A roller-coaster week for public education

Greetings,

It has been a roller-coaster week for public education in Massachusetts.

Holyoke Stands Strong Despite BESE Vote

Earlier this week, we lost a battle when the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 8-3 to place the Holyoke Public Schools into receivership. The board voted against the will of the people of Holyoke. But at a public hearing held on Monday, the night before the BESE vote, Holyoke won. That evening, more than 1,000 community residents and educators packed the War Memorial Building. All but a handful who testified came out forcefully against receivership. They want democratic control over their schools and more financial support from the state - not a takeover. They want to give recently implemented school changes a chance to work. They want meaningful input on teaching and learning conditions in their schools through community engagement and collective bargaining. Holyoke showed us what organizing, speaking out and solidarity look like. Resistance to ideas that undermine democracy and unions will continue and grow. The three BESE members voting with us were Ed Doherty, representing educators; Donald Willyard, representing students; and Mary Ann Stewart, representing parents. The fight to create the schools Holyoke's students deserve isn't over. It's just begun.

Support Tester Amendment Against Too Much Testing in ESEA

Within the next few weeks, the U.S. Senate will vote on a new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act - known in its current form as No Child Left Behind. The bill currently before the Senate is better than the law we are living under now (it eliminates federal mandates related to educator evaluations, for example), but it still does not reduce high-stakes standardized testing. Go here to send a letter to your members of Congress via the NEA. Go here to learn more about the issue from FairTest and see information about an amendment proposed by Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) that would replace annual testing with testing once each at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Floor debate in the Senate could occur before Memorial Day, so please act now.

Cautious Optimism on TS GOLD - But There Is More to Be Done

Kindergarten and preschool teachers, know your power! Your concerns about Teaching Strategies GOLD are being heard. Thanks to educators in districts across the state who have been informing parents and telling the truth to local and state officials about this burdensome and intrusive mandate, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is now planning to "encourage" - but not require - districts to make their kindergarten teachers do the TS GOLD or Work Sampling System assessments. But there's a catch. Districts will have to apply for waivers from the requirement. We are in the process of finding out more about what the waiver process will entail. The devil is in the details. We will post updates in our TS GOLD Toolkit when we have them.

PARCC Forums: Speak Out Against All High-Stakes Testing

Did your district administer PARCC? How did it go? The state is seeking feedback at a series of hearings. The next hearing is on May 18 at Bunker Hill Community College. Let state officials know your views on PARCC - and on the impact of high-stakes testing in general on your students, your school and your profession. Speaking of PARCC, click here to see what the AFT is saying about the "gag order" barring teachers from talking about the content of the test.

House Approves Budget

The House has approved its version of the fiscal year 2016 budget. It includes only modest increases for preK-12 spending and no overall increases for public higher education. One bright spot was approval of an MTA-supported amendment to fund Quality Full-Day Kindergarten grants. Governor Charlie Baker's budget proposal would eliminate those funds. The Senate is scheduled to release its budget in mid-May. We will keep you posted.

MTA Annual Meeting Set for May 8-9

We are looking forward to a lively, well-attended Annual Meeting of Delegates at the Hynes Convention Center. Members will debate the MTA's budget and policy issues, vote on new business items, hear a keynote address by Seattle educator and activist Jesse Hagopian, meet this year's honored guests and much more. I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Come Hear Jonathan Kozol on May 6

Author and educator Jonathan Kozol will speak on "Race, Poverty and Corporate Invasion of Our Public Schools" at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6, at First Parish in Harvard Square. Click here for information and to register. Kozol is the author of Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America, Letters to a Young Teacher, The Shame of the Nation, Savage Inequalities and many other books, beginning with Death at an Early Age in 1967. The MTA is co-sponsoring this Citizens for Public Schools event, along with AFT Massachusetts, the Black Educators' Alliance of Massachusetts and the Boston Teachers Union.

In solidarity, and in anticipation of many great things ahead,

Barbara