Students need more resources and program support, WEAC President Martin says

The state Department of Public Instruction is reporting that standardized test results for the 2018-19 school year show a slight decline from the previous year.

“Wisconsin Public School educators are working hard every day to educate the whole child – academically, socially and emotionally,” said Ron Martin, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. “The annual standardized test scores measure academic achievement at one point in time, and at the start of a new school year educators welcome everyone in our communities to discuss how, together, we can address increasing barriers to learning including strapped school budgets, student poverty, trauma and mental health concerns.”

In addition to successfully advocating for more school funding in the 2019-21 state budget, WEAC has increased the number of programs it offers to help teachers and support professionals understand and teach students from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Working toward solutions to the teacher shortage is also key, and WEAC is advancing a series of recommendations from a statewide salary system to improving school climates, all outlined in its 2019-20 white paper, Moving Education Forward.

According to the DPI, four in 10 Wisconsin students were proficient or advanced in the 2018-19 school year. For English, reading and writing, 39.3 percent of students met proficiency standards on the Wisconsin Forward Exam, down from 40.6 percent in 2017-18 and 42.7 percent in 2016-17. In math, 40.1 percent met the proficiency standard, down a point from the previous year. Wisconsin has set the bar high to achieve proficiency, with one of the highest cut scores in the nation which are aligned to National Assessment of Educational Progress scores. 

ACT scores dropped for 11th graders, who had an average of 19.5. That was down from 19.7 in 2018 after the average had been 20 in each of the two prior years. Previously, only students who were preparing for college and those taking college-preparatory courses took the ACT, but in recent years all high school juniors have been given the test, whether or not they are enrolled in college prep courses.

The state’s achievement gap between white and minority students narrowed slightly, but due largely to a decrease in performance by white students. For example, the percentage of white fifth graders who rated proficient or advanced in English dropped 4.6 percentage points, while scores were down 1.6 points for African American fifth graders. Martin noted that educators are organizing in school districts across the state to push back on increasing class sizes that prevent them from giving students the one-on-one attention they deserve. 

The decrease in overall scores is slight, and Martin said the years of defunding public schools under the previous governor have a definite impact.

“Years of defunding public schools take a toll on the resources available for our students,” Martin said. “While a first step toward restoring some of the lost funding has been taken with the 2019-21 state budget, the damage won’t be repaired overnight.”

Martin noted that even with overwhelming public support for more education funding in the just-passed budget, Republicans in the legislative majority made deep cuts to Governor Tony Evers’ initial education budget plan. “The lack of support demonstrated by the legislative majority has a direct impact on general and special education school aids, preventing our most vulnerable students from getting the services and resources they need.”

Private voucher schools, which are increasingly enrolling students from affluent communities under the statewide voucher program, did not test nearly 10 percent of their students, even though they are required to give the state tests and are funded by taxpayers. Public schools, which serve all students no matter where they live or their economic status, posted a 98 percent participation rate.

Together, working through our union, we can ‘reach, teach and inspire the students’

In a video message, WEAC President Ron “Duff” Martin welcomes educators back for another exciting school year and encourages them to continue their outstanding work on behalf of the children of Wisconsin.

“The work you do as public school educators is incredibly important, and I know that you give it your all. We make sure that every kid gets a great public education,” he says.

“WEAC is listening to our members, to educators all across the state. We’re spending time in classrooms, we’re spending time in communities, and we’re coming up with solutions that will help make the job more enjoyable for our educators but more importantly to make sure that everyone thrives in our public schools. 

“This school year, WEAC invites you to be part of the solution. Join our family, the WEAC Team, so that we can reach, teach and inspire students. Wisconsin educators, welcome to a new school year!”

weac.org/Join

Waukesha’s Sarahi Monterrey honored with WEAC’s Excellence in Education Award

WEAC President Ron Martin on Tuesday presented WEAC’s Excellence in Education Award to Waukesha North High School Teacher Sarahi Monterrey. The award was presented at the end-of-the-year staff meeting at Waukesha North.

“Sarahi has done some tremendous and phenomenal things not only with her students and her community but has also been a tremendous advocate for public education and particularly the teaching profession,” Martin said.

