Thursday, February 28, 2013

OurVoice WEA

WEA is a doing a good job tracking, communicating, and organizing in response to legislative efforts that might affect public education if enacted into law. Whereas the House is working on pro-public education bills (such as reducing class size and state assessments while increasing funding), the Senate is employing an opposite approach. Yesterday, I was happy to once again utilize my local association’s communication tools in response to WEA President Mary Lindquist’s call for member participation on two Senate bills which would weaken teacher retirement and due process.

Since two Democrat Senators have chosen to caucus with the Republicans, the Senate has a Republican majority. Republican priorities in public education are now being given greater consideration. In addition to those on substituting a 401(k)-style savings account for our state pension plans and making it easier to fire teachers, the Senate is debating bills that would

•require that 50% of teacher evaluations be based on test scores

•require 3rd graders to pass a high stakes test in order to be promoted to the 4th grade

•provide differentiated pay for math, science and special education teachers

•move towards requiring a Common Core Standards assessment as a graduation requirement

It’s in everyone’s self-interest and the interest of his or her school community to pay attention to what our legislators are introducing, debating, and voting on in Olympia. WEA maintains an excellent web portal by which anyone can get more information and to lobby in easy ways on behalf of those causes that are most important to each of us.

OurVoice WEA

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Current Classroom Teacher as WEA President

While we were discussing the new evaluation system, I recently asked my superintendent when was the last time he actually taught. He answered, "1978." I find it interesting that many people who taught sometime in their careers refer to themselves permanently as teachers, as sort of a lifetime honorific.

Public education has changed markedly from even a few years ago--and those in the trenches, day in and day out, experience and cope with many changes imposed by those who are no longer or have never been in the classroom.

I think it's time that WEA is led by a classroom teacher, whose direct and substantive experience is the classroom--and not another political operative or bureaucrat whose turn it is simply because he or she has occupied every position, checked every box, and supported the line staff or the party line.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Stop Blaming Teachers

Less Testing, More Learning

There is an event to support teachers who are facing disciplinary consequences for refusing to administer a test they feel is unworthy of their students and their craft this Thursday, February 28 at the University of Washington. I appreciate the invitation that was given me, but I have a previously-scheduled appointment on behalf of my local members that I am unable to reschedule.

My view on assessments in general is that they have taken the focus from rich learning experiences, a varied curriculum, and students themselves to arbitrary numbers signifying meaningless achievement on narrow measures. Not everything that has value is measurable. All good teachers know this. In my building, those subjects that are tested are emphasized, funded, scheduled, and imbued with worth; those that are not are neglected, un- or under-funded, not included in master schedules, and tacitly or overtly diminished. No child anywhere should ever be presented only with reading, math, and science--as if the arts and social studies and physical education and foreign language and CTE classes are without worth or secondary. In my building, too, almost one-third of our school year witnesses all three of our computer labs shut down, reserved exclusively for testing, testing, testing--not learning, learning, learning.

The reform movement has damaged public education. Thank goodness that courageous teachers--without leadership from the WEA--are standing up and simply saying, "No."

Scrap the MAP Event at the University of Washington, 2/28/13

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Just Say No to TPEP

This week, I and my HR director presented what we know about the new teacher evaluation system to the final school in our district on a roadshow that culminated days and days, hours and hours, dollars and dollars of meetings--and we've only just begun (The Carpenters would be proud).  Via bargaining, the Association and the District agreed to a joint, collaborative effort to implement legislative changes to how teachers are evaluated.  Thankfully, both the Superintendent and I believe that what is being imposed--without funding--is a colossally-bureaucratic and spectacularly-unnecessary burden that endangers the good order of all schools.  

We seek minimal compliance, minimal disruption.  

My HR director and I explained how we had to select an instructional framework to scaffold the new evaluation system--we chose the University of Washington's 5 Dimensions.  5D interprets the state's 8 evaluative criteria in 37 ways, each requiring a 1 to 4 rating; there are also 5 student growth measures--each also requiring a 1 to 4 rating.  Make sure that you have fresh batteries in your calculators.  Eventually, all of this number-crunching will result in an overall, numerical rating:  1 for unsatisfactory, 2 for basic, 3 for proficient, and 4 for distinguished.  The system demands hours and hours and hours of self-reflection, goal setting, pre- and post-observation conferences, uploading of artifacts, and management and mastery of an online tracking environment called EVAL.  

And WEA has embraced this as a "legislative priority"?  Seriously?

I say, Enough.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Video Introduction Now Available on YouTube

This is a video introduction to my candidacy that colleague Matt Wilcox made for me. It is intended for delegates and UniServ councils who I'm unable to meet physically throughout the state. Please share with delegates to the 2013 WEA-RA who might be interested. Thank you.

Elect Peter Szalai WEA President

"Thank You Sir, May I Have Another?"

