Where “No” Means “Yes, But Just a Little Less”

It’s safe to say the teachers’ unions didn’t get what they wanted from their candidates on Election Day, but on ballot initiatives they were successful, winning in Massachusetts, Georgia, Maine, Montana and California.

The one disappointing outcome was in Oregon, where union-backed Measure 97 went down to an 18-point defeat. The initiative would have instituted a 2.5 percent tax on business gross sales that exceeded $25 million.

One would think that such a resounding loss would be cause for evaluation, introspection and a second look at the fundamentals of the measure.


“We are in a better position than ever to raise the revenue schools and families in Oregon need,” said Ben Unger, executive director of Our Oregon, the union-financed group that ran the Measure 97 campaign.

The Portland Tribune reported, “Unger rejects the idea that the measure was flawed in any way. He said he probably wouldn’t shape it any differently if he could do it over again.”

Measure 97 would have raised an estimated $3 billion annually, to be spent primarily on the school system.

On Tuesday the public employees unions unveiled a new proposal: How about $2.5 billion a year?

Legislation would place a 2 percent tax on gross sales on companies with more than $100 million in sales, plus increase taxes on health care companies.

Vox populi, vox nihili.


Nebraska State Education Association Names a Free Thinker as Executive Director

The Nebraska State Education Association selected Maddie Fennell to be its new executive director, replacing the retiring Craig Christiansen. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be big news, but Fennell isn’t ordinary.

A state teacher of the year, Fennell chaired the National Education Association’s Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching. In that role, she was a bit of an iconoclast:

We have replicated in our organization some of the same inefficiencies we fight against in our school districts. The challenges of the past can inform our future, but we can’t continue to use the same strategies to solve our new challenges.

We tie the hands of our leaders through complicated resolutions and policies. We lack the flexibility to rapidly adapt in a texting, Facebook, technologically “do it now” society.

We must promote and enable greater flexibility within NEA governance structures for a rapid response to the changing political and educational environments. We must take the primary responsibility for the quality of teaching and for student learning.

It is time for our union to evolve.

There was significant resistance to Fennell’s approach within NEA, and there continues to be. A strategy of flexibility may be better suited to her home state, and we wish her well in her new position.


NEA 2017 Leadership Summit Sessions

The National Education Association will be holding a Leadership Summit in Orlando the weekend of Feb. 24-26 in Orlando, Florida. I have posted the full list of scheduled breakout sessions on EIA’s Declassified page, but here are a few to whet your appetite.

Political Advocacy! Organizing for Power! It’s Time to Lead!

Education professionals can’t afford to stay silent while budgets are debated or new policies are designed! We must get politically organized and join the policymaking process at every level. This session will engage participants in agenda driving strategies and tactics that will empower members to take a leadership role in organizing for good public education policy.

Organizing Around ESSA: How to Achieve Concrete Victories While Growing and Strengthening Your Local

This session will allow participants to self-select small groups based on their current level of ESSA work (beginning, designing, implementing). Each small group will feature crucial ESSA tools and resources, strategies, and examples appropriate for that particular stage of ESSA work. Participants will work with members of NEA’s Local ESSA Design and Implementation Team and state IPD staff who have utilized ESSA as an organizing tool.

Building Member’s Campaign-Activism for Strong Public Schools!

Educators are the most trusted voices in their communities, families, and the general public. In this session, participants will learn how to speak with authority, how to stay on message, and how to get the most out of activism using both “voice and digital” techniques and skills. The session will feature the Colorado Education Association and how it inspires its members to use their “speaking with authority voices” to advocate for their students, the community and their profession.

Creating a Culture of Political Advocacy & Political Activism!

In this session, participants will learn how to take advocacy to the activism level and advance the cause of social justice by developing a culture of community activism. Participants will create plans around educational issues that support student learning and member’s professional needs and rights

How to Use Improvisation to Become an Agile and Effective Leader

In this fun and engaging interactive breakout session, participants will learn tested improvisation techniques, engage in dynamic and structured
improvisation games, and how to become comfortable thriving in the
uncertainty of the moment. The best, most dynamic, leaders do this as a matter of course. Participants will understand how leading starts with listening and by fine-tuning engaged listening skills, we create more dynamic interactions.

