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Maryland Schools Are Underfunded by $3 Billion

May 23, 2017 - 5:08pm
It’s up to the Kirwan Commission to revamp and improve school funding statewidePhoto © NEA

Named after its chair, for­mer University System of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan, the Commission’s 25 members are working to rewrite Maryland’s school funding formula. They are scheduled to deliver recom­mendations to the General Assembly in December.

Since legislators passed the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act (also known as the Thornton Plan) in 2002, Maryland has provided historic levels of school funding. But the plan was never meant to accommodate current levels of child poverty. The percentage of Maryland pub­lic school students living in pov­erty has more than doubled since 1990 — from 22% to 45% — putting our statewide student population on the verge of becoming majori­ty low-income. When you consid­er those increased needs togeth­er with the higher standards and new programs implemented over the last five years alone, our cur­rent levels of education spending fall short for too many students.

MSEA worked with the General Assembly to create the Kirwan Commission in 2016 and now, David Helfman, MSEA’s executive director, advocates for MSEA members in the commission’s discussions.

How much funding are we talking about?

In December, the Kirwan Commission received a report from national school fund­ing experts recommending an increase of $2.9 billion statewide ($1.9 billion in state funding and $1 billion in county funding). Ac­cording to their analysis — based on conversations with Maryland educators and recent academic research — that’s how much more spending is necessary for schools to meet the needs of every child.

The recommendations would provide important gains in re­sources. But how those increases break down varies quite a bit. In St. Mary’s County, schools would see a 44% increase over current spending (an additional $78 million) while Howard would see an 8% increase over current spending ($56 million more). The largest step up in total dollars would go to Prince George’s, which would receive a $600 million boost.

How and why are schools so underfunded?

The Thornton Commission developed a plan that in the early 2000s was considered a national model for equitable school funding — and it was remarkably successful. Following its implementation, Maryland schools placed first in Education Week’s state rankings from 2009–2013, first in the

College Board’s Advanced Place­ment performance rankings from 2007–2016, and second in fourth-grade reading improvement and fourth in fourth-grade math im­provement on NAEP from 2003 to 2013.

But just like every other state in the country, Maryland had to make some serious budget com­promises in the aftermath of the Great Recession. While Maryland did better than most states in avoiding massive education cuts, the state froze, then capped, the amount of funding increases allowed for a number of years — which had a compounding effect in the Thornton Plan. Under Thornton, each year’s increase, due to inflation and enrollment growth, is based on the previous year’s allocation. The aggregate effect of this has ballooned the underfunding of our schools to nearly $3 billion.

What are some of the ideas being discussed on the commission?

Members of the Kirwan Commis­sion want to make recommenda­tions on both what the increased number should be and how they should make this new investment.

The funding experts who came up with the $2.9 billion recom­mendation also suggested some possible strategies, including: decreasing class sizes; increasing instructional staff; building in more planning time for teach­ers; and hiring more school counselors, nurses, and behavior­al specialists. They also built in the implementation of pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds to their overall recommen­dation. Other experts have testified in front of the commis­sion and stressed the need to invest directly in the education professions by increasing sal­aries and building up training programs based on successful international models.

These conversations present a rare opportunity to accomplish large-scale improvements to working conditions for educators and learning opportunities for our students.

Maryland Schools Are Underfunded by $3 Billion was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

What’s Next?

May 23, 2017 - 5:06pm
ESSA, testing, the Kirwan Commission, and organizing for the 2018 elections with GO Teams

“This year, educators were extremely well informed and engaged on preventing privatization and reducing testing,” said Sean Johnson, MSEA’s chief lobbyist. “Our mobilization of partners like the PTA and civil rights groups, plus con­cerned community members, led to in-person and online activism that propelled the Protect Our Schools Act (POSA) and More Learning, Less Testing acts to become law.”

Now, as Maryland implements the new federal education law — the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA — MSEA’s more than 73,000 members will continue to lead the way in shaping the new school accountability system outlined by POSA that prohibits privatization and rewards schools more for providing equitable learning opportunities and less for standardized testing.

“It’s time, “Johnson says, “to build on the activism we see growing across the state and work locally to implement

a better accountability system through POSA, reduce testing, advocate for increased funding through the Kirwan Commission, and elect pro-public education candidates in 2018 at the state and local levels.”

We protected Maryland Schools

Passage of the Protect Our Schools Act means Maryland’s system for gauging school success will be the least reliant on test scores in the nation. That means more attention on ensuring high attendance rates, safe and supportive learning environments, and effective administrative leadership — mea­sures that more accurately explain a school’s performance.

But the Protect Our Schools Act gets its name from a more urgent mission: blocking the Betsy DeVos school pri­vatization agenda in Maryland. After Gov. Hogan’s appointees on the State Board of Education began discussing ways to use ESSA to convert public schools to privatively operated charters or handing over operations to for-profit manage­ment companies, we worked with legislators to prohibit such privatization schemes in the law. We also stopped efforts to label schools on the disparaging A–F scale, a common meth­od used by anti-public education advocates trying to paint our schools as failing. Maryland has always made a strong commitment to strengthening our neighborhood schools, and now with this big win, we blocked one of Secretary DeVos’ paths to erode that public commitment to our kids.

Maryland’s POSA is a national model for ESSA

That’s why the Protect Our Schools Act is being held up as a national model for ESSA implementation. Diane Ravitch, a prominent researcher and public education defender, wrote, “Congratulations to the educators and parents and students of Maryland for defeating Governor Hogan’s effort to impose the DeVos agenda on the state’s public schools.”

Monty Neill, founder of FairTest — the leading national advocacy group working to reduce standardized testing — wrote in The Washington Post, “The challenge for testing reformers across the nation is how to follow Maryland’s lead in mobilizing the grassroots and building the powerful coalitions needed to win meaningful assessment and accountability reforms.”

