Sunday, April 28, 2013

Wow! Thank You, WEA-RA Delegates

Wow! What a heady and humbling experience running for WEA president has been. Considering that I entered the race late, spent very little money, and ran as an insurgent, my showing was surprising to me. Thank you to all 243 delegates who chose to vote for me. I am very, very appreciative of the many of you who took time to acknowledge my effort. Some of you have asked for a copy of my remarks, which appear below. The WEA-RA does not video remarks from candidates, but I'll post a delegate's video (once I figure it out) of my speech for those who might be interested.

First election results in the WEA presidential contest:

Kim Mead, President of Everett Education Association
530 votes/49.17%

Mike Ragan, Vice President of the WEA
299 votes/27.7%

Peter Szalai, President of Oak Harbor Education Association
243 votes/22.54%

Run-off election results:

Kim Mead: 624 votes/61.9%
Mike Ragan: 377 votes/37.4%

Congratulations to Kim Mead on her victory who becomes the new WEA President around the time of the NEA-RA this July.

One of my favorite scenes in a movie about teaching is in Dead Poets Society where teacher John Keating tells his students to read an essay called “Understanding Poetry” by a J. Evans Pritchard. Pritchard defines poetry like this: “If the poem's score for perfection is plotted on the horizontal of a graph and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness.” 

Here’s John Keating’s response: “Excrement. That's what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. We're not laying pipe, we're talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? I like Byron, I give him a 42, but I can't dance to it.” 

Good teaching is more like good poetry than good math.

The WEA made fully funding and fully implementing the new teacher evaluation system as intended by the legislature one of its top legislative priorities this year. WEA committed vast resources and our reputation to supporting the most emblematic symbol of the education reform movement. Our leadership made a political calculation that traded our core defense of the teaching profession for a seat at the table, and so we helped write the 2010 and 2012 legislation, and now are creating the contractual language, procedures and training to make it work. Without WEA there would be no new evaluation system. 

There’s a time for compromise and there’s a time for conviction. And our leaders have confused the two. Instead of compromising, our leaders should have cried “’Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war.”

We--the preeminent organization solely dedicated to public education—have endorsed the belief that old, bad union-protected teachers prevent children from learning, that teachers require improvement, and that ed reform is the fountainhead of solutions. We have given aid and comfort to those who wish us harm. We’ve saddled hundreds of school districts and thousands of teachers with the unnecessary, expensive, and exhausting yoke of a new evaluation system that will not change the reality that most teachers are doing a satisfactory job, that most students have opportunities for success, and that obstacles to failure are beyond the control of educators.

Protecting the teaching profession is a core value of the WEA. It should never be negotiable. You cannot reduce teaching to a number. Period. 

If the WEA is not behind us, who is? If our leaders don’t know when to draw a line in the sand, who will? 

Pedagogy and practice are not the problem. Poverty and parenting are. In the past twenty years in our obsession with teacher performance, we have spent practically no time, money, or energy focusing on deep-rooted and uncomfortable factors that actually do affect achievement: a declining work ethic, evolving concepts of individual risk-taking and independence, an unjust economic system, over-prescription of drugs and over-labeling of behaviors that should not be drugged or labeled, casual attendance, avoidance of personal responsibility, over-parenting, under-parenting, judicial decisions, legislative meddling, and inequitable funding.

Ed reform is a phenomenally misguided and wasteful scheme by politicians, philanthropists, pundits and business leaders to impose a corporate model on public education, believing that educating human beings is a mass production enterprise akin to stamping sprockets on an assembly line. Ed reform has diverted money away from public schools to charter schools, narrowed the curriculum, devalued the fine arts, marginalized social studies and P.E., fomented an obsession with testing, siphoned funds from curriculum and student support to professional development, scapegoated teachers, and absolved students and parents of their responsibilities.

This is the centennial of Rosa Parks’ birth. Many of us know the story of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white man, an action that sparked the Montgomery bus boycott which is a milestone in the civil rights movement. Later it was erroneously reported that Rosa Parks simply was too tired to stand up. But that’s not what happened. As she said, “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

It wasn’t a moment to compromise, to negotiate how many rows forward she would be permitted to sit on the bus, or under what circumstances fatigue might trump racism. Well, this is our Rosa Parks moment, our moment to say enough, we’re tired of letting others define good teaching and good learning and good schools, when we finally say, we’re tired of giving in.

Thank goodness that our colleagues at Garfield in Seattle took a stand against the injustice of an over-reliance on testing. 

They understand that not everything that counts can be counted. Can you imagine what mighty power we could harness in effective service of educating and believing in the whole child—not just the part that can be measured and reduced to endless vats of data--if this one moment the WEA leadership actually planned proactively?

I’m Peter Szalai, I’m an 8th grade teacher and spend most of my time with the adolescent versions of the Seven Dwarves: you know them . . . Dopey, Grumpy, Bashful, Sleepy, Smelly, Moody, and, of course, Drama.

I’ve been a classroom teacher for 30 years—and I use the label “teacher” not as an honorific--I come from full time teaching not from full time release, not from union offices but from the front lines where we have to implement every next new thing. I'm the insurgent candidate. I am neither beholden to nor enamored by the WEA bureaucracy. I owe no one anything. My focus is totally on what's best for our profession and our members with an authenticity burnished through doing the incredibly difficult job of teaching every single hour of every single work day—a hard job made harder by constantly being poked, pushed, prodded, probed by those who neither teach nor understand teaching—do this, don’t do that, do more of this, do less of that, do this and that. 

I will have no problem whatsoever speaking truth to power, to say unmistakably, “The Emperor has no clothes.” I won’t dress up bad policies with expediency. I won’t raid our closet to modulate and legitimize those efforts which are not in the best interests of public education. 

I also will stop WEA from lurching reactively, from being stuck in perpetual “the sky is falling” mode—usually singling out and caricaturizing Republicans as two-dimensional figures unable to participate humanly in the public education debate. We should stop alienating many of our members, stop being seen statewide as a toady to the Democrat Party, and stop unwisely marginalizing our influence with those with whom we disagree.

