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Teacher’s Toolkit: Waves, Critters, and Fishnets on the Bay

June 15, 2018 - 5:11pm
Outdoor education in St, Mary’s County with Margarita RochowMargarita Rochow, director at ELMS Environmental Center in St. Mary’s County. Photo credit: Brion McCarthySecond-career educator Margarita Rochow is the director of ELMS Environmental Education Center in St. Mary’s County. What fascinates her besides the great outdoors? The brain, why we’re here, cultures, landscapes, and individuals near and far, and the truth.

See if you can find Margarita’s tools in the photo above!

SHOVEL We dig into the earth to restore and improve natural ecosystems by planting native plants and removing invasive ones.

GLOVES Students provide hands-on care for native plants in the ELMS Native Plant Nursery and learn how many native insects, especially butterflies, rely on specific native plants as their host plant.

NATIVE PLANTS The milkweed plant, a product of our nursery, is host to the monarch butterfly caterpillar. We provide the plant free to schools and community groups for restoration projects, pollinator gardens, rain gardens, and more.

RACCOON, FOX, AND CRAB Students use live animals, models, and taxidermy to study adaptations, behaviors, and how animals use their external features to meet their needs.

CRITTER KEEPER Students closely and safely (for the student and the animal) observe insects and small animals to compare the diversity of life indifferent habitats.

MAGNIFYING LENS Magnifying lenses, microscopes, and binoculars are used to spark curiosity by allowing students a closer examination of insects, plankton, and birds under study.

SUNBLOCK AND HAT Two necessities!

WADERS AND DIP NET Students use waders and dip nets to collect data to make determinations of the health of the Chesapeake Bay and Patuxent River. They sample biological diversity by collecting and identifying aquatic species, and conduct water quality tests including nitrates, phosphates, dissolved oxygen, and salinity.

Teacher’s Toolkit: Waves, Critters, and Fishnets on the Bay was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Donna Hoffman — Making Lunchtime the Favorite Part of Each Kid’s Day

June 15, 2018 - 4:50pm
“I am very fortunate to be surrounded by fabulous people.”Donna Hoffman is head cook at Northern Middle School in Garrett County.“I’ve always believed that our jobs are extremely important to the everyday lives of our students and we deserve respect and a fair wage.” — Donna Hoffman

My greatest joy in life has always come from helping others and the satisfaction that comes with that, so in 1989 when life placed me in food services at Northern Middle School, I knew I was in the right place. The Garrett County Public School (GCPS) system is not only a great place to work but it’s top notch in the state for student achievement. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by fabulous people, not only in food service, but throughout our school.

I started at Northern Middle School as a substitute in food services and worked my way up to the head cook position which I’ve held for the past 23 years. I’m passionate about the quality and nutrition we provide, knowing that it plays a vital role in our students’ ability to learn. Our goal is to make lunchtime the favorite part of each kid’s day and judging by the compliments we receive from students, staff, and parents, we succeed.

Along with my job at GCPS, I work at a second job in food service at a local resort to make ends meet. The reality for support personnel is that we don’t make a living wage — that’s a major issue that I continue to work on as a member of the Garrett County Education Association (GCEA).

I’ve always believed that our jobs are extremely important to the everyday lives of our students and we deserve respect and a fair wage. As a 21-year member of GCEA and a member of the negotiating team, I have a voice on the issues that matter to my colleagues and me.

Our school system recently implemented a workload committee which I am on. We meet with various ESP colleagues and discuss what work-related concerns we have around working conditions, how issues like student behavior affect our work day, and what we can do to improve the school atmosphere for both staff and students.

I was born and raised in Garrett County and feel very fortunate to be able to work for the school system and the community. When my day is done I can look back and say “I did a good job — our customers are happy and well fed!”

Donna Hoffman — Making Lunchtime the Favorite Part of Each Kid’s Day was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Racial Bias in You

June 15, 2018 - 4:42pm
Educators can play critical roles in breaking down biases at all levels.

Personal racial bias comes in so many forms that it feels almost too overwhelming — and complicated — to talk about. For educators it means unambiguously confronting personal obstacles to reaching and teaching every student. It means having the often painful and painfully honest conversations with yourself and your colleagues to discover and realize that deeply rooted biases indeed exist, no matter how unconscious we are of them. And no matter how hard the conversations are, no one should feel blame or shame in having them — everyone has bias.

For students, these biases make up much of what they encounter in their daily lives. There’s the story of middle school boys who risk discipline rather than take their hat off to expose their hair half-braided; the high school girl sent home because an on-trend fashion that many girls were wearing was fitting too closely to her curvy body; or the new Central American student placed in all lower level classes because their lack of English-speaking capability was assumed to reflect a lack of overall academic capability.

These are Black and Brown students held to scrutiny by cultural norms or stereotypes that don’t fit their culture. The expectations for these students is both too low and too high for them to get the supports they need and that is related directly to the biases they face. Breaking through the stereotypes and accepting the need for culturally relevant teaching is part of the conversation of course. But educators are looking for guidance, much of which comes from defining the language of bias.

The Perception Institute says implicit bias is the brain’s automatic, instantaneous association of stereotypes and attitudes with particular groups — a social phenomenon unrelated to an individual’s psychology. Implicit bias is not one’s politics, values, or ideals; it is a social conditioning based on one’s upbringing, heritage, possible fear of the unfamiliar, and repeated exposure to the way certain groups are represented in the media and popular culture.

In schools, this plays out in pre-K–12 discipline in everything from behavior to clothing; access to gifted programs and STEM and advanced level classes at all levels; and in the self-confidence and self-image of the students themselves.

Confronting fear Nitzalis Rivera, an English language educator in Washington County, says fear is the single largest barrier to educators connecting with Black and Brown families — it stops progress before it can get started. “Educators consider themselves to be smart people. But in the case of cultural differences with families of color, there is fear — ‘I just don’t know how to do this.’”

Teaching while Black

Rivera tells the story of a pre-school teacher who gave up her fear of the unknown and made no assumptions about the children or their families. She allowed all the Spanish-speaking students to talk in their language, to get comfortable, to enjoy their experience. She did the same with parents using the little Spanish she knew to make an effort to communicate. She built relationships and everything followed.

“The reality,” Rivera said, “is we came into the field to teach kids. That’s the core of our responsibility. And when you think of it that way, everything makes sense.”

“Lead with Love.”

Building Empathy around Cultural Differences

Robin McNair is a veteran classroom teacher and now Restorative Practices Coordinator in Prince George’s County. In her educator trainings and interactions with students, she works with groups to find common ground and build empathy for one another. “Having open and safe discussions around race and racism puts everything out in the open for each perspective to be viewed and for walls to come down,” McNair said. “This type of exercise really allows others to see how students of color vieweveryday issues through a different lens.

“There Is the Racial Conversation Which We Need to Dive into, Right?”

“I take time to allow educators to share how their cultural heritage played a big role in their lives. Then we think of our students and the similar role their different, but equally as valued and important, cultural heritage, values, and upbringing must play in their lives.” That exercise alone — a small study in empathetic understanding — is eye-opening.

Kids naturally want to be a part of something — to have playmates, to be accepted for who they are, to join clubs, to achieve, but the weight of cultural bias on students is heavy and the effects of it play out in statistics that have been exposed recently by a number of groups and publications. According to the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, which studied racial disparity among girls in 2017, Black girls are 5.5 times more likely than White girls to be suspended from school, and 4 times more likely to be arrested at school.

“We are desperate to be understood.”

Yet, In the National Women’s Law Center’s 2017 report Let Her Learn: Stopping School Pushout for Girls of Color, girls of color reported an eagerness to learn, graduate, and attend college and they want help to do it.

Biases reveal themselves in ways that pervasively undercut and alienate students of color from school. There’s the economic bias of treating students of low socio-economic status differently by having lower expectations than students from middle- or upper-class families.

The gender and race bias that calls out Black girls for “being loud” or “unlady-like” or for hair or clothing that doesn’t fit the cultural norms of the rule- and policy-makers.

Rules about hair are a good example of what happens when policies and rules completely ignore African-American culture. “In Prince George’s County, most girls can’t just brush their hair and go and many young ladies wear braids,” McNair said.

