Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lily Eskelsen García Poised to Set Stronger Face, Representing U.S. Teachers, in Leading the NEA This Fall

*Eskelsen García is no Weingarten, and that's great *Great keynote at Netroots Nation, Video: "I cannot exaggerate the social justice crisis in schools today"
*The real progressive, in contrast to Weingarten
Lily Eskelsen García was elected president of the National Education Association this July. She takes office in September, and so far she appears to be setting herself apart from current national teacher union leaders, Dennis Van Roekel and Randi Weingarten (president of the American Federation of Teachers). A bona fide veteran teacher, and a union leader that is pledged to support the call for Arne Duncan's resignation, she is certainly setting a different tone from the AFT leader.

Compared to Weingarten she's had real experience, teaching ten years, full-time, in high poverty schools, indeed, for a period, teaching homeless students. And she was validly elected, not cherry-picked, in the iustitutional virtual dynasty, as happens in the American Federation of Teachers with New York City's United of Federation of Teachers so happening to provided every president (and readers national need to know of the virtual dynasty --as opposed to democratic presidential succession in the UFT: presidents hand-picked by institutional elders Weingarten by Sandra Feldman, Michael Mulgrew by Weingarten -read herehere here and here at Ed Notes --and it is not well known that Weingarten only taught full-time for six months). No, not every NEA president is from suburban Salt Lake City, Utah either. In fact, Eskelsen García is not only the first Latina-American to head a teachers federation, she is the first teachers federation president from Utah. Rotation of NEA leadership from one particularly powerful local is a tradition, in contrast to the almost perennially NYC UFT-dominated AFT. In the AFT Edward McElroy, hailing from Warwick, Rhode Island, was the rare exception of an AFT president from outside of the Unity caucus-dominated UFT, serving for the short term of 2004 to 2008. The NEA has term limits on its presidents. The AFT does not. However, term limits can remove the electoral success incentive that leaders have, in order remain effective and loyal to members' interests. Yet, when we see Weingarten's advantage from the UFT's control over the AFT, we see that it is perhaps futile to expect any successful challenge to Weingarten's leadership.

Eskelsen García, by contrast, is critical of high stakes tests, and to that end, she is backing up the NEA's call this summer for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's resignation. (Read also, the immediate report from Ed Week on the NEA's Duncan resolution. As proposed by the California Teachers Assocation (CTA), the resolution noted "the Department's failed education agenda focused on more high-stakes testing, grading and pitting public school students against each other based on test scores".) Note, by contrast, that the AFT's resignation call has some qualifications. She has adopted Finnish educator and activist Pasi Sahlberg's term, Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), in a perspective that criticizes the movement, for months before her election.
And she has excoriated the role that the Koch Brothers play through the American Legislative Exchange Council in affecting politics. So, while the Weingarten-AFT "Progressive Caucus" --the national extension of the UFT-dominating Unity Caucus (& patronage mill) adopts the "progressive" moniker, yet, endorses accomodation with education reformers, in the name of being people that can "work with" business, Eskelsen García looks poised --by her rhetoric and her topical focal points-- to be the real deal progressive union leader, advocating for the rank and file teachers toiling under the most arduous, hostile, unconscionable climate and conditions in decades.

Would a Weingarten or Mulgrew ever say something as defiantly oppositional as this? (The statement is from Eskelsen Garcia's conversation with Daily Kos' Laura Clawson at the Netroots Nation.)
What we have to do is to say there is no federal law that says we have to obsess over this test score. You give it as little credence as possible, you stop worrying about the punishments that come with that, you let the chips fall where they may, and you let nothing get in the way of giving these kids everything they need to make their lives what they want them to be.

Yet, she has supported the Common Core and the role that Bill Gates has played in promoting the Common Core.
According to the NEA's site:
When asked about the Gates Foundation, whose influence on education policy is a constant source of debate among educators, Garcia said she applauds the work they've done to promote the Common Core State Standards. "I read those standards, and I love them," she said.
To her credit, she is aiming to better pitch the union cause to the public. In the past, and in too many places, currently, teacher union leaders have not bothered to make the teachers' case to the public.

At Netroots Nation in Detroit, on July 17, she said in her keynote speech (12:36):
"I cannot exaggerate the social justice crisis in schools today. Privateers and profiteers and corporate factory school reformers have corrupted what it means to teach and what it means to learn and we see it every day."

