#SEAstrike

Solidarity with Seattle Education Association

Dear Seattle Education Association,

Rethinking Schools editors and staff express our solidarity as you go on strike for better schools for your students along with their families and for just compensation and working conditions for your members. We have followed your negotiations carefully and we know that this is a strike for justice.

  • As Seattle has become one of the country’s most expensive cities, you have gone six years without so much as a cost of living increase and with no increase in educator health care.
  • You’ve been assaulted by standardized testing, which distorts the curriculum and robs students of essential instructional time. Students are not even guaranteed recess by the Seattle school district.
  • You are straining under enormous workloads, which results in students who cannot get the attention they deserve, and over-worked and exhausted educators and support staff.
  • You’ve noted unequal discipline policies and procedures that have led to vast racial disparities that need to be addressed immediately, in every building.

Seattle educators have said “Enough!” You have bargained in good faith and now are striking for your members, for your students, for the broader community—and, really, for people everywhere who are working for vital public schools and social justice.

Rethinking Schools thanks you for your vision and for your sacrifice. We will continue to spread the word about your important struggle and do everything we can to help you win.

Educating the Gates Foundation

June 26, Rethinking Schools editor Wayne Au spoke at a Seattle rally protesting the role of the Gates Foundation in public education: “Educating the Gates Foundation.” The rally was sponsored by Washington BATS (Bad-Ass Teachers) and Washington Save Our Schools. This is the speech he delivered at the rally. 

Educating the Gates Foundation Rally Remarks

by Wayne AuWayne Au

Good evening. I’m here tonight because I am deeply concerned. I’m concerned that public education is rapidly becoming privatized. I’m concerned that we are all part of a grand experiment, one that is hurting kids and communities. I’m concerned that we are losing democratic, public accountability in public education. I’m concerned with the state of public education reform and the role of Bill Gates and his foundation.

 

You see, right now Gates and his foundation are pushing an entire set of public education reforms like charter schools and vouchers, high-stakes, standardized testing, and using tests for teacher evaluation. We are getting this set of reforms purely because he and his foundation have leveraged vast financial resources to influence and negotiate politics. They are doing this despite all countervailing evidence, and they are doing this with no democratic accountability.

 

And that is just the thing. While Gates and his foundation tinker around with charter schools, high-stakes testing, the Common Core, and the junk science of using tests to evaluate teachers, they avoid the central and most important issue that impacts educational achievement: poverty.

 

But Gates and the Gates Foundation aren’t hearing that. As far as I can see, they are not about actual educational equality and equity. Instead they seem to be about opening up public education to the marketplace.

 

In fact, Gates has said as much. Back in 2009 in the run up to the Common Core, Gates said the following:

When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.

 

I find this ironic. It seems to me that Gates wants to fix inequality in public education by relying on the same market forces responsible for the crisis in housing, the crisis in medical care, the climate crisis, the massive wealth gap, and the increase in the schools-to-prisons pipeline for youth of color, amongst other national travesties.

 

And all of this has me concerned because in many ways you and I and our children are unwillingly part of a grand experiment in education reform. Back in September of 2013, Gates himself said, “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.” These folks pushing these reforms do not know if they will work, but they are willing to experiment on an entire generation of children.

 

And this raises another issue that we must contend with: institutionalized racism. We know that the system of public education does not serve low-income black and brown kids like it should. Unfortunately, here in Seattle we are a great example of this given the low achievement and disproportionate discipline rates for students of color. But the question we have to ask ourselves is this: “Have these corporate styled reforms like charter schools and high-stakes testing actually improved the conditions of education for the least served?”

 

On the whole the answer is “no.” Low-income students of color have had their curriculum gutted because of the tests. They are far more likely to experience scripted instruction and rote learning purely to prepare for the tests. They are far more likely to have art, recess, music, physical education, and even science and social studies cut in preparation for the tests.