“If they are between getting their hair done, they will wear a scarf until they do.” Similar cultural deafness can be seen when LGBTQ students are forced into assigned-gender restrooms, or when homeless students are outed, or a parent is deemed uninterested when they are simply afraid of being looked down upon by other parents or educators.

Mass. ACLU Files Complaint Against Charter School That Disciplined Students Over Braids

A middle school counselor says a rule that kids can’t wear hats in school is based on a safety concern, but when boys haven’t been to the barber they want to wear a hat. They often choose to be called to the office as punishment rather than be subjected to the teasing of other kids. “Taking the time to see the kid behind the choice rather than just the choice is something I wish all educators would do.”

From Micro to Macro — Individual to Institution

Implicit bias doesn’t exist simply in individual decisions and relationships. The sum total of our biases shape school culture and institutional policies that can reinforce — or challenge — ingrained or unconscious biases. Educators can play incredibly important roles in breaking down those biases — whether it’s at the micro level of self-examination, the interpersonal level of building relationships with students and families of different backgrounds, the school level of having tough conversations about school culture, or the institutional level of systematic policies that can reinforce or condone bias. Schools and communities have the power to come together and discover what they stand for, what and who they value, and how far they will go to build the kind of trust Nitzalis Rivera talks about.

It’s often said that education is the great equalizer. We want that to be true. But the truth is it’s not equalizing for every kid and biases — especially those reflected in our institutions — often get in the way. We can break down barriers, but it will take hard work and hard conversations. The fact is, kids want to learn and can learn — no matter what their hair looks like from one day to the next. They need a helping hand, and that’s up to us.

The Racial Bias in You was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Teaching while Black

June 15, 2018 - 4:35pm
Jason Fahie on being a Black male teacher in Howard County.Jason Fahie is a physical education teacher at Harper’s Choice Middle School in Howard County. (Photo © Stephen Cherry)

When I moved to Maryland 11 years ago, I was the only Black male teacher in my building. I had to learn to navigate a new environment while, once again, being an ambassador for my commu­nity. I can remember sitting in the teachers’ lounge and not having much in common with my colleagues who were primarily young White women. To better assimilate, I began watching shows like “The Office” to have a con­nection with my co-workers. I enjoyed watching the show, but it reminded me of being in middle school where to fit in I watched “Friends” and listened to Alanis Morissette.

Being a Black male in education means you have to be a master at code switching throughout your entire day. The conversations I have with other Black educators in my building are usually very different from the ones I have with the rest of my colleagues. When I am one of — or the only — Black person in the room, I carry myself differently than when I’m in the company of Black educators. Code switching shouldn’t need to exist but it seems that Black culture is only accept­able when others are profiting from it.

As a Black man, I know I will al­ways be judged by my appearance first. It starts with my hair. I get my hair cut every week for many reasons. First, I like to look good. Second, I want to be a role model for my students, especially my young Black men. Third, I realize that as one of the few Black male educators my students — and some of my colleagues — will ever encounter, I represent more than just me.

Just my choice of clothes can be challenging. I wear an earring on most days, but it took me a while to wear it to work because I didn’t want to be viewed as unprofessional. I like to wear hoodies, but I know that as a Black man, wearing a hoodie can be viewed as a threat, so when I do, I’m sure to remove my hood when entering Dunkin for coffee and always when entering my worksite. I take a few looks in the mirror every morning just to confirm that I look trustworthy and non-threatening. I’m sure to hold doors for people because that’s what my father taught me to do, but I also know I’m helping to break down stereotypes one interaction at a time.

In sharing with fellow Black educators, I’ve realized that we care about our students more than our other colleagues. I don’t want to say that my colleagues are biased or racist; I just know that Black educators hold our Black students to higher standards and give them more strikes than our White counterparts. It’s just how our community works.

There are many things that happen in a school setting that I have to be mindful of how I respond to. I never want to be viewed as the angry Black man. I tend to keep a lot of my frus­trations to myself or share with a very small circle of colleagues. The stress that comes from the daily highs and lows of teaching, in addition to being a Black male in a primarily White institution, can be overwhelming at times. This stress carries over to my personal relationships and affects the way I parent my own child.

I know very few Black male teach­ers, but one thing I know is that we share a special brand of stress. We are educators because of a higher calling and passion for making an impact in our communities, but that stress is leading too many of us to consider other careers.

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

“We are desperate to be understood.”

June 15, 2018 - 4:34pm
Notes from a Latina Student

Katherine Bonilla Gutierrez is a 2018 graduate of Frederick High School in Frederick County. Katherine traveled alone from El Salvador to Frederick to be with her mother, who left her country for the U.S. when Katherine was six.

Katherine Bonilla Gutierrez is a 2018 graduate of Frederick High School, Frederick County.

Katherine graduated just four years after arriving in Frederick with no English language skills. In her school, she became a leader and mentor to other Latinx students.

One of her teachers was Connie Antosca, an ELL teacher whose email signature is Rigor, Relevance, Relationships. “Katherine displayed strong faith and inner strength in her quest to overcome obstacles,” Antosca said. “She embodies the traits of generations of immigrants to our country that make us great — resilience, determination, and persistence. She will go very far.”

“The hardest part for us is the language because we are so desperate to be understood,” said Katherine. “This makes many students choose to drop out and get a job where they don’t have to speak with English-speaking people.”

“We are desperate to be understood.” was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Candidate Ben Jealous Stands with Maryland Educators

June 15, 2018 - 4:11pm
Apple Ballot recommends Ben Jealous for governor

Right now, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve education funding with the Kirwan Commission’s revision of the state’s school funding formula in 2019. This is the chance we need to end the $2.9 billion annual underfunding of our schools and get our students the resources they need.

To do that, we need a governor who will fight for adequate and equitable funding and listen to educators on how it should be spent.

Candidate Ben Jealous and MSEA President Betty Weller at a rally in Anne Arundel county protesting

On April 14, delegates from across the state voted at MSEA’s Spring Representative Assembly to endorse Ben Jealous as the candidate for governor who can successfully lead the fight to get the funding our schools deserve.

Ben gets it. His parents met as public school teachers in Baltimore and his two kids currently attend Maryland public schools. His mother helped to integrate Western High School in Baltimore in 1954. He understands the importance of making education a respected profession and giving educators a voice on policies that affect us.

Ben Jealous for governor

At age 35, Ben was named the youngest ever National President and CEO of the NAACP. In 2013, he was named Marylander of the Year by the Baltimore Sun because of his work leading the effort to abolish the death penalty and helping to pass marriage equality and the DREAM Act. Ben was the first candidate in the gubernatorial race this year to call for Fixing the Fund and making sure casino revenue goes to our classrooms, where it was intended.

Marylander of the Year: Benjamin Todd Jealous [Editorial]


• Raising teacher salaries by 29% over the next five years to compete with other respected professions like nurses, accountants, and architects.

• Ensuring all education support professionals earn at least a living wage and get the recognition they deserve.

• Completely closing the $2.9 billion annual funding shortage facing our public schools.

• Increasing school mental health professionals to industry-recommended staffing levels.

Improving support for special education staff and students.

• Expanding the community schools model and the supports and services provided to students and families.

Candidate Ben Jealous Stands with Maryland Educators was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Keeping Your Contract Strong

June 15, 2018 - 4:10pm
Protect Your Right to Collective Bargaining

Once your local has ratified a new contract through the collective bargaining process, it’s up to you — and the members of your union — to protect and enforce it. There’s no value in a contract that is not vigilantly held to scrutiny at every suspected violation.

Collective bargaining is a serious legal undertaking and the outcome is codified in your contract — that means that when your employer violates it, it becomes a matter that is dealt with through the formal grievance process.

Your negotiations team bargains your contract based on the feedback the team receives from members during the preliminary stages of contract negotiations with your school board. Your team argues for the rights, benefits, and compensation you want. The union is powerful because of that united position; resolving a grievance about a perceived contract violation is how unions protect your contract.

YOU are responsible for enforcing your contract — that’s how you protect your rights. You must know your contract so that you can recognize and report concerns and violations. When violations go uncontested, it undermines the value of your contract and weakens your ability — now and in the future — to enforce it.

Employers, anti-union proponents, and some lawmakers will seize on any perception of weakness by your association.

