I Stand With Striking Teachers Because I Stand for Underprivileged Children

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America’s teachers are taking to the streets by the thousands.

 

In West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and soon to be Arizona and Puerto Rico, educators are leaving the classroom and storming their state capitals.

 

Why?

 

Not because they’re greedy. Not because they don’t want to do their job. But because this country doesn’t care enough to provide them the resources they need to do it.

 

America doesn’t care about black and brown children.

 

America doesn’t care about poor white children.

 

America only cares about middle class and wealthy kids, preferably if their skin has a melanin deficit.

 

Don’t believe me?

 

Just look at how much these states have cut education funding. Look at how the federal government has slashed financial assistance. Look at how districts are forced to increasingly rely on local tax revenues to pay for the kind of education their children receive.

 

This means poor kids get poor resources. This means minority kids have to do without.

 

For the dark and the destitute, this means larger class sizes, out of date text books, and narrowed curriculum. It means fewer tutors, reading specialists and librarians. It means being left to your own devices to deal with the effects of generational poverty which put them behind their wealthier, lighter peers before they even enter kindergarten. It means greater emotional disturbance, greater malnutrition, higher absences, more learning disabilities, and less help to deal with any of it.

 

On the other hand, for the economically privileged white kids, it means just the opposite – fewer social problems, and the best of everything to deal with whatever issues they have.

 

It’s an unfair system, and teachers aren’t having it. We’ve been sounding the alarm for years, but it has fallen on deaf ears.

 

We don’t want to strike, but lawmakers are giving us no choice.

 

We’re saying, Enough! We’ve had it with the excuses.

 

Society hires us to do a job – let us do it.

 

Don’t refuse us the money to get it done and then blame us for the results.

 

That’s why there was a 9-day teachers strike in West Virginia which won educators a 5% raise in February.

 

That’s why 30 districts closed in Kentucky this week after a statewide sick out inspired by the legislature’s plan to cut pension benefits.

 

That’s why thousands of teachers in Oklahoma walked out this week demanding higher wages and better school funding.

 

And it’s why educators in Arizona, Puerto Rico and other states and territories may be next.

 

When you deny teachers the basics necessary to do their jobs, you’re refusing your responsibilities toward children.

 

When you deny educators a fair wage, you’re discouraging young people from entering the profession and encouraging those already there to seek work elsewhere.

 

And that is what we’re talking about here – a fair wage. We’re not talking about teachers getting rich off the taxpayers dole. You’re asking us to get an advanced education and do a hard job – that requires a middle class income so we can pay off our student loans and support our families.

 

The same goes for pensions. When teachers took their jobs, a fair pension was part of the contract. You promised that after 30-some years, educators could retire and you’d take care of them. You can’t renege on that. And if you plan to offer less for those coming in to the field, you’re going to get fewer high quality teachers willing to take the job.

 

When you attack unions and union benefits, you’re really attacking students. A teacher who can be fired at the whim of an administrator or school director is not as affective at her job. She has less autonomy and freedom to do what is right for her given students. And she has less reason to take a chance on the profession in the first place.

 

This doesn’t mean that after three years teachers should have a job for life. They don’t. It just means that if you’re going to fire a teacher for negligence, you should have to prove she’s negligent first.

 

This is why there’s a so-called teacher shortage in most states. As a society, we’ve become less-and-less willing to pay for teachers to do their jobs. We’ve become less-and-less willing to offer them the independence and respect necessary to get things done.

 

Why?

 

Because we’ve swallowed a pack of lies from the business community.

 

Many of them look at our public schools and see an opportunity for financial gain.

 

School funding may not be enough to give every one of the 50.7 million students in public school a first class education, but it’s more than enough to make a cabal of entrepreneurs and corporate officers rich.

 

That’s why they’re pushing charter schools and voucher schools and standardized tests and edtech software scams.

 

They want to get rid of democratic rule, get rid of teacher-based assessments and – ultimately – get rid of teachers. They want to replace us with minimum wage temps and leave the work of educating to computers that can provide test prep and standardized assessments.

 

But only for the poor and minorities. The affluent and middle class white kids will still get the best money can buy. It’s only those other kids they’re willing to feed to the wolves of edu-profit.

 

THAT is what educators are fighting.

 

THAT is why teachers across the nation are striking.

 

We’re demanding this nation does right by its public school students.

 

And that begins by supporting their teachers.

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Puerto Rico Teachers Plan One-Day Strike to Protest Corporate Education Reform

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Welcome to sunny Puerto Rico.

The ocean is a gorgeous cerulean blue. Palm trees wave gently in the salty breeze. And in the distance you can hear percussion, horns and singing.

The protest has begun.