Our rally tomorrow is headlined solely by Democrats. Now, in the words of Will Rogers, personally “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." And I’ve patiently explained to my Republican and unaffiliated members in Oak Harbor that WEA endorsements are based on candidate positions on our issues. But let’s review:

No Child Left Behind was co-sponsored by a Democrat. Our two new evaluation laws were passed by a Democrat legislature and signed into law by a Democrat governor. Race to the Top and STEM competitive grants, and the appointment of Arne Duncan as Education Secretary are the responsibility of a Democrat President.

In my school district, all three Republican legislators supported doubling our levy rate. On Whidbey Island, we usually have Republican legislators and we engage with them in mutually respectful ways. 

The WEA needs to be a non-partisan, professional organization. We ought to hear from all decision-makers respectfully. When we disagree or favor another approach, we should act accordingly.

And, lastly, I believe we need to get our financial house in order by making economies, reprioritzing our expenditures, and remembering who pays the bills. A beginning teacher with no TRI earns about $33,000. A beginning paraeducator in my district makes $13.31 an hour. And the WEA staff they support are compensated very handsomely, as is the WEA president who is paid more than 32 states pay their governors. My local uniserv, one of five statewide nearing bankruptcy, is raising dues 48% this year and another 15% next year. I support the work of the Sustainability Committee which seeks to reduce the size of the WEA Board of Directors, eliminate uniserv councils, and invest in more local leadership training and development. 

We need to live within our means. 

Everyone has a favorite teacher. Mine is Dr. Heniford, just this month celebrating his 85th birthday. He was my 10th grade English teacher who taught me how to write and speak and value education. When I once asked him why he wore a tie to school every day when many of the other teachers were more casual, he said “To honor my profession.” There’s a word we don’t hear often in relation to teaching and teachers: honor. I don’t remember a single assessment or a learning target written on the board or his fidelity to his department’s pacing guide or his score on 37 sub dimensions of an instructional framework. But I remember him. Good teaching is foremost about relationships.

There are two establishment candidates in this contest—you like how things are going, choose one of them—they’ll keep the same direction, the same policies. I call them the Titanic candidates--their experience in WEA’s bureaucracy looms large and impressive.

But if you have had enough, if you’re ready for a different approach, then for a change you have a choice.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

WEA: A Wing of the Democrat Party

There’s to be a rally in Olympia this Saturday mostly by the WEA-RA delegates who will have their Saturday session cancelled.  The purpose is to “send a message to the legislature to fund our schools.”  And we get to wear red--you can imagine how excited I am.  

Only Democrat politicians are headlined to speak.  Since all three budget proposals from the House, Senate, and Governor—and even the one from just the Republicans in the House—all increase funding for schools, why aren’t legislators from all parties included?  Yes, I can understand that some might be more in line with our agenda, or more favorable to a particular goal.  But, honestly, this is just another political rally for the Democrat Party. 

What about our Republican and unaffiliated members?  What about those, like me, who are un-enamored by Democrats who are largely to blame for much of ed reform?  No Child Left Behind was co-sponsored by Democrat Ted Kennedy and passed by a vote of 87 to 10.  Our two disastrous new evaluation laws were passed by a Democrat legislature and signed into law by a Democrat governor.  Race to the Top and STEM competitive grants, and the appointment of Arne Duncan as Education Secretary are the responsibility of a Democrat President.

The WEA needs to be a non-partisan, professional organization.  We ought to hear from all decision-makers respectfully.  When we disagree or favor another approach, we should act accordingly.  Instead, WEA caricaturizes Republicans as two-dimensional figures unable to participate humanly in the public education debate.  What are we afraid of?  Are Republican ideas and Republicans worthy of automatic, continual, and vociferous vilification?  Do only Democrats have the answers?

In my school district, all three Republican legislators visibly supported doubling our levy rate.  On Whidbey Island, we usually have Republican legislators and we engage with them in mutually respectful ways.  

For the WEA to continue to act as a wing of the Democratic Party, it marginalizes its members and influence, and shows that not only is it a toady of partisans but also intolerant of full debate and those with whom we might disagree.

This approach needs to change.  Otherwise, the WEA will continue to be disrespected by many in this state.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Availability at the WEA-RA in Bellevue

2013 WEA-RA Delegates and Successor Delegates should receive the following and final email from me this evening . . .

Hi 2013 WEA-RA Delegate or Successor:
As you begin preparing for the WEA-RA next week, I just wanted to send you a final note.  Unlike the other candidates, I will not have a table of materials and gifts, campaign posters, or chanting supporters to welcome you to the convention center.  My candidacy is self-funded.
I've accepted an invitation to speak to the Sammamish Council's breakfast caucus on Friday morning.  If you would like to speak with me or visit your delegation, I can be reached at my delegation's hotel (the Marriott Courtyard across the street from the convention center), via the email address listed below, or via cell phone--(360) 929-2376.
Otherwise, you will hear from me and the other candidates in prepared remarks on Friday afternoon; you will then vote on Friday from 5:30 to 7:15 p.m.
I've listed ways to learn about my candidacy below.
I look forward to competing for your vote at the upcoming RA in Bellevue.

To learn more about my candidacy or to help:


To Donate: Make checks payable to Elect Peter and mail to 
732 Palisades Dr., Coupeville, WA 98239

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Money Wasted

Spent the day at the NWESD189 learning how to evaluate teachers using the University of Washington's 5 Dimension's instructional framework. The cost of the 4-day class, substitutes, and mileage for 5 administrators and 3 teachers is about $5,800. 

I'm wondering if any teacher could think of another way to spend $5,800 that would have a greater effect on students?

You Can't Be a Little Bit Pregnant

The Florida Teacher of the Year who nonetheless was rated unsatisfactory in her annual evaluation is now part of a NEA lawsuit claiming that using test data in a Value Added Model (VAM) is unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, here in Washington, the WEA’s legislative priority is to “fully fund” and “fully implement” our version of a new evaluation system so that ”it succeeds as intended by the legislature.”

Unlike the Florida Education Association which is part of the lawsuit challenging evaluating teachers by using test scores, the Washington Education Association is up to its elbows in not only fashioning final legislation but also in devoting significant staff resources in facilitating state-wide implementation of an incredibly-cumbersome, time-consuming, and wholly unneeded evaluation system.