Where do we go from here?

While the Protect Our Schools Act handles much of ESSA im­plementation work, it leaves many important decisions to the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and state school board. For example, what long term goals should we set in measuring progress as a state? We know No Child Left Behind set completely unrealistic expectations of 100% pro­ficiency in math and reading and that mistake created many problems for schools. We can’t make similar errors again.

MSEA is monitoring how state officials finish the work we started in the legislature. We will make sure educators across the state have a chance to weigh in on the final draft before it is finalized, approved, and submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

“We lived with No Child Left Behind for more than a decade. To make sure we don’t relive it with ESSA, we need to get it right for our schools and our kids,” Johnson told members at a series of local representative assemblies. “The Protect Our Schools Act was a huge step forward, and now we need to finish the job over the summer and next school year.”

When educators come together to fight for our students, our schools, and our profession — we win.

We saw that during this legislative session. Because of our advocacy, the General Assembly passed the Protect Our Schools Act and the More Learning, Less Testing Act, defeating the Betsy DeVos school privatization agenda and cutting back the time and emphasis placed on mandated standardized tests.

When we work together, we have incredible power. As the state develops and works to fund a new school funding formula through the Kirwan Commission over the next year, we need to keep building and using our power so all of our students get the resources they need. And, we’ll need to remain vigilant to keep the DeVos privatization agenda out of Maryland and ensure that over-testing truly becomes a thing of the past.

That’s why we’re organizing Grassroots Organizing (GO) Teams of MSEA members who focus on statewide political, communications, and legislative campaigns. GO Team members get training for this important work and have access to association staff support, grants, and innovative campaign technologies.

Want to make a difference? Learn more and apply today! Contact for more info.

What’s Next? was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

MSEA and First Book

May 23, 2017 - 5:05pm
Closing the gap with resources for students and educators

As a volunteer in a community soup kitchen, Kyle Zimmer asked the children to bring in their favorite book. One little boy brought in a phone book — it was the only book in his house. The others came empty-handed, because there were no books at all in their homes.

Zimmer started bringing as many books as she could with her to the soup kitchen, an effort that evolved into First Book — the educator-focused nonprofit that for over 25 years has distributed more than 160 million brand new books and resources. First Book reaches nearly one in four of the estimated 1.3 million edu­cators in the U.S. who serve kids in need from birth to age 18.

As issues of institutional and systemic racism and bias are better acknowledged and accepted in school settings, so is the need for multicultural and inclusionary literature. First Book and other research provides insights from edu­cators about what it means to their diverse populations of disadvantaged students when they see “kids who look like me” in their literature, media, and textbooks. First Book’s evolu­tion and its growing partnership with educators has led them to a huge increase in bilingual and multicultural books and an expansion into inventory beyond books, like school supplies, coats, nonperishable food, laptops, and hygiene kits to support homeless students.

In a First Book poll of educators serving children from low-income families, teachers validated the impact on their classrooms and programs: 87% of respondents said children’s interest in reading increased af­ter receiving resources from First Book, and 88% said First Book helps close the achievement gap for the kids they serve.

MSEA’s exciting new partnership with First Book will provide support and resources to educators working in high poverty schools across the state.

“We know that a great public school education can be a pathway out of poverty for students,” said MSEA President Betty Weller. “This partnership will help get needed resources immediately into the hands of educators and students.”

Over the summer, MSEA and First Book will work together, gathering feed-back from educators on what specific types of resources they need and how this part­nership can provide them with effective, targeted, and relevant help beginning in the 2017–18 school year.

Who Can Access First Book?

Classroom teachers, parapro­fessionals, and media special­ists can register at In addition, Title I and Title I-eligible schools, and programs and classrooms where 70 percent or more of their class represents children in need, are eligible for First Book resources. Once regis­tered with First Book, members have two options to access books and resources:

1. The First Book Market­place

The Marketplace features more than 6,000 items, including First Book’s Stories For All ProjectTM collection of diverse and bilingual books. Non-book resources are found in the Marketplace.

2. The First Book National Book Bank

The nation’s first and only centralized distribution system for large-scale donations of children’s books from publishers. Books are free and available only in carton quantities; educators pay only for shipping and handling.

By making new, high-quality books and educational resources available at the lowest possible prices, or for free, First Book helps reach more kids and enables resources to go further. And, knowing that teachers often spend out of their own pockets for what they need, First Book recruits spending power from partners to help defray the cost.

MSEA and First Book was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Wicomico Education Support Professionals in a Fight for Fairness

May 23, 2017 - 5:04pm

In Wicomico County, education support professionals (ESP) are rallying for just cause and bind­ing arbitration, rights that most other education employees in Maryland already have. If their fight for these rights is success­ful, Wicomico County will join Queen Anne’s County on the Eastern Shore, and all but Anne Arundel and Harford counties in the rest of the state.

Binding arbitration is a way to resolve an employment-related dispute outside of a courtroom with the assistance of a neutral third party with expertise in educational law and mutually agreed upon by the parties. Decisions made in binding arbitration are final and may be appealed to court under very limited circumstances.

With 1,300 members, the Wicomico County Education Association (WCEA) represents both certificated and ESP mem­bers. At a May 9 rally before a school board meeting, educa­tors came together to ask for fairness for ESP. In 2009, MSEA members fought hard to win the right for ESP to include disci­pline for just cause as a manda­tory subject of bargaining with their school boards. The only way to ensure fairness in the enforcement of such language, however, is to combine it with a grievance process that ends in binding arbitration.

“I want you to know that it is not our goal to find reasons to file a grievance or to unfairly proclaim an injustice,” WCEA’s Vice President for ESP Pamela Barclay told the rally crowd. “We are here to do the exact opposite: ask for fairness in hopes we won’t have to file a grievance. We are asking for a commitment to honor our nego­tiated agreement, and that the board does the right thing by agreeing to binding arbitration in our current negotiations.”

