Open Letter to Those Who Hate Teachers (crosspost: Dissent & Cookies)

The MoD Open Letter of the Summer Award goes to our friend at Dissent and Cookies for this painfully open letter to those who, in the wake of Act 10 and in the full light of day, declare their disdain for the noblest of professions: teaching.

In addition to exposing the shocking level of visceral hatred that is often and openly directed toward educators, she discusses how this "divide and conquer" tactics (the hallmark of Scott Walker's governance) distract us from the policies that deserve our scrutiny:
"...public sector employees like UW professors and public school teachers aren’t the enemy, nor have they ever been, and by placing the blame on them for everything from the recession to unemployment rates, we don’t focus on what actually blew up the economy. As Robert Reich argues, “Divide and Conquer tactics pit average working Americans against each other, distract attention from the most unprecedented concentrated wealth at the top, and conceal regressive plans to further enlarge and entrench that power.”  
In the spirit of bringing people together on the issues that matter - supporting and defending our excellent public schools and our proud tradition of academic freedoms, and building respectful communities where we can live and work together well (regardless of whether we agree or disagree), I share the full post here with her permission (original here). Please read it, share it, and use it to start conversations with your friends and neighbors about where we went wrong, and where we can go from here to make things better.

When I graduated from college, I, like many graduates, had no clue what I wanted to do with my life.  I was medically cleared to go to West Africa to join the Peace Corps.  I’d applied to seminary and to graduate school.  Grad school took me first, I took it as a sign, and started on a path to get my Ph.D. and become a college professor.  At no time on this path did anyone warn me that at some point in my life, I would be hated, despised, loathed, and treated with contempt for the occupation I chose.  I don’t know that it would have made any difference, but a heads up would have been nice.

When I grew up, I loved my teachers.  I loved my professors.  I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been in classrooms with some of the most gifted teachers who inspired me, taught me what it means to teach, and were not only amazing teachers, but scholars and activists as well.  I truly learned from the best.  When I finally landed a job as a college professor, I was excited to pay it forward–to give my students all that I had learned during those years.  But once I actually began teaching, I was stunned and deeply confused at the very vocal resentment towards those who had chosen to work in the field of education.  When Act 10 was passed, to say it divided Wisconsin would be an understatement.  We were called lazy, overpaid, greedy, and undeserving of the benefits we had bargained for in lieu of lower wages.  At the time, I thought this was hurtful and it made me incredibly angry.  Then, Governor Walker got reelected and we saw an increase in the vitriolic rhetoric towards educators when they began to speak out against his proposed budget.  Admittedly, I have put myself in the spotlight through Facebook posts, tweets, and now through my blog posts, so I expected to get a few horrible comments thrown my way.  I was told I should be on a government watch list because I teach in the field of Women’s and Gender Studies.  I was called a communist.  I was told to “quit whining” and get a real job.  Some wrote:
 “if you want to know why I seem angry, it’s because this “crisis” was a manufactured one ” much like the rape crisis you manufactured on campus. Watch, remove the gender studies courses and rape claims go way down;” 
 “so is someone going to start mocking and insulting her and telling HER to ‘quit your complaining and whining! omg! suck it up!” and all that?”

“Teach students something that will allow them to get a job and pay their mortgages, and then we can worry about your job and mortgage.”
All hurtful and frustrating but I had no idea how bad it would get.

Here are a list of things I have been personally called since I started blogging:
“Liberal union cunt”
“Dyke profesor”
“Lesbo cock sucker”
“Flaming liberal whore”
You get the idea. There are more. You won’t see these on my blog, because I have the ability to delete them, but they’re there.  Anonymous strangers who feel better about themselves by demeaning me.  Misogyny and ignorance at its finest.  And this is mild compared to some of the things other writers or those in the public eye have gone through–I don’t in any way want to diminish the very real death threats that have sent some into hiding for daring to speak out against that which they see as unjust.

As John Oliver points out in a segment on online harassment this regularly happens to “any woman who makes the mistake of having a thought in her mind, and then vocalizing it online.”

Again, these were online comments.  And I’m clearly not the only one who’s experienced this. Just this week, a friend posted this:
Joel
Once again, none of these responses to his tweet were accurate (professors don’t teach children, tenure is not a job for life,) but that didn’t stop the immediate backlash against one tweet regarding the elimination of tenure from state statutes in Wisconsin and the very real ramifications of that.
Fast forward to two days ago.  I was at a gas station when a man approached me.
Man: “Looks like gas prices have gone up!”
Me: “Um, yep? I guess so?”
Man: (looks at my UW-faculty parking sticker) “If I had your kind of money, I wouldn’t be complaining about gas prices, bitch.”
I was dumbfounded.  A good friend noted, “Wow, eliciting sympathy purely in order to twist it around into mistaken and misplaced class rage. That is truly sociopathic.”  Agreed.  This man, this complete stranger, felt it necessary to make sure I knew how much he hated me.  I’ve never experienced anything like it, but I know it has happened to others. Example? One friend got punched in the face at a bar by a 70 year old man for simply trying to correct misinformation regarding faculty salaries.  Let me repeat that.  Punched in the face by a 70 year old man.

I posted my experience on Facebook, and perhaps most disturbing was the number of people who had reached out and told me they’d experienced similar interactions.  I don’t know when it became ok to physically confront someone and attack them just “because.”  Another friend pointed out, “The thing is – misconception aside – even if you were a billionaire it shouldn’t be commented on by a hateful stranger who would call you or anyone a bitch.”  Exactly.  And the fact that this is evidently happening more often and to more educators should call us all to take pause and ask ourselves, how did Wisconsin get this divided?  What happened in this man’s life, and what had he been told about educators that he felt entitled to speak his mind and let me know exactly how much contempt he had for me and everyone who does what I do?  It takes a lot of hatred and misplaced anger to behave in such a way.  And to know that this is not an isolated incident frankly both saddens and enrages me.