“Thank you to all the phenomenal educators across our state that every single day are doing all these wonderful things to change the lives of students,” Sarahi said. “That’s really what it’s all about – making sure that all students have an opportunity to a quality education.”

Sarahi has already been named Wisconsin’s High School Teacher of the Year, and Martin said the WEAC Excellence in Education Award is in effect WEAC’s own “Teacher of the Year” Award. Fourteen excellent educators from across the state were nominated for the WEAC award, and four were selected as award recipients: Ben Grignon, a high school Menominee Indian culture teacher; Joanna Rizzotto, a South Milwaukee alternative learning coordinator/teacher; Sandra Kowalczyk, a Sun Prairie school reading specialist; and Sarahi Monterrey.

A committee of three past NEA Foundation Excellence in Education Award recipients from WEAC reviewed the four WEAC award winners, ranking each in professional practice, advocacy for the teaching profession, attention to diversity, community engagement, and leadership in professional development. It then selected Sarahi as WEAC’s Excellence in Education nominee to the NEA Foundation. She will go on to compete with representatives from other state unions, and four individuals will be selected to receive the Horace Mann special recognition and a $10,000 award. One finalist will receive the NEA Member Benefits award and a $25,000 prize.

Spotlight on Locals: Siren Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen (center, right) and WEAC President Ron Martin (back, right) present Polly Imme (center, left), President of the Siren Education Association, with the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate at the WEAC Region 1 Learning and Growing Conference in Eau Claire. They are joined by (left to right) Aspiring Educator Autumn Tinman and Siren Education Association members John Tinman, Andrea Meyer, Sheryl Stiemann, Cadi Whyte, and Jill Tinman.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

Siren Education Association President Polly Imme said, “We have a small local in one K-12 building which is conducive to good communication and easy access to leaders. Our members are unified in our commitment to our students and recognize the roles for WEAC and NEA to assure that we have access to due process in the event of conflict. We rely on WEAC and NEA for professional development opportunities, updates on current educational policies, and information at our fingertips to keep us up to date on educational issues and trends nationwide.”  

Jackie Eggers, special education teacher, told me, “Our school in Siren is about camaraderie. People care about each other.  We want to stand strong together; that’s just who we are.”  

“Up until the last three years, we saw a high turnover in administration, which made school life frequently difficult due to conflicting expectations during those transitions. We struggled with top-down leadership and a lack of free expression and communication that took several years to overcome and culminated with a clear resolution to flip our board. Our local was committed to making life for our educators better, and we found ways to do that,” Polly shared.  

“When I started teaching in Siren, I was invited to join the Siren Education Association right away. I felt welcomed as I walked through the door, and I felt like I was given the option to join and be supported by my colleagues. I have always felt that if I needed help or support or answers, my union was there for me. It is why I stay a member,” Jackie said.

According to Polly, “Some of our successful initiatives include peer education and support surrounding Educator Effectiveness through work nights, funding for RIF books for our elementary students, sponsoring scholarships annually for students entering the field of education, and most recently sponsoring our members’ adult children in Aspiring Educators.   We currently sponsor students from UW-Green Bay (Autumn Tinman, pictured), UW-Stevens Point (Riley Anderson), and UW-Lacrosse (Emily Stiemann).”

Jackie shared with me, “When I started, part-way through the school year, we were able to work through the complexities of Educator Effectiveness. Both my colleagues and district administration were helpful and supportive as we navigated the process.”  This important collaboration is made possible because of the advocacy of the Siren Education Association.  

Polly’s advice to other locals is, “Approach every new person offering them the benefits and support of the association, listen to every member’s thoughts and concerns, and work diligently to have open dialogue with your administrators. Our work is a two-way street and takes honesty, respect, and trust.”

Jackie shared a belief that is clear and quite refreshing: “In Siren, we put people first above all else.” 

Thank you to the Siren Education Association and congratulations on your WEAC Strong Local Affiliate designation.  

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.

NEPC issues ‘red flag warning’ on personalized learning initiatives

So-called “personalized learning” programs are proliferating in schools across the United States despite “many red flags” as to their effectiveness and the motivations behind them, according to a new report from the National Education Policy Center.