Understanding your contract and the power of collective bargaining means you are ready and able to protect your profession, schools, and students.

10 Ways You Can Help Protect Your Contract and Your Rights

1. When you see something that should be changed/improved, take it to your local association for consideration in the next round of negotiations.

Example: Members in St. Mary’s County were forced to pump breast milk in an unacceptable back room. They took the issue to the bargaining table and now schools must provide new educator-mothers a safe, clean space.

2. If you see a loophole in your contract, take it to your negotiations team or UniServ representative. It can become an issue in the next round of bargaining.

3. Stay plugged in. When contract language is infringed upon organized action may be needed — that’s when the power of your union makes the difference.

4. Share information — it’s VITAL to protecting your rights. Participate by attending your school’s union meetings, becoming a building rep, and following your local and MSEA on social media. Share what you learn.

5. Report to your building rep when you see or hear something wrong in your school or worksite. Vigilance pays.

6. Use your voice — complete your local pre-bargaining survey.

7. Participate in ratifying your contract. Vote.

8. Build relationships with your county and state lawmakers and hold them accountable.

9. Sign up to receive MSEA’s Up the Street, a short debrief of what’s happening in Annapolis. Learn what legislation is putting unions at risk and be in the know about policies that affect your job and your students. You’ll know when to respond.

10. Find out how to support your union. Contact your local association to see what’s happening now and what’s on the radar for the new school year.

Keeping Your Contract Strong was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

An FMLA Tutorial

June 15, 2018 - 4:10pm
Make sure you understand the Family Medical Leave Act.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides job-protected, unpaid leave under certain circumstances.

Who is eligible for FMLA? Government and private sector employees qualify for FMLA if their employer has at least 50 employees and they have worked for 12 months and 1,250 hours. Ten-month certificated educators in the public school system are eligible for FMLA after their first year of employment (assuming that earned leave was not exhausted).

When may I take FMLA? Assuming eligibility, an employee may qualify for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period for the following reasons:

• The birth of a child;

• The adoption or placement of a child;

• Serious health condition; or

• Serious health condition of a close family member (child, spouse, or parent)

Remember: Most employers require/permit you to use paid leave before going on unpaid leave for the 12-week period. If you don’t return after 12 weeks, you can be terminated unless approved for additional, short-term leave. Communication here is critical — an absence without an appropriate leave status with the employer will result in termination.

What happens to my benefits while on leave? Your group health benefits remain in place during your leave as does your negotiated contribution to your health insurance premium, which you must continue to pay. If you don’t return to work after FMLA leave then you may be liable for the employer’s portion of health insurance premiums paid during your leave.

How do I apply for FMLA? The employer must inform you of your right to FMLA leave if they know you are suffering from a serious personal illness. Otherwise, you must apply for leave and submit appropriate medical documentation 30 days before the requested leave (if possible). Your application doesn’t mean approval — your employer must determine your eligibility and formally approve it. If they require additional medical documentation, it’s up to you to provide it.

Questions? Contact your UniServ director to assist with protecting your employment status during any leave period.

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

Educators and Innovation

June 15, 2018 - 4:09pm
NEA Foundation grants help educators solve teaching and learning challenges

Congratulations to MSEA’s 2017-2018 NEA Foundation Student Achievement/Learning and Leadership awardees Brian Cook, Worcester County, and Sheena Jordan and Rainya Miller, Prince George’s County.

“By directly funding educator-conceived and led projects, the foundation enables educators to chart their own course to solve teaching and learning challenges,” said Harriet Sanford of the NEA Foundation. The foundation has awarded more than $7 million to educators to support innovation.

Student Achievement Grant: $5,000

Self-described digital educator Brian Cook and media specialist Jennifer Beach of Pokomoke Middle School in Worcester County will design self directed challenges in which students will become “makers.”

Students will explore, tinker, and create to enhance their afterschool drone racing and obstacle course program. They’ll code and create digital animation using Little Bits, Bloxels, and Ozobots. It’s an inquiry-based STEM lab that will build skills and competencies they’ll need for jobs in a technology-rich global market.

“There are numerous STEMrelated jobs that my middle school students know nothing about, and I know they could be successful in those jobs in the future. We want to begin with exposing and advocating STEM exploration opportunities to all of our students in grades 4–8,” said Cook.

“I hope it sparks an interest in STEM education and challenges our students to further participate in the programs/schools our district offers like Worcester County Tech Fest, 21st Century Learning After School Program, and Worcester Technical High School,” Cook added.

Student Achievement Grant: $2,000

Spanish teachers Sheena Jordan and Sandra Casas-Burlo of Melwood Elemenatry Schoool, an International Baccalaureate school in Prince George’s County, will use their award to implement a “standard station rotation in Spanish,” which will align with the Common Core State Standards. By increasing the consistency of assessments in four targeted CCSS areas, their work will help ensure that students are making gains in their proficiency in reading, writing, speaking, and listening in Spanish.

Learning and Leadership Grant: $5,000

Rainya Miller, Prince George’s County, will create a Candidate Support Facilitator Jumpstart program to assist current National Board Certified Teachers to become candidate support facilitators during the school year for colleagues seeking certification.

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

SLC ’18: Tackling Issues with Union Values

June 15, 2018 - 4:09pm
“We’re focused on relevance and action.”

We’ve said it before, it’s an unprecedented time for public education in Maryland and the country. The Janus Supreme Court case is unleashing anti-union attacks that threaten employees’ seat at the table; the Betsy DeVos agenda to privatize and monetize public schools has found an ally in our governor; and we’re campaigning for our endorsed pro-public education candidates in the mid-term elections. Every office in the Maryland House and Senate is up for grabs and it will be those lawmakers who will debate the Kirwan Commission’s final funding recommendations in the 2019 General Assembly.

At MSEA’s 2018 Summer Leadership Conference (SLC), July 17–20 at Salisbury University, every program and event will align with these threats and opportunities so attendees can lead on big issues at the local level — and make the connections between public policy, the quality of public education, and their job.

“We’ve worked hard to connect SLC ’18 to what’s happening here in Maryland and around the country,” said Tyrone Terry, chair of the Leadership Development Committee and member from Montgomery County. “We’re welcoming true heroes as our special guests — educators from public education battleground states West Virginia, Arizona, and North Carolina who raised their voices in a hard fight for funding, decent pay, and basic school resources and — against tremendous odds — made significant progress.”

In new SLC ’18 T(ed) Talks, those educator–activists will share what they’ve learned about member-driven social media, how they organized members and non-members around a pressing issue and now hope to gain members as a result, and how a truly grassroots movement started among activist educators and how they used the union to support it.

The SLC organizers are also welcoming Shelly Moore Krajacic, a Wisconsin teacher who is working to organize members after Governor Scott Walker stripped unions of collective bargaining rights and fair share dues in 2010. Since that time, teacher pay has dropped 11% and in some districts teacher recruitment has dropped 28%.

“We’re focused on relevance and action,” Terry said. “Educators and students need a strong, organized association of committed activists now more than ever — at SLC ’18, we’re delivering a program to make sure our members are informed and ready to take action.”

Missed the registration deadline for this year’s SLC? Mark your calendar for next year’s event!

SLC ’18: Tackling Issues with Union Values was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Are Maryland Tests Racially Biased?

June 12, 2018 - 11:30am
A look at PARCC and other standardized tests through Critical Race Theory

As educators work to grapple with the institutional racism found in our state’s public education system, one helpful legal and academic lens is Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT was used beginning in the 1970s by minority legal scholars who believed they were being overlooked in studies. It has since been used to examine racism in many different arenas, including education. Gloria Ladson-Billings and William Tate cite in “Toward a Critical Race Theory of Education” that there are five shared tenets of CRT:

  1. There is the assumption that racism is endemic in American life and deeply engrained through legal, cultural, and psychological structure.
  2. There is a call for the reinterpretation of civil-rights law, with special attention to the lack of effective implementation.
  3. There is an emphasis on utilizing subjectivity through the perspectives of those who have been victimized by racism.
  4. There is a challenge to claims of objectivity, color-blindness, and meritocracy, as they have been used by dominant groups for self-interest.
  5. There is the use of first-person accounts.
Applying CRT to Testing

Nearly every political conversation around funding and accountability eventually turns to the scores of Maryland students on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and the achievement gap that NAEP scores identify between White and non-White students.