As I wrote in my Facebook post, I truly want to invent a sign that says “everything you know about college professors is wrong” and wear it daily.  As I pointed out in the letter I wrote to the Joint Finance Committee before they passed the budget, “I will officially make less now as a tenured professor than I did when I started in 2009. In most jobs, your pay is supposed to increase over time—not the other way around. And contrary to popular belief, I don’t make a six figure salary nor will I ever if I spend the rest of my lifetime working in the Colleges. Up until a few years ago, I was still eligible for the earned income tax credit.  Starting salaries of a professor with a Ph.D. remain at $43,000 and have stagnated. The highest paid professor with a Ph.D. at UW-Marshfield/Wood County, after 23 years of experience and service to our campus, makes $65,521.00. Most of my colleagues have second jobs, some at other institutions and others in any part time job available. Several who work full time on my campus and at other institutions are eligible for food stamps and reduced priced lunch programs for their children. They live paycheck to paycheck, working as line cooks and waitresses. They continue to pay off student loans and will do so for the next 25+ years at our rate of pay. Just the other day, a tenured faculty member asked if I’d be a reference on her application to Family Video. I bartended for several years during the summer to help pay off my student loans and make sure I didn’t find myself further in debt. As awkward as it was to have my students see me behind a bar, sadly, I couldn’t afford to leave that job because I made more serving alcohol than teaching in the UW System . . . . We are being asked, for yet another year, to do more with less. There is nothing left. State divestment in public education cannot continue. I get it. 
Defunding public education has become politically easy. As the Nation recently reported, ‘If states won’t raise taxes or cut back on mass incarceration, gutting higher education becomes the path of least resistance.’ But it’s a dangerous path we’ve been walking on for far too long.'”

So how did we get here? And what can we expect in the future? As Katharine J. Cramer writes in her piece regarding the politics of resentment, “Consistently conservative groups saw things differently, obviously. They wanted lower taxes and fewer government programs . . . and asserted that government programs —except for defense spending—should be as small as possible. They believed in bootstraps and lamented peoples’ apparent inability to use them. Besides spending on defense, they were also ok with funding for programs like the WPA [Works Progress Administration] and the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] that rewarded hard work. Notice how their support for government spending hinged on notions of deservingness. We have seen this theme before. In their eyes, government programs are only legitimate if they support deserving Americans. And this group, like others in my sample treated deservingness as a matter of whether or not the policy recipients are hard-working Americans like themselves (Soss and Schram 2007; Skocpol and Williamson 2012, ch. 4). They approved of government programs when they perceived the programs gave out benefits that were payments to people who had earned them, not handouts to the undeserving (Winter 2008). Hard work was a key consideration, not just for the consistently conservative groups, but arguably for the vast majority of the groups, including the groups who were ambivalent about small government. This is important. It suggests that support for limited government is not driven mainly by a principled belief in small government, but instead by attitudes about a particular program’s recipients (Nelson and Kinder 1996;Schneider and Ingram 1993) . . . Support for small government policies or candidates seemed motivated by something other than abstract adherence to the idea that smaller government is better, and was not a simple result of disliking government or feeling ignored by it.

This is where the politics of resentment comes in. In the conversations, you can see how resentment toward target groups often served as the glue between anti-government and small government attitudes . . . . The blow-up over Governor Walker’s budget measures shortly after he took office in early 2011 illustrates these sentiments . . . Each of these groups was supportive of Walker’s proposal to require public workers to pay more into their health and pension benefits. As we saw in the previous chapter, they perceived that these benefits came directly from their own pockets and that as rural residents they worked much harder than the desk workers in state government. In addition, they perceived that the public workers in their own communities (especially school teachers) made salaries that were much higher than their own.”

The problem with this is that public sector employees like UW professors and public school teachers aren’t the enemy, nor have they ever been, and by placing the blame on them for everything from the recession to unemployment rates, we don’t focus on what actually blew up the economy. As Robert Reich argues, “Divide and Conquer tactics pit average working Americans against each other, distract attention from the most unprecedented concentrated wealth at the top, and conceal regressive plans to further enlarge and entrench that power.”  Similarly, Paul Krugman noted, “There is a better answer, and a teachable moment here, which gets at the real nature of inequality in America. It’s not about overpaid teachers. Let’s start by looking at the real winners in soaring inequality — the people who not only make incredible amounts of money, but get to pay very low taxes.  According to Forbes, in 2012 the top 40 hedge fund managers and traders took home a combined $16.7 billion. Now look at those supposedly overpaid government employees. According to the BLS, the median high school teacher earns $55,050 per year. So, those 40 hedge fund guys made as much as 300,000, that’s three hundred thousand, school teachers — almost a third of all high school teachers in America. OK, teachers get benefits, so their total compensation cost is higher than their wage, so maybe it’s only 200,000. But you should keep numbers like these in mind whenever anyone tries to shift attention from the one percent (and the .001 percent) to Americans who aren’t even upper-middle class.”
So why are we still blaming the wrong people for societal’s ills?  When will it stop? And how do we convince someone who only knows and truly believes that educators are the reason their lives aren’t where they should be–that educators and other public sector workers should be punished for “undeserved” benefits, and that their lives are truly better off because of the dismantling of public education–that all of these beliefs are based in false ideologies?

I have no answers.  But to those who hate me, who see no value in what I do, and who think I don’t deserve the privileges conferred by years of hard work and determination, I ask–if my job is so wonderful, so star spangled awesome, why don’t you do what I do?  If being a teacher is so easy, why not become one? If our benefits are so egregiously disproportionate to yours, what is stopping you from going to graduate school and obtaining your very own Ph.D.?  Because instead of dismissing my job, asking for (more) “shared sacrifice,” and belittling my career choice, maybe your time would be better spent becoming an educator, spending some time with people who live and work in my profession, and a little less time in the comments section of your local newspapers, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in peoples’ faces saying cruel and ugly things based on falsehoods, deeply rooted misplaced resentment, and ignorance.

