Activism now: shifting focus from DeVos to ESSA

Thank you everyone for your activism in fighting back against the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.  Because of your activism, you brought a greater awareness to public education.  While we are disappointed that DeVos did receive the appointment, we cannot stop our activism now.

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Ohio recently released its draft ESSA plan.  This plan is devoid of an overall vision for education and does nothing to move Ohio away from a testing culture and towards a culture that is more responsive to the needs of children.

The Ohio Department of Education intends to submit this plan on April 3 even though they have the option to wait until Sept. 18.  When asked why they are choosing the earlier submission date, the response has been that that is what the field wants.

We MUST let the Ohio Department of Education know that submitting this plan in April is unacceptable.  They must bring stakeholders back to the table to set a course that will change the culture of education on Ohio.

Continue your activism.  Take the online ESSA survey now.  In each section, feel free to add whatever comments you might have about the topic, but make sure to include something that indicates that the plan does nothing to change our current testing culture and that the state needs to wait until September to submit so that it can be rewritten to reflect the vision Ohio wants for its students.

Yesterday, the State Board of Education discussed the ESSA plan, and it was obvious that several Board members have heard complaints from the field and are concerned about submitting this plan now.  I testified today about delaying the plan.  My testimony is copied below.  We have to keep the drumbeat going though on delaying the submission date until Ohio sets a vision that changes the testing culture.  We need literally thousands of survey submissions that make that statement.  Please take the time to take the online survey, then post on social media and ask others to do the same.  Deadline for comment period is March 6.

Thank you again for your activism.  Please take the time to read my testimony below.

Testimony to the Ohio State Board of Education on ESSA

President Elshoff, Vice-President Hollister, and members of the State Board of Education:

I am Melissa Cropper, a library-media specialist from Georgetown, Ohio currently serving as the President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. I come here today to speak not only in the role I serve representing educators, but also as the mother of a son who wants to become a teacher and the grandmother of a kindergartner and a one-year old who I hope will have the privilege to go through an education system that is vastly different from the current culture in which our children are educated.

In starting my testimony, I would like to draw attention to page two of the State Template for the Consolidated State Plan Under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The last paragraph of this introductory page says, “When developing its consolidated State plan, the Department encourages each SEA to reflect on its overall vision and how the different sections of the consolidated State plan work together to create one comprehensive approach to improving outcomes for all students. The Department encourages each SEA to consider: (1) what is the SEA’s vision with regard to its education system; (2) how does this plan help drive toward that vision; and (3) how will the SEA evaluate its effectiveness on an ongoing basis?”

For the past year, the Ohio Federation of Teachers has been calling for the Ohio Department of Education to use ESSA as an opportunity to set a vision for what we want for our children. In fact, it was around this time last year when I gave the attached testimony that says much of what I am repeating today. Yet we have been told over and over again that ESSA is basically a set of technical questions that need to be answered. You heard multiple times yesterday that this is not a complete plan but complete enough to be compliant with federal guidelines and that this is just the infrastructure that can be worked out more fully later. I ask you though, how can you have an infrastructure without first knowing the overall design?

We have an opportunity in Ohio right now to work together – State Board, educators, parents, community members, House and Senate Education Committees, and the Joint Education Oversight Committee- to set a vision for what we want for our children. That should be the foundation for any plan that is submitted. An ESSA plan, as the template document clearly states, should drive Ohio toward that vision.

I am not here today to lobby for any specific change that needs to be made to make the plan more amenable to OFT members. I am here to ask that we all work together to shape the vision that this plan needs. I do want to share with you what I have heard as I have traveled across the state. I can basically summarize the conversations in three main points:

  • Our children, in all parts of the state, are bringing an increasing number of non-academic challenges to the classroom.   These challenges impact their learning.
  • Our children are very disconnected from the value of learning because learning has been reduced to a test score.
  • Educator morale is at a dangerously low point that is impacting the system

We have a responsibility with ESSA to address these issues, and that starts by together setting a vision that focuses on the well-being of the child, creates conditions for powerful learning, builds teacher capacity, and fosters cultures of collaboration. Once we have a vision, we can then look at each section of the plan and ask what needs to be included or changed to drive us toward the vision. Furthermore, as future decisions are being made, we will have some guiding principles that we can use as a litmus test.