Tenet #4 in CRT calls on us to challenge the metrics used by those in power of defining success in accountability measures. We see NAEP scores cited frequently — whether by reporters, politicians, education officials, or even the Kirwan Commission — and often used to argue for substantial policy changes.

A slide from the Kirwan Commission’s presentation to Maryland House and Senate committees utilizes 2015 NAEP data to demonstrate student underperformance.

But Maryland actually ranks significantly higher if one controls for differences in non-white student enrollment.

2017 NAEP data for Maryland from the Urban Institute’s “America’s Gradebook”

What other “objective” metrics of success could be biased to support the theories of action of those in positions of power? In education, we often talk about achievement gaps between White and Black students while not talking about opportunity gaps between White and Black students.

In Maryland, achievement gaps are largely defined by the state’s annual reading and math scores on PARCC. In 2017, 51.2% of white Maryland 8th graders were on track to be college and career ready in English, but just 22.8% of their Black peers met that standard. The gaps are even wider in math — for example, 51.4% of White students meet the readiness standard in 5th grade math, but just 17.4% of Black students get a passing score.

But how objective are these measures? The SAT gives us a good idea of how tests with a seemingly objective metric can be racially biased.


There are two pieces of evidence to support the impression that the SAT is racially biased in favor of white students:

  1. SAT scores have increasingly correlated with race
  2. The English questions contain language and culture-based content that are more recognizable to White students than minority students
Score Correlation

When the SAT first started being used by college and universities for acceptance criteria in the late 1970s and early 1980s, admissions data showed a clear racial gap between White and non-White students. That gap was a primary reason why universities started using affirmative action to increase the diversity of their student populations.

Despite increasing public awareness of America’s stubborn race-based achievement gaps, a 2015 University of California, Berkeley study showed that this SAT race gap has widened since 1994. According to the study:

“The UC data show that socioeconomic background factors — family income, parental education, and race/ethnicity — account for a large and growing share of the variance in students’ SAT scores over the past twenty years. More than a third of the variance in SAT scores can now be predicted by factors known at students’ birth, up from a quarter of the variance in 1994. Of those factors, moreover, race has become the strongest predictor.” Disadvantages

The key question is: why is race becoming a stronger predictor than family income or parental education? Is the race gap in the SAT more than correlation with the usual gaps in education outcomes that come with disadvantages in socioeconomic status?

The Harvard Education Review has on multiple occasions (2003 and 2010) explained how questions in the English section of the test are biased in favor of cultural norms more commonplace for White students than African-American students. According to the Harvard Education Review in 2010, researchers found that “SAT items do function differently for the African American and White subgroups in the verbal test and argue that the testing industry has an obligation to study this phenomenon.”

The College Board responded by criticizing the methodology of the study and claiming:

“The SAT is a fair assessment, and many years of independent research support this. It is the most rigorously researched and designed test in the world and is a proven, reliable measure of a student’s likelihood for college success regardless of student race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. There is no credible research to suggest otherwise. While a few critics have promoted the notion that the test results indicate bias in the tests themselves, this theory has been by and large debunked and rejected by the psychometric community.”

The College Board has worked to erase some of the elements of bias in the English section. For example, in the new test unveiled in 2016, there is less reliance on obscure vocabulary words that give students with the means and access to prep courses or tutors a big advantage. There is also a movement to evidence-based reading comprehension — an example of how the SAT is now more aligned with Common Core — that may cut down on the number of “easy” questions that critics claimed gave white students a large advantage.

According to those critics, White students could generally do well on the “easy” questions by relying on certain context clues related to their own experiences in life, while the “harder” questions require real knowledge and comprehension skill. Black students do not benefit from this phenomenon, being less familiar with the kind of situations generally found in many reading comprehension passages, and therefore did better relative to White students in the harder questions when the playing field was more even.

But there may now be a new problem. According to Reuters, the College Board’s own assessment of their redesigned math questions revealed larger than expected gaps between high scorers and low scorers, due in large part to the more “wordy” nature of the test items. By trying to include more real-world applications of math in their questions, the set-up is longer than in the previous test, relying on text-rich paragraphs that lead to the ultimate question.

College Board redesigned SAT in way that may hurt neediest students

According to testing experts, this method gives a bigger advantage to better test-takers and students who perform well on the reading section — widening gaps based on race even further. It could be especially harmful to English language learners. Despite the internal results, the SAT did not make changes to their math test items.

And if you’re wondering, the Brookings Institution found similar problems with the ACT:

“In terms of composition, ACT test-takers were 54 percent white, 16 percent Latino, 13 percent black, and 4 percent Asian. Except for the substantially reduced share of Asian test-takers, this is reasonably close to the SAT’s demographic breakdown. Moreover, racial achievement gaps across the two tests were fairly similar. The black-white achievement gap for the math section of the 2015 SAT was roughly .88 standard deviations. For the 2016 ACT it was .87 standard deviations. Likewise, the Latino-white achievement gap for the math section of the 2015 SAT was roughly .65 standard deviations; for the 2016 ACT it was .54 standard deviations.”

Race gaps in SAT scores highlight inequality and hinder upward mobility

Is PARCC Racially Biased?

The most well-known and documented flaw in PARCC’s testing validity is its mode effect — students who take the exam on paper generally outscore students who take the test on a computer.

Report: Kids who took Common Core test online scored lower than those who used paper

Is PARCC testing math and reading ability, or familiarity with computers? As the test moves to 100% online, that means the test will be biased against students who have less access to and experience with computer-based technology.

“The differences are significant enough that it makes it hard to make meaningful comparisons between students and [schools] at some grade levels. I think it draws into question the validity of the first year’s results for PARCC.”— Russell Brown, Baltimore County Public Schools chief accountability and performance-management officer

And where do we find significant gaps in access to computers? Between races.

According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, “roughly eight-in-ten whites (83%) report owning a desktop or laptop computer, compared with 66% of blacks and 60% of Hispanics.

While race-based gaps in other technology are smaller, there is still a large gap between whites and non-whites in access to computers. And that’s what students use to take the PARCC assessment.

To what extent is Maryland’s 30-percentage point racial gap in PARCC proficiency attributable to the test’s mode effect? We don’t know — Pearson, the vendor responsible for the assessment, and Maryland’s department of education have not released any public breakdown of how the test’s functionality may impact our understanding of racial gaps in learning. And because the assessment is being phased out after just a few years of administration, we may never uncover other racial biases that could exist, like the culturally-biased word problems we have seen in the SAT.

Using CRT to challenge these metrics of success is not meant to say that no achievement gap exists. But when NAEP, SAT, or PARCC scores are used to justify policy changes or form the basis of accountability measures, it’s important for us as the public to question the validity of those metrics.

As Maryland looks to move on from PARCC, how will elected and school officials work to be more transparent about factors that may suggest racial achievement gaps when they truly indicate funding and opportunity gaps?

Are Maryland Tests Racially Biased? was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

“There Is the Racial Conversation Which We Need to Dive into, Right?”

June 8, 2018 - 2:35pm
Talking with Jose Vilson about transformational conversations, boostrapping, national schools, and more.

José Vilson is a New York City middle school math teacher and author of This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and the Future of Education,(Haymarket Books, 2014). He’s also the founder of EduColor, a coalition of teachers, parents, and other concerned citizens dedicated to the uplift of people of color in education. Vilson writes regularly for Edutopia and Progressive Magazine, and has contributed to The New York Times,, Education Week, Huffington Post, and El Diario/La Prensa NY.

MSEA spoke to Vilson recently about transformational conversations with students, bootstrapping, culturally relevant schools, and more.

In a recent blog post, “A letter from an inner city classroom teacher,” you said, “Ask people who yell to the rafters about doing an initiative for children if they’ve had a transformational conversation with a student in recent memory.” What does a transformational conversation sound like with a student of color?

When I made that comment, I was thinking about folks who come in, they have photo-ops with children, they make a grand speech, and they assume that everyone who listened to the speech was inspired, or suddenly feel some sort of allyship with them. Unfortunately, as we know with fly ins, too often it’s fly in, fly out, “I’ve done my duty,” versus a transformational conversation.