 

And despite their never ending promises, the charter school sector has continued to find ways to keep out English Language Learners and students with disabilities, expel or counsel away low performing kids of color, maintain intense racial segregation, and NOT, I repeat, NOT out perform regular public schools in terms of overall achievement.

 

Given that both failure on high-stakes tests as well as expulsion and suspension from school greatly increase the chances of students to get caught up in the criminal justice system, I would argue that these reforms contribute directly to the racism of the schools-to-prisons pipeline.

 

In this way low-income black and brown students of color are the ultimate guinea pigs for the Gates experiment in public education reform, and I think it is ethically, morally, and politically reprehensible that wealthy elites feel so free to experiment on our kids.

 

This is especially true given that Gates’ own children have not had to face any of his own reforms. In fact, I want all of our children in public schools to have what Gates’ children have had.

 

Take Lakeside Schools, where his kids have attended. They had small class sizes, a large, well endowed library, top notch facilities, and a rich curriculum. These things seem to work for children of the elite. Don’t the rest of our children deserve them as well?

 

Lakeside students also don’t have to take 5, 6, 7, or 8 high-stakes, standardized tests a year. As my dear friend and education activist Jesse Hagopian says, we could say the boycott of high-stakes testing in Seattle really started at schools like Lakeside because the rich have rejected having their children take these tests for years: They just sent them to elite private schools.

 

I also want all of our kids to have some other things those Lakeside students have, like food security, a stable home to live in, jobs for their parents that pay livable wages, access to free or affordable healthcare…You know, all the basic human rights that the rich can afford and, increasingly, the poor cannot.

 

If Gates and the Gates Foundation really want to start increasing the achievement of low income and students of color, and if they are unwilling to have the real conversation about growing race and class inequality in this country, then I’ve got a suggestion: Fund a nationwide campaign for the implementation of Ethnic Studies. We’ve got research that shows that Ethnic Studies, like the program that was banned by conservatives in Tucson, Arizona, contributed greatly to positive educational outcomes and college attainment of students of color there. In that program students learned about their cultural histories and identities, and they learned about institutional racism in this country.

 

But I doubt we’ll see any Gates-funded campaign for Ethnic Studies because it doesn’t have the right kind of politics.

 

Speaking of politics, as the Seattle Times reported, Bill Gates recently said that, “These are not political things,” and that he’s merely supporting research about making education more effective. I’d like to close my speech tonight by pointing out how this statement rings hollow in so many ways.

 

For instance, we have ample research on the critical impact of smaller class sizes, the importance of culturally relevant practices, the fallacy of using test scores to evaluate teachers, the increased inequity produced by charter schools, the harmful effects of high-stakes, standardized testing, and the central role poverty plays in educational achievement. But Gates and his foundation don’t care to listen to any of this. They have their own agenda for public education, and they are wielding their mighty resources to advance this agenda with disregard of sound critiques or public deliberation.

 

Gates’ statement also rings hollow because these are all political things. Poverty is a political thing. Institutionalized racism is a political thing. High-stakes testing is a political thing. Charter school policy is a political thing. Private school vouchers is a political thing. All curriculum, especially the Common Core, is a political thing. Teachers’ rights to due process and protections provided by union contracts are political things.

 

When you attack public education and try to reshape it along the lines of private industry, and you do it with no democratic accountability to the public, THAT is a political thing. Every aspect of education policy is a political thing, and it is ignorant of Gates to think or say otherwise.

 

But that is why I am standing here tonight. That is why you are here as well. We all know better. We all know that public education is a political thing, and we all know that public education is a political thing worth fighting for. We can win this fight. Together we can remake our schools in ways that actually meet the social, cultural, and academic needs of ALL of our children. We can resist the privatizers like Gates. We can put the Public back into public education.

 

Thank you.

Links we liked this week: April 20, 2014

We like sharing interesting news, insightful opinions, activist victories, and actionable curriculum via Facebook, Twitter, and of course through our magazine and books.