Engaging Millennials and Getting Them Involved

This session will explore how to engage Millennials and provide creative tips to get them involved in the association.

Using ESSA to Recruit, Empower, Engage, and Influence Members to be
Actively Involved

This session will provide an overview of ESSA and how to use ESSA to identify potential educator leaders in the association. The training will also focus on tools, resources, and opportunities to organize around ESSA to build membership capacity. Participants will learn how to use ESSA to empower educators and community stakeholders by hosting round tables, focus groups, surveys, town halls, while building internal and external relationships. Participants will also create action steps and dates for deliverables on how to implement the objectives of the session.

Lobbying Republicans: An Overview

This session will provide an opportunity for members to participate in the
lobbying module of the Republican Capacity Building Training. This is just one of the modules developed by a group of Republican educators and Government Relations staff of several of NEA’s affiliates. Participants will learn how to build relationships and lobby legislators at the local, state, and national levels.

If You Asked Me What Race I Was, I Would Ask You What Year?

In this session, participants will explore how concepts of race are shaped and changed, how they become the emphasis of political conflict, and how they have come to pervade U.S. society. Race continues to shape both identities and societies in important ways. Yet, race is a social construction without any scientific evidence to support the classification of people into separate groups. This session will demonstrate how racial classifications are both arbitrary and capricious. It will also explain that race is a social construction; a term that symbolizes something that does not exist.

Attacks on Our Pension Plans Using Bogus Paid-For “Research” – Whose Behind It and How to Counter It

In this session, participants will learn ways to counter the groundswell of
incorrect information about the viability of our pension plans which are being assailed by bogus paid-for “research.”


Fight to the Finnish

We wrap up Finland Week with a tribute to the impeccable timing of Diane Ravitch, who picked this day of all days to repost this paean to Finland’s school system, written by William Doyle, a scholar-in-residence at the University of Eastern Finland.

Donald Trump is promoting “school choice” as he vows to improve the American education system. To achieve this vision, he should start by putting his incoming Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on a plane to world education superpower Finland to see what school choice means in its most powerful form — the choice from among numerous, great, neighborhood schools anywhere in the country.

Unfortunately for Ravitch and Doyle, they apparently didn’t get the memo over at the Washington Post, who chose today to publish “Finland’s schools were once the envy of the world. Now, they’re slipping.”

The Post asked Pasi Sahlberg, the go-to guy on Finnish education policy, what was going on. He had a number of theories, but I found this one the most interesting:

According to some national statistics, most teenagers in Finland spend more than four hours a day on the Internet (not including time with TV) and that the number of heavy Internet and other media users (more than eight hours a day) is increasing just as it is doing in the U.S., Canada and beyond. According to emerging research on how the Internet affects the brain — and thereby learning — suggests three principal consequences: shallower information processing, increased distractibility, and altered self-control mechanisms. If this is true, then there is reason to believe that increasing use of digital technologies for communication, interaction and entertainment will make concentration on complex conceptual issues, like those in mathematics and science, more difficult. Interestingly, most countries are witnessing this same phenomenon of digital distraction among their youth.

The reason I find it interesting is because when Sahlberg was asked what Finland will do to address its problems, he said there will be “more student-centered pedagogies, strengthened student engagement in school, more physical activity for all students, and more technology in classrooms.” (emphasis added)

To be fair, Finland does have a way to go to match us in shallow information processing.


Today I Received an E-Mail from the Past

This morning my inbox contained an e-mail from FutureMe.org. If you never heard of the service, FutureMe allows you to write an e-mail and send it to yourself on any date you specify up to 50 years in the future.

My e-mail came from December 8, 2011. That was the day National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel held a press conference to announce a “new three-part action agenda to strengthen the teaching profession and improve student learning.”

At the time I thought it sounded a lot like 1990s-era “new unionism.” But what prompted the message to Future Me was this quote from Van Roekel:

“Five years from now, we want people to look at NEA as a major catalyst for bringing about the kind of education all Americans want, all teachers can deliver, and all children deserve.”

Eh, not so much.