The argument from leadership is that because WEA was and is heavily involved leveraging our special relationship with Democrat politicans we now have an evaluation system that is less onerous, less dependent on testing, and more nuanced than it could have been. Basically, it's not as bad as it could have been.

You can’t be a little bit pregnant. Either we have an evaluation system that attempts to reduce teaching to a number and relies on student growth measures or we don’t.

WEA has foolishly colluded with those who seek to harm public educators and public education. We have given aid and comfort to those ideologues who believe that children are being prevented from learning by old, incompetent, over-protected, over-paid, and under-scrutinized teachers. The new evaluation system saturated with WEA’s fingerprints weakens due process, ends tenure, uses student growth measures (including testing), and provides teachers with a final summative rating—a number. There continue to be attempts in the legislature to emphasize student test scores because we--the preeminent guardian of public education--have whetted the appetites of those who believe that reform is the answer.

If ever there was a time where WEA should have said “We’re mad as hell and we’re not taking this anymore,” when WEA should have organized all 82,000 of its members to storm Olympia with a fiery outrage, it was in 2010 when 6696 and in 2012 when 5895 were being passed by the legislature. But, our leaders made a cold, short-sighted, far-reaching and dead-wrong calculation "to be part of the solution, to make it work"--to mitigate and parse injustice.

Those company candidates who voted in favor of trampling on our core values—and the WEA Board usually and dutifully votes unanimously--can hardly be expected to know when it’s time to say “enough is enough."

‘Enough is Enough’: Florida Teachers Sue to Block Flawed Evaluation System

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Let's Remember Who Pays the Bills

The salary of the president of WEA is higher than that of 32 governors--$144,797 plus $59,754 in benefits. 


We’ve been told that the WEA’s budget has been under strain due to a declining membership and stagnate wages. We’ve also been told that all of the 21 uniserv councils are similarly suffering, and that five in particular are in imminent danger of going flat-out bankrupt—my uniserv, 4th Corner, is one of the five. My uniserv delegates reported vague warnings sporadically throughout the year that finances were an issue, but no substantive information or proposal made its way to my membership until about a week before we were asked to vote on a 48% increase in dues to support the uniserv next year, and then another 15% increase the year after. Level V staff directors earn a maximum of $126,802 (plus the $59K in benefits) and 7 out of 10 Level V staff directors are at the maximum.

Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone is necessarily overpaid. My association has received excellent service from various staff directors assigned to us and from the central office as well—when, from time to time, we’ve needed assistance. I have to be honest in that except for assistance in bargaining, grievances, contract maintenance, and separation agreements provided by staff directors, our uniserv council itself does not materially or positively affect the members of my local.

I am, however, strongly suggesting that we keep in mind who pays the bills. A beginning teacher earns a base pay of $33,618; a beginning paraeducator in my district makes $13.31 an hour. We also need to live within our means. In my local, we made reductions and economies when our membership declined. We did not raise dues.

One of the challenges of the next WEA president is strengthening local leadership, reorganizing uniserv councils while most likely reducing staff or salaries or benefits.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

We Don't Need a New Way to Evaluate Teachers

On Thursday, my superintendent announced that he is leaving either through retirement or accepting a new position. In meeting with him to discuss the transition to new leadership, we discussed various issues, the new evaluation system being prominent. Like me, he does not believe that another unfunded mandate from the legislature, unnecessarily bureaucratized by OSPI , and endorsed by WEA is either welcome or needed. Like me, he is not a Kool-aid drinker, not one enamored by ed reform’s latest bauble. Unlike most of his superintendent colleagues and those who are piloting the new evaluation program, he believes we should seek the barest, most minimal implementation--that which, in his phrasing, will keep the black helicopters from visiting Oak Harbor.

Since June of last year when the legislature passed Senate Bill 5895, I have spent the majority of my focused time as a local leader on implementing the new evaluation system in Oak Harbor. I have spent dozens and dozens and dozens of hours

  • Researching and learning about the legislation
  • Familiarizing myself with OSPI’s T-PEP website
  • Preparing and leading a presentation to my school board in June
  • Preparing and leading a presentation with my HR director to every school in the fall
  • Attending six full days of the T-PEP RIG process in Anacortes
  • Attending a half-day presentation by leaders of the Anacortes pilot program—leaders who are marinated in Kool-aid
  • Attending a full day training by WEA in Bellingham
  • Preparing and leading a follow-up presentation to my school board this month
  • About to attend four full days to practice evaluating using the 5-Dimensions instructional framework
  • Meeting eight times with my head bargainer and the HR director and then spending time after each meeting to produce rough drafts to write contractual language for the Association’s and district’s negotiations teams in time for the start of bargaining on April 11
  • Scheduling, preparing and then leading follow-up presentations to every school this May
  • Supporting my negotiations team as they bargain evaluation language

As my departing superintendent and I lamented, there is absolutely nothing in the new system that could not have been accomplished in the old, admitted-clunky and imprecise system. Almost all teachers are satisfactory. Those who are not can be made to improve by the old system. Old procedures contained plans of improvement that worked. Those who do not improve usually see the handwriting on the wall and the Association helps them leave the profession or seek employment elsewhere in a dignified manner.

I happened to be watching CNN’s Your Money this morning, and saw a series of charts showing that American workers have increased productivity and created more wealth the past several decades but have found their wages stagnated. A billionaire Wall Street investor then commented that the problem with this picture is the failed American public education system.

Really? If the products of our schools are so damaged by incompetent teachers than why has productivity and wealth risen?

We don’t need a new teacher evaluation system. It is a colossal waste of time, effort and money, and has diverted energies away from meeting the needs of students. WEA’s leadership should be ashamed to be part of this debacle.

One of my teacher colleagues sent me the following link to a fantastic but deeply sad letter of resignation from a teacher in New York who resigned because he couldn’t take the effects of ed reform any longer: “I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists.”

We can do better. WEA must do better.

Teacher's Resignation Letter

WEA-RA Delegate Materials

As delegates begin preparing for the WEA-RA which is less than two weeks away, they will have campaign material from each of the candidates. Here is information in the flyer that I prepared for delegate packets:

I believe

• We should fight with every fiber of our being and every tool available to us against the new evaluation system. TPEP attempts to reduce teaching to a number to separate those who conform to a corporate model from those who do not. It is fundamentally at odds with our core values.