She then told of El Paso's Bowie High School where one administrator in made almost $60,000 from testing bonuses. The administrator devised a list of students that did poorly on standardized tests, most of them English Language Learners. He bullied, humiliated and threatened the students with stories that La Migra (ICE) would maybe visit their parents, encouraging students to drop out of school, then student scores shot up sky high. Read of the 2012 scandal in "Victims of EPISD cheating: Students were removed, says Bowie High School administrator" by Zahira Torres, in El Paso Times.

Aptly, she says that the drivers behind the corporate school reform are "zombies who will not die and they are eating our children's brains. They are well-funded and they are motivated. ALEC loves this model. They love the absurdity of No Child Left Untested. They got a critical mass of politicians to believe it was possible for 100 percent of our students to be above average. Because all things are possible [then she shifts to early elementary teacher tone] to people who don't know what they're talking about."

As Ned Resnikoff at MSNBC noted, her stances put her in direct conflict with president Obama's Arne Duncan-led Education Department and the bi-partisan political alignment to evaluate teachers on the basis of test scores.
“This year [the NEA] had a critical mass of people that said enough is enough.”
Although he did not note that Eskelsen García is regularly drawing attention to the deep poverty that exists in many schools and that there is unequal access to resources among the nation's schoolrooms.

At Politico:
Next NEA leader's first task: Win back public
Salon's portrait, "'Stupid, absurd, non-defensible': New NEA president Lily Eskelsen García on the problem with Arne Duncan, standardized tests and the war on teachers," says,

Arne Duncan has met his worst nightmare -- an NEA president armed with facts and guts. She tells Salon what's next