If you think about a student and a teacher, for instance, the teacher technically has the power in the relationship. When I talk to folks about a transformational conversation, I mean a conversation where the interaction between the teacher and student is one where the student is trying to teach the teacher something about their own experiences and the way they approach the world. A transformational conversation happens when, even if we don’t agree on certain world views, we understand that we’re learning from each other.

Teacher - Author - Activist - Father | The Jose Vilson

What does a White educator need to know about entering into a transformational conversation with a student of color? And can that legitimately happen?

It could legitimately happen, I think, because we’re all human beings — we’re allowed to give each other lessons, and approaches to life, and things to think about as far as our work.

There is the racial conversation which we need to dive into, right, which is like saying I sympathize with your experience as a student of color, but I could never empathize because I could never be of color — that’s something that’s out of the realm of a White educator who comes in and has never experienced being a boy of color trying to navigate the world.

Obviously, there is a racial component to the conversation which we need to acknowledge and I think it goes something like: “Ok, as a White educator, I’m here to teach you, but I also know I have to build a relationship with you so that you trust that I am going to listen to your concerns, even as I’m going through our curriculum.”

We want the educator to be willing and able to build the relationship so the student can trust that the teacher actually wants to educate them, and educate them well. We do that from a vantage point of saying “This is a way I’m trying to help you; I’m not trying to save you,” which is a different mindset.

What do educators need to know about the American ideal of bootstrapping for kids of color? What conversation, skill, commitment, and/or dream should take its place?

For me, when I hear of bootstrapping, we need to talk about the fact that lots of kids don’t have boots, let alone straps. When we really get down to the root of it, it’s that there are so many children, for whom just getting to school is a pretty darn good goal. We are very happy with them just being able to make it to school because of all the things that they have to deal with on a constant basis, and that goes double for a lot of our kids who live in very desperate conditions.

We have teachers who may not live in the same areas that the students are living in and maybe they don’t understand why, when they can get to school early, the students themselves can’t get to school on time. For so many of our kids, just getting there is a big deal.

I find too often, for instance, that we talk about grit as kind of a shorthand for overcoming some of the educational inequalities that we ought to address as a society. Too often people say that people ought to have grit, but that’s not the only thing it takes.

Some folks never want to talk about the institutional things we need to do in order to make sure that kids get not just resources, but also caring adults in their buildings — people who actually want to teach them well and who treat them as fully human beings. We need to address those elements. So, I find that when we talk about grit, it kind of side-steps all the conversations around how we make institutions that are equitable for every single child, and make sure everybody’s children are taken care of.

What is the conversation missing, what is it that so many districts or individual schools aren’t getting? You said “I remain convinced that the diversity conversation means nothing without accounting for the hearts and minds that come with it.” Where is the disconnect that we are failing so many students?

I’ve become a believer in nationalizing schools at large because we want a unified understanding of how we approach education in this country. But then when I talk about the heart and mind, I mean why is it that so many of us are okay with our kids and students going to schools that are underserved, and yet we would never put our own kids in those very situations.

So many of us have diluted our own conversations by saying “these kids, those kids” versus saying “wow, I would never accept this for my own child and why is this allowed?” If we’re not in that second level, then we’re not talking about the hearts and minds. And then I also think about how many of our fellow colleagues frankly are racist, are sexist, are Islamophobic, or homophobic.

I would say that conversations around culturally relevant pedagogy have been powerful, specifically because they get at the heart of what it means to have a quality school culture, to really address the intangibles of the school. It’s good to talk about school attendance numbers, per pupil spending, and all these different numbers, but it also takes so many different people in a building to come together and say “what are the things that we’re going to stand for in our building?” and “who are we actually trying to address when we teach our children, or when we’re addressing the general body?”

So many of these things come from an administrator, or a leader — someone who says “Okay, I firmly believe I am actively listening to what the community is saying, to what everyone is saying, and I’m trying to come up with something that makes sense for everyone involved.” And they build something that says that everyone is included in this vision.

There’s a fear that our schools are only academic spaces instead of saying no, they’re actually centerpieces for many of our communities, and if we’re not able to address that, then we’re going to have a real serious issue. That’s what I find so promising with having these questions around culturally relevant pedagogy. Even in New York City where there are a lot of different districts, people are willing and able to come together on afternoons and weekends to say, “Hey, how can we do this math better, so that it actually addresses our students and doesn’t fly over their heads.”

How do we look at all these different books and curricula and really have the conversations where students feel involved, or even how do we switch the power dynamic between student and teacher so that the teacher doesn’t have to do all the talking? Even in the little things where you can say “well, these don’t explicitly call out race,” well, no, it doesn’t, but at the same time — if you change that power dynamic — it opens the doors for us to have those more difficult conversations.

What are you reading right now?

The latest book I fully finished reading was These Schools Belong to You and Me. The book goes through just a series of thoughts around how to build democracies in schools, but from the lens of one legendary educator, Deborah Meier, and another who is up and coming as a national voice on this conversation around democracy in schools, Emily Gasoi.

It was inspiring for me in two ways. First, it exposes some of their own flaws, and some of the things they saw as mistakes in their own work, which was super powerful for me. Second, it went through the systems that they did in their own school, and the systems that they had to create in order to make this stuff work. It isn’t necessarily a handbook in that way, but when you read it, when you read it for narrative, and read it for function, it can help in both ways.

“There Is the Racial Conversation Which We Need to Dive into, Right?” was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

“Lead with Love.”

June 4, 2018 - 10:30am
An interview with Monique Morris on Black girls, school discipline, implicit bias, and what educators can do.

Monique Morris is an award-winning author and social justice scholar with nearly three decades of experience in the areas of education, civil rights, juvenile and social justice. Dr. Morris is the author of several books, including Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools (The New Press, 2016), and has written and lectured often on social justice issues, improving juvenile justice, and educational, and socioeconomic conditions for Black girls, women, and their families.

Photo courtesy of The New Press

She is the Founder and President of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, an organization that works to interrupt school-to-confinement pathways for girls, reduce the barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated women, and increase the capacity of organizations working to reduce sexual assault and domestic violence in African American communities.

MSEA recently interviewed Dr. Morris about her work, particularly as it relates to the school experiences of Black girls.

You write that the framework of the school-to-prison pipeline “may have wrongfully masculinized Black girls’ experiences,” and you reframe the discussion around “school-to-confinement pathways.” How do you find this reframing to be more holistic and inclusive of the experience of Black girls?

This framework allows for us to explore the multiple pathways to confinement for girls (as opposed to a linear representation of contact) and the multiple ways in which Black girls and other young women of color are impacted by confinement and criminalization beyond “prison.” This framework allows for considerations of trauma, relationships, and other factors closely associated with many root causes of misbehavior that lead to exclusionary discipline.

What are the most common ways in which you see implicit bias among adults manifest itself in the education of Black girls?

In Pushout, I write about age-compression, or the way that Black girls are perceived as more adult-like and therefore engaged with harsher punishment than their peers. Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality recently published a study that found that educators perceive Black girls to need less nurturing, to require less support, and to be comforted less. The reading of Black girls as “defiant” or “combative” are subjective and can be used to support exclusionary discipline even when minor incidents occur (e.g., cell phone use, dress code violation, etc.). These perceptions reflect biases that inform whether educators approach misbehaviors through punitive or empathetic strategies — and whether school leaders are inclined to use zero tolerance policies or develop a full continuum of responses to negative student behavior.

We Need to Improve Minority Teacher Turnover

How has the appearance of Black girls become a unique subject of discipline, and what ramifications has this created for their self-identity and self-expression?

Many Black girls perceive a difference in the enforcement they receive regarding school dress codes — particularly those that create opportunities for adults to use their discretion in enforcement. The National Women’s Law Center’s new report on dress code policies in Washington, D.C. offers plenty of examples of how Black girls’ bodies are subjected to surveillance and are “read” as problematic as a function of preconceived notions about her identities and expressions.

What will the increasing presence of school resource officers in elementary, middle, and high schools mean for Black girls, who already face disproportionate rates of suspension and school arrests?

I believe we should be investing in the development of schools that do not invite or require a routine police presence; but unfortunately, we’ve been moving in the opposite direction. Our impulse is often to add more police officers in efforts to generate conditions of safety, but really, safety is co-constructed, not implemented.

