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Equity

Blog Entries

By Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

As we fight our way back from the recession, it's clear that our economy isn't working for everyone. Too many are out of work or have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Too many don't have the skills they need for the jobs available in their communities. Too many get the skills they need only to be saddled with crippling debt or faced with unaffordable housing. For too many, the American dream is out of reach. Meanwhile, the rich get richer and government grows increasingly gridlocked as money drives politics.

As a union, the American Federation of Teachers takes on these issues. Indeed, our members and those we serve count on us to fight back. So, yes, we confront corporations like Pearson in front of their shareholders for business policies that lead to gagging teachers and spying on children. We protest for-profit colleges like Corinthian that leave students with a worthless degree and a load of debt. And we call out hedge fund managers who denounce teachers' pensions as they profit from teacher pension funds ...

By Melanie Zinn, Owner, Director and Lead Teacher of a Licensed Home Child Care Program in Vermont*

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of blog posts on the early childhood education work force that the American Federation of Teachers is running in honor of Worthy Wage Day, celebrated this year on Friday, May 1. View the other posts in the series here.

We attribute many stereotypes to “those in need”: jobless, maybe homeless, lazy, struggling, etc. I would be surprised if a tidy-looking, professional person was the image that popped into your head at the mention of this phrase. However, the reality of many early educators is just that: In need. I am one of those in need, and I never thought I’d be able to actually admit it.

What could we possibly be in need of, you might ask? The picture of an educator can also be so stereotypical! A woman, right? And one in professional attire, who only has to work like 6 hours a day, who doesn’t even have the children in their classroom the entire time due to library and gym, etc., who has summers off and let’s face it, doesn’t really deserve to earn as much a doctor or lawyer or engineer, right? Oh, so wrong! ...

By Gail Connelly, Executive Director, National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)

All too often, the life story of the struggling reader, especially the child from disadvantaged circumstances, is a heartbreaking one.

Often not identified as at-risk until third-grade high stakes testing, stigmatized by classroom pull-out programs, given one-size-fits-all remediation, and faced with the possibility of retention, the struggling reader must then continually play catch-up in all subject areas as reading becomes increasingly central to learning. ...

By Dr. Joseph Bishop, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills

What does equity have to do with accountability?

Many teachers and principals are likely feeling stressed as they think about how to make up for lost instructional time in the wake of an uptick of winter storms like Juno. This isn't the case for students in Hamilton, Michigan. In fact, a little more cold and a little more ice might be a good thing for their math and science projects. As part of the STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Math) program at Hamilton Middle School just outside of Grand Rapids, students are developing the fastest sleds they can make, using cardboard and duct tape. Students are doing more than playing in the snow, seeing how learning can be fun in the right conditions. One student said it best, "It's cool because no one else in school has ever gotten to learn like we are."

But under the current accountability system, often lurking behind the classroom choices are inevitable questions about the ‘what if.’ Like, will an innovative project-based lesson similar to testing sled designs have consequences for student preparation for tests or test responses? Instead, educators should be thinking about more important things, like finding the best creative way to make sure a lesson sticks like fresh snow. And far too often, No Child Left Behind and many state accountability plans have looked too quickly at test results, and not addressed the unequal conditions that are making it hard for communities to deliver enriching public school experiences. ...

By Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

A high-quality public education can build much-needed skills and knowledge. It can help children reach their God-given potential. It can stabilize communities and democracies. It can strengthen economies. It can combat the kind of fear and despair that evolves into hatred.

On my recent visit to Israel, the West Bank and Auschwitz, I was reminded how public education, by bringing children together—regardless of race, religion or creed—can promote pluralism. 

Public education can also provide the safe harbors our children need, especially in tough times. In December in Ferguson, MO, I saw how public schools gave kids the space they needed to process what was happening in their community, while instilling hope ...