But we know there are politics involved. Right now U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is a sore spot for both your union and the AFT. Both NEA and AFT have asked for Duncan’s resignation. Your demand was unconditional, and AFT’s had some very interesting conditions …
Yes, The Arne Duncan Improvement Program. I love it.
 . . . 
What’s wrong with basing teacher evaluations on test scores?
The years I taught at the homeless shelter, I had different kinds of students than the year I taught at Orchard Elementary. Also, there was the year I had 24 kids and the year I had 39 kids. You can’t put that in a value added formula. It doesn’t work. Then there was the year I had three special ed kids with reading disabilities, and I did a bang-up job with them. So the next year they gave me 12. I had all of the special ed kids that year. No other teachers had any. Just me. So in a class of 35 kids, 12 had reading disabilities. Now I’m guessing if we had just used test scores back then to evaluate me, you maybe would have thought that I had suddenly become a really crappy teacher that year. Test scores alone wouldn’t have told you what happened. They wouldn’t have given you an analysis of why.
Other than being unfair to individual teachers, does basing evaluations and school ratings on test scores hurt students too?
Using test scores is basically saying to educators, “Hit your number or you get punished.” Or even worse, “Hit your number in El Paso, if you’re an administrator, and we’ll give you a bunch of money.” That would encourage the administrator to use a push-out program for low-scoring students like those who don’t speak English. That’s what Lorenzo Garcia did as district superintendent in El Paso, and he is in jail now. He was the first person to go to jail for lining his pocket with bonus dollars because he could hit his numbers. And he made presentations about how you can “light a fire under lazy teachers to get those numbers up.” But what really happened is he would call individual students into his office to threaten and humiliate them with deportation if they wouldn’t drop out or transfer. He pushed out over 400 students in his high school. It was the El Paso Teachers Association that got the community together to talk about what was happening and to make sure that never happened again. That NEA chapter just won a national human and civil rights award for establishing a way for parents and teachers to alert the community when they see district administration engaging in unfair practices to students.
What does Arne Duncan think about this? Why does he still insist on basing his policies on test scores?
I spoke with Secretary Duncan yesterday [July 16]. He’s very upset with the NEA Representative Assembly’s decision to call for his resignation. We had a hard conversation. He was very straightforward with me. He felt he wasn’t being given enough credit from NEA for advocating for expanded early childhood education and greater access to affordable college. And it’s true there is no light between us on those issues. So he asked why we didn’t explain to people all the good things he has advocated for. I said I would send him copies of speeches I give where I’ve been supportive of the good things the Obama administration has done, and I’d give him position papers from the NEA addressing the need to work closely with his department.
So what’s the frustration for teachers?
Here’s the frustration – and I’m not blaming the delegates; I will own this; I share in their anger. The Department of Education has become an evidence-free zone when it comes to high stakes decisions being made on the basis of cut scores on standardized tests. We can go back and forth about interpretations of the department’s policies, like, for instance, the situation in Florida where teachers are being evaluated on the basis of test scores of students they don’t even teach. He, in fact, admitted that was totally stupid. But he needs to understand that Florida did that because they were encouraged in their applications for grant money and regulation waivers to do so. When his department requires that state departments of education have to make sure all their teachers are being judged by students’ standardized test scores, then the state departments just start making stuff up. And it’s stupid. It’s absurd. It’s non-defensible. And his department didn’t reject applications based on their absurd requirements for testing. It made the requirement that all teachers be evaluated on the basis of tests a threshold that every application had to cross over. That’s indefensible.
So any good the Obama administration has tried to accomplish for education has been offset by the bad?
Yes. Sure, we get pre-K dollars and Head Start, but it’s being used to teach little kids to bubble in tests so their teachers can be evaluated. And we get policies to promote affordable college, but no one graduating from high school gets an education that has supported critical and creative thinking that is essential to succeeding in college because their education has consisted of test-prep from Rupert Murdoch. The testing is corrupting what it means to teach. I don’t celebrate when test scores go up. I think of El Paso. Those test scores went up overnight. But they cheated kids out of their futures. Sure, you can “light a fire” and “find a way” for scores to go up, but it’s a way through the kids that narrows their curriculum and strips their education of things like art and recess.
Doesn’t Duncan understand that?
No. That reality hasn’t entered the culture of the Department of Education. They still don’t get that when you do a whole lot of things on the periphery, but you’re still judging success by a cut score on a standardized test and judging “effective” teachers on a standardized test, then you will corrupt anything good that you try to accomplish.
So are the tests the problem?
I told him I personally don’t like standardized tests. I think they’re a waste of time and money. I agree with Finland that when something tells you so little you have to question why you are doing it. But the problem is not the standardized test itself. I gave the Standards of Achievement Test to my fifth graders in Utah. When the district used the scores to look at big picture reading achievement data over time, they realized, “Oh look, our reading achievement scores are going down.” So they analyzed the data for probable causes and realized that they were getting many more English language learners in their schools. So their response was to pump up the English language learner training for teachers. In other words, they used the test score results to analyze what’s going on and use the scores as information to guide what to do better to serve students. But now the test scores are being used to print teachers’ names in the L.A. Times with an “Effecto-Meter” next to them, so, “Boys and girls, look up your teacher’s name to see if they suck.”
With Al Jazeera America's Ray Suarez (broadcast on 8/23/14):

Esekelsen Garcia (l.) and Suarez (r.) on Al Jazeera
If you missed Lily Eskelsen García' lengthy interview on Al Jazeera, you can read an edited and condensed version at their site. Here are key excerpts from "Lily Eskelsen Garcia talks to Al Jazeera - Eskelsen Garcia is the president-elect of the National Education Association, a union of 3 million educators":

She defends tenure, straight-on:

Ray Suarez: Recently in Vergara v. California the teachers' unions defending the notion of tenure were handed a big defeat in a California court. What's more interesting is who was lined up on the side of Vergara, a young California schoolgirl who was the petitioner: Arne Duncan, the secretary of education. If you believe what you read, the Democrats are in lockstep with the NEA, but here's the secretary of education saying, "No, no, taking down teacher tenure in California, the largest single state-administered system in the country — that's a good thing."
Lily Eskelsen Garcia: Tenure is making sure that a good teacher cannot be fired. Tenure is due process. Most states like mine, in Utah, we don't even use the word "tenure." After a probationary period, after you've met your performance expectations and you've had good evaluations, when you get to that level that says now you have tenure, it simply means if you are going to be fired, you get two things. You get to know why you're being fired, and if you believe you're being fired unfairly, you get a chance to defend yourself in front of a hearing officer.
Every state has different timelines of exactly how those two things play out. Every state should always be looking at are those timelines fair? Are you protecting someone who's incompetent while you're trying to protect the people who are doing their job well and being treated unfairly? So you always have to weigh that.
She adamantly opposes high-stakes tests as measures of teacher effectiveness:
One of the hottest ideas in American education right now is that if a teacher is effective, I should be able to test his or her children, and their effectiveness as a teacher will show because the kids know math, science, English. Does the NEA support performance-based compensation that's judged by testing children?
No, absolutely not. I mean, it makes no sense whatsoever, not just on a practical level but on any study it shows wild fluctuations of things like test scores. That's what it usually comes down to when someone says performance or merit pay, when you go, "And how would you judge Ray against Lily, these two teachers? Oh, well, we would just look at their kids' standardized tests because …"