Police officers do not receive training on working with girls of color, which is highly problematic. The National Black Women’s Justice Institute partnered with the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality to develop a toolkit for SROs working with girls of color to uplift the many gaps in training that lead to the racial disparities we see among girls experiencing school-based arrests. This toolkit was not an invitation for more police in schools, but it is a recognition that to the extent they are in schools, there should be some critical discussion about how they can more effectively interact with Black girls and other girls of color.

SROs who lead with the “R” (Resource) and who are willing to put in the work it takes to build relationships with young people on campus tend to rely less on the tools of law enforcement to help maintain safety in schools. Those that use intimidation and violence in response to what are usually normal adolescent and pre-adolescent behaviors are those who weaponize their power to the detriment of girls of color — and their identities as scholars. I believe that the way to achieve safety in a manner responsive to marginalized girls (and thus everyone else) is through counseling and relationship-building.

What is the cultural cost of code switching for Black girls? How are they marginalized when they don’t conform to prescribed school norms that are not culturally informed?

I see code switching as a tool — a necessary tool — for survival. It is actually a beautiful skill that increases the capacity of communities of color to traverse new thresholds of power. What marginalizes Black girls is the adult reading of their organic cultural expressions as somehow inherently problematic or inferior to the expressions of their counterparts from other communities. Culturally responsive pedagogical practices explore ways to validate and expand students’ tools for communication, instead of undermining girls’ capacity to do so by rendering their organic expressions as inferior to normed modes of professional engagement.

What are some classroom-level steps that educators can take to make a difference for Black girls? In other words, how can individual educators open the door to Black girls so that they are acknowledged, welcomed, and invited to fully participate?

First, I believe educators — and others for that matter — should lead with love. But I want to answer this question by sharing what girls share with me on this topic when I ask them this same question. I believe that those who are living these experiences in real time are the best communicators around what needs to shift in classrooms in order for them to excel. Girls profiled in Pushout as well as those that I’ve had to opportunity to engage since the book was first published have shared with me that they wanted educators: 1) who care about them; 2) who set high standards for them because they believe the girls are capable of meeting the challenge; 3) who take the time to know them — their from their passions to the correct pronunciation of their names; and 4) who teach material that does not marginalize their experiences.

Photo courtesy of The New Press

In the last chapter and appendices of Pushout, I outline other strategies educators can take to become a stronger part of the tapestry of healing in these girls’ lives. However, the National Black Women’s Justice Institute also worked with Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley to engage a participatory process to develop a series of school-based recommendations to reduce the criminalization and use of exclusionary discipline with girls of color. In this document, we share strategies that are transferrable to comparable districts, so I encourage educators to review this tool.

Many school systems in Maryland are beginning to implement restorative justice approaches. What do you think are the key aspects of implementing this framework well?

I think that there is a lot of promise in the use of restorative approaches to repairing harm in schools. I also believe that while relationships need to be repaired between and among individuals, there should also be an intention to repair the relationship between individuals and institutions that have been part of the tapestry of harm in the lives of marginalized communities. I see learning spaces that are incredibly innovative in their approaches to harm — but sometimes these strategies go unnoticed. We’ve come to reduce “restorative practice” to the single model of sitting in circle, when really, there are so many ways that we can repair, restore, and transform relationships when there has been a conflict. For Black girls and other girls of color, it is also important to install spaces for youth to address historical trauma and racial bias such that they can fully understand how their education can become a tool to counter oppressions. When girls understand and engage education as a liberative tool, she can restore her relationship with herself, which is the most important of all.

“Lead with Love.” was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

We Need to Improve Minority Teacher Turnover

May 22, 2018 - 10:30am
62% of Maryland students are minorities, but only 26% of teachers are.Photo © NEA

Minority teachers have the power to make their schools a better place — and be a critical role model, ally, and advocate for all students, especially minority students. In fact, research has shown that minority teachers may lead to greater academic gains by minority students and can play an important role in closing achievement gaps. A recent study found that “a disadvantaged black male’s exposure to at least one black teacher in elementary school reduces his probability of dropping out of high school by nearly 40 percent.”

“Minority students often perform better on standardized tests, have improved attendance, and are suspended less frequently (which may suggest either different degrees of behavior or different treatment, or both) when they have at least one same-race teacher.” —Brookings Institution

Minority teachers don’t just have an impact on minority students. A 2016 study found that students — no matter their race — “generally felt more supported and motivated by teachers of color.”

All this research clearly demonstrates the need to focus on recruiting and retaining minority teachers. So how has Maryland done on those scores?

Minority Teachers in Maryland

Let’s look at the last couple decades of teacher and student demographics in Maryland. Since 2000, the total number of students in Maryland public schools has increased by about 4%, or just over 40,000 students. However, the total number of minority students has increased by more than 40%, or around 162,000 students. Maryland has gone from a majority white student body (54% white in the 2000–01 school year) to majority minority (62% minority in 2017–18).

While students have grown increasingly diverse, the teacher workforce hasn’t kept pace. In the 2000–01 school year, minority teachers made up just over 23% of the workforce. Seventeen years later, that percentage has inched up by only 3%, to 26% of the workforce.

Source: MSDE, Professional Staff by Assigment, Race/Ethnicity, and Gender and Maryland Public School Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity and Gender and Number of Schools.

Another way to think of that number is by looking at the teacher-student ratio. In the last decade, the number of students per teacher has crept upwards to 14.71 students per teacher, as school funding stagnated and created the current $2.9 billion annual underfunding of our schools.

But the number of minority students per minority teacher — an important metric considering the positive effects that minority teachers may have for minority students — is a different story. While there are nearly 15 students per teacher, there are nearly 35 minority students per minority teacher. And that ratio has gone in the wrong direction over the last decade; ten years ago, there were about 30 minority students per minority teacher. This trend makes it harder to distribute the positive effects of minority teachers for minority students.

Source: MSDE, Professional Staff by Assigment, Race/Ethnicity, and Gender and Maryland Public School Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity and Gender and Number of Schools.

While the number of new teachers hired in Maryland who are minorities has increased since 2010 (the first year data is available publicly), minority teachers only make up about one-third of all new teacher hires. And while that number has steadily increased, hiring only tells part of the story.

Source: MSDE, Teacher Supply Dashboard, Trend Data: Minority Hires. No data was reported for the 2015–16 school year.The Big Problem: Retention

While recruiting enough minority teachers is part of the problem, an even larger problem is retaining minority teachers. Looking at national data, minority teachers have had significantly greater rates of turnover than white teachers. And the rate of minority teacher turnover appears to be increasing. It’s particularly acute among minority male teachers, who depart at rates 50% higher than minority female teachers (such a gender disparity does not seem to exist for white teachers).

We can amp up the focus on recruiting more minority teachers, but if we can’t keep them in classrooms then it’s a losing proposition.

What factors are driving minority teachers from classrooms? A recent study by school staffing expert Richard Ingersoll and the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) found two primary factors — and they may not be what you think.

Classroom Autonomy

According to the LPI report, the strongest factor in retaining a minority teacher is their level of classroom autonomy. Classroom autonomy is usually defined as control in selecting textbooks and class materials; evaluating and grading students; selecting the content, topics, and skills to be taught; disciplining students; selecting teaching techniques; and determining homework amounts.

“A one-unit difference in reported teacher classroom autonomy (on a four-unit scale) was associated with a 40% difference in the odds of a minority teacher departing.” — “Minority Teacher Recruitment, Employment, and Retention: 1987 to 2013,” Learning Policy Institute

Unfortunately, teacher autonomy is a huge problem in Maryland. Another recent report by the Learning Policy Institute found that Maryland was ranked second-lowest in the country — ahead of only Florida — in teacher autonomy.

Maryland Is 49th in Teacher Autonomy

This disappointing rank is based on data from the School and Staffing Survey, a poll of more than 37,000 teachers conducted by the federal National Center for Education Statistics. The survey found that most minority teachers reported having lower autonomy than white teachers: 26% of white teachers reported having low autonomy, while 33% of Black and 31% of Hispanic teachers reported low autonomy.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, “Public School Teacher Autonomy in the Classroom Across School Years 2003–04, 2007–08, and 2011–12,” December 2015.Teacher Voice

The other major factor impacting minority teacher retention identified by LPI’s research is teachers having a voice in school decisions. As the report’s authors put it: “schools with higher levels of decision-making influence had lower levels of turnover for both nonminority and minority teachers…and especially so for minority teachers.”