By David Ferrier, Policy Research Intern, National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education (CPE)

A study released last month shows that children who attended high-quality preschools in North Carolina were significantly less likely to require special education services in the third grade. These findings were from a longitudinal study following children from at-risk families from birth to the end of third grade. It examined two programs, More at Four and Smart Start, both publicly funded programs in North Carolina, that aim to provide high-quality child care to 4-year-olds living in poverty and to improve the quality and delivery of child care and preschool services for children from birth to 5, respectively. The focus on this developmental period of life is reflective of much developmental research showing that significant cognitive, social, and emotional development occurs across this timeframe and thus, it is a critical period to support. Furthermore, educational psychologist Jeffrey Liew highlights that cognitive and social-emotional development in early childhood can be heavily influenced by teaching efforts targeting those skills.

These findings evidence the importance of a high-quality early childhood education ...

By Heather Naviasky, Program Associate, Coalition for Community Schools

Twice in the last several months, schools have received attention because of their strong academic performance. But in telling their stories, the Education Trust (in the case of Menlo Park Elementary a "dispelling the myth school" in Portland, OR) and the Washington Post (in the case of Carlin Springs Elementary in Arlington, VA) focused only on academic improvements, overlooking the role of educators and their community partners in ensuring that low-income children also have the opportunities and supports they need to thrive. Last month we at the Coalition for Community Schools expanded on the success of Menlo Park Elementary; this month, we dive deeper into Carlin Springs.

On January 10, 2015, the Washington Post highlighted how Carlin Springs Elementary was raising test scores. It focused on how "teaching to the test" and test prep created double digit test score gains for the school. Once again, while they zoomed in on one area of achievement, the Post did not capture other dimensions of the school’s improvement strategy ...

By Amber Chandler, American Federation of Teachers member and 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts Teacher at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, NY

Teaching is my calling. I can’t give directions without teaching them to you. Sometimes, depending on your learning style, I will draw you a map on a napkin. Other times, I might get you to Google Maps and have Siri talk you through it. Occasionally, I’ll give you only the landmarks—“Go past the 7-11, until you see a Tim Horton’s on the right. It is directly across from there.” There are teachers who teach a subject, and teachers who teach children, and it is that difference that we must all consider as Education (with a capital “E”) under fire.

Policy makers and bureaucrats are attempting to convince the world, who are incidentally probably laughing at how backwards we are approaching this manufactured education crisis, that the woes of society should be squarely on my back. For those of you who might say that I am making taking this personally, let me remind you that it is my performance that is being questioned. Please. Pay attention. I am trying to teach your children ...

I’ve been reminded over the past weeks of the importance of language in arriving at agreement on what needs to happen for the public education experience to be successful for all our students, regardless of their background and socioeconomic condition. The use of language and its different translations/meaning for different citizen groups was brought home during recent debate over proposed changes in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal education bill that is now before Congress. A few examples:

  • Accountability – From my standpoint, accountability just means assessing the progress of those who have some skin in the game and can influence the outcome of any endeavor. I actually prefer the word responsibility ...

By Lily Eskelsen García, President, National Education Association (NEA), and Otha Thornton, President, National PTA

This piece first appeared in the Washington Post. View the original here.

Public education for every child was an American idea, but it has always been a local and state responsibility. Even when Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act 50 years ago, the intended federal role was limited but clear: ensuring equal opportunity.

The act provided federal resources for states to level the playing field between schools in wealthy and poor districts. However, its 2002 reauthorization, which became known as No Child Left Behind, took the law off track by mandating that all students hit arbitrary scores on standardized tests instead of ensuring equal opportunities.

No Child Left Behind has failed. Now we have a chance to fix the law by refocusing on the proper federal role: equal opportunity. To do that, we must change the way we think about accountability.

Under No Child Left Behind, accountability has hinged entirely on standardized test scores, a single number that has been used to determine whether students graduate or teachers keep their jobs. The problem is, a single test score is like a blinking "check engine" light on the dashboard. It can tell us something's wrong but not how to fix it ...

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