Wicomico Education Support Professionals in a Fight for Fairness was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Toolkit: Connecting Math with Students

May 23, 2017 - 5:02pm
Meet Prince George’s County teacher Lawrence Williams

Lawrence Williams is a fifth grade math teacher at Springhill Elementary School in Prince George’s County. What are some of the things in his toolkit?

HOBERMAN SPHERE (See photo above) The bright colors of the Hoberman sphere grab students’ attention and expose multiple geometric shapes when the sphere is extended.

CUISENAIRE RODS Cuisenaire rods are colorful and can be assigned any value. These are great manipulatives when teaching fractions and divisors.

CUPS, PINTS, QUARTS, AND GALLONS When teaching engaging lessons on the customary units of capacity, I have the containers available to foster conceptualization and discovery learning with students.

SIDEWALK CHALK On a sunny 80 degree day, we take the lesson outside and students use the ground as their scratch paper.

YARN AND CLOTHES PINS I tried number lines on paper and the students were bored. Then I hung a string of yarn in my classroom and used that as my number line and clothes pins as my marks and students became instantly engaged!

INTERLOCKING CUBES These cubes are amazing tools to highlight unit cubes, bases, and layers when teaching concepts of volume in rectangular prisms.

Toolkit: Connecting Math with Students was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

New MSEA Director Is Maryland School Psychologist of the Year

May 23, 2017 - 5:01pm
Prince George’s County’s Donna Christy wins honor

“In the absence of alternative strategies, school psychologists are being called on more than ever to provide needed training, interventions, and sup­ports. Unfortunately, in most districts budget restrictions have not increased staffing levels for us, increasing our workloads. We must organize school psychologists around these issues to advocate for increased staffing.”

That’s an excerpt from the nomination statement of Maryland’s new School Psy­chologist of the Year, Donna Christy. Christy, a newly elected member of MSEA’s Board of Directors, is a veteran school psychologist with a keen interest in the public policy that drives the public school response to students in need.

Christy’s resume is deep. She’s focused on reforming pol­icies to replace zero tolerance and exclusionary discipline. Christy and colleagues in the Prince George’s County Edu­cators’ Association have been instrumental in a pilot program to deliver restorative practice models in five schools.

“I am particularly interest­ed in holding our state depart­ment of education accountable for not only setting policy but implementing programs to support those policies. MSEA’s advocacy is needed to raise awareness and present solu­tions for issues that continue to interfere with the learning process, such as psycho-social problems, and disabilities,” says Christy.

“As the first school psychol­ogist on the MSEA Board (and hopefully not the last), I hope to bring these issues to the forefront of policy discussions.”

New MSEA Director Is Maryland School Psychologist of the Year was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Erika Strauss Chavarria for Social Justice Activist of the Year

May 23, 2017 - 5:00pm
Chavarria is a member of the Howard County Education Association and a newly elected member of the NEA/MSEA boards of directors.

These days, many educators are leading as social justice activists in their communities. A big uptick in nominations to NEA’s 2017 Social Justice Ac­tivist of the Year Award by edu­cator leaders shows grassroots movements building on a long list of school, student, family, and community issues.

Their interests may vary, but the nominees for NEA’s award, like Erika Strauss Chavarria, are altruists rooted in the real­ity that is public education. As she says, “It is our obligation and moral duty as educators to be social justice activists, because there is not one aspect of education that is free from injustice.”

Here’s an excerpt from her nomination Q&A with NEA:

What spurred you to become an educator activist?

There was one particular incident in my first year of teaching that really spurred me to activism.

A student came to my high school from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Baltimore City. I began to reflect on my own experience in high school and the harsh consequences that my black and brown friends in particular had faced. The anger I felt fueled my de­sire to fight back against unjust and biased discipline policies in our schools.

Why should social justice activism matter to educators?

To quote Paolo Freire, “the educator has the duty of not being neutral.” Educators and students alike face a system of oppression daily. We deal with severe inequities of resources and staffing in our schools. We have more school cops than mental health workers and counselors. We face harsh working conditions and low pay. Many of our students are living in extreme poverty and come to school hungry. Our students of color live under constant attack by a systemi­cally racist educational system.

What role do students play in movement building, especially in light of the new political environment?

Our students need outlets to focus their anger and fear. It is our job as educators to provide our stu­dents with the truth about our history through honest and his­torically accurate curriculum so that they recognize the broader social context of their own experience in our society. We then need to provide students with the tools and opportuni­ties to take leadership roles in social movements.

What is the biggest issue fac­ing public education today?

The biggest issues on the forefront of the social justice/ education justice movement in this country are systemic and institutional racism in education, the school-to-prison pipeline, the need for histori­cally accurate curriculum and inclusion of ethnic studies, the threat to unions through loss of agency fee, poverty, inequity, a completely unqualified Secre­tary of Education, privatization and corporate takeover of public education, and ALEC.

To vote for Erika for Social Justice Activist of the Year, click here!

Erika Strauss Chavarria for Social Justice Activist of the Year was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Celebrating You, Your Work, Your Action

May 23, 2017 - 4:59pm
Banners of educators become Annapolis Main Street mainstay

Each day during the 2017 General Assembly, delegates and senators walked by MSEA’s Annapolis headquar­ters on Main Street greeted by larger-than-life banners of educator members, a reminder perhaps of the faces of those who will carry the weight of implementing the education policies and bills they would be working on.

The banners are not only for legis­lators, of course, but for everyone who visits the capital city. They are part of a series MSEA is producing to show­case the breadth, depth, and passion of Maryland educators.

