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Kontos to DESE: Expand Non-MCAS Pathways to a High School Diploma

“Raising the cut scores required for high school graduation would have a harmful impact on the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable students, impairing their futures by potentially denying these students the opportunity to earn a high school diploma,” Kontos writes. “Instead of doubling down on a flawed test that promotes inequality … put your energies into developing more non-MCAS pathways to a high school diploma.”

“How does the establishment of new barriers to a high school diploma square with DESE’s professed aim of advancing racial and social equity?” Kontos asks state officials. “Your proposal to raise the passing standard appears to be in direct conflict with your larger equity goals—and for that reason alone should be abandoned.”

Kontos to DESE: Suspend Broken School Accountability System

Kontos applauds DESE for its recent efforts to re-examine policies through a racial equity lens. But she asks: “Why has the accountability system—with its demonstrated racial and socioeconomic bias and clear mismeasurement of school quality—escaped this reckoning? Why does DESE continue to label and punish schools serving students of color based on biased, inaccurate, and discredited measures?”

“It’s time to pause, reflect and reimagine school-accountability policy,” Kontos concludes. “We urge you to make that a top priority, and we look forward to being part of that work.”

Fair Share Town Hall for AFT Members

Join AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos and US Senator Ed Markey on May 25 at 5 p.m. via Zoom to learn about how we're organizing to win the Fair Share campaign on this November's statewide ballot! Find out about this once-in-a-generation opportunity to raise new revenue for Massachusetts public schools, colleges, roads, bridges, and public transportation, and learn how you can get involved in the campaign.
 
The Fair Share Amendment is a proposal to add a small tax on annual individual incomes exceeding $1 million. While the amendment is expected to impact fewer than 1% of taxpayers, it is projected to raise $1-2 billion each year for investments in transportation and public education. The Fair Share Amendment is on the ballot statewide on November 8, 2022.

AFT Massachusetts Responds to Lawsuit Against Fair Share Amendment

In response to a lawsuit filed by corporate lobbyists against the Fair Share Amendment, the question on this November's ballot that would generate over $1 billion a year to improve Massachusetts transportation and public education systems by creating a 4 percent tax on annual income above $1 million, the 23,000-member AFT Massachusetts today released the following statement from AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos:

UMass Dartmouth AFT Locals Advocating For Greater Investment, More Affordability in Massachusetts’ Public Colleges


“Earning a degree from a state college – which was once heralded as a pathway of opportunity – has become completely unfeasible for most middle-class families and students across Massachusetts,” says Dr. Grant O’Rielly, President of the UMass Dartmouth Faculty Federation.

The new study from the Hildreth Institute, a local higher education policy think tank, found that tuition and fees at the state’s public colleges and universities have increased at one of the fastest rates in the nation, drastically exceeding family incomes. Since 2000, median family income in Massachusetts has risen only 13%, but even after adjusting for inflation, tuition and fees at Umass Dartmouth have increased by 57% – a $6,205 price hike. That's the second largest hike in the UMass system (behind UMass Lowell at 59.6%).

“The faculty see it on our campuses and in our classrooms. Enrollment is down. Students and families are being told that in order to attend a state school, they’ll need to take out burdensome loans because even the maximum amount of state aid will cover only a fraction of their costs," says Dr. O’Rielly. "If we’re serious about supporting and lifting up families across the state and serious about ensuring that we prepare the youth of Massachusetts to contribute to the future economy of the Commonwealth – breaking down the barriers to public higher education is a critical first step.”

Celebrating student loan relief

“It was like waking up and learning you won the lottery.” That’s just one of the comments flooding the AFT offices from members who are elated to be free of student debt at last. After relentless advocacy, including an AFT lawsuit against former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that was so broken is finally doing what it is supposed to do: delivering relief from student debt for thousands of borrowers. So far, $6.2 billion in student debt has been forgiven for 100,000 public service workers like teachers, nurses and professors.

