Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Teacher unions smarting after many members vote for Trump

Two weeks after Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election, the USA’s teachers unions are wondering what happened to their chosen candidate — and how so many of their members could have voted for her opponent.

Despite early and eager endorsements of Clinton by both unions, the nation’s school teachers and other school workers contributed substantially to Trump’s Nov. 8 win.

How substantially? About one in five American Federation of Teachers (AFT) members who cast a ballot voted for Trump, the union’s leader estimated. Among the larger National Education Association (NEA), which comprises more than 3 million members, more than one in three who voted did so for the billionaire developer, early data show.

AFT President Randi Weingarten, whose union represents about 1.6 million teachers and other workers, said some of the reason for Clinton's defeat was timing — and perhaps sexism.

"Frankly I was always concerned about whether the country was ready to have a female president," she said. "There was an intensity of hatred that male political figures never get. So I think we’re never really going to understand it."

Most of the USA’s largest labor unions endorsed Clinton as early as 2015, including NEA, AFT, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Despite the support, Clinton won union households nationwide by just eight percentage points, exit polls show: 51% to Trump’s 43%.

Clinton carried white, college-educated women, but just barely: 51% to 45%. Among white women without a college degree, Trump won resoundingly: 63% to Clinton’s 34%.

In that sense, teachers, who at last count were about 82% white and 76% female, actually outperformed other groups when it came to their support for Clinton.

Weingarten last week said internal figures show that Clinton earned about 80% of her members' votes, in spite of a "very effective" effort to disparage the former secretary of state’s character.

At NEA, an aggressive member-to-member campaign and strategic political effort actually did get out the vote for Clinton, officials said: As late as last September, nearly 60% of its members identified as "Republicans or independents." At the time, Clinton’s NEA support stood at just 58%. By Election Day, it rose to 65%.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, a former Utah teacher, said that despite Clinton’s loss, the union engaged members in "record levels of activism," supporting down-ballot candidates and initiatives "important to students and working families."

Among other efforts, unions defeated a well-funded charter school expansion effort in Massachusetts and helped ensure the continuation of a tax hike to fund education in California.

NEA's state and national political directors met in Nashville last weekend to figure out what comes next, and educators nationwide are waiting to find out who President-elect Trump names as education secretary.

On Wednesday, school voucher advocate Betsy DeVos said in a tweet that she would work with Trump to "make American education great again."

In a statement, García said NEA will "listen closely" as Trump lays out his education vision. "We haven’t heard any specifics from the incoming administration about education policies, so we can’t speculate further," she said.

In an interview, Weingarten said she had "no regrets — absolutely no regrets" about the union’s endorsement of Clinton, adding that Democratic runner-up Sen. Bernie Sanders "was never tested or vetted by anyone, and frankly we have no idea whether he would have actually been able to get through this crucible … either."

She added that Clinton "has spent her life fighting for families and children — and that’s what we spend our life fighting for. Were there mistakes she made? Of course. Were there mistakes we made? Of course. But she is someone who for 30 years has been in the service of the public and incredibly qualified."


When Finnish Teachers Work in America’s Public Schools

There are more restrictions to professional freedom in the United States, and the educators find the school day overly rigid

"I have been very tired—more tired and confused than I have ever been in my life," Kristiina Chartouni, a veteran Finnish educator who began teaching American high-school students this autumn, said in an email. "I am supposedly doing what I love, but I don't recognize this profession as the one that I fell in love with in Finland."

Chartouni, who is a Canadian citizen through marriage, moved from Finland to Florida with her family in 2014, due in part to her husband’s employment situation. After struggling to maintain an income and ultimately dropping out of an ESL teacher-training program, a school in Tennessee contacted her this past spring about a job opening. Shortly thereafter, Chartouni had the equivalent of a full-time teaching load as a foreign-language teacher at two public high schools in the Volunteer State, and her Finnish-Canadian family moved again. (Chartouni holds a master’s degree in foreign-language teaching from Finland’s University of Jyväskylä.)

In Tennessee, Chartouni has encountered a different teaching environment from the one she was used to in her Nordic homeland—one in which she feels like she’s "under a microscope." She’s adjusting to relatively frequent observations and evaluations of her teaching, something she never experienced in her home country. (A principal or an administrator in Finland, Chartouni noted, may briefly observe a teacher’s lesson, but not on a regular basis.)

Already this autumn, she’s had a couple of visitors in her American classroom: a representative of a nearby university, where she’s completing studies to receive a local teaching license, and her "professional learning community" coach. A district administrator will come to visit her classroom, too. According to Chartouni, these three evaluators will make a few unexpected visits throughout this school year.

Chartouni misses that feeling of being trusted as a professional in Finland. There, after receiving her teaching timetable at the start of each school year, she would be given the freedom to prepare curriculum-aligned lessons, which matched her preferences and teaching style. "I wanted to do my best all the time," she said, "because they trusted my skills and abilities." I encountered something similar when I moved to Finland from the U.S., where I started my teaching career.