The NEPC says these “personalized learning” initiatives are “fueled by philanthropic dollars, tech industry lobbying, marketing by third-party vendors, and a policy environment that provides little guidance and few constraints.”

“The implementation of personalized learning via digital platforms raises several significant concerns as it outsources decisions about pedagogy and curriculum to unknown programmers,” the authors write. “In doing so, it allows opaque algorithms to generate consequential educational decisions and hands over key school and teacher functions to third-party technology vendors.

“These features create a situation in which: the reality of the digital educational process belies advocates’ pervasive rhetoric; the technology disables or sidelines professional teachers; students and teachers lose privacy as data is collected and sold; and, public education effectively becomes privatized education as control moves away from local education professionals to assorted business interests.”

The authors recommend that schools and policymakers pause in their efforts to promote and implement personalized learning until rigorous review, oversight, and enforcement mechanisms are established.

“Our analysis reveals questionable educational assumptions embedded in influential programs, self-interested advocacy by the technology industry, serious threats to student privacy, and a lack of research support,” they write. “Despite many red flags, pressure to adopt personalized learning programs keeps mounting. States continue to adopt policies that promote implementation of digital instructional materials but that do little to provide for oversight or accountability.”

The report notes that “many well-intentioned educators are attracted to and enthusiastic about the child-oriented promises held out by various approaches to personalized learning. Unfortunately, our analysis suggests that these educators’ good intentions and hard work are likely to be overwhelmed by the corporate march to dominate the personalized learning landscape.”

It continues: “In terms of pedagogy, the digital products that corporations market as an integral part of personalized learning can undermine the ability of educators to provide students with engaging and educative school experiences. Such products subtly subvert teachers’ ability to control their classroom pedagogy, moving pedagogical control to vendors and programmers — thus, in effect, privatizing consequential educational decision-making.”

Read the entire report:

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Read a summary in The Journal:

NEPC Issues ‘Red Flag Warning’ on Personalized Learning — THE Journal

A new report from the National Education Policy Center has suggested that the concept of personalized learning has been productized by technology companies in ways that ‘can put important educational decisions in private hands and compromise the privacy of children and their teachers.’

WEAC members help create safe and supportive school communities

The latest Department of Public Instruction ConnectEd newsletter highlights the work of two WEAC members – Verona language arts teacher Nate Campbell and Rice Lake school social worker Joshua Morey – to create safe and supportive school environments for LGBTQ students and staff.

“In Verona,” Campbell said, “we believe that every child must be successful. My work with the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance, also referred to as Gender Sexuality Alliance) is supporting the efforts of students who are LGBTQIA+ and their allies to feel safe and successful in school.”

In Rice Lake, Morey serves as a GSA advisor for the high school and middle school GSA clubs. Because of the GSA’s efforts, every RLASD staff person, including custodial, food service, teacher, aide, administrator, and all new hires, receive training regarding gender and sexuality inclusive practices. “RLASD staff regularly use our students’ preferred names and pronouns and respect students’ rights to facilities and activities that align with their identities,” Morey said.

Read more:

Safe and Supportive School Environments for LGBTQ+ Youth

We all know how important it is to keep kids healthy, safe, supported, and encouraged in school. However, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students are 50% more likely than their peers to have been bullied at school or online in the past year.

The Department of Public Instruction will host the Creating Safe and Supportive School Communities Social and Emotional Learning Symposium June 19-20, at the Stevens Point Holiday Inn Conference Center. Find out more.

Spotlight on Locals: Onalaska Education Association

Molly Baker, Onalaska Education Association Secretary, proudly displays the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate presented to her by WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen. They are joined by DJ Ehrike, Onalaska Education Association (OEA) President.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

“Good people with strong ethics who believe in contributing to the greater good are what makes the Onalaska Education Association strong,” President of the Onalaska Education Association, DJ Ehrike, told me.  DJ also touted the OEA’s membership growth over the last two years saying, “We have been actively recruiting using the one-to-one conversation model with our building leaders who have strong relationships with their colleagues.” Additionally, DJ told me, “We also have been able to recruit a positive building representative in every one of our buildings.”  