We thought why not collect some of our favorites ideas, opinions, and stories in one place each week. It gives you a peek at what piques our interest, and gives us the opportunity to revisit the news that’s shaping our profession and the public debate about education.

Let us know what you think of this idea in the comments, and feel free to add to our list there as well.

abolition-earthday-posters4An Earth Day Message: Take Heart from the Abolition Movement, by Bill Bigelow. April 22 was Earth Day, and Rethinking Schools curriculum editor (and resident environmental justice expert), penned this column for our Zinn Education Project’s “If We Knew Our History” series.

DeColores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children, maintained by Rethinking Schools contributor Beverly Slapin. A blog filled with astute reviews and essays. Teachers and parents — and anyone who reads — will find the blog to be a valuable resource.

Protecting Classrooms from Corporate Takeover: What Families Can Learn from Teachers’ Unions, by Amy B. Dean, via Yes! Magazine. The Milwaukee Teachers’ Union, led by its president and one of the founding editors of Rethinking Schools Bob Peterson, is prominently featured in this well done article.

Teachers Are Losing Their Jobs, But Teach for America’s Expanding: What’s Wrong With That?, by Alexandra Hootnick, via The Nation. The Nation has reliably good coverage on big education issues. Don’t miss the special focus on Teach for America in the spring issue of Rethinking Schools, too.

Jim Crow in the Classroom: New Report Finds Segregation Lives on in U.S. Schools, via Democracy Now! This segment features an interview with journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose multi-part investigation “Segregation Now: Investigating America’s Racial Divide” can be found at ProPublica.

Americans Who Tell the Truth: Dave Zirin portrait, by Robert Shetterly. Our favorite sports journalist Dave Zirin was deservedly honored by Americans Who Tell the Truth with one of Robert Shetterly’s incredible portraits. Read about his accomplishments and view the portrait at this link.

Duncan Withdraws NCLB Waiver from Washington State, via the inimitable Diane Ravitch. This news caused quite a stir when we posted it on our Facebook page on Thursday, and rightly so. Ravitch provides a good explanation of what this means and its implications for public schools nationwide. The corporate-led school privatization movement marches on…

Pearson Pays $7.7 Million in Common Core Settlement, by Lindsey Layton via The Washington Post. The entire Common Core enterprise reeks of corruption. Here’s another piece of evidence.

Scholastic and Big Coal Team Up to Bamboozle 4th Graders, by Joan Brunwasser, via OpEdNews.com. An interview with our curriculum editor Bill Bigelow about the successful campaign Rethinking Schools initiated to get Scholastic, Inc. to stop pushing pro-coal propaganda to 4th graders.

Minneapolis Replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, by the staff of the Indian Country Today Media Network. Minneapolis is starting a movement. Let’s join them! (Also join the, um. . . . spirited conversation at our Facebook page about this bit of news.)

A Lesson Plan for Strikebreaking Substitute Teachers

A Lesson Plan for Strikebreaking Substitute Teachers

By Russ Peterson

Editor’s Note: Portland, Oregon language arts teacher Russ Peterson sent this lesson plan to colleagues, who are preparing to strike beginning on February 20th. Given that part of the corporate reform agenda throughout the country is to attack conditions of teaching and learning for public school teachers, as well as to erode contract protections of all kinds, it seems that more and more teachers will be on strike “for the schools our students deserve.”

Russ Peterson teaches at Grant High School and has taught in Portland Public Schools for 13 years. Russ gave Rethinking Schools permission to share the lesson plan with teachers around the country.

— Bill Bigelow

Good morning, colleagues!  In the spirit of collaboration that teachers engage in, I have attached a lesson I put together as part of the district request that a lesson plan be provided in the event of a strike.  I thought it would be helpful given the circumstances, and would save you all the time and effort of putting one together yourselves.

Please feel free to share with your colleagues in other schools in the district, and with others in your department who I may not know.