Annapolis sees nearly 7 million visitors a year — many from our state alone. “These banners represent the best of what all educators provide our students, schools, and communities,” said MSEA President Betty Weller. “Yes, we inspire, enchant, electrify, energize, support, and strengthen. That is our passion, our calling. And as a union, we fight for the greater opportunities to do just that. Now with legislation reducing the burdens of over-testing, we have more opportunities to once again deliv­er instruction that nurtures the critical thinking and creativity our students need and want.”

To create the 7’ x 3’ banners (12 total to be produced), members and MSEA staff visit a photography studio in Baltimore for a photo shoot. Creating the image — with stylists, props, lighting changes, and wardrobe choices is fun and collaborative. “I hope the photographs will showcase what we truly bring to students as classroom educators,” says Christella Potts, whose banner highlights her work as an art teacher. “The public sees us so often as one-dimensional — I think they will think of us differently when they see these banners.”

Celebrating You, Your Work, Your Action was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

My Turn: School Nurse Wendy Stabnow

May 23, 2017 - 4:58pm
Wendy Stabnow is a school nurse at Chopticon High School in St. Mary’s County. She is a member of the Education Association of St. Mary’s County.

I’m a career-changer. I went back to school when I was 50 to become a registered nurse. Now I’m back in school getting my bachelor of science in nursing degree. I started last year and have 21 hours to complete.

I went to a nursing program at the college on the Oglala Lakota Native American reservation where I’m from. It was open to everyone, but the majority of students there are Native American. My first real nursing job was with a small Indian Health Service hospital on the Winnebago Indian reservation in Winnebago, Nebraska.

There were programs on the reservation where I grew up that placed kids in high school into jobs, and I got just what I wanted — to be a candy striper in my community hospital. I loved the nurses I worked with — their personalities, how smart they were, their skills.

Now, as a school nurse, I see so many different facets of school life. I love our students and I love the way we all care for, and about, them. Because I attend IEP and other meetings, I’ve gotten to see how open to helping these kids everyone on the staff is. Every teacher and support professional is here to help students, but we also expect them to take responsibility, ask for help, and do the work. We want them to be successful, but it has to be a two-way street.

We talk about being there for the students, but we are also there for the parents. Sometimes they’ll ask: what’s going on with my son or my daughter? Would you be able to see them and talk to them? If it is something I can help with, I will do it. If it’s something I can’t help with, I will refer them to guidance or to one of the assistant principals so the child can be seen and given help if they need it. We really reach out.

I love my job because I know I’m here to take care of these kids and do my best to be sure they are healthy in body and mind. We can make a difference in their lives.

My Turn: School Nurse Wendy Stabnow was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Betty Weller: Your Voice Must Be Heard

May 23, 2017 - 4:57pm
On funding, testing, privatization, and more

Too often in education, we pinball from one thing to the next. New technology initiative? Here today, gone tomorrow. Mandatory training on a new best practice? Never heard about it again. We know that there are no silver bullets or quick fixes. The most stubborn obstacles usually require months if not years of work to overcome.

And as education advocates, it’s easy to get caught up in the next, biggest, baddest fight and keep moving from one fight to another. But the issues we’re facing right now are too big to solve overnight.

Thanks to your advocacy, we just won two huge victories during the General Assembly session — preventing the DeVos/Hogan school privatization agenda from coming to Maryland and reducing and capping the amount of instructional time that can be used for mandated testing.

That’s a lot of progress — yet the laws we passed man­date that educators will have a seat and a voice at the table for this work. Your voice must be heard because we have to put an end to top-down plans that impede the progress we can make with our students.

We’re also ready for the big fight: substantially im­proving public school funding, equity, and the support that educators and students receive.

A recent report found that Maryland public schools are underfunded by $2.9 billion, and right now the Kir­wan Commission is meeting in Annapolis to develop a new funding formula to address this shortfall. We need to make sure that school funding gets a substantial boost and — once we’re successful on that front — make sure that money goes where it’s needed most.

These are big jobs with big consequences. We’re in it for the long haul, and we’ll need to be strong, loud, and united to make sure we win on these issues for our students and our profession.

Betty Weller: Your Voice Must Be Heard was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Big Win #3: Taking on the Hogan-DeVos Privatization Agenda

April 18, 2017 - 4:18pm
Majorities of Marylanders oppose extreme school privatization proposalsPhoto: U.S. Department of Education

Educators, students, and public schools scored several big wins this legislative session. We’ve look at two of the biggest wins and what they mean for Maryland schools: the Protect Our Schools Act and the More Learning, Less Testing Act. Today we’re looking at the defeat of Gov. Hogan’s charter schools bill.

Governor Hogan and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos share a fixation on promoting charter schools. At every turn, they seem eager to cherry-pick data, loosen accountability standards, and redirect tax dollars from traditional neighborhood public schools to charter schools.

In her home state of Michigan, DeVos spent years — and millions — trying to eliminate even the most basic accountability and transparency standards for charter schools. A Politico analysis described the result:

Despite two decades of charter-school growth, the state’s overall academic progress has failed to keep pace with other states: Michigan ranks near the bottom for fourth- and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading on a nationally representative test, nicknamed the “Nation’s Report Card.” Notably, the state’s charter schools scored worse on that test than their traditional public-school counterparts, according to an analysis of federal data.Critics say Michigan’s laissez-faire attitude about charter-school regulation has led to marginal and, in some cases, terrible schools in the state’s poorest communities as part of a system dominated by for-profit operators. … The results in Michigan are so disappointing that even some supporters of school choice are critical of the state’s policies.

Unfortunately, Gov. Hogan has ignored these results (and those from many other states) and introduced increasingly extreme charter school bills during his time in office. This year, his bill was modeled on the destructive changes DeVos lobbied for in Michigan: a separate charter authorizing board, the shifting of operating and facilities funding from traditional public schools to charters, allowing charter schools to hire uncertified teachers, and stripping away collective bargaining rights from charter school employees.