I mentioned in my testimony last year that what Ohio desperately needs right now is to rebuild trust. I believe that this is still true. I have been told that a document cannot build trust but rather implementation builds trust. While I somewhat I agree with this, I would also contend that a document can engender distrust, and if the public has gone through a process to give input into a plan and then does not see the input reflected in the plan, then the state has continued to feed into the distrust. I do not think this is the type of culture that you want to perpetuate.

I know you heard that the federal ESSA guidelines do not require the approval of the State Board of Education; however, you represent the people of Ohio, and you are the ones who will have to answer to your constituents. From what I heard yesterday, you have heard from your constituents that they are not comfortable with this plan. I am asking you to call for a Sept submission date and to use the extended time to bring together a representative group of stakeholders to review input that has been given so far, use it to help set the vision for the state, and work with the Department to ensure that every part of the ESSA plan drives that vision.

As I said in my closing statement last year, I believe in the promise of our public school system. I believe that when we combine the voices of the educators who can bring their expertise to the table with the voices of the parents and the community who care deeply about our children, we can create a positive, supportive system that works for all.   We can have high quality early education programs that prepare children for learning. We can design community learning centers that focus on educating the whole child and on helping each child overcome non-academic barriers. We can use data in a way that informs instruction and drives achievement. We can have accountability systems that support professional growth. We can turn around schools that face seemingly insurmountable odds. We can bring wonder and curiosity back into the classroom. We can encourage our children to dream big then help them achieve those dreams. We can only do this though if we take the time to work through a thorough inclusive process that is driven by a vision rather than by a contrived timeline.

Thank you for listening. I will be glad to answer any questions.

 

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From her own mouth…DeVos’ testimony verifies that she is the wrong choice.

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For the past two months, we have been sharing information with you about Betsy DeVos, the devastating impact she has had on public education in Michigan, and the threat she poses for children and education if she becomes secretary of education.

You had the opportunity to listen to her yourself during the Jan. 17 Senate confirmation hearing. What you heard from her own mouth was even worse than what we had told you.

You heard that she doesn’t believe that private schools should have to follow federal law in protecting children with disabilities. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fftskn5HFdA

You heard that she will not hold charters to the same accountability as traditional public schools. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUol5Phz09A

You heard that she thinks guns should be allowed in schools – after all, we have to protect children against grizzly bear attacks. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewLkgfpH6fk

You heard that she refuses to enforce the law concerning sexual assaults on campuses. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u-HmR5-o0s

You heard that even though she wants to be secretary of education, she does not know the difference between proficiency and growth – concepts that have been debated for years in education. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMRX_21Le6I

You heard that she refuses to commit to enforcing gainful employment laws to ensure that private universities do not cheat students out of thousands of dollars. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnibHBkDFO4

Thank you to the more than 1,500 members who have sent emails to Senators Portman and Brown urging them to vote against the DeVos nomination.

Thank you to the countless numbers of you who have made calls into the offices of our Senators.

Your actions are making a difference.

  • Brown has committed to voting against DeVos – thank you Sen. Brown!
  • The confirmation vote has been delayed.

Please continue to take action. Continue to call Sen. Portman’s office to request a “no” vote on the DeVos nomination. DeVos is wrong for America’s children. Tell Sen. Portman to reject her – call him at 202-224-3353.

Ask others to join our efforts by urging others to call him. Ask your family members and friends to make calls. This action might take 3-4 minutes and could make a significant difference in the lives of our children.

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2017 – The Year of the Activist

Happy New Year and welcome to 2017. Much can be said about 2016 – both positive and negative, but certainly 2016 could be tagged as the Year of Politics. Last year was tough for many as politics divided our society, our communities and even our families.