– Russ

SUB NOTES

  1. Photocopy the attached poem, usually attributed to Jack London.
  2. Read the poem along with the class out loud.
  3. Have the class complete the  TPSS-FASST graphic organizer (copied below) as they deconstruct the poem.
  4. After reading the poem and completing the graphic organizer, ask the following questions for discussion:
    • What is a ‘scab’?
    • What images does Jack London use in describing a scab?
    • Given these images, what is London’s attitude toward those who work during a strike?
    • Why do you think someone would work during a strike?  What are the consequences of this?  How does this fit into the model of “ally, bystander, victim, adversary”?  Which of these is a scab?  Which of these are those engaging in a work-stoppage?
    • London assumes that the striker is a man. Why would he assume this? Does he also assume that scabs are men?
    • Why does management hire scabs?  What is their objective?
    • Many times in U.S. history, employers have used workers of different races or ethnicities to break strikes. How do you think these employer tactics have affected relations between different groups of workers?
    • Should unionized workers aim their hostility more at scabs or at those who hire scabs? Why?
    • Do you (students) know any scabs?  What do you think about scabs and what they are doing?

With the remaining class time, write either:

  1. a poem of your own about scabs
  2. an essay in response to London’s poem – do you agree with London’s assessment?  Why?  Do you think London is being unfair to those who cross a picket line?  Why? With either choice, support your thesis with evidence.

The Scab

by Jack London* (1876-1916)

After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab.

A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue.

Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles.

When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out.

No man (or woman) has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang his body with.

Judas was a gentleman compared with a scab. For betraying his master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not.

Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.

Judas sold his Savior for thirty pieces of silver.

Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of a commission in the British army.

The scab sells his birthright, country, his wife, his children and his fellowmen for an unfulfilled promise from his employer.

Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas was a traitor to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to his country.

A scab is a traitor to his God, his country, his family and his class.

* There is some question as to whether Jack London wrote this poem.

TPS-FASTT ANALYSIS-GRAPHIC ORGANIZER

TITLE:  Examine the title before reading the poem. Sometimes the title will give you a clue about the content of the poem. In some cases the title will give you crucial information that will help you understand a major idea within the poem.  What does the title make you think about?  What images or ideas does it conjure?  What themes might it ignite?
PARAPHRASE:  Paraphrase the literal action within the poem. At this point, resist the urge to jump to interpretation. A failure to understand what happens literally inevitably leads to an interpretive misunderstanding.  To that end, “translate” the poem into straightforward, everyday English.
SPEAKER:   Who is the speaker in this poem? Remember to always distinguish speaker from the poet. In some cases the speaker and poet might be the same, as in the autobiographical poem, but often the speaker and the poets are entirely different.  What does the speaker value?  How can you tell?  What does the speaker like or dislike?  Can you discern anything about the speaker’s identity—gender, nationality, background, time period?  How?
FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE:  Examine the poem for language that is not used literally. This would include, but is not limited to, literary devices such as imagery, symbolism, metaphor, simile, allusion, repetition, hyperbole, the effect of sound devices (alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance, consonance, rhyme), and any other devices used in a non-literal manner.
ATTITUDE (or TONE):  Tone, meaning the speaker’s ATTITUDE toward the SUBJECT of the poem. Of course, this means that you must discern the subject of the poem. In some cases it will be narrow, and in others it will be broad. Also keep in mind the speaker’s attitude toward self, other characters, and the subject, as well as attitudes of characters other than the speaker.  Are there specific words that convey a particular tone?  What are they, and how do they work together to create that tone?
SHIFTS:   Note shifts in speaker and attitude. Shifts can be indicated in a number of ways including the occasion of poem (time and place), key turn words (but, yet, then, etc.), punctuation (dashes, periods, colons, etc.), stanza divisions, changes in line and stanza length, and anything that indicates that something has changed or a question is being answered.
TITLE:  Examine the title again, this time on an interpretive level.  Based on what you noticed as you examined the poem, what new or different resonances does the title take on?
THEME:  First list what the poem is about (subject), then determine what the poet is saying about each of those subjects (theme). Remember, theme must be expressed in a complete sentence.