According to a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, teacher autonomy is positively associated with teachers’ job satisfaction and retention. And while most U.S. public-school teachers report a moderate amount of control in the classroom, many say they have little autonomy. In fact, the percentage of U.S. public-school teachers who perceive low autonomy in the classroom grew from 18 percent in the 2003-04 school year to 26 percent in the 2011-12 school year. In general, U.S. public-school teachers report that they have the least amount of control over two particular areas of teaching: "selecting textbooks and other classroom materials" and "selecting content, topics, and skills to be taught."

"If you asked me now, my answer would be that most likely I would not continue in this career."
Marc Tucker, the president and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, suggested to me that the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which he called "the inauguration of [America’s] accountability movement," significantly affected how U.S. public-school teachers perceived their level of autonomy. According to Tucker, NCLB embodied the first concerted "effort by officials in the United States to hold teachers accountable for student performance on a wide-scale."

Given the significant investment in education programs that served America’s underprivileged children, Tucker explained that U.S. policymakers had grown exasperated by "the lack of return" (evidenced by mediocre student achievement on nationwide assessments). Under NCLB, America’s public schools needed to make adequate yearly progress, decided in large part by student performance on state standardized tests, or face serious consequences, such as school closures. For U.S. officials like George W. Bush, this kind of test-based accountability could be framed as a simple matter of social justice, an effort to give all of the nation’s children access to decent schools with quality teachers; that virtuous sentiment can be heard in his declaration to address "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

But as NCLB aimed to hold schools more accountable and U.S. public-school educators felt squeezed to prepare students for state standardized tests, it appeared to encourage a push for more standardization in the nation’s classrooms in teaching guides, student textbooks, and so forth—and, ultimately, many U.S. teachers perceived a diminution of autonomy. (Today, that law has since been replaced, but the NCES report on teacher autonomy suggests that limited flexibility in the classroom is still felt by a large number of teachers, as America’s test-based accountability movement continues to exist.)

* * *

As a public-school educator in Tennessee, Chartouni is seeing how some accountability measures—ones that are unobserved in Finnish schools—have reduced her level of professional freedom. For example, she and her U.S. colleagues must refer to rubrics and lesson-plan templates to prepare effective lessons. "Everything needs to be written down," Chartouni said. "It is a great habit," she recognized, but she had developed her own routine over a decade of teaching in Finland, in which she’d craft a brief plan and then make sensible adjustments during a class period. "I can’t do it that way here because it would look like I hadn't planned anything," she said.

According to Chartouni, even the beginning of each lesson is prescribed. "Students need to get busy with bell work immediately when they step into your classroom," she said. "They have five minutes to go from one location to another, [and] they have seven periods of intensive teaching." So, occasionally, Chartouni decides to assign easy bell work as she greets her exhausted students: "sit down, relax, and breathe." (In Finland, students and teachers typically have a 15-minute break built-into every classroom hour.)

With only a couple months of teaching under her belt, Chartouni wonders whether she wants to remain in the teaching profession in America. "If you asked me now, my answer would be that most likely I would not continue in this career," she admitted. "I am already looking into other options."


Public School District Suspends 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and "Huckleberry Finn' After Parent Complains

Accomack County Public Schools in Virginia has temporarily suspended study of the novels To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn after a parent filed a complaint that the classic literature contained "racial slurs".

During a November 15 school board meeting, Marie Rothstein-Williams said that her biracial son, who is in high school, struggled to get through a page that contained multiple racial slurs.

"I keep hearing 'This is a classic, this is a classic,' she said. "I understand this is a literature classic, but at some point I feel the children will not or do not truly get the classic part, the literature part — which I'm not disputing, this is great literature — but there is so much racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can't get past that.

"Right now, we are a nation divided as it is," she continued. "I teach my son he is the best of both worlds, and I do not want him to feel otherwise....It's not just even a black and white thing. ...There's other literature they can use....

"So what are we teaching our children? We’re validating that these words are acceptable, and they're not acceptable, by no means."

Rothstein-Williams’ complaint will be filed as a "Request for Reconsideration of Learning Resources" under the school district’s policy manual. "The material will then be reviewed by a committee that will consist of the principal, the library media specialist, the classroom teacher (if involved), a parent and/or student, and the complainant."

The committee will then make a final recommendation to the principal and superintendent to either continue to use or withdraw the novels in question from the curriculum.

The Accomack County School’s Policy Manual also states that all materials cited in the complaint must be suspended until a final determination is made. The complainant may appeal the committee’s decision.

However, not all parents agreed with the school district’s decision to suspend study of the classic novels, which explore issues surrounding race in America.

"Everybody’s read it… it didn’t change a difference in my views at all," Catherine Glaser, a Accomack County resident, told WAVY-TV. "I’d like my son to read those books… my daughter’s mixed, and I don’t have a problem with it. I love those books."

The Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird was written in 1960 by Harper Lee, who passed away in February, The main character, a lawyer named Atticus Finch, is picked to defend Tom Robinson, a black man who has been falsely accused of raping a young white women in a town in the Deep South, leading to Finch being despised by other whites in the community.

The plot of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was written by Mark Twain in 1885, revolves around the central character, Huck, and an escaped slave, Jim, who travel down the Mississippi River together in a raft.

An analysis of the novel describes Jim as "a noble human being and a loyal friend,"  the "only real adult in the novel, and the only one who provides a positive, respectable example for Huck to follow."


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