Winning a Contract During COVID

“We engaged in a strategic escalation campaign over the course of a year: putting pressure on decision makers while building our own strength as a union,” said President Jamie Cutone. “It was critical that our membership understood that seeing the whole process through was the only chance at seeing success despite the lengthy process.”

The union created a petition signed by hundreds of teachers, school staff, parents, students, and other community supporters. Bright red yard signs that read “We Support Our Teachers - Contract for Holliston” appeared on lawns across town, buttons were adorned by staff and cars in the school parking lot displayed signs as well. During a district-wide walk-in at all four Holliston schools, staff wore red and held signs at drop-off, then walked into the building together in a show of unity. Teachers and community supporters made a presence with School Committee members, taking every chance to speak up about the hard work teachers were doing in the schools and their need for a fair contract.

Chelsea Educators, Community leaders combine forces and win big

It’s no secret that Massachusetts has been hit hard by COVID, but for low-income and communities of color, it’s been particularly damaging. Chelsea, one of Massachusetts poorest communities, have been ringing the crisis alarm for decades. This ringing came to head, however, in December 2021 when community leaders, parents, students, educators and paraprofessionals joined forces, demanding a slew of improvements for school and staff alike. After years of building power and taking collective action, the Chelsea Teachers Union won many of their demands. We sat down and spoke with Kathryn Anderson, President of the Chelsea Teachers’ Union (CTU), to see what this win for the local and the community means moving forward.

“Chelsea was hit hard by COVID,” said Anderson. “It was only made worse because our community as a whole has been underserved, underfunded, and underemployed.” Local school districts have become a magnifying glass for the intersection between community, young people, and educational workers. Anderson adds, “it’s not just about all these things coming together, but it tells the story of what districts have been going through for a very long time.” Chelsea has endured drastic budget cuts for decades, leaving educators and students worse for the wear. “The biggest pressure we’ve seen is increasing class sizes and community pressures. During the pandemic, nearly half of our student population experienced a food and /or housing crisis and over 80% of our community had lost income or had a major health crisis.” 

AFT Massachusetts Staff Profile: Anabel Santiago

As a Salem Public Schools graduate, as a student at UMASS Dartmouth, and during her years of community organizing on issues including the No on Question 2 ballot campaign, the fight for a $15 minimum wage, and COVID response efforts, Anabel Santiago has spent her life learning and working around AFT Massachusetts members. Now, as an AFT Massachusetts Organizer, she’s working with locals across the state, bringing her comprehensive community organizing experience to bear on the issues our members care about.

“It has been wonderful to watch Anabel go from being a student to an activist fighting for education equity and other issues facing families and educators across the state,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “Anabel has been a part of a number of coalitions and campaigns that the AFT Massachusetts has played a critical role in and I’ve enjoyed connecting with her as our paths have crossed over the years. Her dedication to fighting for justice and on behalf of families throughout Massachusetts is admirable. The AFT Massachusetts and those on the ground she is working with are fortunate to have an organizer as determined and skilled as Anabel.”

AFT MA President Beth Kontos Criticizes DESE for Continuing Biased and Inaccurate School Rating System

DESE has proposed suspending certain school accountability measures for School Year 2021-22, citing unreliable MCAS data from School Year 2020-21, when MCAS was administered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, DESE plans to continue in 2022 with the heart of its accountability regime: the calculation of the school percentile metric, which is used to rank schools against each other based primarily on MCAS scores. DESE invited public comment on this proposal, and President Kontos’ letter was in response to that invitation.

“What troubles us greatly…is your stated intent to move forward with the school percentile metric—a metric that research shows to be biased and deeply flawed,” Kontos writes in her letter. “The disruption to MCAS data caused by the pandemic only exacerbates the problems with this metric.”

Kontos’ letter cites recent research, including from a Nobel Prize-winning MIT economist, showing that the school percentile metric and its underlying MCAS achievement measures are biased and inaccurate measures of school quality. In other words, the supposed inferiority of low-rated schools serving predominantly students of color is due to inaccuracy in the measures (standardized test achievement levels) and is not due to lower-quality education.