I am looking forward to 2017 to focus on a new start by bringing people together around issues and values, not the individuals who are running for elected office. That’s why I call on you to make 2017 the Year of the Activist.

There are numerous issues impacting each of you in your work with children. There are many values we hold deeply that bring us to this work to look out for the best interests of children. We must look ahead at 2017 for opportunities to harness our passions around an issue to influence policy for the better for ourselves and the children we serve.

The past few weeks have shown the influence that one voice can have and how that one voice can motivate others to stand together to build collective power.

Take for instance the Women’s March on Washington that will take place Jan. 21. This event originated when a grandmother in Hawaii, Teresa Shook, created a Facebook event and invited 40 of her friends to march on Washington. The event exploded as more and more people joined the event, created their own pages and invited their friends. More than 100,000 people are expected to attend the march to draw attention to issues that impact women and families.

All because one woman took the initiative to stand up for something she believed in.

The power of the people became evident again Jan. 3. The night before, the U.S. House Republican Caucus voted to change the rules on ethics by weakening the Office of Congressional Ethics – a move opposed even by some Republican leaders. That vote unleashed a torrent of angry calls from constituents who were outraged that Congress would make this their first act of 2017.

But again, it took the actions of individuals to pick up the phone, make a call and demand that legislators represent their interests.

Each of us is motivated by different issues. What is yours? Are you an advocate for public education? Then make that your issue. Create actions within your school to uplift public education. Mobilize others to fight against the expansion of for-profit charters and to call for better accountability measures for all charters. Post articles on your social media that expose the dangers of privatization. Start taking action today by calling your U.S Senators Sherrod Brown and Senator Rob Portman to ask them to oppose the appointment of Betsy DeVos, a charter and voucher lobbyist with zero experience in public education, as the Secretary of Education (Call Sen. Portman at 202-224-3353 and Sen. Brown at 202- 224-2315). We ask you to call Sens. Portman and Brown because the Senate will hold a hearing on the nomination Jan. 11. Continue your activism by organizing some kind of action Jan. 19 , the national day of action jointly sponsored by AROS (Alliance to Reclaim our Schools), AFT and NEA. This action could be as simple as organizing a social media campaign in your community that day uplifting your public school and fighting back against privatization efforts.

 

Is your issue healthcare? Are you concerned that children in your classrooms might be impacted by the repeal of the Affordable Care Act? Then become an activist around this issue. Demand that our elected officials not repeal the ACA until they can replace it with something better. Expand your activism by pushing for making health services more accessible to children and families through a community learning center model. Join actions that are taking place around the country and push your activism through social media. Look for a Jan 15 Healthcare Day of Action in your area and spread social media posts that you see.

How concerned are you about workers’ rights? Are you disturbed that our neighboring state, Kentucky, just passed a right to work law? Do you remember the battle we had in 2011 to overturn a law that would have taken away our collective bargaining rights? Then make this your issue this year. Dedicate yourself to educating your friends, neighbors and relatives about the dangers of right to work. Watch our website, social media and emails for updates about attempts to take away collective bargaining or weaken labor in other ways and be ready to take action.

I could continue with more and more issues, but the point is, you need to decide what is important to you and take a stance. Educate others about your cause. Mobilize others to join you in taking action. Believe that you can make a difference and then work to make it happen. OFT will be tracking issues and offering opportunities for activism. But you also can start your own activism. Remember, all it takes is one person creating a Facebook event and inviting others to join it. From there, the possibilities are endless.

I recently heard Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (Washington) describe herself in a way that resonated with me. She said, “I am a glass half full person but I work like hell to make sure that I am not wrong.”

I still believe that the glass is half full as we move forward in 2017. And I am ready to work like hell to make sure that I am not wrong that we can improve our worlds by engaging in changing those things that we know could be better for all of us. I proudly call myself an activist and call on you to be one too. Make 2017 your year of activism. Will you join me?

Melissa Cropper, President

Ohio Federation of Teachers

 

Share with us

What issues are important to you?   Share below and offer suggestions for activism.

