MLK Day and Presidential Inauguration: Historic occasion to stand up for economic and social justice

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel issued a statement in honor of today’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.

“On Monday, our nation’s first African American President will take the oath of office, the same day we honor Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., our most impassioned and celebrated civil rights leader. This convergence amplifies the importance of both events, and carries special meaning for National Education Association members who have stood up for social and economic justice throughout the organization’s proud 155-year history.

“As President Obama begins his second term, the National Education Association is committed to restoring hope and bringing about change in our country by fighting for greater access to opportunity for all Americans. For too long, opportunity has been the province of a select few, while average Americans have been left behind. It’s time to address these inequities and restore fairness.

“Our democracy is built upon the notion of opportunity, which rests upon the foundation of public education. We must work together to strengthen that foundation so that all students—no matter their zip code, race or social class—have access to a high quality education, a learning environment that is healthy, safe and secure, and a community that supports them and their families, both on and off school grounds.

“Recently, we’ve seen firsthand how our educators have so dramatically given their whole hearts to their students. In addition to caring how well their students learn, they also care about their students’ well-being and the well-being of their families. The personal commitment we’ve seen in our educators, from the school bus drivers who rescued victims of flooding after Superstorm Sandy to the classroom teachers who sacrificed their own safety to protect the lives of their students at Sandy Hook Elementary, will be reflected in NEA’s renewed commitment to educational excellence, social justice, and economic fairness.

“We know that the pathway from poverty to America’s great middle class runs through the classrooms of public schools and institutions of higher education. We will always fight for the educational opportunities that erase achievement gaps. We will always stand side by side, students, parents, and educators, to make sure our voices are heard in the places where policies are made and jobs are created.

“Along the way, we will be guided by a George Bernard Shaw quote that continues to inspire me: Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.

“On this important historic occasion, and on behalf of public school students across the nation, the National Education Association remains committed to dreaming and asking ‘why not?’ so that every public school student can look forward to a future filled with hope, prosperity and opportunity.”

Classroom Resources for Martin Luther King Day

NEA video celebrating Dr. King’s life and contributions to public education



“Trans” film can be a much-needed resource for educators

On November 27, One Colorado Education Fund and the Denver Film Society will present Trans, a feature documentary that provides a personal look at the lives of transgendered people: the highs and lows, joys and challenges. Public school teachers and support staff who work with students of all ages may find the film an important resource for their schools.

The showing of Trans begins at 7:00 pm, November 27, at the Denver Film Center at 2510 East Colfax Avenue in downtown Denver. Tickets are $12 ($10 for Film Society members). A panel discussion will follow at approximately 8:30 pm.

CEA is a sponsor of this special event, along with the Colorado Public Health Association, Gender Identity Center of Colorado, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. (Tickets)

Why do we recommend this film to our members? Because our Association believes that a great public school is a fundamental right of every student – a school free from intimidation and harassment and safe for everyone including students who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered.

We know that all students are more likely to learn and succeed in safe, supportive environments. Unfortunately, safety can be an issue for children and teens who are seen as different because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. From the earliest grades, students routinely use homophobic language, and verbal taunts often escalate to physical confrontations.

The effects of bullying, harassment, and discrimination are obvious to educators, administrators, and parents. Students who are subjected to frequent harassment do less well academically, and are much more likely to be truant or drop out of school, be depressed or suicidal, consume drugs or alcohol, or carry a weapon to school.

As an organization, we are committed to addressing the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students. That’s why we provide information and resources, such as the documentary Trans, for educators to create great schools for every student.

Denver teacher offers her take on Won’t Back Down movie

Won’t Back Down is a work of fiction that looks to parent trigger laws as a strategy for school reform. I want to emphasize the word fiction for anyone who missed it the first time. Much has already been written about the film, for or against it. I will share what I know to be non-fiction, based on my 25 years of practice as an accomplished teacher. These things I know…

I am one of “those” kids. When speaking of kids living in poverty, many people refer to “those” kids. This is not a reason to feel sorry for them (or me) or to make excuses about why we cannot learn. But it is the first step in creating separation between people and factions.

In Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children, she suggests that as long as we consider “those” children as other people’s children and not “our” children, we will never provide all students the education that they need and deserve. Pronouns can mean a lot. I have been one of “those” kids and can speak from experience about what “we” need and what we don’t. But even those whose demographic data is different can help support our children. All of them.