Molly Baker, elementary art teacher and OEA Secretary, echoed DJ’s sentiments saying, “We’ve established building reps in every building and strong communication between the building representatives, the executive board, and the members. We’ve also worked diligently to build communication between the OEA and district administration. When we start with common ground like promoting public education, it’s easier to build support. Our work in the Onalaska Education Association is often around things that we can all agree on, which helps others to recognize that the work of our union benefits everyone.”

Christiana Martin, elementary music teacher, told me, “A key to our success has been to be a positive influence in the school district and the community.  We’ve worked to build a positive image for the Onalaska Education Association in our community through OEA’s local scholarships which are creatively funded through collecting payment from educators for wearing jeans on designated days. The OEA also founded the annual turkey drive around the holidays, which has now expanded as a collaborative effort with the school district to feed families in need during the holidays. Our colleagues see all of the positive work that the OEA is doing, the influence that we have, and what we offer that is helpful to new teachers starting out, and they join.”  

When I asked for advice, DJ mentioned, “Leaders can’t do this work alone. Every local President needs to grow a team of positive and passionate colleagues who believe in our students and our public schools, and then find a way to delegate.”  

Christiana said, “As advice goes, emails from someone you don’t know are easy to delete, and fliers of information are easy to throw away, but face-to-face contact with a colleague in your building is difficult to walk away from.  When we make the effort to talk with our colleagues with whom we have influence about the Onalaska Education Association, they listen.”

“Build a core group that you can count on to spread your message,” Molly told me. “We can all work to promote an excellent public education system.”  

DJ’s positive attitude about the work is evident as he ended our conversation with, “Even with our success, we see room for improvement. We will continue this work until every one of our colleagues is a member.”

Thank you to DJ, Molly, Christiana, and all of the members of the Onalaska Education Association for your hard work and dedication, and congratulations on being named a WEAC Strong Local Affiliate.  

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.

Despite serious problems and a lack of research support, virtual schools continue to spread

From the National Education Policy Center

Lawmakers throughout the nation continue to support the spread of virtual schools despite the fact that research reveals overwhelming evidence of poor performance, according to a new review by the National Education Policy Center.

Given the evidence, the review recommends that policymakers:

  • Slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual and blended schools and the size of their enrollments until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed.
  • Implement measures that require virtual and blended schools to reduce their student-to-teacher ratios.
  • Enforce sanctions for virtual and blended schools that perform inadequately.
  • Sponsor research on virtual and blended learning “programs” and classroom innovations within traditional public schools and districts.

The three-part research brief titled Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2019, examines the claim that online curriculum can be tailored to individual students more effectively than curriculum in traditional classrooms.

Proponents contend that this potential for individualization allows virtual schools to promote greater student achievement than can be realized in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. NEPC researchers found, however, that the research evidence does not support this claim. Yet the lack of research support has done little to dampen policymakers’ enthusiasm, perhaps because virtual schools are marketed as promising lower operating costs, primarily via cutbacks in instructional personnel and facilities.

Section I of the brief, Full-Time Virtual and Blended Schools: Enrollment, Student Characteristics, and Performance, provides straightforward analyses of the characteristics and performance of full-time, publicly funded K-12 virtual schools. The data reveal that full-time virtual and blended learning schools continue to perform poorly.

Section II, What Virtual and Blended Education Research Reveals, points to a serious shortfall in the scholarly research. It reviews the relevant available studies related to virtual school practices and finds that much of this is atheoretical, methodologically questionable, contextually limited, and overgeneralized. As a result, the available research is of little value in guiding policy.

Section III, Key Policy Issues in Virtual Schools: Finance and Governance, Instructional Quality, and Teacher Quality, provides an overview of recent state legislative efforts to craft policy regarding virtual schools. As in past years, bills to increase oversight of virtual schools continue to be introduced. Some legislative actions have been prompted by state audits and legal challenges, as exemplified by recent virtual school controversies in California and Ohio. As such, the bills have been aimed at addressing accountability and governance structures, as well as curbing the operation of for-profit virtual schools. However, there is little evidence that legislative actions are being informed by available research on the performance of virtual schools.