While You Were Sleeping: What Happened to Wisconsin Public Schools

I don't know if you were following what happened at the Wisconsin Capitol last night, but here is a summary:

The Joint Finance Committee voted along party lines to put forward an education budget that will harm our kids into perpetuity. There IS increased funding (as opposed to the $150/pupil cuts the Governor wanted), but the increase is illusory; expansion of vouchers and changes to the funding formula mean that it's difficult to tell how much of the "increase" will actually go to public schools. Waiting for the fiscal analysis of that. In the meantime, here's how Wisconsin schools were sold out from under you while you were sleeping:

The budget includes the worst of what thousands of parents, school board members, administrators, advocacy groups, and grassroots local citizens spoke out against in droves at the hearings and in writing over the past months. In the guise of giving an increase to the public school budget, it creates a new, complicated, confusing & unwanted way of "accounting" for private voucher school students that allows voucher money to be laundered through the public school budget. Districts that do not have voucher schools will lose even more money than they already do, and the voucher money will continue to come "off the top" as the program is expanded statewide. All over the state, communities will be forced to go to referendum and raise taxes to fund local schools. Many of these referenda will fail. The JFC voted against its constitutional obligation to fund public education at a level that allows uniform instruction at all schools. We are a state of haves and have-nots, and the "haves" got a shiny new gift last night.

It also includes two unconscionable and highly controversial measures:
  1.  Inclusion of the Special Needs Vouchers that every single disability rights advocacy group in Wisconsin opposes and that are the heart of an ALEC/AFC campaign to get more public money into private schools by taking advantage of our most vulnerable kids. Private schools do not have to follow federal regulations and discriminate regularly against kids with special needs. They are also not required by the bill to use the vouchers to meet the needs of the children they're intended to serve. It is the ugliest of entitlements and it was slipped into the budget at the final hour, with no public hearing, because it is the weakest chink in their armor and they knew that public outrage would be widespread, as it was in previous years when the proposal failed on every attempt after much dissent.
  2. Inclusion of a proposal to "phase in" takeover of the highest poverty, lowest performing Milwaukee Public Schools by revoking local control - a few schools at a time, more each year. This is a perverse, unvetted, ill-considered idea that has virtually NO local support, involved NO local leaders, and was given NO forum whatsoever for public input or community engagement. It will bankrupt MPS. It is the most paternalistic "we know best" of ideas and doomed to fail, as it provides no funds for the "wrap around services" it claims it will provide, and essentially hands public property over to privateers despite their having no track record of greater success in working with high-need schools, and despite the failures of similar takeover programs in Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans & Philadelphia. The kicker for the rest of the state, who will pay the tab for this, is that the language of the bill allows for replication of the program in other large cities - Racine and Madison will be next. Under the plan, public schools will be "managed" by an appointed czar and the local community/democratically elected school board will have no say in their governance as they're converted into a charter or even a private school, though a provision demands no tuition can be charged. Constitutionality is questionable to say the least. In the meantime, the bill would "help" just a few of the schools that most need help and the budget does nothing to meet the needs and call for fair funding and much-needed services and staffing for high-poverty schools. It is both a slap in the face of Milwaukee and a message to the rest of the state that local control and democracy have no place in the "business" of the school privatization movement.
Finally, the 51 items in the Omnibus Bill included all sorts of other things that will boggle your mind. Like allowing people with a bachelor's degree and "experience" to become licensed teachers. And a Jim Crow-style Civics Test that will be required for graduation (despite the fact that we already have a civics requirement in Wisconsin). And changing the current school "report card" system to a star rating system (not joking). And allowing charter and voucher schools to take different tests than the ones required for public schools so that all of these measures can be used to cook the books and feed the hoax that our beloved public schools underperform the schools that are stealing their funding. And much, more more. Read the whole thing here: http://wispolitics.com/1006/150519Motion457.pdf

I just hope everyone gets the message from that civics test: democracy means you vote. And elections sure do have consequences.

Education is not a partisan issue.  That was brutally clear when citizens of every stripe testified at the JFC hearings, and school districts and boards all over the state spoke as one to let the JFC know exactly what they need and want to keep our schools great.  It's brutally clear in the latest polls that show public education is the #1 issue for Wisconsin taxpayers and  78% oppose cuts to schools.  For the first time ever, a majority would rather see a raise in taxes than cutting funds to schools.

Given the climate of bipartisan consensus in the state, it was shocking to see party line votes on a budget that so clearly is deaf to the will of the people last night.  Every single person in this state, regardless of party or politics, should be outraged at these attacks on local control and the democratic process.

Be prepared to fight these things tooth and nail. Organize locally.  Speak up and speak out and speak loudly.  They're not law until the governor signs the bill.

There is hope -- when we speak as one, we cannot be ignored. 

Our children have never needed us to speak up more.


Action alert:
  • If you're in Milwaukee, and you want to learn more about how to stop the MPS takeover, you can attend events TONIGHT (Wed. 5/20) on both the North and South sides:
    • North Side Meeting: NAACP office, 2745 N. ML King Drive 5:30 – 7 PM
    • South Side Meeting: Centro Hispano Hillview Bldg, 1615 S. 22nd St 5:45 – 7 PM

EDUCATION DAY OF ACTION: Contact the JFC to support funding for public schoosl!

Today is a statewide EDUCATION DAY OF ACTION, as the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee will take up the education budget tomorrow - Tues. May 19, 2015.  Please contact members of the committee asap and share your concerns.  My own letter is below - feel free to copy/paste or use it as inspiration.

When I sent my letter, I cc'd my own representatives and Governor Walker (govgeneral@wisconsin.gov),


Contact information for members of the JFC follows.