Back in 2015, Gov. Hogan introduced his first piece of legislation that would have lowered standards and accountability for the state’s charter schools. In response, educators worked hard with legislators and charter school advocates to find a compromise that preserved our strong law while also granting increased flexibility for high-performing charter schools.

But this year, there was no common ground to find in the governor’s proposal — with elements seemingly straight from the DeVos playbook. In another win for public education, legislators and a strong coalition of educators, parents, and civil rights advocates pushed back, defeating Gov. Hogan’s charter school fraud bill.

Joan Carter Conway, chair of the Senate’s education committee, at MSEA’s February Protect Our Schools press conference: “If [Hogan] did his research and history, he would understand that [lowering charter school standards] was a recipe for fraud and failure. It didn’t work in Michigan, it didn’t work in Ohio, and we’re definitely not going to have it in the state of Maryland.”Marylanders Disagree with Gov. Hogan on Charter Schools

When the House Ways and Means Committee voted down the governor’s charter schools bill by a 15–8 vote on March 1, they acted in step with the priorities of Marylanders. By a nearly 50-point margin (68% to 19%), Maryland voters want elected officials to focus funding on improving existing public schools rather than shifting funding to privately-run charters and private schools. This sentiment is widespread — and bipartisan.

Response to: “Which of the following better reflects your opinion: School leaders and elected officials in Maryland should focus education funding on improving public schools, OR School leaders and elected officials in Maryland should focus education funding on shifting taxpayer dollars to schools under private-sector management like charter schools and parochial schools?” (Order rotated)

As seen in the map, resistance to Gov. Hogan’s focus on lowering charter school standards, accountability, and transparency is strongest in Baltimore City — despite most so-called education “reformers” focusing their efforts there.

During the legislative session, the Baltimore Sun featured op-eds from two city educators arguing that Gov. Hogan’s charter schools bill was the wrong approach for Baltimore (and Maryland):

The defeat of this bill, a slap against the national hysteria toward privatization in the guise of innovation, illustrates the desire of many to end the trend toward market-based solutions in education and instead find solutions based on common sense. — Baltimore Sun op-ed by City teacher Morgan Showalter

And Teachers’ Democracy Project Executive Director Helen Atkinson wrote:

The first charters were devised by progressive educators in the spirit of allowing flexibility to address specific community level concerns and students’ cultural interests.The rhetoric and argument has shifted completely. Gov. Larry Hogan, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Maryland State School Board Member Chester Finn and President Donald Trump, to name a few of the players calling for the expansion of charter autonomy and funding, have a completely new set of arguments. Their reasoning has nothing to do with improving our existing school districts serving low income black and brown children. … They conclude, contrary to much of the evidence, that the only way to improve…is to bypass all government constraints and all government oversight and give free reign to private groups — and even to religious groups — to use public funds as they see fit.

Thanks to the work of legislators and advocacy of public education supporters, Maryland’s strong charter school law continues to be intact—despite Gov. Hogan’s attempts to bring it down.

Big Win #3: Taking on the Hogan-DeVos Privatization Agenda was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Big Win #2: The More Learning, Less Testing Act

April 13, 2017 - 11:04am
The new Maryland law will cut 730 hours of school testingRachel McCusker, Carroll County Teacher of the Year in 2015–2016, speaks to reporters about reducing student testing.

Maryland’s educators have gotten a lot of attention for helping to pass the Protect Our Schools Act — legislation to reset the state’s school accountability system so there’s less emphasis on standardized testing and greater focus on other measures more indicative of a student’s opportunity to learn.

But there was another hugely important education bill that passed the Maryland General Assembly this year that reduces testing in a much more direct way. The More Learning, Less Testing Act — which cleared both the House (139–0) and Senate (47–0) without a single no vote—limits mandated testing to 2.2% of the school year, except in eighth grade, when the limit is at 2.3%. That comes out to 23.8 hours in pre-kindergarten through seventh grade, 24.8 hours in eighth grade, and 25.7 hours in high school.

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General Assembly passes bill that would cap testing at 2.2 percent of overall classroom time in a year.

 — @baltimoresun

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And while that might sound like a lot of testing, it’s far less than the amount of time many Maryland school districts have used for mandated assessments in recent years. Here’s how many hours of testing each district in Maryland will cut —across the 14 grade levels (pre-K through 12th grade) — to comply with the new law:

According to 2015–2016 data collected by the Maryland State Department of Education.

Added together, the More Learning, Less Testing Act will eliminate an estimated 730 hours across 18 districts when the cap goes into effect during the 2018–2019 school year. In six districts, mandated assessments likely won’t have to change unless there were data collection problems, although the law does prevent them from over-testing like the other counties have until now. But for students in school systems like Anne Arundel, Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, and Queen Anne’s, there will be a lot less standardized testing. For example, fifth graders in Dorchester County will have 29.2 fewer hours of testing—the equivalent of having an entire week of instruction added back to the school year.

“Educators applaud legislative leaders in both parties for coming together to establish a commonsense safeguard against over-testing in our schools. This means our kids will have more time to learn important well-rounded skills, and our teachers can get back to why they went into the profession in the first place: inspiring their students to love learning.”— Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education AssociationBig Win for Students Follows Years of Advocacy from Educators

After New York enacted a 2% testing cap in 2014, Maryland educators began a three-year plan to pass a similar law in our state. In order to find out exactly how much mandated testing there is each year, we passed a law in 2015 creating the Commission to Review Maryland’s Use of Assessments in Public Schools.

When students went back to school for the 2015–2016 school year, educators launched a public awareness campaign to explain how over-testing takes away valuable instruction time and narrows the curriculum.