• The WEA Board is dangerously wrong in its legislative priority to “fully implement” and “fully fund” the new evaluation system. By helping those who at best are misguided and at worst maleficent, the WEA is squandering its potential and duty to protect our profession.

• WEA leaders should lead. Current WEA leaders assert that the best organizational strategy is to capitalize on grassroots efforts. I disagree. Without a well-thought out and vetted plan, we underutilize our power. Whereas I admire whenever my colleagues in the field achieve local success—like the Garfield teachers who said “no” to at least one assessment—we as an organization would have much more influence if that one wildcat action was part of a systematic and coordinated effort. WEA leaders should do more, much more than just be part of photo-ops or to waste, year after year, our time at RAs presiding over debates about what color t-shirt we should wear on what day.

• The WEA should be a professional, non-partisan organization. We should not be a wing of the Democratic Party. Many of our members are either Republicans, not Democrats, or unaffiliated. We should hold elected officials accountable to our agenda and our core values, regardless of party.

• We should oppose the education reform movement. It has damaged public education, demoralized good teachers, shortchanged students, and has absolved parents, lawmakers, students themselves, and others from performing their vital roles. Narrowing the curriculum, devolving learning experiences to endless vats of data, obsessing over assessments, ignoring creativity and individuality, and scapegoating teachers should rally the WEA to an outraged and potent militancy.

• “Failing schools” and “bad teachers” are a manufactured hoax that skilled, relentless, and powerful adversaries have foisted on the public. We have been insufficiently skilled, relentless, and powerful in response.


I am not an establishment candidate. I have not made a career in the WEA bureaucracy. I am a full-time classroom teacher in my 31st year of teaching. I’ve also been my local association’s president for ten years, and have been active in regional, state, and national issues as they relate to public education.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Everett Herald Article

Szalai, 54, lives in Coupeville and is a social studies teacher at Oak Harbor Middle School. While he pledged to make the WEA more proactive, unlike the others he faulted the current leadership for ceding valuable ground to reformers.

He said he joined the race after the WEA embraced a new statewide policy of evaluating teacher performance using student test scores and other numeric measures.

"I do not believe you can reduce teaching to a number," he said. "I don't think that's possible and even if it was possible I don't think it would be healthy."

He's set three goals: to repeal the new evaluation system, to reorient the WEA as a nonpartisan professional organization "and not as a wing of the Democratic Party" and to push for its agenda rather than react to that of others.

"We have given aid and comfort to bad ideas. I think we have damaged education," he said. "I think there comes a time to say no."

"Three in race to lead teachers union," 4/8/13 Everett Herald

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Enough of Ed Reform

I sent the following letter to Lynne K. Varner tonight in response to her April 4th column in the Seattle Times entitled "Time for Washington Education Association to do a self-exam" where she mentioned my candidacy to be president of WEA:

"Hi Lynne,

While I appreciate the rather unexpected inclusion of my candidacy in your column last week, I wanted to take a moment to clarify why I am running to be president of WEA.  For it seems that you are under the impression that I seek to move WEA towards an 'all ed reform, all the time' position.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

I feel that ed reform has been a net negative, has damaged public education.  By any measure of value, ed reform is now synonymous with dubious or deleterious effects.  Examples include diverting money away from public schools to charter schools, narrowing the curriculum, devaluing the fine arts, marginalizing social studies and P.E. and career and technical education, fomenting an obsession with testing, unnecessarily siphoning funds from curriculum or student support to professional development, scapegoating teachers, and absolving students, parents, society, and pundits (such as yourself) from their vital roles in what must be a partnership in order for success to be achieved.

Far from wanting WEA to move any closer to embracing ed reform—I’m nauseated by my union’s embrace of the new teacher evaluation system, for example—I instead fervor for a clear-headed and full-throated stewardship of what makes teaching fundamentally complex and individual and wonderful.  The Seattle Times continuous editorial bias embracing ed reform is simplistic, dangerous, and ignorant. 

When I first started teaching 30 years ago, I chose to be a fee payer, believing that only weak teachers needed the protection of the union.  Within a year—as a non-tenured, non-union employee—I chose to file a grievance against my employer for violating the terms of the contract by exceeding class size limits in a school-wide reading program.  Since I was provisional, I could have been non-renewed—fired at the end of the year.  But I stood on conviction and I learned the value of a union, collective bargaining, and the resulting working conditions and benefits that provided all teachers—even non-members—with basic protections.  My grievance was denied but the conditions were alleviated (a common administrative tactic—fix the problem while admitting no wrong) and I subsequently joined the union.

Now I am running to lead the state union—not to 'bring more congency to reform discussions' but to stand on conviction, to finally draw a line in the sand and say, 'Enough.'

Peter Szalai

Time for Washington Education Association to do a self-exam

Candidacy Information

To learn more about my candidacy or to help:

YouTube Video Introduction

Facebook Page: Elect Peter Szalai WEA President


WEA-RA Website Candidate Statements

Contributions to my campaign are welcome. Checks are made out to "Elect Peter Szalai" and sent to 732 Palisades Dr., Coupeville, WA 98239. Thank you.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Public Education Not Defined by Educators

Unintended Consequences

One of the unintended consequences of the emphasis on testing in the education reform movement is an increase in cheating.  Yesterday, the superintendent of Atlanta public schools and 34 other educators were indicted on charges of misconduct in the administration of standardized testing.

I don't believe in absolving individuals of personal decisions.  What these educators did, if proven, is wrong and embarrassing to the public education community.

Yet, the pressures unleashed by good intentions in trying to improve student learning have wrought all sorts of negative results--an increase in cheating is just one of them.  Narrowing the curriculum, eliminating or reducing recesses, devaluing the role of the fine arts, siphoning money away from curriculum development to professional development, and inculcating in the American public's mind that teaching can be reduced to a number are all examples.

It is time for our state and national education organizations to disavow the educational reform movement, to unmask it for what it is--namely, a phenomenally misguided and damaging assault on the teaching profession and the institution of public education.

We need to stop trying, as teachers are always prone to do, to make it work, make do, make lemonade from lemons--which is what we've been doing for twenty years--and finally array our organization, communication, and money in support of the teaching profession and the institution of public education.

