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

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