When the Commission finished its study of how much testing goes on in Maryland schools (a lot), MSEA teamed up with Del. Eric Luedtke — a former teacher — and Sen. Roger Manno during the 2016 General Assembly session to introduce legislation to cap federal, state, and district mandated testing at 2% of the school year. Buoyed by educator voices calling for the testing limit — including an energetic “Week of Action” and thousands of emails and phone calls to state representatives — the bill passed the House of Delegates unanimously. But it stalled in the Senate after legislators expressed an interest in waiting for the Commission to make final recommendations.

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lesstesting #lesstestingmorelearning

 — @hahleewude

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In the summer of 2016, the Commission released its recommendation that every school system create a District Committee on Assessments — including classroom teachers, test coordinators, and support professionals — to identify redundant or unnecessary testing and make cuts to local assessment mandates. But just five districts agreed to implement the recommendation in full, frustrating legislators who hoped the issue could be addressed locally.

So in December, educators and legislators announced a plan to bring back the legislation to cap testing at 2% of instruction time, especially in light of the refusal by most school boards and superintendents to act on their own. The Baltimore Sun covered the plans on their last front page of 2016.

The legislation moved quickly through the House, which again passed the bill unanimously, and the Senate made minor adjustments to the bill — including increasing the cap slightly to 2.2%. The House and Senate then agreed on a compromise version of the bill that included provisions to:

  1. Create the District Committees on Assessments that most school systems refused to do on their own.
  2. Change a state-mandated middle and high school social studies test into a performance-based assessment — an innovative, hands-on way of measuring student success beyond the traditional standardized test.
  3. Give districts a waiver to the 2.2% cap in cases when the local educators association agrees that more time is necessary for student learning.

On the final day of the 2017 General Assembly session, the More Learning, Less Testing Act was passed and sent to Gov. Hogan’s desk for his signature. He has not committed to signing it yet, but it appears likely that he will.

Between the Protect Our Schools Act and the More Learning, Less Testing Act, Maryland has positioned itself as a national leader in reducing both the high stakes and time that go into standardized testing in schools. As MSEA president Betty Weller said in a statement earlier this week:

“The legislature has put Maryland schools in a position to show that our children are more than a test score. The overemphasis on testing has failed to close achievement gaps for the last two decades. It’s not enough to know that some students perform worse than others — we need to know why. Now Maryland is a national leader in refocusing time and resources on the kind of learning opportunities that truly help kids thrive in school.”

Big Win #2: The More Learning, Less Testing Act was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Betty Weller: We Should All Be Proud

April 12, 2017 - 4:57pm
Our big wins are good for students, schools, and communitiesBetty Weller, MSEA President

What a great General Assembly session! First, we passed the Protect Our Schools Act that gives Maryland a school accountability system that truly invests in and improves our schools by placing less emphasis on standardized testing and broadening the focus of what’s needed to create a great school — closing opportunity gaps, increasing equity, and creating a supportive, safe school climate. The legislation prevents the state from using federal Title I funding meant for high-poverty schools for private school vouchers, forcing public schools to be converted to charter schools, or taking over public schools and handing them over to private operators — the exact agenda Governor Hogan favors and that aligns so closely with that of Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The bill ensures that educators and parents have a seat and voice at the table when developing plans to improve low-performing schools. Good ideas are generated when communities come together for a greater good, not from top-down dictums that don’t reflect specific experience or interest in our communities.

Not only did we pass the Protect Our Schools Act, we overrode Gov. Hogan’s veto of it. Maryland is now leading the fight to protect public education from the destructive DeVos privatization agenda.

Legislators heard us on the issue of over-testing our students, too. It took two years of fighting, but on the last day of session legislators passed the More Learning, Less Testing Act that sets a limit on the amount of annual mandated and standardized testing. We’re now able to reduce the burden of testing and shift the focus back to where it belongs — on creating school atmospheres of curiosity, discovery, and joy for both students and educators.

This exciting and successful General Assembly session shows us what we can accomplish when we speak with a united voice for our students and schools. Thanks for everything you do and congratulations!

Betty Weller: We Should All Be Proud was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Toolkit: Teaching Academic Life Skills and Loving It

April 12, 2017 - 4:54pm
Meet Howard County teacher Kara Brooks-OdomKara Brooks-Odom teaches at Mt. Hebron High School in Howard County.

Students in Kara Brooks-Odom’s academic life skills classes typically have an IQ below 80 and may or may not be social, or even verbal. Kara says many are able to find gainful employment with some minor modifications to the task or workplace and that brings her great joy.

Here are some of the tools she uses to make it happen:

SOCIAL THINKING CARDS (See photo above) These are used to prompt students to think about their classroom or work behavior. The cards reduce the need to verbally correct students, allowing them to think about their own behavior and self-correct.

BACKPACK The students carefully fill backpacks like these with basic school supplies that are distributed to students in need throughout Howard County.

TOUCH CHAT For students who are limited, low, or non-verbal, the TouchChat app becomes the student’s voice. The complexity of the program is student-specific.

WORK BOXES Sorting, rolling silverware, and packing backpacks are some of the skills practiced and used in community centers, restaurants, and the Career Skills Lab.

MODIFIED CURRICULUM Our students receiving a certificate are expected to participate in general education classes and have meaningful and rigorous classwork, similar to their peers, but modified to their instructional level.

UNIQUE LEARNING This reading and math program includes science components that I use to supplement reading comprehension skills. There are stories and math skills related to getting a job, self-care, social interaction, budgeting, and other young adult and independent skills.

Toolkit: Teaching Academic Life Skills and Loving It was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Educators Lead and Win on Testing and Privatization

April 12, 2017 - 4:53pm

It’s a giant win for students, parents, educators, schools, and communities. The General Assembly’s passage of the Protect Our Schools and the More Learning, Less Testing acts point once again to Maryland and educators leading the way for improving schools and helping all students. No other state can claim similar success in fighting the Betsy DeVos privatization agenda and the crisis of over-testing as Maryland can thanks to these bills.

