A supermajority of U.S. parents give their public schools and teachers top marks for their Herculean efforts to respond to the challenges of COVID-19, fresh polling shows, with perceptions of teachers unions soaring to record highs.
Black parents and parents in urban areas in particular feel that teachers and their unions have played an overwhelmingly positive role, and they blame the virus—rather than the professionals charged with their kids’ care—for difficulties during the pandemic.
Overall, 72 percent of parents say their school provides excellent or good-quality education, and 78 percent endorse the quality and performance of their teachers, up 7 points from 2013, according to a new national survey by Hart Research Associates and Lake Research Partners.
Teachers unions are seen by parents as a more positive force in education today than prior to the pandemic, mirroring public polling conducted over the past year and tracking record high support for the labor movement as a whole.
"Charlotte is a tenacious organizer who takes every opportunity to talk with educators, families, and community members to do what is best to support public education in Massachusetts,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “I'm thrilled to have her on our growing team as we work to reinvest in our students and their schools, recover from the disruption of the pandemic, and build a brighter future for education throughout Massachusetts."
Charlotte’s years of organizing work make her well-equipped to support AFT educators as we organize in our school buildings and in our communities, building deeper relationships with parents, community groups, and youth. It also gives her the experience to help win our upcoming fights, like the campaign to pass the Fair Share Amendment, the ballot question which would fund transportation and public education by creating a 4 percent tax on annual income over $1 million.
“The tests provided by the state allow for testing of all teachers and staff, and that should proceed. It should then be followed by a period of remote learning until the current wave of infections abates.
“This is not the time for finger pointing. It is time for Governor Baker and Commissioner Riley to accept the fact that we are in the midst of a runaway public health crisis that is beyond our control. They must acknowledge that returning students to school on Monday will inevitably make the crisis much worse.”
Paraprofessionals are the unsung heroes of the Springfield Public Schools (SPS). We are the people who assist teachers with classroom instruction, provide individualized support to struggling students and students with disabilities, monitor bus arrival and departure, and help maintain order throughout the school. We also build strong relationships with students, who look to us for social and emotional support. In short, we help make schools tick, often working quietly and behind the scenes.
Many paraprofessionals are also Springfield residents, with children or grandchildren in the schools. As such, we are directly invested in the schools and their success. When the bell rings at the end of the school day, we take pride in the fact that we have done our part to build a better community for Springfield families.
SPS officials love to say how much paraprofessionals are appreciated for their hard work and dedication. But we wonder: When will they appreciate us enough to pay us the living wage we deserve?
“Gina has been a leader in our Lynn local for years and she excels at member engagement,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “When the time came for us to hire an organizer at AFT Massachusetts, she was the natural choice.”
“Having Gina as part of our team has been an enormous help to me and the LTU (Lawrence Teachers’ Union)” says Kim Barry, president of the Lawrence Teachers Union. “Our weeklong series of walk-ins to protest the surge of violence at Lawrence High School certainly grabbed the attention of school administrators because Gina helped turn people out.”
The MCAS test, highly correlated with student socioeconomic status, has always been a flawed and unreliable measure of both student learning and school quality. This was never truer than last school year, when the MCAS was administered in a haphazard manner during a global pandemic that exposed and amplified deep social and educational inequities.
Educators don’t need a standardized test to know that our students have missed out on learning since the onset of the pandemic, or that they need extra help to get back on track academically, socially, and emotionally. In many of our highest-poverty schools, test scores dropped because students lost family members to COVID-19, or because they were supervising their siblings instead of fully concentrating on their own schoolwork, or because they were busy working to keep their family from being evicted. This year’s test results, as they do every year, reflect our failure as a society to support students living in high-poverty districts; they’re not a reflection of our students’ true potential.
Before AFT Amesbury member Tia Costello was selected as one of just 12 teachers nationwide to be part of an AFT Civics Design Team that will develop civics curricula and professional development for K-12 educators, she spent a decade teaching social studies to Amesbury middle school students. But her path to becoming a national civics education leader began long before that.
“Especially in the climate that we’re in, it’s important that educators understand how to talk about politics and ensure that we can have conversations without tuning each other out,” says Tia. “It’s important for teachers of civics to have passion, teach dynamically, and encourage, not shy away from, student participation.”
“I really do believe that kids learn best when they get to do things themselves,” says Tia. “Even though they’re not old enough to vote, once they get involved in something, they realize they can make a difference. Civics education builds agency in kids. They realize that as adults, they can vote, but they can also do much more than just that. They can be full participants in our democracy.”
The AFT has been working to address the student debt crisis for nearly a decade. The union has counseled thousands of members at our student debt clinics, provided a free benefit to union members that will save them an estimated $500 million, taken student loan giants like Navient to court, and sued the Trump administration to protect borrowers.
“Income-driven repayment plans are used by many student loan borrowers to reduce their regular monthly payments, often by hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year,” says Matt, who previously worked as a Technology Librarian in Wayland, Massachusetts. “Many people who work in public service are also eligible to have all or most of their debt forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which began in 2007 as way of incentivizing people to work in government and nonprofit public service. It was a way to get people to go into public service careers with salaries that might not support the amount of debt needed to obtain the educational credentials that those careers required.”
AFT Massachusetts sent a letter to Governor Baker expressing 'deep disappointment' with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's new guidance for school reopening, especially the failure to follow CDC guidelines and mandate masks for students under the age of 12, who are not currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.
"The release of this guidance was an opportunity to lead on health and safety, but your Administration missed the mark by issuing weak and ineffective guidance on masking," reads the letter from AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. "You still have time to change course before the school year begins, and we urge you to do so by immediately instituting a universal masking mandate for all preK-12 public schools."
With public education undergoing such challenging conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to have lawmakers who understand what it’s like in our classrooms. That’s why so many AFT members across the country are putting their hat in the ring; running for office to serve their communities on school committees, in town halls, in state legislatures, and in the halls of Congress.
One AFT Massachusetts member who serves in public office is Dracut School Committee Member Renee Young, a history teacher at Billerica Memorial High School and member of the Billerica Federation of Teachers.