Perpetuating separation and divisiveness maintains the status quo. Pitting parents against unions, teachers against parents, Teach for America teachers against career teachers, veteran teachers against novice teachers and ed reformers against unions ensures that we stay mired in division that simply maintains the situation as it is. Casting blame and shame only perpetuates the false dichotomy of us versus them. Meanwhile, our kids sit by day after day while adults play power games at their expense.

Meaningful change requires collective action. Margaret Wheatley in Leadership and the New Science, suggests that, “Real change happens…only when we take time to discover what’s worthy of our shared attention.”

As it turns out, it’s not so difficult to identify factors that are worthy of our shared attention. For example, teacher evaluation must improve to encourage individual teachers’ growth and, when necessary, allow for dismissal.  School leaders need to be equipped with the tools and resources necessary to support teaching and learning. We need to rethink school design so we can tailor instruction to students’ needs.

But creating systemic and sustainable change will require us ALL to work together to redesign the system for our kids. And teachers must play critical roles in identifying solutions—for we will be the ones who bring the changes to life in the classroom each day.

We WILL change the system when we actually muster up enough will to do so. As long as all of the different factions involved in education hold tight to oppositional roles, we will not muster the will to actually change anything. When we REALLY decide that ALL students deserve a quality public education—when that becomes our genuine priority and is the outlet for our energy and motivation— then we will make that change happen. It is as simple as that.

Our kids and our country deserve better.

I, for one, am ready to collaborate. Are you? I don’t care what factions you’re part of, what label you wear, or what your history (or your organization’s history) may have been. I am willing to work alongside all who are truly dedicated to supporting the collective action and systemic change that is so sorely needed by our most vulnerable kids.

Our kids do not have time to waste on adults slinging mud like children. Our kids and our country deserve a better public education system and I intend to help provide it for them.

Who among us is willing to lift yourself up out of the divisiveness, connect around a common vision and create a system that works for all children? While some “won’t back down,” I Will Stand Up for our kids, for our community and for my profession. Will you join me?

Lori Nazareno, NBCT
Teacher in Residence, Center for Teaching Quality
Denver Classroom Teachers Association-CEA-NEA Member

CEA working in partnership with education groups, others on early literacy

During February 27-March 2, the Colorado Education Association (CEA) was proud to play a role in Colorado Literacy Week, a vibrant movement led by Governor John Hickenlooper, Lt. Governor Joe Garcia and literally scores of groups around the state.  Literacy Week was the outgrowth of a broad coalition of partners including business, elected and community leaders, along with CEA, organized to focus attention on and address the challenges we face with early childhood literacy.

Friday, March 2, as part of a nationwide program by the National Education Association called Read Across America, CEA helped sponsor and conduct special reading events in dozens of classrooms around the state.  CEA believes it is unacceptable for even one student capable of reading at grade level to fall short of this critical standard.

As Gov. Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Garcia emphasized in the Colorado Reads: The Early Literacy Initiative report issued last week, literacy neither starts nor stops in school.  When it comes to the classroom, however, CEA members have been working for decades on advancing literacy.  We supported the 1997 Colorado Basic Literacy Act as a critical foundation for making teaching literacy a top priority.  CEA members were also instrumental in revising the Colorado Academic Standards and integrating literacy into all academic content areas. Our members are committed to bringing the highest quality instruction to all public school students, especially those who struggle to read.

CEA has dedicated increased resources and energy to promoting strategies that are clearly effective in raising early literacy skills. This means first ensuring students have the resources, time and support to be successful readers and teachers have the preparation and training to effectively meet the needs of their students.  It also means focusing attention and awareness on approaches that have been proven to make a meaningful difference in helping our kids read, such as all-day kindergarten and summer reading programs. 

CEA members who are experts in early literacy and work with the most challenging cases every day emphasize that these kinds of programs are essential to helping kids read.  Success also means broadening awareness of the role school readiness, parental involvement, and early intervention play in literacy.  Moreover, we must acknowledge that achieving lasting results in early literacy involves confronting the other critical factors that greatly impact our system of education, including poverty and drastic cuts in school funding. 