Soon after the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced No Child Left Behind, MSEA created an educator workgroup to develop goals for the new state accountability system that ESSA required. Those goals focused on reducing the impact of standardized tests, closing achievement and opportunity gaps, bringing educators to the table to help improve struggling schools, and protecting against the privatization agenda favored by Governor Hogan, Secretary DeVos, and President Trump.

House Speaker Mike Busch, Betty Weller, legislators, and POSA supporters at MSEA’s press conference, April 6.

That early work — presenting MSEA’s school accountability proposal to the state board, educating legislators in every county, building a strong coalition of education advocates, and mobilizing MSEA members — paid off. The Protect Our Schools Act (POSA) positions Maryland to have the smartest and most transparent accountability system in the nation.

We’re now leading the way by reducing the years of singular focus on test scores and adding important measures that every educator knows make a difference, like student attendance, school safety and discipline, and teacher quality.

POSA also prohibits the state from converting low-performing public schools into charter schools, issuing taxpayer-funded private school vouchers, or hiring for-profit management companies to take over public schools — all goals that Gov. Hogan and his State Board wanted to enact through ESSA.

Bipartisan support from legislators also passed the More Learning, Less Testing Act, which limits mandated testing to 2.2% of the school year (2.3% for eighth grade). With students in some grades facing 50+ hours of testing annually, this legislation will restore hundreds of hours of instructional time across the state. The legislation also ensures that educators will be at the table to consider which district-mandated tests to keep, shorten, or eliminate.

“We’ve made great progress,” said MSEA President Betty Weller, “but the fight isn’t over. We’ll need to be vigilant to make sure that the Hogan-appointed State Board follows through on the legislature’s efforts to stop privatization and over-testing as they implement the state’s new accountability system. Let’s be proud of what we accomplished together — and get ready for what’s next.”

Educators Lead and Win on Testing and Privatization was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Ask a Teacher: What Does the Protect Our Schools Act Mean to You?

April 12, 2017 - 4:51pm
Eight educators on why POSA MattersAllison Heintz

There’s a misconception that teachers are in favor of POSA because it gives more power to unions. This bill is about giving more power to local stakeholders, including what factors determine school success and how to deal with failing schools. Our governor has been vocal in supporting vouchers, and I’ve probably been one of the most vocal on his Facebook page. Politics often seems like the last thing we as teachers have time for. If we don’t speak up for our students and our communities, who will? — Allison Heintz, Anne Arundel County

Timothy Moraca

School accountability measures should include inputs as well as outputs. Continuing to ignore what goes into a student’s education and instead focusing solely on the results is akin to treating symptoms with willful ignorance of underlying causes. When we include measurements of the opportunity gap instead of just the achievement gap, we are finally addressing the true inequalities in our schools and our society. — Timothy Moraca, St. Mary’s County

La’Shore Redmond

Educators must lead the shift from a linear model of test-taking to a more holistic one. Student attendance, teacher quality, discipline, and class size are all integral parts of a quality education. Our students and communities will flourish academically, financially, and globally when we focus on the whole child. — La’Shore Redmond, Prince George’s County

Brendan Maltese

As a music teacher, I appreciate how the Protect Our Schools Act puts less emphasis on testing and maintains local control of schools. If we hand over our students to schools that are looking to make a profit, my job will be on the chopping block to increase profits or make room for more teachers in tested areas. POSA allows communities to decide what is best for their schools, not politicians in Annapolis and the for-profit education industry. — Brendan Maltese, Anne Arundel County

Meddo Swaby

Test scores are not our schools — it is the people in them. We can’t continue to focus on test scores should without every effort being made to ensure that every single stakeholder has the appropriate resources to achieve success. — Meddo Swaby, St. Mary’s County

Sandy Skordalos

Emphasizing accountability on test scores ignores the variables and inequities inherent in testing students from diverse backgrounds. School accountability should be measured by variables that are directly controlled by a school system and that have been proven to result in future success for students. Teacher quality, school safety and discipline, class and caseload size, and student attendance have an enormous impact on success in school and focusing on these measures would mitigate some of the inequities in our schools. — Sandy Skordalos, Baltimore County

Annie Mewborn

While I agree there should be accountability measures in place, test scores are not enough. Utilizing multiple accountability measures and other relevant information creates a clearer picture when making educational decisions about our students. — Annie Mewborn, Talbot County

Debbie Haan

This campaign will help our lower and poorer students feel like they can learn and be proud of the job they did. POSA will allow teachers to teach what their students need. — Debbie Haan, Charles County

Ask a Teacher: What Does the Protect Our Schools Act Mean to You? was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


April 12, 2017 - 4:48pm
It’s one of the biggest wins for public education in years.

It’s one of the biggest wins for public education in years — passage of the Protect Our Schools Act means Maryland is standing up to the Hogan/DeVos/Trump privatization agenda. There’s more: passage of the More Learning, Less Testing Act means educators will have time to nurture creativity and help students develop the higher-level critical thinking skills they need.

YOU made it happen! Educators are paying attention, leading on the important policies that direct their work with students and define their schools, and pushing back when they see things going wrong.

How you did it … With near record actions from MSEA members — phone calls, emails, lobby visits, and marching — legislators made the right choice to protect our schools.

We built a strong coalition to support POSA including: NAACP — Maryland State Conference, Maryland PTA, Parent Advocacy Consortium, CASA de Maryland, Disability Rights Maryland, ACLU of Maryland, Baltimore Teachers Union, Advocates for Children and Youth, School Social Workers in Maryland, League of Women Voters, Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance, Attendance Works, Maryland Coalition for Community Schools, and Maryland Out of School Time Network, and many other community groups.

