Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education
Whether you voted “yes” or “no” every teacher in Oakland knows not only can we not thrive on a 1.5% or 2.0% raise, but our hard work and long hours in the classroom is about more than money. So is our union contract. 8 long years without the respect and dignity a contract brings aren’t compensated by a 3 week contract that leaves a lot of guide lines and open ended questions instead of strong agreements that create improved conditions for students and teachers. The only way we can build this strength is through unity, commitment and work. Join us in building a network of conscious, informed educators in dialogue with students and the community for the schools Oakland deserves.
Public education is under attack in California, across the United States and internationally. Unions are losing the right to collective bargaining in Minnesota, Philadelphia schools are barely opening this year, and teachers in Mexico are rising up across the country to stop a misnamed education “reform” that aims to attack their working condi- tions as educators — the public education system across the globe is on the defensive.
Case in point: Philadelphia schools are operating at a $304 million deficit and 24 schools closed this past year, but instead of working to save the schools in Philly, the Governor of Pennsylvania is holding out on giving the schools a much needed $45 million in funding until Philadelphia teachers take a massive pay cut. Yet again, we see teach- ers painted as the bad guys who are destroying public schools.
Here in Oakland, students are facing increased class sizes and ongo- ing lack of safety in their communities and schools. Parents are working more hours than ever at low wage jobs, living on the hope that the education their kids are getting will help their families gain more stability. As teachers we are continuing to face working day to day without a real contract, increased class sizes, and ongoing “experiments” by the district in new evaluation programs.
But there’s also a lot of potential for us to get really organized and strike back to change the conditions that are keeping us, our students and our families running on the treadmill of malfunction and systemic instability. First of all, students from across the district are getting together to discuss how to make schools the types of community institutions that they actually want to be at, and where they actually feel safe. Secondly, we’ve seen small pockets of teachers from various political perspectives come together to discuss how to make sure our work as teachers is aimed toward achieving real justice and equity. Lastly, parents from across the district united last year in an inspiring fight to defend the remaining Adult Education classes from begin totally gutted by the district – and most importantly, these parents won their important demand.
As teachers we need to learn from these struggles and recognize that if we want to get the schools that our students, families, and fellow school workers deserve, then we will have to come together to plan actions that disrupt the status quo – just like the Adult Ed parent-students did – and prepare our- selves to organize even larger actions. We need to be ready to strike. To win demands that improve our working conditions AND student learning condi-tions. To do this we need to work with parents, teacher, other school workers, and students to build a vision for a truly public school system.
The OEA Contract Convention is where
all of us teachers may speak out clearly for the types of demands that we want in our contract. For many of us, this means look- ing beyond just a raise, towards a vision of Oakland public schools we can be proud of for teachers and students. We need mean- ingful reduction in class size – which the government can and must fund. We need more staff on board to sustainably imple- ment restorative practices that our students want and deserve – and the money to make this a reality. We need our parents to feel welcome at school so that they can partici- pate in the construction of knowledge and relationships that constitute the essence of a quality education.
We have to start by asking: is the framework of “evaluation” even really about feedback? It often does not feel like it, especially when it’s an administrator popping in to “evaluate” from time to time, with the task of determining whether or not we should be employed the next year. Quality teaching arises from the human relations between students, school workers and parents and a key way to improve teaching and learning is collaboration between all these participants.
One of the “evaluation” pilots contained within the MOU between OUSD and OEA, the TEN pilot, actually has a collaborative approach to feedback as its aim. This is the only pilot that includes student, staff, and community feedback. But within the context official evaluation that “feedback” becomes one more punitive tool in the hands of administration. Furthermore, without the re-structuring of the teaching day to give teachers time for all of this, the model will be ineffective–or pile on additional responsibilities and stress. The potentially posi- tive aspects of the tool will be drowned out by the administrative prerogatives of discipline and punishment; in the context of evaluations, a punitive–not supportive–system by definition, the creative tools for generating teacher, student and family feedback for improved teach- ing practices will be negated by the lack of opportunities to sustainably build off of the feedback provided.
We need to fight for a real transformation of the conditions that teaching and learning are embedded in – this means fighting for the time needed to observe, collaborate, and support one another’s improvement. We need to fight to make sure these new evaluation systems are not another unfunded mandate and a real effective teaching tool. The district wants to make superficial changes to their evaluation policies and make us feel like we’re getting somewhere; we need to push for a fundamental shift in how schooling happens by emphasizing the ways in which real collaboration happens – the creation of time to reflect, observe, collaborate and improve.
CORE Waiver: We’re done with NCLB! That’s great, right?
All discussion of evaluation pilots, while important, cannot be discussed in a vacuum without examining the CORE waiver. This “waiver” allows OUSD and 7 other districts to opt out of No Child Left Behind. While some of us are excited that we won’t have to use the CST this year, the reality is that this is coupled with an additional focus on test-based teacher evaluations rather than meaningful systems of feedback and support to develop our teaching practices. Instead of bringing decisions about teacher evaluations to the local collective bargaining table, the CORE waiver sidesteps the union. Rather, the district negotiates directly with the federal government, undermining input from teachers and community. This needs to be better understood by all teachers, and we need to be discussing and researching it openly in order to build that understanding.
How can we fight for real substantial changes in our students learning conditions? The Special Ed MOU provides no cap on class sizes and continues a practice of leaving some of our most vulnerable students with uncertainty. Right now the district has a “Task Force” to “engage community members” in a “dialogue” about Special Ed. To what extent do they already have a plan in motion? Are they just trying to involve us superficially so that we can eventually accept their plans? We need to organize as teachers to have our on the ground experiences truly inform attempts to improve Special Ed.
We rushed to a vote on a Tentative Agreement that the majority of our co-workers had little idea about. Why? The decision to have a vote on the TA with less than a week of school to go, left many members out of the final decision making process– a move that undermines
the tenants of union democracy. We need democratic participation of all school workers in deciding the type of contract we want. The best way forward is to really get our co-workers and colleagues to participate in the Contract Convention, and put forward our views of the type of contract Oakland’s community deserve – not just what’s “realistic” to a small group of union leaders.
We all want more control over the scheduling, curriculum and funding of our schools. But the district’s version of “autonomy” weakens our ability to fight as a collective body against their cuts and attacks. Historically, the small schools movement shows us how the OUSD’s version of “au- tonomy” has meant dividing us all up into small schools with the result being decentralized funding (“Results Based Budgeting”) and district imposed curriculum such as Open Court and other scripted, “teacher proof ” curricula. Eventually most of these decentralized “autonomous” schools were closed down by central offices once their grants from foundations likes the Gates Foundations dry up . The district’s version
of autonomy is just more centralized control, with individual school sites being left with the “autonomy” to deal with the crumbs they’re kicking down to us. So, yet again, low-income communities of color are the experimentation grounds. See our blog (classroomstruggle.org) for more info on this.