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What we need in a state superintendent

 

 

With the announcement that Dr. Richard Ross will retire at the end of December, the State Board of Education has the responsibility to hire a new state superintendent of public instruction. In a year plagued with charter school controversy, reform plans written behind closed doors, and unrest over excessive testing, this could be an opportunity to rebuild trust in Ohio’s education system. This will only happen, though, if the board takes the bold step of removing the superintendent’s position from the political realm and focuses on hiring an education leader with a vision for a strong future.

More than 1.8 million children in Ohio are depending on the state board to look past political agendas and ideologies in order to find a superintendent who can bring everyone together to meet their needs and provide them with opportunities for success.

Our children deserve:

A leader who will advocate for our traditional public schools. It is time to stop promoting vouchers and charters in the name of competition. Competition, by definition, yields winners and losers. Unfortunately, in Ohio, the wins go to the adults who make money from their for-profit charters at the expense of children who receive a lower quality education. Ohio has taken a step in the right direction with the passage of HB 2; however, we still need a leader who will take the competition out of education and instead promote all the successes that are happening in our schools everyday and look for ways to share best practices across the system.

A leader who will attract and retain people to the teaching profession by honoring and respecting the important work of educators. The “blame-and-shame” culture that came with No Child Left Behind not only drives veteran teachers out of the profession, it also makes the teaching professional an undesirable field for anyone just starting their career. Instead of burdening teachers with jumping through hoops to prove their value, we need a leader who honors the quality of our teaching force by giving teachers the time, tools and resources they need to educate children.

A leader who is transparent in creating policy and seeks input from those who are closest to the work. Another way to attract and retain great teachers is to tap into their professional knowledge when making and implementing policy. Teachers and administrators spend their careers learning and improving themselves to be better educators only to have to check their lifetimes of professional wisdom at the door in order to comply with policies created by others. Too often, as in the case of the amended HB 70, these policies are created behind closed doors with no input from those who will be impacted – parents, teachers, community members and students. We need a superintendent who will advocate for educators, include them and their recommendations in shaping policy, thoroughly vet ideas with them, get feedback from them on implementation, and respect them for their knowledge.

A leader who believes that a well-rounded education includes more than what can be reflected on a test. The overemphasis on testing is taking all the creativity and exploration out of learning. We need a leader who not only restores balance to the classroom by reducing testing, but also brings balance back to the school day by making sure that each school has a librarian who can open new worlds through a good book, a music teacher who instills a love for music, an art teacher who can tap into a child’s creativity, a physical education teacher who develops lifelong healthy habits, and a teaching staff that is empowered to tap into children’s interests and take time to explore ideas that might not be on a test.

A leader who recognizes that meeting the non-academic needs of children is a critical part of ensuring that our children can reach their academic potential. Our children come to our schools with a variety of needs that inhibit their ability and/or desire to learn. Our communities are full of resources that can move children past these barriers so that they are ready to learn. Districts across the nation, from Austin to Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. to New York have visited Cincinnati schools to find out how they have been so effective in implementing a Community Learning Center model that brings community resources into the schools to help meet the needs of children. Yet Ohio has continued to overlook this model in favor of creating new distress commissions that take resources out of schools. We need a leader who will invest in our neighborhood schools by bringing the communities into the schools instead of looking for ways to farm our children out to other systems.

The president of Ohio’s state Board of Education has said the board’s sole responsibility is to hire – or fire – a state superintendent. Though I do not believe that this is the Board’s sole responsibility, I do believe that it is perhaps the most important decision that they have to make. At a time when ESEA is about to be reauthorized, Ohio will have the opportunity to chart a path that works for Ohio’s children. We need a leader who will rise above the political winds to work with educators to reclaim the promise of public education by ensuring that every child has a neighborhood school that puts him or her on the pathway to a secure and happy future.

 

 

 

 

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Is reducing testing enough???

Last week, President Obama made a video announcement decrying the use of over testing in our schools. He proclaimed that he has charged the USDOE to work aggressively with states and districts to make sure that testing policies meet three criteria: 1. Only give tests that are worth taking 2. Tests should enhance teaching and learning 3. Tests should only be one factor in giving an all-around look at how children are progressing.