“A one-unit increase in reported faculty influence between schools (on a four-unit scale) was associated with a 37% decrease in the odds of a minority teacher departing.” — “Minority Teacher Recruitment, Employment, and Retention: 1987 to 2013,” Learning Policy InstituteWhat Didn’t Make the Cut?

LPI’s research found little relationship between the demographics of a school and the likelihood of a minority teacher staying in the profession. Similarly, researchers found that retention is not greatly influenced by how many students in poverty or minority students attend the school, how many minority teachers work in the school, or whether the school is in an urban or suburban setting. While higher salaries are associated with lower turnover for all teachers regardless of race, this effect is not substantially stronger for minority teachers.

Photo © NEAImproving Minority Teacher Retention

The evidence is clear in the benefits that minority teachers bring to classrooms and what helps keep them there. The Kirwan Commission’s initial work to increase planning and collaboration time and improve school leadership quality could play key roles in enhancing teacher autonomy and teacher voice, particularly for minority teachers. But we will need to keep pushing — with the Kirwan Commission and legislature all the way to the building level — to deliver the working conditions that will help solve the minority teacher retention problem, and benefit all educators and students in the process.

We Need to Improve Minority Teacher Turnover was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Here’s What We Won Thanks to YOU!

May 3, 2018 - 3:47pm
Now it’s time to VOTE YES on the constitutional amendment.

We made it happen! Thanks to members in every county, MSEA’s campaign to FIX the FUND went far beyond schoolhouse walls — and could now mean an additional $500 million annually for our schools.

Legislators agreed nearly unanimously: Maryland needs to right the murky promise made in 2008 that state casino revenues that went into the Education Trust Fund would supplement education funding. Instead, nearly $2 billion of that funding has been redirected elsewhere by Gov. O’Malley and Gov. Hogan. Now we can make sure those funds will help eliminate the $2.9 billion funding shortage in our schools.

But the legislation passed in April is just the first step in our Maryland Promise campaign. Now, a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November, if passed, will guarantee that any money in the Education Trust Fund will enrich school funding above and beyond the state’s current school funding formula.

The next step is to make sure voters know to vote YES on the ballot mea- sure on November 6 so we can permanently Fix the Fund.

We Marched. They Listened.

How many years of experience working in public schools do you think Gov. Hogan’s appointees to the Maryland State Board of Education (SBOE) have? ZERO.

Instead, the Board has been stocked with private and charter school proponents carrying Betsy DeVos’ agenda.

Now — finally — the SBOE will give educators seats at the table. Two educators will be added to the Board, providing new voices of reason and experience. They’ll be chosen from a list generated by MSEA and the Baltimore Teachers Union.

We’re Taking Full Advantage of EVERY Opportunity

Strong unions mean a strong voice for educators. It’s that simple.

Welcoming new educators into the profession and sharing what your union does is a vital gateway to keeping your local and state associations strong.

Now your union has protected access to new employees so that the power of collective bargaining, access to representation, and the benefits of membership can be fully explained.

Here’s What We Won Thanks to YOU! was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

We’re Taking Full Advantage of EVERY Opportunity

May 3, 2018 - 3:43pm
MSEA’s timeline to Fix the Fund, elect great candidates, and improve schools.MSEA’s GO Team leaders are spearheading grassroots efforts across the state to mobilize members in the fight for school funding.

SPRING — FALL MSEA seeks candidate pledges to support the Maryland Promise of ending the underfunding of our schools and providing every family and community a great public school and the opportunity to succeed.

SPRING — SUMMER The Kirwan Commission meets to finalize recommendations for 2019 General Assembly.

JUNE 26 — PRIMARY ELECTION DAY Visit for educator- recommended candidates for state and local offices.

Get Your Apple Ballot Today!

SUMMER — FALL MSEA and locals organize to support candidates for November 6.

LATE FALL Kirwan Commission final recommendations due.


ELECTION DAY — NOVEMBER 6 On the ballot: the Fix the Fund constitutional amendment, governor, attorney general, comptroller, and the entire General Assembly plus county executives, boards of education, and more.

Jill Morris, St. Mary’s County; Tonya Hayman, Talbot County; and Diane Deal, Carroll County, with MSEA President Betty Weller at the Senate office building before testifying in support of ESP living wage legislation in March 2018.

2019 GENERAL ASSEMBLY Legislators vote on the Kirwan Commission recommendations and new school funding formula that will affect public education funding for a generation.

Here’s What We Won Thanks to YOU!

We’re Taking Full Advantage of EVERY Opportunity was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

We Marched. They Listened.

April 19, 2018 - 2:52pm
The General Assembly passed Fix the Fund. Now it’s up to voters in November.Educators rallied at Lawyers Mall in Annapolis before marching to Fix the Fund on March 19.“We’re making great progress,” says MSEA President Betty Weller, “but we’re far from the finish line. Leading the Fix the Fund March with more than 1,000 educators told legislators we’re very serious. They responded by passing the Fix the Fund Act unanimously. Our students and schools need us now to make fixing the fund just the first step toward successfully closing the funding gap.”

Next up it’s the 2018 elections and the 2019 legislature when those we elect in November vote on the Kirwan Commission recommendations and a new school funding formula.

General Assembly Passes Fix the Fund Act

“By now, most educators know just how important that vote will be,” Weller said. “We know from an independent report that each public school in Maryland is shortchanged by an average of $2 million annually.

“We see the effects of that underfunding in our classrooms on a daily basis, and we’re laser-focused on getting the programs, services, staffing, and educator salaries we need for our students through the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission and actions of the General Assembly.”

The hard work of MSEA members is making a difference right when and where we need it to.

MSEA members circled the State House to Fix the Fund on March 19.Building a MovementEveryone knew something had to be done. Nearly $2 billion in casino proceeds that voters assumed would go into the Education Trust Fund to enrich public education had really just been backfilling other areas of the budget during the O’Malley and Hogan administrations.

Without fixing the fund, $500 million annually that should have been going to increasing school funding could continue to be diverted to other budget areas. If voters approve the Fix the Fund constitutional amendment in November, that $500 million will be sent — permanently — to our schools.

Thanks to a growing MSEA infrastructure of locally organized and motivated educators, members are deeply engaged in the fight for school funding and educator respect and support and understand the steps we need to take to get there. Across the state, educators are coming together to make sure students and schools secure the once-in-a-generation funding that the General Assembly will vote on in 2019.

Signs matter — members came with their own signs and filled in the blanks of signs available on site.Mobilizing to Fix the Fund“What school doesn’t need more money to meet their students’ needs?” said Kate Snyder, an Anne Arundel County teacher who trained in grassroots organizing with MSEA’s GO Teams and put what she’s learned to work for the march.

“Getting my colleagues mobilized to Fix the Fund was all about making connections between the legislation to Fix the Fund and their jobs, classrooms, and students.

“We’ve found that now, more than ever, educators need each other. We shared our frustrations and hopes for our jobs and students and it really resonated.

“Once we had people talking about the $3 billion hole in state funding, it was an easy transition to how that money should be spent locally. If we don’t have supportive local politicians our work is only half-done. We need a county executive and council who will put the money where their mouths are. The election in November is our focus now.”

In 2016, Carroll County educator Kathryn Henn spoke out in Annapolis against the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. She came back to town for the Fix the Fund march. Educators in Carroll County have been mobilizing for months — finding the support they need in their union to fight back against stagnant pay and inadequate resources.

Making Maryland the Best State for Public School Educators

“These aren’t just Carroll County problems. These are Maryland problems and we should all be concerned. I urge my colleagues in every county to get involved. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be heard.”

In Calvert County, educators like Siobhan Tedtsen helped their county exceed their rally attendance goal by more than 300%. “Our members felt duped about the use of the casino money and it showed in our attendance,” she said. “Now we’re mobilizing for the November election when all of our commission seats are on the ballot.”

Garrett County school rep Sarah Teets was at the Fix the Fund march, too. She and her colleagues carpooled to Cumberland and grabbed a bus for the 300-mile round trip to Annapolis to ask legislators to do the right thing. “I’m working to keep the staff at my school informed and active about our next move.”

