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News from AFT Massachusetts and President Beth Kontos - February 2022

A Message from Beth Kontos

We had a much needed taste of spring this month.  It’s amazing what a few degrees and a little extra sunshine will do for a person’s brain.  Then we were reminded that record breaking 60 degree temperatures in February are not normal as we returned to more seasonal temps and a foot of new snow.  The snow was a fun way for many of our students to finish their February vacation.  If you were off, I hope you were able to rest and recharge for our physical and mental health.  Personally, I have increased my walks as the days have gotten longer and I have started thinking about my garden again.  I am an eternal optimist that all things, along with the weather, will improve.  

Indoor Masking Recommendations: This past Friday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines for indoor masking.  According to the new recommendations, Massachusetts is considered low or moderate risk and people could be indoors without a mask.  However, each school committee still has the final rule on mandating masking in each school district.  Of course, families and educators may still choose to wear a mask while in the classroom regardless of these decisions.  The CDC also reiterates that vaccinations including a booster along with ventilation is still the safest way for us to be together indoors.  Read the statement from AFT president Randi Weingarten HERE and a link to the CDC map showing risk levels by county is HERE.

Boston Public Library protest: Our libraries have been under the mask rules of their local municipality.  In Boston, the mask mandate has continued but anti-mask protesters have been present at the Boston Public Library specifically targeting the Children’s Room.  This is especially disturbing as children under age 5 are not yet eligible for the vaccine and the vaccine rate from age 5 to 11 is still quite low in many of our communities.  Protesting by putting our vulnerable children at risk is unacceptable.  But our union siblings at the BPL held their own counter protest filling the library with love rather than hate.  
Defeat of New Bedford charter school: We have great news to report about the defeat of the charter school that had its sights on the students of New Bedford and Fall River.  AFT MA members are part of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Public Schools.  Through our joint efforts of protest and boycott of the bank supporting the charter school the application was not supported.  
The Herald News story on the charter proposal and local opposition: This proposed charter school promised free college credits. Why did they drop their plans?
Convention News: Notice of Convention has been sent to presidents and treasurers along with a call for nominations for Distinguished Service Awards.  Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve fought hard to win critical workplace protections, protect our students and the public, and adequately fund our public schools and colleges. As we emerge out of the crisis phase of the pandemic and into a changed world, it’s just as important that we continue fighting to deliver the schools and libraries our communities deserve, the services and staffing our students need, and the workplace protections AFT members rely on.
On May 7, join AFT Massachusetts members from across the state to celebrate our victories, discuss the battles we face, and be inspired to act.  We’ll hear about important initiatives on this year’s statewide ballot, present Distinguished Service Awards and scholarships, and further develop our collective strength as educators and organizers. Save the date, and join your fellow educators and AFT Massachusetts members in celebrating our success and organizing for our future!  Read more!
Contact your local president to determine how you can run for delegate to the convention!
Letter to DESE on growth metrics: Last week AFT MA submitted public comments to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) regarding its decision to continue its ranking of schools based on biased and inaccurate MCAS-derived measures.
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.
According to the MIT study, “Selection bias drives the correlation between widely used ratings and student racial composition: many schools rate higher simply because they serve students who tend to have higher test scores regardless of school quality (e.g., higher-income students).”  

The MIT study warns that flawed accountability systems like that used in Massachusetts can perpetuate inequity and segregation: “Rating schemes that reward family background rather than educational effectiveness are likely to direct households to low-minority rather than higher-quality schools, while penalizing schools that improve achievement for less-advantaged groups.”

Kontos argues that this new research and the disruptions caused by the pandemic give policymakers the perfect opportunity to pause and reflect on the Massachusetts system: “We applaud DESE for its recent efforts to re-examine its policies through the lens of racial equity and justice. We wonder, however, why the school and district accountability system—with its demonstrated racial and socioeconomic bias and clear mismeasurement of school quality—has escaped this reckoning. Why does DESE continue to label and punish schools serving students of color based on biased, inaccurate, and discredited measures?”
The letter closes by calling for a suspension of the school percentile metric—not just in 2021-22 but indefinitely: “We owe it to our students to reckon with policies that have caused them harm and to abandon those policies. It’s time to develop new approaches to meet students’ social-emotional and academic needs and to foster their learning and growth.”  Read the full statement HERE.
Building a Better Measure of School Quality: Are you fed up with using the outmoded MCAS as the measure of success? It’s time to democratize and reimagine the way we measure school quality.  Citizens for Public Schools is inviting us to join them on March 17 to learn how to measure school quality based on what communities value. We can create more meaningful educational measures - without the high-stakes MCAS and its damaging consequences.  For more information and to register, click here.

#AFTVoices Member Spotlight Series

#AFTVoices is proud to present, Narly Bedoya!

This series aims to uplift the voices, members, staff and educators that make up AFT Massachusetts. Narly is a 5th grade Special Education Paraprofessional and Chair of the Negotiations Team for the Springfield Federation of Paraprofessionals. "We're fighting for a wage increase because we simply aren't making enough. If para's have to have a couple of jobs to make ends meet, but we're exhausted for our students and families, who is that serving?" Check out the campaign here!

Retirement Planning for AFT Members


The financial professionals of Teacher Retirement Solutions (TRS) have partnered with AFT Massachusetts and specialize in providing independent financial guidance, strategies and solutions to educators, school employees, librarians, and their families throughout New England.  Join TRS’ John Gregorio, a Certified Financial Planner, on March 22, 2022 via Zoom for a comprehensive workshop for prospective retirees. The Massachusetts' public employee retirement formula, Social Security and living in retirement will be among the topics discussed.  An automated email with the details of the Zoom meeting will be sent to members that complete the form linked here.

Student Debt Clinic for AFT Members

Over 45 million people in the United States are struggling to make their monthly student loan payments, and millions more see economic and personal opportunities pass as they prioritize paying down their debt. Does this sound like you or someone you know?

Many of these people may qualify for free federal programs that can help reduce their monthly payments and eventually lead to student loan forgiveness, but these lifeline programs are significantly under-enrolled. Thanks to new rules just put in place by the Department of Education, many folks who thought loan forgiveness was out of reach are now finding that it is finally within grasp. To help our members get access to these programs and understand these new rules, AFT Massachusetts and the American Federation of Teachers are proud to host a Student Debt Clinic which will provide information on how to enroll in Income-Driven Repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

To attend our Student Debt Clinic, you must pre-register.  Click here to register for our May 17th, 2022 Student Debt Clinic for AFT Members!

Take the Fair Share Amendment Vote Pledge

The top 1% make their first $1 million without additional tax, after that we're asking for 4 cents on their millionth and one dollar and so on. This would raise a substantial amount of NEW revenue annually to be re-invested into our public education system and transportation infrastructure. Right now, the Massachusetts economy is working great for those at the top. But it’s time to invest in our public infrastructure, schools, and communities, so that working families across MA can receive the support and benefits they deserve. EVERYONE must pay their fair share in taxes. We must pass the Fair Share Amendment and invest in the Commonwealth.

Do you plan to vote YES to pass the Fair Share Amendment on the ballot in 2022?  Sign our pledge to become an official Fair Share Amendment Voter!

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