Our mission is to capitalize on every opportunity to improve public education and early literacy.  CEA has been working in close partnership with other education groups, the state legislature and the Hickenlooper administration on a broad-based approach to early literacy.  A bill now before Legislature that looks to update rules regarding literacy teaching, HB 1238, is one part of this effort. CEA is working with others to amend the bill and collaborate with sponsors and  partners to it better results for public school students, their families and the Colorado citizens who invest in our system of public education.

This week: The 90th American Education Week

We’re celebrating the 90th anniversary of American public education this week, November 13-19.

Celebrated each year the week before Thanksgiving, American Education Week (AEW) was first celebrated in 1921 with cosponsors NEA and the American Legion. The week-long celebration grew out of national concern about illiteracy. The original goal of American Education Week — to generate public awareness and support for education — continues today. AEW honors students’ efforts to learn and achieve; recognizes the professionalism and dedication of every school staff member; thanks parents, families, and community members who help students succeed; and rededicates the school community to a quality public education for every student.

Each day of American Education Week honors a special group of people who make public education work. Tuesday was Parents’ Day. Wednesday was Education Support Professionals Day. Thursday welcomes visitors into our schools, such as state legislators, mayors and town councils, and business owners. Friday is Substitute Educator Day.

During American Education Week, NEA conducts an online “Substitute Educators Poll” to identify a well-known public figure whom most people think would make a great substitute-teacher-for-a-day. Take the Reader Poll on the NEA American Education Week site.

Last year’s poll respondents named CNN’s Anderson Cooper as the best candidate for substitute teacher. NEA invited Cooper to spend a day as a substitute in a public school – which Cooper did earlier this month in a New York City public school.

This year’s poll results will be announced tomorrow.

Couldn‘t we could all use a week in which to celebrate public education and all the people who work together to make sure that every student can pursue the American Dream? Learn more about American Education Week.

State Board endorses statewide evaluation system

On Wednesday, the Colorado State Board of Education approved rules and regulations for the implementation of Senate Bill 10-191. CEA is generally satisfied with the outcome of the State Board’s deliberations and final vote. We view the new rules as a first step in implementing SB 191 and in the creation of a comprehensive, high quality, and meaningful statewide system of teacher and principal evaluation.

The framework for the new evaluation system is the core of the work on SB 191 to date. While there are unresolved issues about SB 191, such as how to measure educator effectiveness in non-CSAP subjects, our Association believes that when the law is fully implemented in 2014, we will have a solid statewide system because school districts must meet or exceed the state level standards.

The “statewide” issue arose in September as the State Board reviewed draft rules written by Colorado Department of Education staff. The issue was whether there would be a single statewide evaluation system or if districts would be permitted to have their own systems that skirted the intent of the law. CEA’s position continued to be, throughout recent debate, that the evaluation system must be a single statewide system. Yesterday the State Board confirmed our position.

Our Association began working on teacher evaluation when Gov. Bill Ritter formed a task force before the Legislature even passed SB 191 during its 2010 session. Three CEA members worked tirelessly on the State Council for Educator Effectiveness (SCEE) for more than a year to make sure Colorado’s evaluation system is the best it can be. On behalf of our 40,000 members, we thank Amie Baca Oehlert (District Twelve EA), Kerrie Dallman (Jefferson County EA), and Jim Smyth (Mesa Valley EA) for their contributions to SCEE’s work. These three local association presidents have been working with administrators, parents, students, and the business community on evaluation and are expert resources for our organization.

CEA is committed to continuing the collaborative work begun by the State Council and supporting the work that will be done by teachers and principals in the SB 191 pilot districts. Lessons learned from the pilot will inform the next steps in SB 191 implementation.

CEA members want accountability in public education and in their schools – accountability for educators and for everyone that results in improving the quality of teaching, increasing student achievement, and making schools safer, better places to learn.

Educators, use this Sunday’s Education Nation to speak up about teaching profession

NBC’s 2011 Education Nation Summit will be live this Sunday, September 25, at 10:00 a.m. (Colorado time).

Join educators from across the country to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing our schools in this teacher town hall, moderated by NBC anchor Brian Williams.

Learn more about “Education Nation” at CEA’s home page story about the September 25 event. We hope you’ll take advantage of this opportunity to talk about teaching and what works in your classroom and school.