Educators Are Rising UpMaryland educators are part of a wave of educator activism that is growing across the nation as teachers and support staff increasingly stand up to shortchanged state budgets.Speakers included MSEA President Betty Weller; Montgomery County educator Carissa Barnes; aspiring educator Kayla Moore; Dr. Alvin Thornton, architect of the successful Bridge to Excellence Act; and Jill Morris, president of the Education Association of St. Mary’s County.

In Oklahoma, the budget’s been cut 28% over 10 years, leaving educators’ salaries and school resources in tatters; in Kentucky, educators are rallying to fight an attack on their pensions; in Arizona, teachers are fighting for funding and a 20% raise; and in West Virginia, educators went on strike until the legislature passed a 5% raise.

“This is a man-made crisis,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, who joined Oklahoma teachers in their protests on April 2.

The Larger Concerns Behind the Teachers' Strikes

“For a dozen years,” she told the crowd, “we sent emails and letters and phone calls and visits. For years, we’ve explained what was happening as they ignored the needs of public schools. And they ignored us. And now we are taking to the streets.”

Photos © Stephen Cherry and Randall Pike.

We Marched. They Listened. was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Ian Pope — At the Intersection of Students and Their Choices

April 19, 2018 - 2:46pm
A strong school community values accountability and self-worth.Ian Pope is an alternative education paraprofessional and coach of the junior varsity boys basketball team at Reservoir High School in Howard County.“We have to reach each student where they are and help raise them up to be where they need to be for success. “ — Ian Pope

If you’ve ever driven a car you have noticed there are intersections everywhere — some big, some small. Choices at these intersections define what roads lie ahead. This is where I meet my students.

As an alternative education paraprofessional, I act as a traffic light at that intersection, helping students find the road that best suits them with a combination of vulnerability and experience that they can relate to.

Vulnerability plays an essential role in educating students. As educators we forget we used to be teenagers! As students come to into my room, I can often tell what they’re feeling and what type of day they’re having. Sometimes a simple “I’ve been there and done that,” is all they need to start a dialogue, start to process, and get back on the road.

My experiences as a single father, student (I’m working towards my degree), and basketball coach allow me to reach students across social and ethnic backgrounds. We have to reach each of them where they are and help raise them up to where they need to be for success. For me, this often starts with different handshakes for each student and greeting them one by one as they pass in the hallway.

The community atmosphere at Reservoir High School fosters accountability and self-worth. I see that daily as a staff member and JV boys basketball coach. Our students know they are not alone. I regularly attend school events that my students are a part of to provide them with a familiar face in the audience. Living in the community helps further that friendly accountability whenever I run into students at local establishments.

Intersections provide an opportunity to seek direction, choose successful roads, and allow for detours. With the help and support of fellow staff at Reservoir, I help students find their own custom vehicle for the ride.

Ian Pope — At the Intersection of Students and Their Choices was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

“But I Thought You Were Happy in Middle School?”

April 19, 2018 - 2:45pm
“I never envisioned that I would leave my beloved eighth graders, but … ”Annie Mewborn is a ninth grade English teacher at Easton High School and 2016–2017 Talbot County Teacher of the Year. She is in her 13th year as an educator and holds a master’s degree in education, specializing in learning and technology.

“Why would you want to leave middle school, I thought you were happy there?” was one of the responses I received when my colleagues learned that I was transferring from middle school to teaching high school freshmen.

Honestly, it was a little daunting for me. Having briefly taught elementary and then middle school for nine years, I never envisioned that I would leave my beloved eighth graders, but I was ready for change — even though I loved the atmosphere and content area. But I felt I was becoming complacent and found myself yearning for a new experience. I wanted to expand my knowledge and experience for my own personal growth. As lifelong educators, we are not necessarily static; we are able to diversify and provide instruction at a variety of levels. The question is how do you know when a change is right for you?

Trust Your Instincts

Often the most obvious decisions are already known within us. But we choose to ignore them because conventional wisdom, family members, friends, and even strangers say otherwise. Our own fears, either internal or those projected onto us by others, can also get in the way from reaching the goals and life experiences we value the most.

Initially, the idea of change seemed so ominous that I began second-guessing myself. Was I proficient enough as a teacher to handle the requirements that came with preparing my students to become college and career-ready?

I can truly say that I am very happy with the choice I made. Placing confidence in myself — and my knowledge as an educator — I know my instincts were right.

New Team, New Perspectives

For some, entering a new department and working with new people is A TERRIFYING EXPERIENCE! To even the most seasoned educator, the unfamiliar can bring discomfort. There will be a shift in the way in which discipline, procedures, policies, and instructional and even professional practices are handled, but it’s okay. This is when it’s important to build collegial relationships. Each building has its own set of unspoken rules and routines and you can’t expect to know them without asking. Be open and receptive. Share your expertise. Letting fellow staff see you as an asset can allow for a smooth transition.

Change Means Growth

This is an opportunity to expand and diversify your teaching repertoire! While this is possible in your current position, being in a new environment can help solidify where your professional passion lies. Is it curriculum development or blended learning?

Perhaps you’ve considered exploring various certifications to specialize in your content area?

Maybe your interest lies in becoming a mentor–teacher?

Gleaning knowledge from past as well as new experiences can create opportunities to take on leadership roles and/or professional responsibilities.

It Really Does All Come Together

This was the coolest thing to me. Seeing the maturity levels of former students and how they changed from one grade to the next is really amazing! I have a much better understanding of the puzzle. I know where they’ve been and where they need to be in the end. What better way to model for my students to be open to new experiences than to challenge myself?

My decision has not only given me a more diverse perspective of the profession as a whole, it has allowed me to continue being intellectually motivated and fulfilled in my career.

“But I Thought You Were Happy in Middle School?” was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Teacher’s Toolkit: A Poetry Picnic and a Turkey Named Ramone

April 19, 2018 - 2:42pm
What do a fishing rod, a bushel basket, and train whistle have to do with fifth grade anyway?Beth Roe is a fifth grade teacher at St. Leonard Elementary School in Calvert County.“I’m a Chesapeake girl and grew up trot-lining blue crab with my dad. Now I live on the banks of Hunting Creek with my husband, teen boys, and a menagerie of chickens, ducks, dogs, cats, turkey, and recently pigeons. I like to travel, especially with girlfriends, most recently experiencing southwest Ireland last July.” — Beth RoeBELL, TRAIN WHISTLE

See portrait above When students hear one of these, they know to stop what they’re doing and look at me for further instruction.


Developing rapport is essential — students begin to trust you and know that they matter. I tell them about my family, my animals, my life on a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

I bring these into math problems, the climate of social studies, and environmental science.

COLLEAGUES, LAPTOPS, AND PANERA BREAD On a recent Sunday, my teammate, another fifth-grade teacher from a nearby school, and I met at Panera Bread to plan math lessons.

A couple eating at the table beside us asked if we were teachers working together on a Sunday. We confirmed that we were. “This isn’t much,” the woman said, “but we wanted to thank you for all that you do.” Then she handed us each a $20 Panera gift card. Turns out that their son is a young teacher in Prince George’s County. What a random act of kindness!


Years ago, I took a four-day summer workshop introducing participants to instructional strategies intended to help ELLs, including this book — 99 Ideas and Activities for Teaching English Learners with The SIOP Mode.

I’ve found that these are great techniques for all learners, allowing them to share ideas in creative, fun ways.


Our county provides a license to each elementary student for this online program. Students practice math at their own pace both at home and school.


I put the names of students in each class inside empty boxes of tissue. I pull the names of students to call on, ask students to pull a name to call on next, or I randomly group students.


Desks are arranged into groups of four, each with a colorful post-it note on top that I use to assign tasks. For example: A gets the thermometer; B gets the hot water; C gets the cold water; and D gets the recording sheets for data.


I like to hear words sing to students as the rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, and similes roll from the pages. At our annual Poetry Picnic, we spread blankets across the floor or on the grass outside and pore over our collection of poetry books.

Teacher’s Toolkit: A Poetry Picnic and a Turkey Named Ramone was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



Summer Leadership Conference

July 17, 2018 - 1:00pm to July 20, 2018 - 12:00pm

MSEA Convention