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Residents of this United States territory have been fighting freshman Governor Alejandro García Padilla’s efforts to close public schools, privatize those left and shackle teachers to the same corporate education reform schemes that are crippling schools on the mainland.

This Tuesday island educators are asking parents not to send their children to school. Teachers plan to conduct a one-day strike to protest legislation that could be passed the same day to further cripple the Commonwealth’s public education system.

“On November 17th we’ll be giving our lesson’s outside our classrooms,” says Mercedes Martinez, president of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, the teachers union.

“We’ll be in front of our schools early in the morning and at 10:00 a.m. will march from Congress to the Governor’s Mansion in San Juan. This is one of many activities that we’ll perform in defense of public education. We will not accept these precarious impositions and will fight back.”

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The protest is in response to Project 1456 which would close more than 380 public schools. The government has already closed 150 schools in the past 5 years.

This would force many students into even more overcrowded classrooms. Thousands of children would have to be relocated to schools far from their homes.

But that’s not all.

The proposed legislation would also privatize 15% of those schools left standing. Unlike the mainland, Puerto Rico has no charter schools. Teachers went on a 10-day strike in 2008 which only ended after the island Secretary of Education Rafael Aragunde signed an agreement promising not to open any charters.

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If privatized schools opened on the island, parents might have to pay an additional fee for services they now enjoy for free. Amenities like lunches and even tuition may have to be subsidized by parents out of pocket.

Moreover, it would collapse the teachers retirement system, Martinez says. Charter schools would not deduct employees payments to the pension system so it might not be able to remain solvent.

Project 1456 would harm teachers in another way, too. It would enact a punitive evaluation system where 20% of educators value would be based on students standardized test scores. Any teacher with a 79% or less would have two years to improve or be fired.

“Teachers will have no rights,” Martinez says.

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The proposed legislation has already been approved by the Commonwealth Senate. It’s main author Sen. Eduardo Bhatia is pushing for the House to fast track it for approval.

Discussions began in the House last week.

Protesters were there on Wednesday. They stood up in the government chamber and walked out en mass when it was brought up for discussion. Eighteen of them wore white T-shirts spelling out the message “Our Schools Are Not For Sale.”

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Inside the House, presidents of private universities testified in favor of the measure.

“Obviously they want to become administrators of charter schools on our island,” Martinez says.

Outside the building, protesters held their own emblematic hearing on the matter. Community members, teachers and parents testified in the open air about how this legislation would hurt children. They ended with a symbolic vote against it.

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Puerto Ricans are not alone in this fight.

Jitu Brown, a community organizer from Chicago and Director of Journey for Justice Alliance traveled there to stand in solidarity with those fighting for their schools. Brown participated in a 34-day hunger strike in his hometown a month ago to protest Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to close the last open enrollment school in his neighborhood.

“This beautiful, breathtaking place is marred by ugly U.S colonialism and privatization of public services on steroids!” says Brown of Puerto Rico.

“I was blessed to spend time with powerful people fighting for a better world. Big ups to your warrior spirit, discipline and hospitality! Where we struggle, we can win! If we don’t struggle, we are guaranteed to lose.”

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The plight of Puerto Rican communities also inspired support from the Badass Teachers Association, a group of more than 56,000 educators, parents, students and activists.

“The Badass Teachers Association stands in strong solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico who are fighting for the very foundation of their democracy – the survival of their public school system which is under assault by the 1% who seek to close it up and deny Puerto Rican children a right to an education,” says Executive Director Marla Kilfoyle.

Protesters are getting the word out. They’ve already handed out thousands of fliers. Today they plan to drive in a large caravan across the island.

“We’ve got a bunch of cars with sound equipment,” Martinez says.

“We will go to all the communities near our schools in different regions asking parents to support the strike on the 17th.”

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Much of the the island’s financial woes are imported from the mainland. Puerto Rico is besieged by vulture capitalists encouraging damaging rewrites to the tax code while buying and selling the territory’s debt.

Hundreds of American private equity moguls and entrepreneurs are using the Commonwealth as a tax haven.

As a result, tax revenues to fund public goods like education are drying up while the super rich rake in profits.

Officials warn the government may be out of money to pay its bills by as early as 2016. Over the next five years, it may have to close nearly 600 more schools – almost half of the remaining facilities!

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“That’s why the Teacher’s Federation and other teacher unions allied together to fight back against the attack on our education system,” Martinez says.

“As you can see, we’ve been busy.”

If Project 1456 is passed by the House, the union is considering a general strike.

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Of the 135 schools closed in just the last two years, Commonwealth Secretary of Education Rafael Román had originally proposed shuttering 200. The remaining 65 were only kept alive because communities occupied the buildings and refused to let the government step in.

Protesters stormed the Senate in October when Bhatia first introduced Project 1456.