YOU DID IT! was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

My Turn: Meet Janice McRae — An Activist on Many Fronts

April 12, 2017 - 4:43pm
Janice McRae is a special education paraeducator at Sussex Elementary School in Baltimore County. She is a member of the Educational Support Professionals of Baltimore County (ESPBC).

First and foremost, I’m passionate about working with special needs children. It’s a joy, a privilege, and my pleasure to work and interact with these amazing learners.

It’s my belief that all students can learn and it’s up to dedicated educators like me to ensure that each of them gets the free, appropriate public education they deserve.

I believe that providing an appropriate public education for all is the duty of each stakeholder at every level and in every position in the school building. It’s up to us as educators to differentiate, strategize, and ensure that learning takes place every school day.

Another passion is my role as an activist for my fellow education support members. I’ve been a proud union member for 14 years and I serve on ESPBC’s government relations, bylaws and policy, recognition selections committees, and the NEA Black Caucus.

As the building representative, I meet with other representatives five times a year to discuss the latest ESPBC news and policy changes or updates to our master agreement, which I share with members in my building. I’ve also met with local legislators and lobbied in Annapolis.

Since becoming our building representative for ESPBC, my professional development opportunities have increased tremendously and I’ve taken advantage of trainings, conferences, and leadership summits — most recently the NEA 2017 ESP National Conference in March.

At MSEA’s 2015 Representative Assembly (RA) in Ocean City, I proposed a new business item (NBI) to support new delegates attending their first MSEA and NEA RA. It resulted in a teletown hall with President Betty Weller before the 2016 NEA RA in Washington D.C., and a meeting for new delegates at the convention center before the RA began. At MSEA’s 2016 RA, President Weller hosted a standing-room only meeting for new delegates. MSEA also provided new digital content to help orient new delegates to Robert’s Rules of Order and other meeting procedures. At the 2016 NEA RA in Washington D.C., I offered a similar NBI requesting future support for new delegates attending the RA through a Facebook page and other platforms.

My Turn: Meet Janice McRae — An Activist on Many Fronts was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Inside MSEA: The 2017 General Assembly

April 12, 2017 - 4:38pm
Yes, we made great progress. But that’s only half the battle.MSEA Executive Director David Helfman

It was exciting to see hundreds of MSEA activists brave the incoming storm last month to kick off the Week of Action at the March to Protect Our Schools. Thousands more members stepped up during the week to call and email their senators and delegates. Overall, member engagement in state-level advocacy for our public schools and students more than doubled this year. There can be no doubt, MSEA: Maryland educators are leading on the issues that matter for students and schools right here in Annapolis — where the policies that shape public education are made.

But when it comes to providing our students with a safe learning environment and giving our public schools the resources they need, a week of action just isn’t enough. If students are fearful of being bullied over their sexual orien- tation or gender identity, or that their families will be torn apart, who will provide a safe learning environment?

If their school buildings are unsafe, or inadequate funding results in overcrowded classrooms and overflowing caseloads for nurses and counselors, who will advocate for more resources? If students arrive at school hungry or sick, who will care for them?

Now that the General Assembly session is over, will we be able to rely on our governor and State Board of Education to deliver the protections and resources students need?

Reverend William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and recipient of an NEA Human and Civil Rights Award, refers to these issues not as left against right or Republican vs. Democrat, but as imperatives that should be supported by all — as a choice between what’s morally right and what’s morally wrong.

America Needs To Continue Reviving 'Heartbeat,' N.C. NAACP President Says

Our challenge is to continue building on the momentum of our Week of Action and progress in the General Assembly by increasing our engagement at both the local and state levels. None of us like the scenarios I mentioned above; our mission as a union is to organize fellow educators, define our interests, and fight for the change we want for our students and schools.

Inside MSEA: The 2017 General Assembly was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

MSEA Members Lead at the National ESP Conference

April 12, 2017 - 4:34pm
Uniting, Inspiring, Leading for the Whole StudentThe MSEA delegation at the NEA ESP National Conference in March.

Nearly 70 MSEA members gathered with hundreds of colleagues in Dallas on March 9–12 at NEA’s ESP National Conference — Uniting, Inspiring, and Leading for the Whole Student. On the agenda were more than 50 workshops covering critical on-the-job issues and union organizing.

Massachusetts paraeducator Raul Ramos, the NEA National ESP of the Year, was honored for his work with LGBTQ issues, art advocacy, advocacy for Lati- no cultural arts, and his leader- ship role in the Massachusetts Teachers Association where he serves on several committees. He is a graduate of NEA’s Leaders for Tomorrow program, NEA’s intensive training program for ESP.

At the conference, MSEA members Toni Mejias, Prince George’s County, and Ronnie Beard, Frederick County, joined Ramos as fellow graduates of Leaders for Tomorrow.

Among just 20 selected from across the country, Beard and Mejias completed the nine-month, 91-hour Leaders for Tomorrow program and are poised to use their skills in their locals. “I plan to get more involved in social justice initiatives such as the implementation of restorative practices in our schools,” Mejias said, “and collaborating with other members and community stakeholders in fighting for the end of the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Above: Ronnie Beard, NEA Secretary–Treasurer Princess Moss, MSEA board member Joe Coughlin, Toni Mejias, and MSEA board member Debbie Schaefer. Left: MSEA’s delegation to the NEA’s 2017 ESP National Conference.

Beard is taking his skills to the bargaining table where he’ll fight for strong contract language for ESPs. “ESP are abused due to lack of training and pro- fessional development, breaks not being given, and other con- tract violations. We need to fight back by having our members well-read on their contract and knowing what supervisors can and cannot do.”

MSEA Members Lead at the National ESP Conference was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.