Dear JFC members,
I am writing to share my concerns about the education budget and the rumors that the proposal to takeover Milwaukee Public Schools could be included in the budget. I strongly oppose this anti-democratic measure, and ask the JFC to restore and increase funding to public schools through the following:
  1.  INCREASE PER-PUPIL FUNDING and INCREASE THE REVENUE CAP. Stopping the cuts does not meet the needs of our students - ZERO is still a cut. Restore the $150/pupil cut in special categorical aid and increase the education budget at least to an amount that keeps up with inflation.
  2. REMOVE THE CHARTER SCHOOL LEGISLATION FROM THE BUDGET. This chartering authority is an attack on local control. Local citizens should have a say in where their money goes and independent charters take money from traditional public schools at the expense of students and taxpayers. Who is asking for this? It is certainly not the school districts or parents of Wisconsin.
  3. DROP THE EXPANSION OF STATEWIDE VOUCHERS PROGRAM WISCONSIN DOES NOT WANT AND CAN'T AFFORD.The latest application numbers from DPI show that the expanded program is only helping students who already attend private religious schools, not the "poor children" in "failing schools" they supposedly are intended to serve. I reject the hoax that our schools are failing, and call on the JFC to drop voucher expansion from the budget. Wisconsin DOES NOT WANT and CANNOT AFFORD more vouchers. Invest in public schools first, as the will of the people demands.
  4. REMOVE NON-FISCAL EDUCATION ITEMS FROM THE BUDGET Please remove the dangerous, irresponsible proposal to license anyone with "experience" and a bachelor's degree as a teacher, all items related to accountability/testing provisions, the removal of the optional participation in the integration program that ensures our schools are not segregated by race, etc. These items have no place in the budget and represent an attempt to sneak policy past the public without fair hearing. 
  5. REJECT THE PROPOSAL TO TAKEOVER MILWAUKEE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Education is a non-partisan issue. 78% of Wisconsinites oppose cuts to public schools and the majority would rather see taxes go up than cuts to schools (Marquette University poll). Please listen to the people and fully support the public schools that are the heart of our communities.

Thank you,
Heather DuBois Bourenane
________

Sen.Darling@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Olsen@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Vukmir@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Tiffany@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Erpenbach@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Taylor@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Nygren@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Kooyenga@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Loudenbeck@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Knudson@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Schraa@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Czaja@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Taylor@legis.wisconsin.gov
Rep.Hintz@legis.wisconsin.gov
Govgeneral@wisconsin.gov

JOINT FINANCE COMMITTEE phone numbers
Sen. Alberta Darling (R) 266-5830 CO-CHAIR
Sen. Luther Olsen (R) 266-0751
Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R) 266-7745
Sen. Leah Vukmir (R) 266-2512
Sen. Tom Tiffany (R) 266-2509
Sen. Howard Marklein (R) 266-0703
Se. Jon Erbenbach (D) 888-549-0027 FREE
Sen. Lena Taylor (D) 266-5810

Rep. John Nygren (R) 266-2343 CO-CHAIR

Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R) 266-9180
Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R) 266-9967
Rep. Dean Knudson (R) 266-1526
Rep. Michael Schraa (R) 267-7990
Rep. Mary Czaja (R) 266-7694
Rep. Chris Taylor (D) 266-5342
Rep. Gordon Hintz(D) 266-2254



  

Standing Up for Schools by Opting Out? Why Wisconsin Parents & Educators Are Saying NO to the Badger Exam

Stand Up for Schools by Opting Out?
 
Why Wisconsin Parents & Educators Are Saying NO to the Badger Exam

I've blogged often about how I feel about testing and assessment, and about how we problematic it is that the main thing standardized tests measure with any accuracy is affluence.  I've also written quite a bit on the topic of the hypocrisy of privileging standardized testing data even when we know how little it actually tells us about student performance, and we know full well that it has a long history of reproducing cultural and racial biases. 

Now I don't have a problem with data.  We need data to understand and aid our students.  But data should inform, not "drive" our decision making.  And privileging "data" that comes from standardized tests over a teacher's much more comprehensive assessment is risky, foolish and unprofessional.   

And we're simply doing way too much testing, and not enough teaching, in our schools.  The hunger for "assessment" and "accountability" has become a self-defeating enemy of a love of learning. 

I have seen countless children I personally know get extremely anxious, barfy and teary on test days.  Many of these are, as you might expect, the kids who are NOT scoring well but who I have seen making progress in other ways.  For these kids, the test not only fails to measure their progress; it stunts it.  By constantly setting up these kids to fail, the test creates a self-fulfilling negative pattern and they learn to doubt their instincts and their intelligence.  I have seen this with my own eyes. I have seen confident, struggling learners turn to jelly before these tests and break down in tears, repeatedly changing their answers from right to wrong.  The only thing these tests are teaching such students is that they are not good students, or smart kids.  Neither of those things are true.

On testing days, many districts bring in water, bananas, granola bars, and other healthy snacks.  This is yet another way we give a little extra advantage to kids who don't need it and a uselessly superficial gesture to the kids who do. Why not fund snacks for hungry kids, every day, so they'd ALL be learning with full bellies and prepared for testing?  If we recognize the value of nutrition on test day, why aren't we prioritizing its impact on comprehension and retention?  Why do we care more about performance on tests than learning?  And what are we teaching our kids through those priorities?


I don't want to be told by district administrators that the test is a "just one snapshot" of a child's performance one more time.  I know it's a snapshot.  But it's blurry and out of focus, and I don't think we should pay for it.  It's a picture that means nothing to me, because I have read the research and the research is clear.  My question remains: why are we putting this crappy snapshot up on the wall in a frame for everyone to see?


As a parent, I am not asking for or interested in a number or a ranking or a score that compares my kid to everyone else. The things I want to know are the things that can't be quantified:  how eager is he to get to work? How prepared is he for his lessons?  How hard is he working at not blurting out during class?  Has she expressed an interest in reading more challenging books?  Has she been able to focus during the lessons that are review to her? Has she been distracting others with chatting?  I don't want to compare my kids to others.  I don't want to compare our school to other schools.  I want to know one thing: are we all working together to make sure every kid at the school can do his or best?  
 
But today I have some good news: we've opted out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment - which is called the Badger Exam here in Wisconsin.  This is the brand-new test designed to measure whether students are meeting the Common Core State Standards we implemented some years ago in our district.

I have been on the fence about opting out since the first time I volunteered on testing day, when my son was in 2nd grade, and I saw children sobbing over their MAPS tests. I was afraid to opt out because I was worried my kid would be stigmatized, or that the school might be angry at us for not "bringing up the average" with his high scores. And since my own kids didn't seem to have the test anxiety many other children face, I just bit my tongue and picked my battles elsewhere. But over the past few years I have read book after book, and talked to educator after educator who says the same thing: this has got to stop. And when I learned how many district educators - including a principal, many teachers, an advance learners specialist/talented & gifted teacher, and even the Director of Assessments - have opted out their own kids, I knew I couldn't justify not taking a stand any longer.