“Senators decided to approve it without discussion because they did not want to listen to teachers chants and indignation,” says Martinez.

“Senator Bhatia has become the symbol for privatization under this administration. He has never been in a public School. He has no bond with it. He’s a demagogue.”


NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

 

In Puerto Rico, Students Go On Strike to Stop Teacher Relocations

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Students streamed out of their classrooms chanting in unison in the mountainous Utuado region of Puerto Rico earlier this month.

They took over the halls and doorways of Luis Muñoz Rivera High School on Thursday, Sept. 10, locking their arms together to create a human chain.

They paralyzed their school, shut it down, and allowed no one in or out.

The reason? Not too much homework. Not lack of choice in the cafeteria. Not an unfair dress code.

These roughly 100 teenagers were protesting the loss of their teachers. And they vowed to occupy their own school until the government gave them back.

Six educators had been ordered to other schools, which would have ballooned classes at the Rivera School to 35-40 students per classroom.

Government officials claimed the high school had too few students to justify the cost. However, with more than 500 young people enrolled, the school has more than double the island average.

“These teachers provide education to almost 140 students,” said Sharymel Montalvo Vélez, a senior at the school. “Do you think this is not enough (to justify the) tuition?”

“Those teachers are excellent. I was their student. I learned with them. I’m grateful for it. Their teaching quality is amazing. I can prove that.”

The students including Vélez, 17, called an assembly to discuss the situation where they voted unanimously to take action. They blocked two gates and wrote a document demanding the Puerto Rican Department of Education revoke the decision to remove their teachers.

Later that day, Sonia González, a representative of the Secretary of Education, met with students and signed the document promising to keep the teachers at the Rivera School. Three parents and one student also signed.

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The affected teachers are Alex Natal, a 10th grade physical education instructor; Naixa Maldonado, an 11th grade Math educator; José Cruz, a 10th and 11th grade History teacher; María Medina, a 12th grade Physics instructor; Damaris Figueroa, an 11th grade Spanish educator; and an 11th grade English teacher.

Vélez said she’s surprised the government agreed to students’ demands. “ I was willing to keep the strike all the time necessary to solve our problem and get our teachers back,” she said.

“I experienced a large class size some years back, and it was hard on both teacher and students. It’s not that easy to make 30 students understand something and go explaining it chair by chair. Every student likes to show his/her ideas and in a large class there is not enough time for everyone.”

What happened in the Rivera School is not an isolated incident. All across the island, communities are fighting government mandates to relocate teachers, increase class size and shutter more schools.

This Tuesday at Pablo Casals School, an arts institution in Bayamon along the north coast, students protested the government decision to relocate their theater teacher, Heyda Salaman.

About 100 students hung the Puerto Rican flag upside down and taped their mouths shut to represent the state of the government and the silence officials expect from the community.

Young people at the specialized arts school which offers visual arts, theater, music and dance as well as academic classes, protested with music and chants of “injustice!”

Just like in the case of the Rivera School, the government eventually relented and agreed to keep the teacher with her students.

The teachers union – the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR) – has supported student protesters throughout the island.

“The Teachers Federation from Puerto Rico is proud of the actions these students performed,” said union president Mercedes Martinez about student actions at both facilities.

“Schools belong to our communities according to the law, so the communities have every right to fight for the school they deserve. No more cutting funds to create over-sized classrooms.”

Vélez echoes that statement.

“We have a good education and excellent teachers but the administration is failing their workers,” she said.

“The government is cutting rights and benefits to the teachers and employees and soon there will be no teachers. Maybe our schools get privatized and then only people with money will send their children to (public) school.”

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The Commonwealth government has closed 150 schools in the past 5 years in the U.S. Territory.

Officials warn the government may be out of money to pay its bills by as early as 2016. Over the next five years, it may have to close nearly 600 more schools – almost half of the remaining facilities!

The island is besieged by vulture capitalists encouraging damaging rewrites to the tax code while buying and selling Puerto Rican debt.

Hundreds of American private equity moguls and entrepreneurs are using the Commonwealth as a tax haven.

As a result, tax revenues to fund public goods like education are drying up while the super rich rake in profits.

The indigenous population has suffered at the hands of western conquerors since Columbus, but the newest fruit of Colonialism may be these corporate education reform policies.

Young people like Vélez aren’t revolutionaries. They look just like any ordinary teenage boys and girls wearing t-shirts and blue jeans, baseball caps turned backwards, backpacks slung across their shoulders.

But they have had enough. They aren’t going to accept the low expectations of the corporate world about what constitutes a fair education.

Viva Puerto Rico!


NOTE: This article also was quoted extensively on Diane Ravitch’s blog and published in full on the Badass Teachers Association blog.