NAME:  __________________________________________  Poem/Essay/Extract __________

Lessons from the Atlanta testing scandal

bobpeterson_classroomBob Peterson, a Rethinking Schools founding editor and president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, reflects on the Atlanta testing scandal and the lessons we might learn from it.  This post was previously published at Bob’s own blog “Public Education: This is what democracy looks like.” 

Friday’s indictment of 35 Atlanta educators for a massive testing scandal should give pause to all people who care about the future of education and our children.

The indictment by a Fulton County grand jury charged the former superintendent Beverly Hall with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. She could face up to 45 years in prison.

The underlying story behind this scandal is that when school “success” is reduced to data-driven standardized test scores, the consequences are devastating. Cheating is only the tip of the iceberg.  An even more troublesome consequence is that the very definition of education is hijacked. Learning is narrowed, dulled, and reduced to measurable data bits. Teaching as a craft and profession is redefined as script-following and data collecting.

During Superintendent Hall’s decade of being superintendent in Atlanta test scores rose and she became the darling of Arne Duncan who hosted her at the White House. Duncan’s policies have coerced state legislatures to increase standardized testing and to tie educator evaluation to test scores.

According to Friday’s indictment, “Principals and teachers were frequently told by Beverly Hall and her subordinates that excuses for not meeting targets would not be tolerated.”

One teacher, who turned a state’s witness, told officials that teachers were under constant pressure from principals who feared they would be fired if they did not meet the testing targets.

The New York Times reported that Hall “held yearly rallies at the Georgia Dome, rewarding principals and teachers from schools with high test scores by seating them up front, close to her, while low scorers were shunted aside to the bleachers.”

The New York Times also noted “Cheating has grown at school districts around the country as standardized testing has become a primary means of evaluating teachers, principals, and schools.”

Time to Ask Questions

While some policy makers and test-obsessed school “reformers” may dismiss such cheating scandals as exceptions, these scandals should serve as a wake up call to anyone concerned about the future of our schools.

We need to ask some basic questions.

  • Should our children be subjected to endless test prep and hours of narrow skill-driven curriculum? Or instead should they get a well rounded education like what President Obama’s daughters receive at the Sidwell Friends School or what Arne Duncan received as a child at the Chicago Lab School?
  • Should students of color and those from economically disenfranchised families be subjected to narrow, test-driven schooling while children in the most affluent communities receive well-resourced, well-rounded education with much less testing?
  • Why should transnational textbook/testing companies and corporate-backed philanthropic organizations determine the curriculum for our schools?

Time to Act

Increasingly parents, teachers, principals, and even school superintendents are speaking out on the over use and negative impact of mass standardized testing.

The courageous teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School not only started a boycott of the MAP tests, but also allied parents and community groups to their cause.

Principals in New York spoke out against the use of test scores to evaluate staff and schools. Parent organizations across the nation have stepped up, recognizing that using tests to declare public schools as “failing” is part of a larger plan to close public schools and replace them with privately-run charter schools.

Let’s use scandals like that in Atlanta to continue to push to change the national narrative on school accountability. Let’s unite with progressive school board members to hold community reviews on the impact of testing in our schools and to examine reasonable alternatives.

Let’s do what’s right for our students.

Some good resources on standardized testing

Their Fight Is Our Fight

by Kris Collett

On Monday, September 10, 29,000 of our Chicago colleagues went on strike after they failed to reach an agreement over education reforms sought by 1% Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Twenty-five years have passed since Chicago teachers last went on strike.

The reforms sought by Emanuel will be no surprise to those who have followed the corporate education “deform” movement: teacher evaluations and teacher pay tied to standardized test scores, longer school days to allow more time for testing, closing schools and turning them over to charter operators, and provisions that slash health benefits and seriously curtail job security.