There is a time for compromise and there is a time for conviction.


3 dozen indicted in Atlanta cheating scandal

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What Matters Most Cannot Be Measured

Diane Ravitch is my hero.  If President Obama was truly a friend of education, he would replace his Education Secretary Arne Duncan with Diane Ravitch.  But he hasn’t and won’t because the NEA has been too busy fawning and flattering as a wing of the Democratic Party instead of acting in service of our core values as a professional, non-partisan organization.

I’d never heard of Diane Ravitch until one day when my superintendent loaned me his copy of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.”  I avoided reading it because I thought it was going to be one of those vacuous, nonsensical eduspeak books that we are sometimes forced to read.  I was totally mistaken, and I couldn't put her book down, audibly and repeatedly exclaiming affirmatives, “Yes.  Yes.  Yes!”

I got to see her speak at the NEA-RA in Chicago when she was presented the NEA’s Friend of Education award.  The irony of her statement “The current ‘education reform’ movement is pushing bad ideas” was that both the NEA and the WEA have made the political calculation to endorse education reform in order to mute public disapproval of unions and to shape outcomes--to in effect lie with the enemy in order to pick out the sheets.  I think this strategy is a dreadful mistake.

I don’t send dues to Linens-n-Things.

A colleague sent me a link to Diane Ravitch’s blog, and I've enjoyed reading not only her own thinking but also that of other pro-public education activists.  One of them, a California science teacher named Anthony Cody, criticized an unbelievable article by AFT’s Randi Weingarten who drank the Kool-Aid to support the Gates’ Foundation’s drive to improve public education by improving teaching evaluation systems.  This guy is good:

“The fundamental problem with the Gates Foundation is that they have directed the entire national conversation to blaming teachers–instead of poverty and segregation– for low test scores. They have put hundreds of millions of dollars into evaluating teachers, finding good teachers (and rewarding them), finding ‘bad’ teachers (and firing them).”

And . . .

“But here is my view: the teaching profession across America is under attack. The Gates Foundation has helped to fuel that attack by its claim that teacher quality is our biggest problem. Teacher-bashing has become sport for talk shows and pundits. Legislatures are vying to see what they can do to demoralize teachers, what benefit they can strip away, what right they can negate.”

And finally . . .

“I note that no other nation in the world is trying to quantify teaching. There is a reason for that. What matters most cannot be measured, so we value only what can be measured. And that may be what matters least.”

Compare that to this:  

“Washington Education Association Key Issues, 2013 legislative session, 4. Teacher evaluations:  Evaluations”

“WEA members are working hard to implement two teacher evaluation laws already passed by the legislature. The new evaluation procedure must be in place by fall 2013 and be phased in through 2016. The evaluation focuses on professional growth, and includes student assessments as a measure of teacher performance. WEA members also believe the new evaluation system should be fully funded so it succeeds as intended by the Legislature.  This includes initial training and ongoing professional development for teachers and principals. Additional principals and administrative resources are necessary to fully implement the new evaluation system.”

Wrong.  Wrong.  Wrong!

Diane Ravitch's Blog

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

3 Candidates

I'd like to acknowledge the other candidates for president of WEA:  Kim Mead, President of Everett Education Association, and Mike Ragan, Vice President of WEA.

I asked both to attend and speak at one of my Rep Council meetings--Kim came in November and Mike was here today.  Each stayed for the entire 90-minute meeting and then had dinner with my vice president and me. 

I like both Kim and Mike, and had I not been a candidate would have been fine with voting for either one.  I had been leaning towards supporting Kim because of her success in raising teacher salaries (her top teachers earn almost $20,000 more than teachers in my local), her experience, her ability to be well-spoken, and her poise.  But I also like Mike, and was impressed with his 2007 speech at the RA when he unexpectedly won his three-way Vice President's race, his real-world experience (moving from being an engineer to student teaching in an elementary school initially), and his success in moving WEA to a fiscally-sustainable path.

So, why am I offering a third option?  In talking with Kim, I heard alliance and allegiance to current strategy and vision of leadership.  Kim supports present WEA President Mary Lindquist on how to use WEA in service of our core values.  Kim supports full implementation and funding of the new evaluation system and does not believe that WEA should provide top-down leadership.  In talking with Mike--keeping in mind the necessary constraints of any vice president--I heard earnestness and genuine support of educators, but no substantive plan to bend the prevailing narrative presently arrayed against public education.  He, too, believes that teachers need to improve, although he cedes that the WEA has been too reactive.

Kim and Mike are two establishment candidates.  Neither of them will change much of what has been going on.  If either of them wins, it will be the same pizza with different toppings.  Same old, same old.

I'm the insurgent candidate.  I am neither beholden to or enamored by the bureaucracy.  I owe no one anything.  My focus is totally on what's best for our profession and our members. 

Read the three statements.  Consider the options.  Because this election, you definitely have a choice.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Poverty and Parenting, Not Pedagogy and Practice

Why this reality makes this manner of evaluating teachers unfair:

There are innumerable factors not under the control of teachers, poverty being particularly significant since the number of children in poverty has risen dramatically. The move both nationwide and in our own state to evaluate teachers according to numerical "achievement" on narrow tests is unfair. The WEA should never have compromised, should never have helped enact, and should not now be supporting full implementation "as intended" of an evaluation system based on phenomenally inexact, devaluing, and meaningless numbers. Teaching is more than a number.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Time for an Outsider

Being not part of the dense WEA circular backslapping bureaucracy, I’ve offered my candidacy in a fairly unorthodox manner. The approved and expected route to higher position in WEA is to patiently and in sequence run for and hold offices of ever-increasing importance. And then obsequiously to collect as many endorsements from a very select group of 1200 voting delegates (85% of who are returnees, lifers) as possible. We’ve all seen the political ads where there are dozens and dozens of endorsers, usually appended with very important titles. I received one recently from a current candidate and I swear there were so many names that I think I saw the Dalai Lama’s name and maybe Bugs Bunny, too.