She has recognized that the era of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have created incentives against taking teaching positions in high poverty areas:

If we go to this testing-based performance assessment, will you choose Wilmette instead of Chicago, Alamo Heights instead of San Antonio, Scarsdale instead of the South Bronx — just by, almost by a rigid law of averages, better-off kids are going to do better, you're going to look better, you'll get your raise, and you'll go on and be able to put together a career as a teacher instead of taking on some of the heaviest lifting in American education?
Let me tell you why I got into teaching. I get excited about seeing kids get excited about learning. It's just this wonderful virtuous circle for me. The more they do, the more I want to do for them. And I taught in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, not a wealthy district — working-class neighborhood — with moms and dads that worked for very modest paychecks. I enjoyed that. But I wanted something different after a while. I wanted a different challenge after I had been teacher of the year. And I asked to have the assignment at the homeless shelter school in Salt Lake City. I wanted to work with those kids.
But would every teacher make that request if their future job security and pay were based on whether or not they pulled those kids up?
That was pre–No Child Left Behind for me. I didn't have to face what you just described. For me it was, where am I needed? Where do I want to really make a difference? And that was all I looked at when I asked to go to the shelter school kids. Today it's a very different situation. It is more what you just described. People are being asked to make these incredibly tough choices about where they want to put their talents.
And when you start saying we may actually be threatening your very livelihood if you choose to teach the most challenging kids, I know that a lot of folks who believe there's a simple — a good teacher, kids always have good test scores, bad teacher, the kids will have bad test scores, and they really believe that it's wrong, but they really believe it in their hearts — they're going to say, "Well, if you're a good-enough teacher, move from that AP chemistry class over here" with the hover parents where no kid has ever gone hungry at night, where they've got technology and they have very educated families that help guide them through, here's what you should be doing and taking, how do to your homework, because they had someone guide them through.
And they're saying if we just took all of those teachers and put them in the schools with the least-prepared kids, with the kids who have the greatest challenge, they'll be able to do the very same. Will they? Will they be able to do the very same? 

She has criticized schools' zero tolerance policies and their impacts on students' futures:

We've also instituted zero tolerance so kids who get in trouble are expelled or suspended. And that in a lot of cases ends their education at a time when it's pretty critical to keep them school involved if they're ever going to finish a credential.
There are some dangerous situations, and you can't just let that continue. But whatever happens, if you just tell that child goodbye at the door, you're expelled, and you don't have someplace for them to go, some help for them to get, then what have you done to the rest of that community? You haven't solved any problems. Again, all of those simple answers, well, you just get rid of those children. They don't disappear. 
For the full interview, go to Al Jazeera.

This lead from Eskelsen Garcia's blog, Lily's Blackboard:

From New American Media, last Wednesday she publicly called high-stakes tests "toxic:"
Eskelsen Garcia at right, in Los Angeles, with
UTLA's Alex Caputo-Pearl and CTA's Mikki Cichoki

Speaking at a briefing for ethnic media in Los Angeles Wednesday, Eskelsen García acknowledged the challenges ahead of her. “What we’re up against,” she said, “are people who use good words like reform, and accountability, and progress.” But their real meaning will be to “narrow what it means to teach a child to fit on a standardized test.” 

Eskelsen García believes the push toward high stakes testing and efforts to measure teacher performance on how well students do on these tests is "poisoning what it means to teach and learn in this country." She points to Texas, where she says teacher salaries have been determined by test results, leading many to artificially inflate scores. In Oklahoma, some 8000 third graders were held back because they failed to “hit a cut score that some politician decided meant something.”