Every parent or guardian has the right to opt his/her child out of SmarterBalanced Assessments. [See FAQ on opting out at the DPI website here].

We are opting out not because we're opposed to testing, but because we're opposed to testing that hurts students, teachers and schools without providing any meaningful data that can be used to inform instruction and diagnose a student's needs. The Badger Test has been fraught with problems and was not ready to be rolled out this year. It does not meet any of the criteria we were promised last year in terms of being an authentic assessment of our kids' learning, and literally thousands of hours of time are being wasted across the state on "prep" and testing for a test that will not provide any reliable data for teachers to use in their classrooms. DESPITE THIS, that data will be used by the state to rank and grade schools, and if some legislators get their way, to also rank teachers based on student performance. I oppose all of this.  And so do many, many others.  In Germantown, Wisconsin, over half of the students have already opted out of the test with support from district administrators.

I have said it before and I will say it forever: I do not want my kids to be "the best." I want them to DO their best. I do not want my kids to be "the smartest." I want them to love learning. I do not want my kids to go to "the best school." I want EVERY kid to go to a great school. I don't want a ranking system that pits teachers and students against each other based on test scores. I want a system that applauds the talents of EVERY kid and gives every teacher space to meet the needs of every learner. A system based on over-reliance on the "data-driven results" of standardized testing can't do that.

The test-and-punish philosophy behind the current assessment system is dangerous to kids, teachers, and schools. It feeds our achievement gaps and it demeans the professionalism of our educators.

Worse, it's antithetical to the very foundations of public schooling and the equal opportunity of every child to succeed.

We are opting out our high-scoring child because we oppose all this.

If you would like to join us, you have that right. Just talk to your child's teacher and principal and tell them you want to opt out. Be sure to request that your child be given a productive way to spend time while other students are testing without making a lot of extra work for the teacher. Buddy up with another parent (or more!) in your grade level, if possible, and help facilitate a project or reading group for the students who will not be testing. But all it takes is a letter.  Some districts might also ask you to fill out a form.

If you live in Sun Prairie, that form is here:

And I'm pleased to report that our District has change the language on its opt-out form to remove the untrue and misleading clause that kids who weren't tested would be reported to the state as "zero" scores which would hurt the district! When I opted our 5th grader out of the Badger Exam, I was disturbed to see that language and didn't want to share this link until it had been revised. Many thanks to the Director of Assessments for correcting that error. If you opt out your child, it will NOT hurt the school's average scores, but your child will be counted as "non tested" (and the state does track those numbers). Please note that you can opt out your child AT ANY TIME during the testing process; the request for two weeks' notice on the form is for the district's bookkeeping preference only.

After you opt out, please take time to sign this Opt Out Support Form to send the message that you've opted out to support our students and schools.

The MADISON OPT OUT Support Form is linked here.
If you don't live in Sun Prairie, just write your principal and teachers and make your request.  You might find the resources on the Fair Test page helpful in determining what to include in your letter.  I also recommend that you talk to the teacher regularly to make sure you are part of any conversations about placements that might normally be based largely on test scores (like identification for TAG or advanced learner programming, or other referrals), and to make sure that the lack of a score won't have any adverse academic affect on your child.

One parent can make a difference. But I know that two parents of high-scoring kids opting out of standardized kids is a symbolic gesture. I know many educators in our district who've opted out their own kids, but they aren't really in a position to "go public" in the same way that we can.  Last fall, Edgewood College's Dean of the School of Education, Tim Slekar, a long-time critic of standardized testing  who's been leading the charge to reclaim the conversation on public education Madison, has shared that his family has elected to opt of out standardized testing.  This statement, coming from a respected authority, is huge.  But individual parents acting alone on this particular issue is not enough.  

If we're really going to make an impact on how standardized assessments are conducted and how the data is used, it's going to take a coalition of many parents,  many educators, and many students, who are willing to stand together and say ENOUGH.  This is not how we want our kids to be evaluated.  This is not how we want our schools to be run. This is not how we guarantee success for every child, every day.

We're going to have to do it together.  That model has worked in Seattle.  And it's working in DC.  And in New York. It can work in Wisconsin.  Our schools are ours and its our job to make them as great as they can be; we still have local control and we should exercise it.

We need to stand together and insist that our districts stop privileging misleading and largely useless data - especially when that data is clearly and directly in conflict with making real progress in addressing our priority goal of reducing the massive gaps between students of color and limited economic means and students of privilege. 

Advocating for public education means making sure our policies provide and support a system that allows every student the opportunity to succeed. 


The testing madness we see today does not provide that.

I know we are not alone and invite anyone who's ready to stand up for these issues to join us.




Business owner: "Right to Work" does not "promote growth" for small businesses

Notably absent from the debate over so-called "right to work" legislation is support from local business owners.  Over 400 Wisconsin contractors have formed a coalition opposing the bill.  Even in very conservative districts, local Chambers of Commerce refuse to speak in favor of it.  And small business owners are terrified about what it means to local business and potential growth.

Small business owner Laura Komai has some serious concerns about the wage theft bill.  Like many small business owners, she fears the negative impacts of this bill that have already been demonstrated in other states.  Like many Wisconsinites, she was unable to testify on this fast-tracked legislation, and asked that her letter to legislators be made open to share her concerns with all who will listen to the voice of Wisconsin business owners who fear what this bill will mean to the future of the state we all love.  As per usual, she received the following autoreply from the Governor's office:

"I take into account the views of all of the citizens of Wisconsin, and I will keep your specific comments in mind during my service as your Governor." 
I thank her for sharing her letter and her concerns, and urge lawmakers to take them seriously.  And I ask you to encourage the Governor to "keep her specific comments in mind" when this bill gets to his desk and put people before politics on this important and unpopular bill.
Small business owner Laura Komai knows her customers share
her 
belief that "creating your own dream" is key to her success
in business and beyond.  She has one question for Gov. Walker
and the Wisconsin legislature:
What is this state doing to promote growth?


