A Lesson with Eric Heins

President of California Teachers Association

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Are there any ballot initiatives or campaigns in the upcoming election that will have a significant effect on public education? What should we as voters and citizens be paying attention to?

First one is Proposition 55, which is the extension of taxes on the top 5% of the wealthiest of Californians. It doesn’t raise taxes but it continues the taxes that were voted on in Proposition 30 and that money goes into a special school account. That’s the foremost that could have a really big impact because if Prop 55 doesn’t go through, schools will immediately lose about 4 billion dollars in the first year and that would set us back in the chaos of recession.

Another one is Proposition 58 which is the Learner’s Initiative. What that would do is give students access to multilingual education. Not just bilingual but also dual immersion, which would be important if we are going to have our students be global citizens and not as insular as we have been.

The CTA has also supported Proposition 52 that brings medicare and healthcare to poor families, which obviously affects our students and their education.

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Do you have suggestions for students, teachers and parents who would like to get more involved with public education in their localities?

Two years ago Governor Brown changed the school funding system so all the money goes to the districts. Districts are required under the law to involve the community as well as the teachers in building a local accountability plan that outlines how that money is being spent. As those plans are updated every other year  and as they are developed, people can definitely get involved in the process. The district doesn’t always have a meaningful way for the community to get involved and also engage with the teachers in the discussion about how best to spend that money to help the students we all know.

The second way for people to get involved is to vote.  Get to know the candidates, run for the school board if that’s what you want to do but engage in the process and don’t feel that you are aside from it because you really can make an impact. In California, one of the reasons we are actually doing much better than the rest of the country is because we have some of the right people elected in office. We are not like Louisiana or Florida where the state is in complete turmoil with the public education system. We are doing a lot of exciting things and it’s because we are actively engaging.

One of the things I found intriguing about the play was how Thomas was thinking about becoming a you-tuber and that’s how I think students can get involved. There is a whole new economy that these young kids can create. Old folks like me, we don’t even know what exists yet! If students see opportunities, they should go for it!  Learn about  what the world is like and create something new out of it. Who knew you could turn tweeting into a job?

A Lesson with Tovi Scruggs

Regional Executive Director for ‘Partners in School Innovation’
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Having led a nonprofit private school that focuses on STEM education for underserved youth in the Bay Area, can you discuss some of the benefits and challenges of developing this program? 

STEM is extremely important for underrepresented youth because it really is the future of our work force in so many ways. We know that math is a foundation for both science and technology so the earlier we are able to introduce to it to underserved youth, the better. On top of that, youth of color are very kinesthetic in their learning, very hands on and experiential. When STEM is read about too much it doesn’t have that impact on youth of color that it does if they are able to experience it with materials.

One of the challenges is the digital divide. If children can’t transfer what they are learning in schools to their community, their home, their conversations with their family members, that digital divide (which varies in levels and modalities) can be a downfall. Also if they get to school and are doing too much virtual learning, that’s not good for them either. It is a fine balance.

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As High School Principal, I am sure you have encountered difficulties obtaining funding for school programs. How can these difficulties be combated?

 We are just starting to get money again in the last two years in education and it still doesn’t seem to be enough. I feel like a lot of what is being criticized and complained about schools is really the result of creating poor conditions. It’s really our citizenship, our corporations and businesses that can help to fix the conditions of our schools. I don’t think they should privatize in terms of making choices about what is being learned and the expertise of teachers and educators because we are trained to do this work. For some reason people think that education is a ‘free for all’ in terms of who has the best opinion about how to do it. We don’t do that with medicine, we don’t do that with tech. To honor us as professionals is key yet give us the resources and access to the wealth that you are generating from who we serve so we can create better conditions to have better outcomes.  

A Lesson with Lita Blanc

President of United Educators of San Francisco

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As someone who has taught in the Mission District for 29 years, what recent changes have public schools in the area undergone as a result of gentrification?

In my school – Moscone Elementary (I call it ‘my’ because I was there for 27 years, a long time!) interestingly enough the student population has always been the working class immigrant population; however, what we saw in the last few years, was a gradual out-flux of parents who were leaving the schools because they were forced to double or triple up in crowded housing spaces in the Mission. When families could get resources together they would move to the East bay.

We have also seen an increase in the number of poor and homeless children coming to our schools. There were some kids who were coming to school without having used the restroom because their living spaces were so crowded!

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Having watched ‘Schooled’ and having a protest history of activism, can you suggest ways in which parents teachers and students can control public education?

First of all, every parent is every child’s first teacher. Every school that has a sense of community has to be welcoming to the parents. Parents no matter their work schedules need to assert their right to be involved in their kid’s education.