Rethinking Schools, along with the National Network of Teacher Activist Groups, is standing in solidarity with Chicago teachers as they fight for the future of public education. Why? Because their fight is our fight.

Pauline Lipman, professor of education policy studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, perhaps said it best in her interview with Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!:

What is happening here in Chicago is also strategically significant nationally. [Chicago] was the birthplace of the neoliberal, corporate, top-down education reform agenda—privatizing public education, closing and sabotaging public neighborhood schools, high-stakes testing, paying teachers based on test scores—that whole agenda. And Chicago is now the epicenter of the fight back against it. What happens here in Chicago will really have an implication for whether we are able to turn back this national agenda.

We want to highlight and excerpt a few articles and interviews that we feel provide a glimpse of what Chicago teachers are fighting for:

Democracy Now! Interviews Teachers on the Ground

The host of Democracy Now! Amy Goodman invited Phil Cantor, a strike captain at  North-Grand High School, to talk more about why teachers are striking:

We’re striking for a lot of reasons. If you just see what’s in the mainstream media, all they talk about is that teachers want more money. But that’s really far from the truth. We’re fighting for reasonable class sizes. We’re fighting for wraparound services for our students. I teach in a school with a thousand students; we don’t even have one social worker in that building for most of those kids. So we’re fighting for the education our students deserve in Chicago. We’re fighting against reforms that we see, from the classroom level, are not going to work.

For more about the corporate “deform” agenda, see Stan Karp’s “Challenging Corporate School Reform and 10 Hopeful Signs of Resistance.”

Phil also explained on the show what it means for teachers when their pay is tied to high-stakes standardized test scores.

At my school, I looked at the calendar for the year, and there are about 15 days where students are being tested on standardized tests. These tests are not designed to help the students. Many of these tests are designed because of No Child Left Behind to measure the school. And now, because of Race to the Top and these new reforms, now these tests are being used to measure teacher performance. So what does that mean? It means that rather than planning rich-inquiry, interesting lessons for our students, we have to focus on very specific tested standards in a very narrow way. . .

To give an absurd example, this week I’m supposed to give a district-mandated test to my 9th-grade biology students, who I’ve known for one week, on DNA-to-RNA transcription and translation in protein synthesis. The reason they’re getting this test, on material they’ve never seen before, is so that I can be measured from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. . . . It’s an insane way to try to measure teachers. It’s clearly sort of the business model, the corporate model of people who don’t understand the classroom, saying, “Oh, we’ll test them at the beginning of the year and the end of the year and see growth.” But it’s an absurd sort of test that is not going to work even for that purpose, and it’s certainly not going to help our students.

Read “Neither Fair Nor Accurate” by Wayne Au for more reasons why it’s a terrible idea to link pay to standardized test scores. 

Chicago teachers have worked diligently over the past several years to develop deep ties to parents and the community, and it’s paying off now. Goodman invited local school councilmember and parent Matt Farmer on the show to comment.

I support the efforts of the Chicago Teachers Union in this labor negotiation, because I believe they are fighting to make schools in Chicago better for all kids. The reason I say that is because the mayor talks at length about providing a “world-class education” for Chicago’s kids, but what we know is that the mayor’s kids are getting one at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Why, we should ask, aren’t the reforms the mayor is trying to push through the same as those that are working at the lab school? More art, more music, libraries for kids—those are not the types of resources and classes that we are seeing.

Listen to or read the transcript of the Democracy Now! segment about the Chicago Teachers’ strike.

 Stand in Solidarity with Chicago Teachers

If you want to show your solidarity with the Chicago teachers, start with the National Network of Teacher Activist Groups. They have organized a campaign, Solidarity with Chicago Teachers, where you can find up-to-date information on what’s happening and pledge your solidarity by posting a testimonial; teaching a related lesson; organizing discussions and solidarity from your union, school, or education program; and/or contributing to the CTU solidarity fund.