Dear Governor Walker and Wisconsin Legislators:
     I am writing to you as a graduate of the Madison public schools and the University of Wisconsin, and as a member of the Wisconsin Business Alliance. Though writing from Madison may leave me outside your district, I am writing as Wisconsin business owner with customers from around the state. I ask you to vote against “right to work,” the proposed cuts to the University, the ongoing cuts to the public school system, the undermining of environmental stewardship, and privatizing what should be government work (for the greater good, not for profit). I am very concerned about the effects of such legislative and budgetary actions upon the prosperity of Wisconsin’s citizens, and thus the success of my own business, not to mention others around the state.

        Until I started my own business with my sister in 2008, I never understood what people were talking about when they said government should be run more like a business. I still don’t entirely agree, but there are some things about running a business which I think that this state is ignoring at its peril. What does it mean to run a business? First and foremost, is the realization of my complete dependence upon other people: my business is nothing if not for customers, taxpayers, union members, government employees, students, women, employees, family. The success of my business depends upon the success of everyone.

        Other than that, there are really only two things on my mind:

  1. What is new and unique? I am constantly on the lookout for new products and how I can differentiate myself from others. Just a hint: someone can always offer lower prices. What is Wisconsin doing to cultivate new industries and new customers in areas where growth is occurring? Is it really useful to undercut University research and teaching? How are we building upon what is unique about this state, the good people, great
    Komai wants her customers, and her community
    to know that RTW is #WrongforWI and
    wrong for local businesses.
    schools and natural resources.
  2. How can I get more money?  How do I reach more customers and get them to spend more? What is Wisconsin doing about the earnings of the majority of its citizens? Frankly, the $60 I saved in property taxes can either be undermined or exponentially increased in a matter of minutes if I have more customers earning and spending more money. What is Wisconsin doing about the welfare of all of its citizens, about their quality of life and earning potential? I have seen distressingly little action that would bolster my customers and thus my business.
 

    Please note that taxes are not on that list. To be clear, I pay taxes, I just don’t base any of my business decisions on how they might change.

         So, I ask you: what is this state doing to promote growth? How is the budget or SB44 in service of such growth? What actions have been taken that would benefit the majority of my customers (the women? the middle class?). I have seen little evidence  that voucher and charter school expansion, “right” to work and reduced University funding will improve the bottom line of this business that is all of ours, the state of Wisconsin. I ask you to honor your commitment to our state Constitution and to all the people in your district and this state, to preserve that which keeps us unique and above all, improves the prosperity of all of our citizens.

         Thank you very much for your service and your attention.

Sincerely,

Laura Komai, co-owner

Anthology
218 State Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53703
www.anthology.typepad.com

Ironworker: Wage Theft Bill will cost taxpayers, hurt workers, jobs

Milwaukee ironworker Randy Bryce took the day off to come to Madison to testify against the so-called Right to Work bill (SB44) that saw its only public hearing yesterday.  He sat in a crowded, heavily secured overflow room for over 10 hours, waiting for his chance to speak, before the hearing was abruptly shut down and he was unable to speak.  He shared his testimony in the hope that he would be heard, and I reshare it here with the same intention.  Like hundreds of others who waited all day to speak, Randy was shut out of the hearing yesterday.  Please listen to what he wanted legislators to know:


My testimony on #WageTheftBill by Randy Bryce

My name is Randy Bryce. I have been a member of Ironworkers Local 8 since 1997. 
I’ve had the privilege in that time to work on many of Wisconsin’s landmarks, private businesses, and, numerous parts of our infrastructure.

Prior to this, after leaving the US Army with an honorable discharge, I had several jobs that had no bright future, but, allowed me to pay my bills. (usually two jobs at a time)
One day, a friend of our family - a physician who had a patient that was the former ironworker apprenticeship coordinator let me know that the ironworkers were taking applications. I hated the job that I was at. It was in a dirty warehouse, and, I dreaded going into work every day.

I applied. I had never done construction work before. After going through the application process, I finally made it onto the apprenticeship list. I’m not going to go into great detail explaining how my apprenticeship went, because I understand that this body has a bill that they’d like to ram through before the rest of the state is aware of how horrible it really is. I’ll be as brief as possible.

Fact is, the ironworker's apprenticeship has the ability to take unskilled people off of the street, and, gives them a career that they are proud of. They taught me everything that I needed to know in order to now have a career that not only takes care of my family, but, has me proudly pointing out every project that I worked on as I drive throughout the state to my son Ben. 

That training isn’t cheap. But, WE pay for it through our union dues, and, from contributions from the contractors who hire us. The apprenticeship board consists of 5 union reps, 5 contractor reps, and, a rep from the state who meet monthly. Zero tax dollars are used. After passing the #WageTheftBill (let's not pretend that this bill involves rights or the ability to work) Michigan has found out that it is now lacking with skilled trades workers. They will soon be using tax money to train workers.

This horrible attack on the Building Trades is not good for anyone in the state. It is a blatant attack due to political ideologies. Sen. Fitzgerald admitted such when this idea was first mentioned when he sought to exempt certain unions who supported Republican candidates. (Unconstitutional) Proponents have admitted that it will not raise wages.

I am sure that you are all aware of the Wisconsin Contractor coalition - a group of around 400 private businesses - many of who donated heavily to Republican candidates - who are opposed to this bill. They see it for what it is - the government getting in the middle of how they hire their help.

We make those contractors a LOT of money. They CHOOSE to use us.

If we are not allowed to collect money from members who freely choose to join our organization, who will pay to train us? Why stop at collecting union dues. A college tuition freeze is nice, but, why not let the student get a degree, then pay what they feel it is worth? Why do groups who want to see this passed charge a membership fee? Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce charge fees. The Associated Builders and Contractors charge membership fees. Even ALEC charges membership fees - and I recall that taxpayers foot the bill for a few members of Wisconsin’s legislature to belong to that group. Think of all of the extra jobs that they could create if this bill only went a little bit further and actually addressed freeloading for all. Why not let people pay taxes based on how well they feel that they are being represented? (I think we know how that would turn out)

Another aspect of what is trying to be sold is that this bill gives workers a choice. There already is a choice. If somebody wants to do what I do for a living, there are plenty of open shops that already exist. People are free to go work there. They won’t get the same training that our union dues pay for, and, they probably won’t make the same amount of money as a result, but, they exist. Their lessor wages are what I refer to as their “nonunion dues”. It’s the cost that they choose to be paid for not joining a highly skilled workforce.