Our teacher unions are working with parents and community groups in San Francisco but across the country there is a new coalition called ‘Alliance to Reclaim our Schools.’ It was formed in large part by teachers and parents in Chicago and in places like St Louis where charters were pushing and public schools were closing. It was formed on the notions that schools need be kept public, charters need to be kept out and resources need to be garnered for community schools. This alliance started a year ago and now they’ve started having National Days of Action under the same banner- ‘Fighting for the Schools our Children Deserve.’ There was a day of action last February with about 50 cities with student and parents who staged walk-ins. A walk-in is when the community gets together in front of their schools before the school day and has a little rally to say “This is why we love our schools and this is what we want for our children.” Everyone then goes together into the schools as opposed to walking out. There will be another day of action on October 6th and we hope to involve as many as 20 schools from San Francisco. The notion that these walk-ins are nationwide is important because policy makers in Washington and across the country will eventually pay attention if we make enough noise.

Here in California we also have to pass Prop 55!

Having to choose between spending money on a paraprofessional/someone who can work directly with a child or on infrastructure like computers so that kids can have access to technology is one of the constant tensions in schools given the funding cuts~ Jeremiah Jeffries, Board member and founding coordinator for ‘Teacher 4 Social Justice’,  recalls events that have happened in his own school that parallel the problems depicted in the show

Jeremiah Jeffries, on events that parallel the problems of ‘Schooled’

A Lesson with Jeremiah Jeffries

Board Member and Founding Coordinator for ‘Teacher 4 Social Justice’

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  ‘Teachers 4 Social Justice’ is centered less around local political activism and more on larger policy work. What larger education policies can help resolve the problems we saw in the play?

Recently we put out a statement around community grown local charter schools that serve a very specific need that the public schools are not addressing. For example ‘Five Keys’ in San Francisco is an excellent charter school and they serve people in the prison. Different decisions have to made than what would usually happen in a school context because of the nature of the prison complex and the relationship that has to exist between teachers and prison guards to make that a safe environment for schooling. This an appropriate case of where the private partner is really another government agency and also accountable in a different way than public schools. A long time ago there was a program called ‘Urban Pioneers’ which focused on outdoor education. Back in the early 2000’s there was a small school’s initiative within public schools which was a really effective. These types of programs really should be absorbed by the district.

But charters in general are not a good use of investment. They are not accountable in anyway to the public and ultimately do not serve as well. People should be investing their time, energy and efforts into public schools to make change and that’s the best way to move forward.

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Have schools like Redding Elementary or other public schools in the area had to tackle similar issues as Eleanor Roosevelt High in ‘Schooled’?

Having to choose between spending money on a paraprofessional/someone who can work directly with a child or on infrastructure like computers so that kids can have access to technology is one of the constant tensions in schools given the funding cuts. The impact of Proposition 13 that the Mime Troupe brought up in ‘Schooled’ was spot on because that really transformed California schools from  one the best and most accessible public school systems to now rising tuition costs for higher education, deep cuts in public education and a loss of the arts for public school kids at younger ages.

Countries should invest in teachers and that’s what most privatization models don’t want to do. They are seeking to have efficiency by de-professionalizing the teacher labor force, bringing uncertified or emergency credential teachers in the classroom because they are cheaper and either in taking home the profit from the difference of what the public pays or in tax dollars ~ Frank Adamson, Senior Policy and Research Analyst at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE), stresses the importance of investing in the teacher labor force

Frank Adamson on the importance of investing in teachers

A Lesson with Frank Adamson

Senior Policy and Research Analyst at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE)

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While researching public education reforms in Cuba, Finland and Canada in your recent book “Global Education Reform” what did you discover to be lessons that American educ can learn from schools in those countries?

The big lesson to take away from Finland is the investment in teacher preparation. The government pays for teachers to go to graduate schools and get Master’s degrees before they teach in classrooms. In terms of a more political environment, Canada is a great example, specifically Ontario, because initially the government did attempt to privatize the education system through vouchers in the mid 90’s but parents and teachers didn’t like the way the system was working. The entire government was democratically voted out on an education platform in 2003 and a public investment model was put in place that has been quite successful in the last decade. Cuba is a great example also because despite being a poor country from a GDP perspective, they too have invested heavily in their teacher labor force.

The main message here is that the countries can invest in teachers and that’s what most privatization models don’t want to do. They are seeking to have efficiency by de-professionalizing the teacher labor force, bringing uncertified or emergency credential teachers in the classroom because they are cheaper and taking home the profit from the difference of what the public pays or in tax dollars.

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What advice would you give to students in the audience who relate to Thomas’s frustration in the show? How can students, teachers and parents take control of public education?

The show does a great job of capturing local politics at the school board level. School Board Elections in the United States are becoming very expensive because the money interest has seen that the school board influences who gets elected as Superintendent. Superintendents are the ones who control school closure in different districts. School closure is the initial way “along with austerity” to pave the path way for privatization models such as charter schools. The local control of the school board is pivotal in the direction of public education so there is an opportunity at the local level for teachers, parents and students to get involved in education politics.