The authors recommend that policymakers hit the pause button on further virtual school expansion until we understand how to address the poor performance of these schools.

Find Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2019, edited by Alex Molnar, at:
http://www.greatlakescenter.org

This research brief was made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit it at: http://nepc.colorado.edu.

Racine educators, students, parents, community members demand a budget that supports students and educators

Photo by BG Pfeifer.

Dozens of Racine educators, students, parents and community members packed a school board meeting Monday night to demand a budget that supports all students and gives educators the tools they need to help students succeed.

“I realize public school districts across this state are in crisis mode,” said Racine Educators United President Angelina Cruz. “But I strongly believe in the collective power of educators and community to fight back for what’s best for kids.”

Cruz asked administrators and school board members to join all educators at the Capitol “to demand legislators stop playing politics with our kids.”

“It’s imperative we come together to debunk the myth that our kids are failing.” she said. “The state is failing our kids.

“We must stand together to demand that our public schools – the only schools with the commitment, capacity, and legal obligation to serve every child who walks through our doors – be fully funded; that the voucher program be ended; that something be done about the massive teacher exodus in Wisconsin; and to put an end to punitive legislation targeting urban districts.”

Cruz presented a petition with over 1,000 signatures from educators, parents, and community members calling on the school board to approve a budget that:

  • Keeps cuts away from the classroom.
  • Provides planning and prep time educators need to meet the needs of all students, rather than filling that time with meaningless meetings.
  • Provides a sensible and competitive salary schedule and benefits package that attracts and retains the best and brightest public education workers.

“Our ask is simple,” she said: “Keep what’s best for kids at the center of all local budget decisions. Stop cuts in programming and supports that most directly impact student learning. Chop from the top.”

Find out more on the REA-REAA Unity Facebook page:

Read more from the Racine Journal Times:

Racine teachers’ union protests proposed cuts

RACINE – A chorus of teachers who repeatedly chanted “chop from the top” filled the Racine Unified School Board meeting room on Monday night. Attendees of the meeting spilled into the hallway outside the meeting room as members of the Racine Unified teachers’ union, Racine Educators United, protested proposed cuts in next year’s budget that would affect teachers and students.

State Superintendent Stanford Taylor asks districts to review graduation policies as they relate to American Indian traditions

As the school year winds down and graduation ceremonies take place, State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor has sent a reminder to Wisconsin school superintendents to review their policies regarding American Indian ceremonial traditions.

“Throughout Wisconsin, many school districts already recognize the importance of American Indian students wearing eagle feathers, traditional regalia, and other items,” Stanford Taylor wrote, noting that many school districts addressed their policies in 2017 after the Department of Public Instruction asked them to connect with sovereign tribal nations and discuss with tribal leaders ways to recognize and honor tribal traditions and practices. In the past, some school districts have prohibited students from wearing items of religious and cultural significance at graduation ceremonies and school-sponsored events.

“I hope you will take this opportunity to deepen the relationship with the tribal nations and recognize the cultural and religious significance these specific items have to the sovereign tribal nations and their members,” she wrote.

Stanford Taylor asked school districts specifically to look at their policies, consider the religious aspects of eagle feathers and other items for American Indian students and the legal protections given for religious practices. For instance:

  • Wisconsin Statutes s. 115.28(31) requires rules to provide for the reasonable accommodation of a pupil’s sincerely held religious beliefs with regard to all examinations and other academic requirements. Further, the related administrative rule, Wis. Admin. Code. Chapter PI 41, requires all school boards to develop policies providing for such accommodations.
  • Wisconsin Statutes s. 118.13 provides that no person may be denied participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be discriminated against in any curricular, extracurricular, pupil services, recreational or other program or activity because of the sex, race, religion, national origin, ancestry, creed, pregnancy, marital or parental status, sexual orientation or physical, mental emotional or learning disability. Under the related administrative rule, Wis. Admin. Code Chapter PI 9, school boards are required to develop policies prohibiting discrimination against pupils.

“Thank you for your continued efforts to make school a welcoming, safe and engaging place for all our students each and every day,” she wrote.