Establishment candidates are well-schooled in the election procedure—purchasing and distributing all sorts of bric-a-brac (pens, candy, granola bars, full-color fliers on expensive paper), renting hospitality rooms, touring the state’s 21 UniServ councils, etc. There’s even a drawing for tables at the convention center to distribute campaign materials and if your name is drawn you get first pick! One former candidate told me that a traditional campaign costs about $15,000.

At his invitation (an invitation he extended to all candidates), I had dinner this week with WEA’s Executive Director John Okamoto. His purpose was to answer questions about the WEA governance and administrative structures, and to get to know potential office holders. (The WEA is run by an Executive Committee and a Board of Directors, and the present president, Mary Lindquist is proposing reducing the size of the Board, while simultaneously reducing the number and nature of UniServ councils).

The only candidate John had not worked with directly is me.

I am running as an outsider, as someone who has not made his entire life’s ambition advancement through and endorsement by the WEA bureaucracy. My attention has been on my members, my advocacy is for them. I’m neither sycophant nor operative. I am a classroom teacher. It’s time that WEA has some fresh leadership outside of the company choir.

Friday, March 22, 2013

SPAM as Professional Development

One of the most frustrating givens of today’s dominant narrative of public schools is that teachers are in need of continuous improvement—and that endless amounts of professional trainings will improve those who can be improved and unmask those who cannot.  

What most teachers figure out fairly soon in their careers is that professional development begins to result in diminishing returns after about the 7th year of teaching.  You one day are overwhelmed with this sense that you’ve heard this all before—maybe not in the same format, or packaged in the same way, or marketed via the same acronym or by the same mascot—but all the same, you’ve heard it all before.

In my district—a small district without many resources—savvy administrators were successful in procuring a massive federal grant to provide huge amounts of professional development—amounting to almost 8% of our total budget over three years.  A company in the American south has been hired to fly consultants across the country to be lodged, dined, and compensated to water parched professionals with the nectar of “best practices”—in this case, reading strategies designed to increase standardized scores on one reading and one math test in high school.

Now, on the one hand, as a local leader I am glad that my members have opportunities to gain clock hours and earn back some of their lost wages due to the legislature’s 1.9% cut in our pay and 6-year suspension of a cost of living adjustment.  And perhaps some younger teachers or perhaps some who have transferred to an unfamiliar assignment may benefit from standard strategies renamed and placed in yet another binder that will soon join others on a high shelf in a closet.

In the meantime, my textbooks are 12 years old, our after-school tutor bus has been eliminated, the health-impaired student population continues to rise while no additional nurses are hired, librarian and counselor positions are eliminated, and special education is woefully underfunded.

If you Google “recipes for SPAM” you will quickly find hundreds of ways to serve the “precooked meat product” first introduced in 1937—black pepper SPAM fried rice, SPAM mesubi, jalapeno SPAM quesadillas, huevos SPAM cheros, and it goes on and on.  But what it finally comes down to is you’re eating SPAM.  

Same with most professional development.

Part of the new evaluation system is a heavy reliance on more and more professional development—the idea being that something is wrong with teachers that is causing students to fail and that if we can finally fix those teachers who are fixable and chase those who are not from the teaching ranks, students will finally succeed.

I don’t believe that.  I believe that teachers know how to teach and teach well every single day.  

I would very much like my state organization to finally and unequivocally say when they see the Emperor with No Clothes pass by, “Hey, that dude’s buck naked!”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Is WEA anti-Classroom Teacher?

Is WEA anti-classroom teacher?  

If our state organization's disastrous support of TPEP isn't bad enough, WEA now is supporting Senate Bill 5244 that places limits on suspensions and expulsions, requires schools to do more to return excluded students to the educational setting before the end of their exclusion (if possible), and saddles teachers and others with the responsibility of coming up with a plan to "re-engage" the student with school.


This is another attempt to blame teachers and schools for the failures of students and parents.  When WEA embraces these types of initiatives, our state organization--our only state organization--provides aid and comfort to those who believe that teachers and schools are indeed to blame for the lack of student achievement.  

I'm not one of them.

Students behave badly for a variety of reasons--none of them having to do with teachers and schools not being engaging enough.  In the 30 years that I have taught, I have managed, motivated and tolerated a wide variety of behaviors--some of them expected, developmentally-appropriate, and even on occasion resultant of my own inadequate lesson plans.  But most disruptive and disrespectful behaviors emanate from choices made by students, ineffective parenting, and weak administrators whose primary concern is to protect their political standing.  As a local leader, I've seen many, many teachers thrown under the bus by a combination of an enabled kid, pushy parent, and spineless principal.

And, yet, we're told to raise standards, maintain high expectations, and go for that academic rigor.

Wouldn't it have been refreshing for a change for the WEA to oppose Senate Bill 5244 and instead give a full-throated, unabashed, and unambiguous support of classroom teachers and their unsung efforts to protect the learning environment from disruption?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Education is About Passion and Personalization

Robinson is an English author and "educationalist," which makes me a little nauseous.  But I really like the underlying philosophy of this quote.

Trust--Don't Shame--Local Associations

If elected, I hope to end the policy which shames local associations who, through no fault of their own, are unable to meet the ethnic minority/people of color representation requirement in their WEA-RA delegations.

The WEA’s constitution requires that local associations make every “reasonable and legal” effort to increase the participation of members of color. I support and act in service of that goal. I strongly oppose how the goal is translated in the Standing Rules of the WEA-RA.

When my local was unable to pressure one of our handful of minority members to attend WEA-RAs two years in a row, we were forced to write a plan, which was rejected, rewrite the plan, have our entire delegation placed on hold, and then be visited by WEA. We don’t need or want WEA scrutiny and sanction to work in service of a goal we respect.

An unintended consequence of WEA oversight of locals, through no fault of their own, who are not able to meet their member of color requirement is a negative aura that somehow good and decent WEA members are not committed to inclusivity or diversity—or that they are not competent or sufficiently aware of their own memberships.

This RA, my delegation will include a member of color, a former student of mine who now works in my building. In order to avoid scrutiny and sanction by the WEA, I leveraged my special connection with him to pressure him to come to the WEA-RA. No other members receive special pressure to attend the RA. I also made special arrangements to have his wife and first child accompany him. Since my local has sustained a reduction in members, our budget normally would not allow for successor delegates, but, again, to avoid scrutiny and sanction by the WEA, we’re adding costs.