 Stay Informed

Here are several other articles and resources that we recommend for understanding the struggle, lending your support, and keeping up with developments:

Ballot Question in Boston Would Silence Teachers

As Rethinking Schools’ representative to the National Network of Teacher Activist Groups, I hear a lot of news about exciting organizing (and outrageous attacks on education). Recently, TAG Boston told us that Stand for Children has zeroed in on Massachusetts. That reminded me that last fall, Rethinking Schools published an investigative piece, “For or Against Children? The Problematic History of Stand for Children,” in which authors Ken Libby and Adam Sanchez described how Stand began as a parent-led organization with a progressive agenda, but has become a highly funded weapon in the attacks on teachers and teachers’ unions. I thought our blog readers would be interested in this update by Teacher Activist Group-Boston.

–Jody Sokolower, Policy and Production Editor


Stand for Children is at it again, this time in the state of Massachusetts. The self-proclaimed “independent social justice organization” has been organizing to curtail the rights of teacher unions across the country.

In Massachusetts, their recent and extremely complex ballot initiative, “Great Teachers Great Schools,” is focused on stripping due process rights, silencing the voices of child advocates, and forcing yet-to-be-tested evaluation rules onto school districts. The ballot initiative doesn’t mention children once and it’s quite possible that it will divide parents and teachers instead of bringing them together.

Why would any organization want to do this? After taking a closer look at who is on Stand For Children’s (SFC) advisory board these apparent contradictions make a little more sense.

In Massachusetts, the current board of advisors is composed of members who have more experience with running a business than a classroom. Members include the Managing Director at Spectrum Equity, a private equity firm, and a Vice President of Client Services at KGA who formerly worked for Fidelity Investments. Nationally SFC has received millions of dollars from The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the wealthy owners of Wal-Mart. They have been using their money and influence to lobby legislators all over America and convince them that cheaper, younger, unprotected teachers are good for corporations and good for our children.

Massachusetts is no different. SFC has already started using their cash and clout to collect more than 100,000 signatures in a matter of months. They believe our teachers need to be evaluated aggressively. SFC believes more expensive, veteran teachers who are historically the leaders of our schools shouldn’t be valued for their experience.

TAKING A STAND Members of the Boston Teacher Activist Group, who teach in public schools in and around Boston. The educators warn that a ballot question being pushed by Stand for Children would have a chilling effect on the ability of teachers to advocate for their students.

No teacher would disagree that there’s a need to better our current evaluation system in order to improve teacher quality. In fact, Massachusetts is already implementing a rigorous new teacher evaluation program that has been supported by AFT Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Why then do voters need to weigh-in on implementing another system before the new one is rolled out?

Good question. It appears that the bill is really about weakening unions and local control. If passed, there is little motivation for school districts and unions to agree on issues of evaluation or possibly, in the future, agree on anything at all. School districts can ask the state to make all final, binding decisions. The result is an attack on unions that undermines collective bargaining, which in turn is an attack on teachers and the young people that teachers care about most.

What’s worse is that even if the initiative does pass, it is hard to see how it can improve our public schools. As Mary Ann Stewart, president of the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association, explained: “This is a huge distraction from what teachers and parents believe is most needed to help students succeed. We need small class sizes, excellent preschools, support services for at-risk students, and high quality professional development for teachers. Instead, this ballot question gives us more top-down mandates and red tape.” In addition, both associations of Massachusetts principals and the Secretary of Education Paul Reville are opposed to the initiative.

Lastly, and most importantly, this initiative silences the voices of teachers and makes it harder for them to advocate for their students. It weakens protections for teachers and will leave many of them too scared to speak out against the injustices their students face. Without protection, teachers may be afraid to stand up for an English language learner or a special education student who isn’t receiving the supports they deserve. Instead of standing for children, teachers will be forced to stand for silence, regardless of where the children fall.