Eskelsen García described such practices as “toxic.”
She has raised attention to the difficulty many students, particularly, minority students, have in paying for their higher education:
The child of immigrants, Eskelsen García also acknowledged the challenge around serving an increasingly diverse student population even as teacher ranks remain predominantly white. She noted part of the problem stems from the high costs for college that “block out a lot of minorities,” an issue the NEA is looking to tackle through its new Degrees Not Debt campaign.

“We want to work to identify not just problems, but solutions,” she said. “A huge part of the solution will involve reaching out to minority communities.” 
Eskelsen García on the Stephanie Miller Show (15:08) --show's listening link, Miller's great-- she recognizes the war on teachers. Eskelsen García responded with humor, "If you don't like the weather today -- blame a teacher":

As covered by Univision, July 9: "Prometo no más "exámenes tóxicos" where she pointedly noted that research shows that charter schools do not perform better than public schools.

From her interview with Laura Clawson of Daily Kos during Netroots Nation 2014,
On testing and where she wants to take the NEA:
It is to me the epitome of wrongheaded corporate solutions to things like boys and girls and it is a factory model of quality control that is all wrapped around hitting a cut score on a commercial standardized test and what's being lost is the whole happy child. [...]
I got involved in my union because I had 39 kids in my classroom in Utah, where we stack 'em deep and teach 'em cheap. ... I said I want somebody who's going to fight for what I need to do my job as a good, creative, caring, competent teacher, and I got more and more involved as I saw the forces from outside education coming in and telling us that teaching and learning was reduced to multiple choice tests, because that what not what made me the teacher of the year ...
As much as I want to move a very positive agenda, if we can't move this incredible boulder out of the road and that boulder is you hit your cut score or you fail, we're never going to be able to move toward whole child reform. Whole child means the arts. It means kids who don't speak English or special ed kids or gifted and talented or gifted and talented special ed kids who don't speak English, you know, in all of their wonderful variety. I never met a kid that came in a standardized box. Not one! So what we want to do is to say how do you open that public school to all of the opportunities that that kid should have, and while we obsess over hitting a cut score on a standardized test, that's never going to happen.
We've got to approach it on two fronts. First of all, legislatively, we have to change No Child Left Untested, we've got to stop racing to chasing our tails around a cut score on a test. We have to get rid of those policies, change them dramatically, but I am not one who would tell my teachers "and we can't do anything until that happens." I have no faith in Congress all of a sudden getting smart, all of a sudden learning to look at the evidence and go "oh, this is actually hurting kids." So you have to proceed until apprehended. You have to say there's a whole lot of things you, your building principal, your school board, your superintendent—we're all sick of it. We're not always on the same side of issues, a union and the administration, but we're on the same side of this. What we have to do is to say there is no federal law that says we have to obsess over this test score. You give it as little credence as possible, you stop worrying about the punishments that come with that, you let the chips fall where they may, and you let nothing get in the way of giving these kids everything they need to make their lives what they want them to be.
Valerie Strauss' portrait in the Answer Sheet in the Washington Post: "New NEA leader to nation’s educators: Revolt, ignore ‘stupid’ reforms."

Diane Ravitch's post, "I Think I Love Lily Eskelsen."

At CBS WINS radio of New York City: "Many Teachers Paying Out Of Pocket For School Supplies," August 25.

                        *      *     *
Will Eskelsen García be Duncan's worst nightmare, or will she continue to be another union leader cheerleader for the Common Core? Or both?
Yet, remember that the NEA is unconditionally asking for Duncan's resignation. The AFT's resignation call has some qualifications: it is just asking for Duncan to follow an "improvement plan." (-Like he will willingly improve. Great, AFT-- given Arne an out.) Eskelsen García is defending tenure and addressing the challenges more directly and articulately, without reform-accomodating hedging than Weingarten has.
Whereas Weingarten sometimes shocks by saying or doing the right thing, you see that she's still preaching the gospel of accomodation (more like Petainesque collaboration) with the corporate ed reformers --which Eskelsen García properly calls part of GERM), the new NEA president's rhetoric here at Netroots Nation 2014 or here on Al Jazeera, is speaking from the heart, from someone with ten years of full-time classroom experience --six years of her time with students in the deep poverty she speaks of --not someone who was parachuted into a cushy token (six month) plum teaching assignment.
Watch out, Weingarten, perhaps some AFT locals, enamored of Eskelsen García, might want to switch to the NEA.