Now, I am glad that he has agreed to attend the RA, and, again, I support the goal of increasing diversity in our union. But because all of our members must belong to all four levels of union representation—local, Uniserv, WEA, and NEA—and because almost all of our local associations do not have anywhere near the state’s minority percentage (28% in 2010), the requirement to have a particular number of minority delegates attend or endure scrutiny and sanction is unfair.

Keep the goal. Leave the determination and implementation of efforts to include and increase minority participation in the hands of local leaders. WEA should be a resource which could be called upon as each local decided it needed help.

If I were WEA president, I would trust local associations.

Friday, March 15, 2013

How Not to Use the WEA-RA

One of the main reasons I’ve decided to run to be WEA president is to offer a different approach to the WEA-RA itself.  I’ve been absolutely flabbergasted and flummoxed at current WEA leadership’s approach to the two-and-a-half day annual event that gathers about 1200 delegates representing 82,000 WEA members each spring.  In speaking with both current president Mary Lindquist and presidential candidate Kim Mead, I’ve listened to how plans cannot be top-down, they must emanate from the grassroots, that no local will want to be told what to do by WEA leaders.  

I fundamentally disagree.  I believe that our members hunger, veritably salivate for leadership.  They've been fed sand so long, they believe it to be water.

As a local leader whose hotel, meals, mileage and substitute costs are paid for by my underpaid members, I’ve had to be embarrassed time and time again by WEA leadership’s lack of a coherent plan and program, instead relying on random and often nonsensical initiatives from rudderless delegates.  

How much time have we wasted year after year arguing about what color t-shirt to wear on what particular day?  Or whether or not we should fund a WEA chorus to sing pro-labor songs?  Or whether or not we should send a handful of look-at-me members to a Save Our Schools conference in Washington, D.C.--and if we do how much should we set aside so that they can have a grapefruit as opposed to a melon each morning for breakfast?  Or debating the immigration laws of Arizona, for Pete's sake?

The one time that a brave delegate dared to read off-script and propose that we scrap the Friday morning session to instead travel to Olympia to give our legislators hell, WEA courtiers and operatives fell over themselves to rush to the microphones to presage locusts, plague, and the end of the world if we were to actually use the RA to DO something union-like.  The proposal was soundly defeated.  And we continued instead with debating foolish ideas.

My absolute favorite time-wasting inanity, one that still fills me with abject incredulity--and this was allowed by WEA leadership to go on at two different RAs—is when some delegate commandeered the microphone on a baldly-specious point of personal privilege to urge the 1200 delegates to decry cuts in funding to public education and to lament the resulting loss of educators by yelling like idiots, or in Walt Whitman’s phrase, “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”  I can’t possible fathom anything less effective than 1200 educators screaming in a windowless room.  Twice.  Like the Koch Brothers give a rip?


This is why my members send me to the annual convention of the preeminent representative public education organization in the entire state?  I think not.

If I was WEA president, I would spend the entire year planning for the WEA-RA, which would be held on a Saturday and Sunday so as to reduce costs for delegations, to lay out a well-thought-out—but amendable—plan on how to best utilize our power in service of our core values.

Union Meeting from "The Life of Brian"

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Happy Classified Employees Week!

Working in a district that has its classified employees unionized by Public School Employees (PSE), I have to admit that I am not an expert in their issues of pay, benefits, and working conditions. I have worked with my counterpart PSE presidents over the years and have had my teachers’ union support PSE job actions. And, of course, in thirty years working in schools in Washington and California, I’ve worked with many secretaries, janitors, instructional assistants, library assistants, and clerks.

Since this is Classified Employees’ Appreciation week, I wanted to single out three classified employees who I believe are outstanding professionals. The first is Mrs. Martin who was my full-time instructional assistant my first year teaching a 2nd/3rd grade combination class in San Bernardino. She helped me understand the largely African-American community from which most of my students came. She was firm and kind, strict and loving—her guidance leavened with laughter. I learned a lot from her and depended on her support as I learned how to be a teacher.

Later, when I transitioned to the middle school level, I worked with Sandy, no last name, no formality, just Sandy. She was a great custodian—an older lady, had served in the military, gray-haired, a little gruff at first but very welcoming to me as a teacher new to her school. I used to come in and get coffee each morning, the big stainless steel coffee urn residing in her janitorial closet/office. Her philosophy on coffee was similar to wine—let it age. In fact, she never actually washed her coffee cup, preferring the complex maturity of countless java beans. One of my best memories of Sandy was when I dropped a coffee cup I had been given to by my father, one he had when we were in Berlin, hand-painted with the dates “1964-1967” and his rank in the army. It shattered into dozens of pieces on the cafeteria floor and I apologized as she came out to clean up the mess. A few days later she presented to me a painstakingly glued-together cup. It must have taken hours. It still sits on my desk.

By far the best secretary I’ve ever worked with is Barb, who I’ve worked with probably ten years. She is the most selfless, professional, conscientious, and competent professional I have worked with in public education. She’s never flustered, works evenhandedly in any imaginable circumstance, deals with difficult parents, teachers, and students with aplomb, is first to arrive and last to leave, and never, never promotes herself. She cleans the staff lounge, loads the dishwasher, and organizes the teachers’ workroom each morning before her day actually begins. She’s exactly who I want—who anyone would want—interacting with the public. I frequently refer to her as “a saint.” If our administrator doesn't show up to work, no big deal, but if Barb doesn't show up an unease pervades the building as people feel a void, the absence of a vital and indispensable part of our school.

We’re all--certificated and classified--working on behalf of public education, each of us in our own specific and vital roles.

Happy Classified Employees Week!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Student Behaviors Exclude Students

A front-page news article in the Seattle Times yesterday introduced an African-American high school student who was disciplined for using a laser pen, in order to personalize the U.S. Department of Education’s study of “whether the more frequent discipline of African-American students in Seattle public schools constitutes discrimination” (“Seeking An Even Hand at Discipline,” 3/10/13 Seattle Times).  If what was reported is true—that a good student who is black with a spotless discipline record was being suspended for playing with a toy, while other white students committing similar offenses were not being similarly punished—then, yes, this seems quite disturbing and in need of remedy.  However, reporters often don’t have or want the whole story, and frequently those profiled in media have an agenda.  The news article casually and repeatedly stated—as if it is proven fact—that teachers do not respect students of color and that racism is a factor in the discipline and academic achievement gap. 

