, study, and work in the United States.

The benefits extend to the U.S. economy. According to a recent analysis by the Center for American Progress, if DACA workers were to lose their status, more than $430 billion would be stripped from the U.S. gross domestic product over the ensuing decade.

Texas teacher Areli Zarate arrived in the United States with her family when she was 8 years old. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, she is now a DACAmented high school teacher. Thanks to DACA, Gema Hernandez is the first in her family to graduate from college. The creativity, talent, and contributions of people such as Zarate and Hernandez, should be embraced, says Eskelsen Garcia, not disregarded. While protecting DACA is essential, these young people deserve a longer-term solution.

In July, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced bipartisan legislation, the Dream Act of 2017, that would grant legal status and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. NEA is urging Congress to act now.

“Now more than ever, we need a permanent legislative solution to DACA so these young people have the certainty they deserve,” said Eskelsen Garcia. “Congress should not wait 6 months to permanently fix this decision but instead act immediately to protect DACA recipients and Dreamers, and pass into law the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017.”



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