The new evaluation will cause Washington State teachers to work even more hours than they currently are donating.  Practice and pedagogy are not the problem with public education today--parenting and poverty are, among other factors.  TPEP is foremost a workload issue and WEA should not be helping to implement this burdensome, unnecessary, constantly-shifting, and politicized system on hard-working teachers.  WEA needs a little less of Kevin Bacon's "Thank you sir, may I have another?" in Animal House and a little more of  Howard Beale's "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!!" in Network.

Friday, February 15, 2013

More Accountability, More Assessment

The new state senate chairman of the K-12 education, Steve Litzow, wrote an editorial in the Seattle Times that there should be a "cause and effect" relationship between funding and student outcomes. (In his argument, he used high school graduation rates as the measurable outcome). His solutions are more accountability and assessment--reform in lieu of dollars. To his credit, he did discuss the predictable and adverse effects of poverty, but nowhere in his 613 words did he use the word "parent."

Op-ed: School funding should be tied to improvement in student learning

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Consistency in Advocacy Needed

Yesterday, I attended a local association presidents' meeting where I listened to a presentation from John Burbank of the Economic Opportunity Institute.  His review of economic trends highlighted the seminal shift in basic fairness after Reagan became president.  The four decades before the 1980s saw a direct relationship between the increase in workers' productivity and the increase in their wages.  In other words, as workers produced more or more efficiently, they were paid better.  That relationship was broken in the 1980s and since then wages have remained flat while productivity has soared.  The resulting wealth which should have gone to the workers--as it had for 40 years--instead has been transferred to the wealthy.  Burbank recommended an income tax for the state of Washington, decrying our over-reliance on the sales tax.  He said that just because we lost the 1098 state income tax initiative fight didn't mean that we--the WEA--should give up.  Burbank felt we should take a page from the Eyman playbook in that when Eyman loses, he comes back again.  He doesn't give up.  

WEA gives up.

Economic Opportunity Institute

Average Income By Group 1917-2010

Who is Running to be WEA President?

The WEA-RA website has posted the candidate statements.  Check out who is running for WEA president and vice president. Who should lead our organization in these times?

Candidate Biographies

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Obama Wrong On Competitive Grants

Tonight, President Obama supported funding for early education, an initiative that is right on target to meet critical needs, alleviate poverty, and increase school success.  However, he once again totally failed in his Race to the Top-like competition to "redesign high schools" focusing on STEM.  What about the arts and social studies and literature?  The problem with competitions, like RTTT, is that while they are cheap--Obama boasted that RTTT only cost 1 percent of federal funding to education--they by definition reward "winners" and leave everyone else--all other children and schools without.  The key to raising all boats is a rising tide.  Arne Duncan should not be Obama's Education Secretary--Diane Ravitch should be.

President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Speech

Monday, February 11, 2013

Less Money Spent on Less Testing

"Washington will be the only state to require students to pass five different tests to graduate."  I agree with State Superintendent Randy Dorn's initiative to reduce the number of tests and the amount of money being diverted to testing.  That's why I voted for him when he ran against former WEA president and three-term State Superintendent Terry Bergeson.  Bergeson spearheaded the WASL, with WEA support.  It's kind of ironic that now WEA's leadership is capitalizing on a growing anti-testing sentiment in the public--but it's a little hard to have much clout when you've led from behind, helped write and implement much of the state's testing regimen, and were seamlessly sutured to elected officials and politicians who sold the public on more and more tests as the answer to "failing" public schools.

Wash. schools boss aims to cut 2 graduation exams

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Stop Blaming Teachers

If you haven't had a chance to read the interview with Kevin Kumashiro, author of a book about why teachers are being scapegoated, in the current issue of NEA Today, I recommend that you take the time. 

An excerpt: 

" . . . schools do not operate in a vacuum. An enormous challenge is the massive number of children living in poverty who come to school hungry and without access to health care, and who often live in neighborhoods plagued with violence. You can’t focus when your stomach is growling or you have a toothache or you’re afraid to walk to and from school, and you certainly can’t perform well on tests."

NEA Today: Stop Blaming Teachers

Friday, February 8, 2013

WEA Supports Full Implementation of New Evaluation System

According to the "Washington Education Association Key Issues * 2013 Legislative Session," the WEA Board of Directors has identified five key issues, number 4 of which is  "WEA members also believe the new evaluation system should be fully funded so it succeeds as intended by the Legislature."  

Really?  This is what WEA members believe?  I think not.  The new evaluation system diverts time, energy, and money away from student learning to a misguided and damaging attempt to reduce good teaching to a number--sort of like 42 being the answer to the "Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything" in the science fiction series Hitchhikers Guide from the Galaxy.

WEA's collusion in implementing the new evaluation system amounts to endorsement.  It is exactly the wrong approach by our organization in this time.

Washington Education Association Key Issues 2013 legislative session

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Good Teaching is Measurable?