Concurrently, the Senate is considering a bill to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions while requiring schools to design better student behavior management systems.

Both the federal probe and the legislative initiative assume that classroom teachers are at fault when students misbehave to the point of being excluded from the classroom setting.  What’s needed, it is argued, is better training in cultural differences and dealing with diverse students--basically, even more accountability in the schools.

I believe what’s needed instead is clear expectations and consistent consequences for all students.  For those who repeatedly disrupt the classroom, they need to be excluded so that they do not prevent the vast majority of other students who behave from learning and the teacher from exercising his or her craft.  If either SB 5244 or the Education Department’s scrutiny succeeds in pushing discipline problems back to the classroom, both teachers and well-behaving students will suffer as learning time is hijacked by poorly-behaving students, their parents, and their misguided advocates.

The move to limit or eliminate student exclusion again places unreasonable expectations and working conditions on teachers while absolving students themselves for their own behaviors, parents, and those in society who believe that teachers ought to be society’s repairmen.  

This is another reason why teachers should not be evaluated on the basis of their students’ success or lack thereof, why TPEP is a very bad idea, since we have little—and apparently will have even less—control of the major factors which are necessary for success—good behavior being fundamental.

(The attached op-ed piece is by a Seattle school teacher whose point of view is right on target on the crucial need to exclude misbehaving students).

Op-ed: For the good of a class, student suspensions are needed

Sunday, March 10, 2013

WEA Leadership

Former chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools Michele Rhee wrote an op-ed piece for the Seattle Times this week.  In her editorial, she continues to advance her core argument that public schools are failing, that unions prevent poor teachers from being removed, and that assessment and data should not only drive instruction but should be the measures by which teachers and schools should be judged.  She writes, “It is criminal that, in many communities throughout America, we send children every day into classrooms that are failing them.”  Rhee was commenting specifically on Seattle’s Garfield high school teachers’ grassroots protest against one assessment, the Measurement of Academic Progress.  She mistakenly believes that the protest is led and organized by the union, in this case the WEA.

Rhee taught for only three years, after being trained for 5 weeks in the Teach for America program.  She exited teaching as quickly as possible to set up a company that trained teachers and then later inexplicably parlayed her self-promotion into educational leadership.  She’s now seen as an expert on public education by many.

I believe that we should use the WEA’s organizational potency to lead a well-thought-out and well-planned series of coordinated actions in service of our core values, to counter those—like Rhee—who work tirelessly against us, and to begin to bend the dominant narrative away from a corporate view of public education to one that is more liberal, progressive, and humane.  

Saturday, March 9, 2013

View All Products

One of the criticisms I have of the WEA's support of the new evaluation system is that huge amounts of money are being diverted to professional development and away from more critical needs that directly impact students (such as class size, curriculum, or student support). The canard we've been sold is that many children are failing because public schools are failing--and public schools are failing because there are many incompetent teachers who have been shielded from accountability and removal by unions. If only all of those bad teachers--and there must be veritable hordes--could be dismissed and the remainder be improved, there would be no more failure.

This simply is not true.

After the first few years, most teachers figure out how to teach or they leave the profession. They also figure out that most professional development is repetitive, repackaged, and marketing the latest elixir touting "The Answer" to a gullible population. Public education has always been a tempting and rewarding corpulent cash cow with a bulging udder to savvy hucksters.

The new evaluation system requires all school districts to adopt an instructional framework. The screenshot is of one of those, Marzano. Can you imagine the bonanza for these select companies that are in the business of selling their books, DVDs, online access, consultants, etc.?

Teachers don't need endless professional development to teach "better." Most professionals work on their craft in conscientious and continuous ways--usually in spite of the latest regurgitated drivel dressed up as PD.

I believe if Johnny indeed can't read (or cipher or spell or understand civics or . . .), Johnny and Johnny's parents and Johnny's legislators and Johnny's society need to do their jobs.

We're already--and have been--doing ours. Where's WEA's messaging on that?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

How Not to Define Good Teaching

The latest draft of how to determine whether or not a teacher is any good. Here, too, is an example of suggested contractual language to implement the new evaluation system:

"7. When a final criterion score includes a fractional number (for example 2.3), all scores with fractionals below .5 will be rounded down and all fractionals .5 or above will be rounded up, for example, a score of 2.33 would receive a final criterion score of 2 and a score of 2.5 would receive a final criterion score of 3."

This is not my definition of good teaching.

WEA Should be a Professional, Non-partisan Organization

One of the reasons I am running to be WEA president is to re-position the WEA as a professional, non-partisan organization. We should not be a wing of the Democratic Party. Many of our members are either Republicans, not Democrats, or unaffiliated. We should hold elected officials accountable to our agenda and our core values, regardless of party and not be a sycophant to any politician or political group.

Too often, we demonize those with whom we disagree and lionize those with whom we agree.  I frequently receive communications from my UniServ council, WEA and NEA using cartoonish characterizations of usually non-Democratic officials.  And occasionally from WEA and often from NEA I am confronted with my state and national organizations taking stands on issues that have nothing to do with public education (such as abortion or immigration policies in other states or solar energy or Geronimo Pratt).  This divisive approach needlessly alienates members who, in the unified dues structure, are forced to belong to the regional, state, and national organizations if they want to belong to their local association.

As one example, President Obama was prematurely endorsed before he announced his reelection bid.  Last July, he was less than one mile from the Washington, D.C. convention center and chose not to address the NEA-RA--the nation's largest democratic deliberative body and most significant public education organization.  NEA president Dennis van Roekel was giddy when he accepted a phone call from the president.  van Roekel should instead have held the president accountable for his competitive grant approach (Race to the Top) to funding public education and his continuance of Arne Duncan as education secretary.  Had Obama actually shown up to the RA, I would have lustily booed him.  Some of his education policies need a good booing.

Our organizations should advance our agendas in serious, consistent, non-lick-spittle and non-partisan ways.  We should debate and disagree, organize and engage with all officials who would affect public education.