These criteria should sound highly familiar since teachers have been saying this and more for several years now. Thanks to all your advocacy and the voices of parents and teachers across the nation, a shift is starting to be made.

Is this shift enough though? It’s a start. As long as we continue to place high stakes on these tests though, we are not going to see a change in the testing culture. As long as teachers are judged by test scores and districts are ranked by test scores, teaching and learning are going to be impacted in a negative way.

Furthermore, critical factors continued to be overlooked – especially factors attributed to poverty. Take a look at these poverty maps. These maps show how much poverty has spread our state from 2000-2012 – and the rates have continued to climb since then. Yet we still see education reform highly focused on everything BUT how we address the factors that are impeding our children’s progress.

We know that all children can learn. We also know that many children face issues that impede their progress – issues such as hunger, poor health, stress disorders, emotional and mental problems, drug problems, vision problems, dental decay, anger management issues. The list can go on and on. If these issues continue to be ignored, no amount of testing is going to change it. Even great teaching alone won’t have enough of an impact.

That is why we continue to push for a Community Learning Center model that focuses on bringing resources into the school and making them accessible to children and their families. We advocate for a model that includes parents, teachers, and community members in assessing what their children need and identifying who can best meet those needs. We push for a model that lifts up not only schools but whole communities.

We, as teachers, want the very best for every child that comes through our door. We desperately want to see this emphasis on testing and wrong accountability measures come to an end so that we can bring creativity and curiosity and joy into learning. We just as desperately though want to see that our children are viewed as more than a test result. That each one is looked at as a complex individual with needs that sometimes impact his or her ability to focus on learning. Only then will we really be able to see our children rise beyond what even they imagined.

For more information about the Community Learning Center model, please contact the OFT office at 614.258.3240.

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5 reasons to revoke USDOE charter grant to Ohio

The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) Sept. 28 awarded Ohio a $71 million grant to expand charter schools – the largest grant awarded to any state. This despite Ohio’s charter schools making the state a laughingstock across the nation. Yes, the legislature finally passed a charter school accountability bill; however, the grant was awarded before the bill even passed and in spite of much controversy and scandal surrounding charters and the Ohio Department of Education this summer. It certainly appears that Arne Duncan and the USDOE are more intent on adhering to their wrong-headed education agenda than actually looking at information and making a decision that is best for our students.

We cannot let this financial misstep by the USDOE go unchallenged. On Oct. 1, the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) sent a letter to Secretary Duncan asking him to suspend the grant until Ohio fixes its charter problems. Since that time, even more has been revealed about the deceptive information in the charter school grant application. That is why I am asking you to sign this petition calling for the revocation of the $71 million Ohio charter school grant.

Here are just five reasons, as recently presented in the Columbus Dispatch, (though many more could be given) why this grant should be revoked:

1. The man who wrote the grant, David Hansen, had to resign his position at the Ohio Department of Education just days after submitting the grant application. His resignation came after it was revealed that he inflated the ratings of some charter schools by scrubbing data of others that showed they earned failing grades. Eliminate the F’s and other charters look better than they are in reality.

2. In staying true to his data-scrubbing propensity, on the grant application, Hansen indicated that there were no poor-performing charters in 2012-2013. The truth is that a third of all charters failed to meet a single standard. In 2013-14, almost half failed to meet a single standard. In addition, 60 percent of charters received a “D” or “F” on the Performance Index.

3. The application boasts an automatic closure law, but fails to mention that the law is not currently being used because it is suspended and won’t be re-instated until at least 2017-18.

4. Online for-profit charters are eligible to receive money, even those that are some of the worst performers in the state. Of course, these are also the ones that had their data scrubbed to make charters look much better than they are in reality.