The ironworkers created the first union in order to pool money together in order to give someone killed on the job a decent burial. Because of what we saw that could be done by looking out for each other, we were able to demand safer working conditions. Our trade is annually listed among the top 5 with regard to having a high mortality rate, but, it is a lot better than it used to be.  
The union that I belong to is self insured. We get no sick days or holiday pay. As stated before, we pay to self train. Our instructors are experienced journey men ironworkers.There is ZERO burden on the taxpayer. The 4 year apprenticeship has members graduate with no student loan debt. Once graduating to Journeyman status, one can work anywhere in North America with a network that has been set up to attract skilled labor when an area faces a shortage. We have no seniority. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Our vacations are taken understanding that we will not get paid for the days that we are on vacation. All of our representatives are elected. All of the decisions that we make are voted on. The general membership is given monthly reports on how every dime is spent. Every dime spent is voted on. Unlike what is taking place this week, Ironworkers local 8 is PURE. DEMOCRACY.
Every single member of the legislature is cordially invited to come view our training facility. When running for state senate, I made it a point to invite members of the opposition party to see what we do.
I am disappointed beyond words at not just what this bill contains, but, how it is being passed. I am proud to be among those who build Wisconsin. My job is construction. This bill is demolition.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak my mind. Because I belong to a union, I was able to take off of work today and not fear that I would lose my job. 

Randy Bryce reads his testimony to reporters as state troopers prevent entry to the hearing room after the Wage Theft Bill hearing was abruptly shut down due to a "threat of disruption."

Wage Theft Bill Action Guide: Hold Legislators Accountable for Representing the Common Good

Don't be fooled Wisconsin!
The so-called "right to work" law....is really called the "wage theft" law. Workplace freedom is about being able to take a grievance to your employer without fear. It's about being able to negotiate your pay fairly and about being able to take a day off when your child gets sick. Wisconsin workers want to be able to have a set schedule so they can know when to go to a meeting with their child's teacher.
Those are the types of workplace freedoms we should all have.
Image and caption: Overpass Light Brigade
STATEWIDE ACTION ALERT:

What the Wage Theft Bill (aka "Right to Work") Means to Wisconsin and What You Can Do About It


Hold Wisconsin legislators accountable and let them know they have our support in doing the right thing
________________________
 

Wisconsin Republicans plan to fast-track an ALEC-authored Wage Theft Bill next week that would put Wisconsin on a fast track to lower wages and fewer living-wage jobs. [Bill text here].

Scott Walker says busting teachers' unions
will have jihadists quivering in fear.
Image and caption: Nicole Desautels
You may have heard already that Gov. Walker has been suggesting that his ability to "deal with" the protests in 2011 translates to the "security credentials" necessarily to "deal with" Putin, ISIS, etc.  He's also been sharing stories of dubious credibility of late, including ones that make the hardworking Wisconsin citizens opposed to his policies look like bloodthirsty criminals (such as a false one about how protesters tried to tip over his car, and new, unsubstantiated claims about threats to his family). 

At the same fundraiser in which he sat in silence as Rudy Giuliani claimed that Pres. Obama "doesn't love America,"  [update: Walker has since said he "doesn't know" if Obama "loves his country"], Gov. Walker said this, according to Larry Kudrow at the National Review:

"Walker argued that when Reagan fired the PATCO air-traffic controllers over their illegal strike, he was sending a message of toughness to Democrats and unions at home as well as our Soviet enemies abroad. Similarly, Walker believes his stance against unions in Wisconsin would be a signal of toughness to Islamic jihadists and Russia’s Vladimir Putin."
Wisconsinites won't have the "weapon" of a vote on this issue.
Call on legislators to do the right thing with theirs.
That's right: In 2011, the Wisconsinites who stood in opposition to a budget that would gut our schools and revoke workers' rights were "union thugs".  In 2015, he wants the world to believe these citizens are no better than terrorists.

We learned now that there are plans to "crack down" on Capitol security next week.  Legislators have been told to be prepared to show ID to enter the building.


We are being played.  The divisive Wage Theft Bill on the table for passage next week is the "distraction" Walker was looking for to draw attention away from his much-criticized budget bill (which has taken lots of media heat from both the left and the right and already generated protests at UW-Madison and beyond), and they knew that the outrage would be strong from all sides. After months of saying the bill would be a "distraction," Walker said yesterday he'd sign it into law as soon as it hits his desk.  An angry "mob" trying to gain entry to the Capitol will be used to feed the narrative of Walker as the "victim" as he promotes his unpopular budget - and his own presidential aspirations. 


WE NEED TO SET THIS STRAIGHT.


As in 2011, there is widespread bipartisan opposition to Walker's self-inflicted kick-the-can budget "crisis" as well as both the draconian budget and the Wage Theft Bill that would reduce wages & benefits, restrict worker protections, revoke workers' rights, and lead to decreased funding for public schools and other services.  We know this.  We have seen it happen in other states, as non-RWT states pick up the tab for the many working poor in RTW states who are forced to rely on subsidies to augment their poverty wages -- all during a time of record profits for corporations.  Data shows that states with Wage Theft Laws spend over 30% less on public schools.

This is not a partisan issue. 


It's not a question of "workers vs employers" either.  Or "union members vs non union members."  Check out this list of 400+ Wisconsin contractors who oppose Wage Theft Legislation

Listen to what former Republican Senator Dale Schultz has to say about the bill, which is likely to lead to an average lose of wages of $1,500 per person, per year:

“This is going to hurt Wisconsin employers terribly in the long run, as the workforce gets more angry. I represented a lot of blue-collar labor people, both union and non-union. So I know that even the wages of non-union workers are determined by collective bargaining. They may not be paying for it, but it has an impact. It’s a cowardly move to make certain the public can’t be heard on this issue and rush it through in a special session. They ought to be embarrassed or ashamed. I thought they would have at least gone through the trouble of having a sham public hearing, but they don’t even think that’s necessary here.”
Image: Defeat "Right To Work" in Wisconsin

We need to let our friends, neighbors and legislators know that we OPPOSE a budget that further guts our public schools and social services (while handing out money we can't afford for tax breaks and private school tuition vouchers) and we OPPOSE a Wage Theft Bill that makes it even harder to earn a living wage at a time when so many are struggling.  Good people deserve good jobs, good schools, and good communities.  And Wisconsin is full of good people.