Bill Gates believes that good teaching is measurable. I think that that's baloney. The hammering and incessant drive over the past several years to reduce teaching to a magical number--from which we can then objectively separate the good from the bad--is the line in the sand that all public educators everywhere ought to draw. This is it. This is our defining moment and issue.

3-Year Gates Study: Measuring Effective Teaching Is Possible

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Clear, Passionate, Articulate Leaders Needed

If ever the WEA needed leaders who are clear, passionate, and articulate about core values in public education, it is now.  If accountability is lacking in schools, it's not teachers who are lacking scrutiny.  It's parents, students, legislators, and a culture that no longer supports the conditions schools require for success.  

‘Battle royale’ on schools expected in Legislature

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

To Contribute . . .

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.

Jon Stewart Takes on Michelle Rhee

Last night, Jon Stewart stood up for teachers against the misguided and damaging policies of former D.C. superintendent Michelle Rhee. From the Washington Post online article: "Stewart said, 'It seems like education can only be put in place once the soil is fertile.' His suggestion – that for many children even great teachers can’t overcome the effects of hunger and poor nutrition and exhaustion and trauma from violence — was exactly right."

I couldn't agree more.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Peter Szalai

Our Rosa Parks' Moment

Today is Rosa Parks' 100th birthday. Interesting article in Sunday's paper: "Though legend would have it that Parks, who died in 2005, refused because her feet were tired, the truth, she always said, was that it was not her body that was fatigued. 'The only tired I was, was tired of giving in' to a system that judged her, as a black woman, unworthy of a seat on a public bus."

I believe the new evaluation system which attempts to quantify good teaching, culminating years of assault on public education, is our Rosa Parks' moment, our moment to say "no."

Rosa Parks’ answer to Rush Limbaugh’s take on guns: ‘No’

Grade Schools?

February 3, 2013

Some in our legislature want to grade schools: "School performance: Senate Bill 5328 would assign a letter grade — A, B, C, D or F — to each public school based on the performance of its students on standardized tests and other measures." Sounds good to me--after we assign grades to parents (attendance at conferences, replying to school communications, etc.), legislators (adequate and equitable funding), and administrators (effectiveness in handling student discipline and balancing class load).

New Senate power emboldens Republicans to offer family leave, abortion bills

Influence of Parenting

February 2, 2013

Excellent article on the true sources of "failure" in schools--parenting and individual effort: "What worry me most are the examples of overparenting that have the potential to ruin a child's confidence and undermine an education in independence."

Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail

Lead From The Front

February 2, 2013

Teachers fed up with an over-emphasis on testing are staging a wildcat boycott in Seattle. WEA should be leading and organizing these types of actions, not responding and reacting to them.

Teachers opposed to tests get a warning

Caring More About Students Than Tests

February 2, 2013

California Governor Lashes Out At Reformers

January 28, 2013

Exactly correct! "With a caustic critique of excessive testing and overregulation and a fervent call for respecting the “dignity and freedom of teachers and students,” Gov. Jerry Brown laid out the case for returning primary control of education to local hands and distributing state money equitably in his State of the State address."

Brown lashes out at regulators and testers, makes case for his reforms

Responsibility of Parents and Children

January 31, 2013:
We need to emphasize the responsibility of parents and children.

Candidate's Statement

January 21, 2013

My candidate's statement which will appear on the WEA's Representative Assembly's website:

As a classroom teacher for 30 years and a local association president for 10 years, I am running to be president of the WEA for two primary reasons. First, I believe that public education has suffered during the past 20 years due to misguided and damaging education reforms. And, second, I believe that WEA has been complicit or insufficiently effective in advocating for our core values in that decline.

I seek to turn the direction of our organization from a calculated strategy that welcomes and traffics in collusion, to a clear-headed and principled vision that uses every resource to change the dominant narrative arrayed against us. It is time—way past time—finally, inexorably, and unalterably to say “no”—not “no, but” or “no, and” but simply “no.”

Our leaders have been duped and in turn have frittered away not only our real and vital influence, but have endorsed those insidious and corrosive initiatives which have weakened public education. In every sphere today, we are weaker: our salaries have been cut, our retirement system is one of the least favorable in the entire country, curriculum has been narrowed, the arts sidelined, a testing and data regimen blessed, and a corporate model supported. Now we are even arguing with—not against—those who want full implementation and funding for a new evaluation system, a system which desperately tries to reduce the irreducible to a number, namely good teaching.


Candidacy Announcement

January 21, 2013

I am a candidate to be president of WEA. This blog is a way for me to communicate with those members who are interested in my candidacy. I look forward to engaging with any WEA member who has a question or feedback relevant to my candidacy.  This blog is a duplicate of my Facebook page (Elect Peter Szalai WEA President) and is maintained for those delegates who do not have a Facebook account.