5. A significant portion of the grant – $10.25 million – is earmarked for the creation of high-quality seats in a recovery district. Think Youngstown and the last-minute additions made to House Bill 70 that allowed for a state takeover of the public schools there and possible transition to charters. The original HB 70 was aimed at structuring our public schools to ensure that all available community resources were utilized to meet all the needs of students, including their non-academic needs. The amendments to HB 70 reformed the academic distress commission and redefined what happens in a recovery district, including bringing in an accelerator to create charters there. The accelerator, by the way, is undefined, is not accountable to anyone, and never goes away – even if the school works to rise out of academic distress. In other words, the amended HB 70 does the exact opposite of the original bill. It takes resources OUT of the school to pour into a charter school system that has a drastically poor track record in Ohio. To top it off, the charter school grant awarded by USDOE gives them the money to make it happen.

We cannot sit quietly while the USDOE gives Ohio $71 million to expand the failed charter school program in our state. Join me in signing this petition to revoke this charter school grant.

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Your voice needed for charter reform

Welcome back. Many of our members who work in education are back in their schools already. Some still have a day or two before returning, but the air is thick with summer memories and hopefulness for the fresh start of a new school year. Thank you for spending much of your summer in classes to improve and expand your skills as educators, in conferences to learn how to better serve our students, and preparing all the things you know make your classroom more engaging and rewarding.

Your commitment to education is admirable. For years now, we have been telling legislators, the media, and everyone who will listen that the demands of teaching are becoming so great that the teaching profession is in danger. A recent New York Times article about teacher shortages verifies our concerns. As AFT President Randi Weingarten replied though, the problems are much deeper than economics. The factors driving teachers out of the profession have much more to do with the lack of autonomy that teachers have in their profession and the growing demands of an unfair accountability system that is based on test scores rather than on the true value that teachers, paraprofessionals, and education support staff bring to the life of a child.

Though teachers have had little to no input into the policies that are destroying our system, we still get the blame. Anyone who listened to the Republican presidential debates heard at least three candidates – Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie- brag about taking on the teachers unions. Can we seriously question why we have so many problems with our education system when the people who seek to lead our country want to build a system that shuts out the professionals’ voices?

We cannot just blame one person, one party, or one branch of government for everything that is wrong in education though. There is much blame to be spread. That’s why your voices matter so much. Instead of putting all our faith and hope into a person or party, we must coalesce around issues and demand that our voices be heard.

We have a perfect opportunity to do this with charter reform in Ohio. We need to speak loudly in support of House Bill 2. This legislation will create strong accountability for charter schools in Ohio – an important start to taming what many have come to call the “wild, wild west” of charter schools.

HB 2 is waiting the one act that will make it law – your state Representatives must vote to “concur.” This will combine and adopt all of the strong elements of this bill with improvements approved by the Senate into one substantial new set of ways to hold charter operators accountable for the public dollars they get from us and the academic results they produce – or don’t.

Your state Representatives failed to make this happen when they went on summer break without voting. Shameful, yes. But we can’t let them think that we forgot about this issue over the summer. Our students may sometime experience a summer slide, but we remember clearly how the legislator abruptly passed an amended HB 70 to allow public school districts to be turned over to charters, yet failed to pass charter school reform. We need to strongly remind them that Ohio is long overdue for charter reform.

Your state Representatives are in your neighborhood now. While still off for the summer, your state Representatives are home, in the districts where they represent you. In your hometown. You should go talk to them. Visit them in their hometown office or invite them to your school. Tell them how important it is to our students that the state make sure public dollars are not wasted, mismanaged or embezzled because there are lots of other schools where students do very well and could use more resources and support.

Charter schools get more than $1 billion of our public tax funds each year, yet news story after news story expose profiteers running away with the money, or simply point out that the vast majority of charter operations fail to educate students. This is unfair to students, their families and taxpayers.

Tell your state Representative to concur on House Bill 2. Call them. Meet with them. Tweet at them using their Twitter handle and the hashtag #concurHB2. Post comments on their Facebook pages. Tell them to concur on HB2 as their first order of business when the House reconvenes session.

Your voice matters on this issue and will matter in many issues yet to come. We need you to join the chorus and make a difference. Raise your voice – now.

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