These good people are the same nurses, teachers, laborers, retirees, students, professionals, and citizens of all walks of life who simply want to hold elected officials responsible for doing what they were elected to do: REPRESENT US, not special interests or campaign contributors.

We can only make this happen if we do OUR civic duty: TAKE ACTION.

Here's what you can do:

  • MOBILIZE.  Rallies are already planned for Milwaukee and Madison.
    Plan to be there if you can.  Peaceful protest is a way we can put a kind, human face to our concerns and counter the absurd, insulting portrait Gov. Walker would like to paint of us as a step away from radical terrorist thugs.  Think carefully about your signs, and send a positive message of support for living wage jobs and democracy (holding legislators accountable to represent the will of the people).
    • Mon. Feb. 23, Milwaukee: 5:00pm, Zeidler Union Square (4th and Michigan) 
    • Tues. Feb. 24, Madison. Noon, Wisconsin State Capitol, State Street entrance.
    • Wed. Feb. 25, Madison. Noon, Wisconsin State Capitol, State Street entrance.
Image: MTEA
Rallies are a powerful way to create a visibility and momentum for holding legislators accountable and letting them know they have our support in doing the right thing.  But there are many ways to protest this bill and attending a rally is just one of them.  Here are some others:
  • SPEAK UP.  Contact your legislators.  Call. Write. Visit their offices on Monday.  If they don't hear from you, they don't know you oppose the bills.  It's that simple.  You must contact them.
    If you're unsure of your legislators, find them here.  Or use the Citizen Action form here and send your letter online.
    You might also consider cc'ing your letter to the Governor and these key Senators, who may be more likely than others to vote for the people on this issue:
    Cowles -(920) 448-5092 Green Bay area
    Gudex -(608) 266-5300 Fond du Lac area
    Harsdorf -(608) 266-7745 River Falls
    Marklein -(608) 266-0703 Spring Green
    Petrowski -(608) 266-2502 Marathon
    Email addresses for your copy/paste convenience
    :
    Sen.Cowles@legis.wisconsin.gov, Sen.Gudex
    @legis.wisconsin.gov, Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wisconsin.gov, Sen.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov, Sen.Petrowski@legis.wisconsin.gov, GovGeneral@wisconsin.gov
  • SPEAK OUT.  Make your letter to your legislator an OPEN LETTER.   Post it online. Send it to your friends and neighbors. Print copies to pass out at work. This is critical to spreading the word and sharing our concerns widely.  If you want to make it really open, send it to me and I'll put in up on the blog.
  • Attend the PUBLIC HEARING on the bill on Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 9am at the State Capitol.  You can register to speak or you can just register "for" or "against" the bill.
  • Talk to your neighbors, friends, family, colleagues, people you run into at the grocery store or school. Use email, call people. Do whatever it takes. 
  • Use social media. Share your letters, news links, and posts like this widely. If you're on twitter, use these hashtags: #WageTheftBill #WrongForWI #RightToWorkForLess
  • Sign this petition from AFL-CIO Wisconsin. Then share it widely.
  • Attend a listening session and share your concerns in person.  Visit your legislator's homepage or call his/her office to find out when listening sessions are being held in your community. This action has more impact than you can imagine, as these events are taken very seriously by legislators and are often not very well attended.  BE THERE and your voice will be amplified more than you know -- your representatives will hear you, and so will your local community.  Exhibit A:  a recent budget hearing in the conservative Mauston community got big coverage last week under the headline "Walker Budget Gets Bad Reviews at Listening Session.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper(s).  Keep it short, simple, personal, and to the point (250-350 words is the max for most papers).  Focus on the VALUES shared by members of your community, and how those shared values are threatened when we pass laws that hurt jobs, schools, workers, the elderly, etc.
  • Contact local government (city council, school board, county board members) and urge them to pass a resolution opposing the Wage Theft Bill and/or the budget.  Local officials answer to you: authorize them to speak on your behalf by putting pressure on them to do due diligence by your community! 
  • Know the facts.  According to a Marquette University economist, there is "simply no economic reason to argue for right-to-work in Wisconsin."  Share articles like this widely.
    Image: Wisconsin Jobs Now
  • Avoid the hype.  "Right to Work" is a confusing and misleading name for a bill that takes freedom, protections, and rights away from workers and is more accurately called a "Wage Theft Bill".  Don't fall into the trap of thinking that RTW is about creating jobs - it's not. States with RTW laws have lower wages, fewer protections, and more people on government assistance
  • Volunteer.  Contact your union or professional association, your local grassroots team, your civic groups, etc, and find out what local actions are being planned and how you can help.  One thing you can do today is volunteer to help phonebank  (in Madison) and let people know why this issue is so important to Wisconsin families.
  • Keep calm and do the right thing.  Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The time is always right to do what's right."  Take that charge seriously.  Even though it's evident that the supermajority in the assembly and senate can pass these bills regardless of what we say, that doesn't give us permission to stay silent or feel there's nothing we can do - if anything, it amplifies the urgency of speaking loudly, and as one.  

    Speaking truth to power isn't easy.  And it can be frustrating - terrifying, even - when we feel that "power" isn't just not listening, but is openly hostile to our concerns.

    But it's not our job to worry about whether they're listening.  We can't control that.  It's our job to have spoken at a time when what we had to say needed to be said.  That we can control.  That we can do. 

    Our silence is consent, and apathy is not an option when the common good is at stake. 

    Have faith.  Stay calm.  Do the right thing.  And, again, remember the words of Dr. King:  The arc of the moral universe is long,  as we have most certainly seen here in Wisconsin.  But it does bend toward justice.