It does not mean tax dollars going to private and parochial schools. It does not mean our money going to institutions where we get no say in how it’s spent. It does not mean circumventing duly elected school boards. It does not mean the public paying for religious indoctrination or the kind of right wing biased education routinely provided at private schools.
This doesn’t sound like the candidate teachers like me have been backing since before this election cycle began. Frankly, it’s almost what your gubernatorial opponent, MAGA Republican Doug Mastriano, champions.
Mastriano – a Trump insurrectionist – says he wants to use state education funding to give EVERY student a school voucher they can use at almost any school in the Commonwealth – public, private or parochial.
You seem to want vouchers ONLY for students at the most underfunded and struggling schools.
“And I’m for making sure we add scholarships like lifeline scholarships to make sure that that’s additive to their education. That it gives them other opportunities…to be able to help them achieve success”
These so-called Lifeline Scholarships are a Republican lead measure to give direct-to-student tax-funded scholarships that parents and guardians in the state’s most neglected public schools could use for a variety of options including going toward tuition at a different school.
It would affect about 191,000 students in 382 schools, across 76 of the state’s 500 school districts. However, Two-thirds of the cost of the program (63.1%) is born by four districts – Philadelphia (43.9%), Reading (8.9%), Allentown (5.8%) and Pittsburgh (4.5%).
This would create another taxpayer funded system of education. Affected districts would lose so much funding it would ultimately force them to reduce programs, services, and staffing and/or raise property taxes to compensate.
Pennsylvanians can’t afford losing their only chance at self rule because of demoralization and despair at a candidate too weak to support the platform he began this campaign on – championing public education.
I urge you to reconsider this flirtation with Republican values and school vouchers.
I hope you are better than this.
We deserve a governor who is better than this.
Please have the courage to stand by authentic public schools.
How can an organization dedicated to the same ideas that prompted the exodus turn around and stop the evacuation!?
That’s like hiring a pyromaniac as a fire fighter!
“Pennsylvania’s educator shortage is the biggest threat facing not only our educational system but our future prosperity as a commonwealth,” Boyce said at the press conference.
“If schools are engines of educational and economic opportunity, then educators are the conductors who keep the train moving forward. Teach Plus teachers have been sounding the alarm about this crisis and are eager to partner with the Department to enact ambitious and transformational changes to better recruit and retain educators in Pennsylvania.”
Given the track record of Teach Plus, any well-informed individual should be wary of the how “eager [the organization is] to partner with the Department to enact ambitious and transformational changes.”
They can’t buy a home or even rent an apartment in most metropolitan areas. They can’t afford to marry, raise children, or eke out a middle class existence.
Yet increasing teacher salary is only briefly mentioned in step 13 of the first focus group as follows:
“13. Based on the resources that PDE develops on competitive compensation and incentives, advocate for and secure funding from the General Assembly that enables hiring entities to compete more effectively in the regional labor market.”
Talk about anemic language!
Imagine being on a sinking ship and someone only mentioning plugging the leak in such terms – if we can, based on our resources, yada, yada, yada.
Another point that jumped out to me was recruitment of new teachers.
Under focus two, the plan calls for:
“6. Partner with nonprofit organizations working to develop recruitment, training, and mentoring programs for middle and high school students from diverse backgrounds to identify and recruit future educators.”
Getting more people to become teachers sounds great, but why are we partnering with “nonprofit organizations” and which ones in particular do you have in mind?
Then there’s the emphasis on building a diverse workforce.
In itself, that’s an excellent and necessary goal. However, if you aren’t going to make the profession more attractive, you aren’t going to increase diversity. Right now one of the major reasons our schools are full of mostly white, middle class teachers is because white, middle class people are the only ones who can afford to take the job.
This is what Teach Plus does. It advocates for neoliberal disruptions in school management.
In the past, Teach Plus has insisted older more experienced educators be fired while shielding “promising young teachers” from the brunt of these firings. There is a great deal of evidence that teacher effectiveness, on a wide range of indicators – not just test scores – increases as teachers gain experience. However, new teachers are easier to brainwash into corporate education reform – to be driven by standardized test scores and data instead of the needs of the living, human beings in front of them in the classroom.
So this proposed teacher preparation and professional development is of what kind exactly? I’ll bet it’s mostly reeducation to accept corporate education reform. I’ll bet it’s focused on ways to increase student test scores which will then be used to evaluate teacher effectiveness – a program that has been roundly disproven for decades.
So where does that leave us?
A decades ago roughly 20,000 new teachers entered the workforce each year, while last year only 6,000 did so, according to PDE.
One of the many ironies about the situation is how the idea has been pulled almost directly from George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984.”
Orwell coined the term “thoughtcrime” to describe a person’s politically unorthodox thoughts – anything that runs counter to the party line. In criminalizing thought and even tasking the Thinkpol (i.e. thought police) with monitoring things people say, write or how they act, Orwell could be describing MFL.
In the fictional country of Oceania, the party controls all speech, actions and thoughts of citizens. This is pretty much what MFL is trying to do here.
It’s a strange way to love “liberty.”
These right-wingers actively harass people on the left for their politics, but cry foul when anyone dares to call them out on theirs.
The Florida-based organization claims to be just “moms on a mission to stoke the fires of liberty.” Yet it’s infamous for encouraging a “mass exodus from the public school system” while disrupting that same system at every turn.
There have always been a few petty people in nearly every community willing to scroll through teachers feeds looking for trouble. Frankly, it’s why new educators are warned to keep their personal lives off the Internet or to keep their information private.
The only difference now is how concentrated these spying efforts may become.
We’re not talking about just the local crank looking for photos of teachers drinking or engaged in the crime of living an adult life.
We’re talking about well-funded ideologues out to destroy the public school system, one teacher at a time.
They have the money to go through your Web footprint with a fine toothed comb.
So what should teachers do about it?
As a public school teacher, myself, the way I see it, there are two things we can do:
1) Lock down or disengage from social media
2) Keep doing what you’re doing
Your response will depend on your own situation.
If you live in a so-called Right to Work state or where worker protections are few and far between, you should probably get a tight grip on your online presence.
Make sure your personal Facebook account and any groups you belong to are private and secure. Ensure that anyone invited into these groups is verified through either questions or personal invitation. Check that everyone has agreed not to screen shot any discussions happening – and even then be careful what you post because nothing is ever 100% secure.
Use a privacy audit to make sure you don’t have something embarrassing out there. This guide from Violet Blue is a good starting place to ensure your private information is not easily findable online.
On the other hand, if you live in a state with strong union protections, you have a reliable union at your school, etc., then you have less to worry about.
In that time, there have been a lot of folks mad at me for what I write. I sometimes get hate mail (usually email) calling me everything you can think of and more you can’t. And when some of these folks find out where I work, they sometimes call up to complain and demand I be let go with haste!
Nothing has come of it.
That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen tomorrow. But I refuse to live in fear.
I am who I am.
I shout it to the world.
And if someone wants to fire me for it, then fine.
There are lots of things I could be doing other than this.
A teenage boy in a black trench coat walks down a school hallway.
A young girl abruptly turns a corner and is about to walk past when she stops and notices an oblong shape in his coat.
He pulls out an AR-15 and points it at her head.
She gasps. He smiles.
“Hold it right there, Patrick.” Says a voice behind him.
“Mr. Callahan?” The boy says starting to bring the barrel around.
‘Uh-uh. Stop right there,” says the voice shoving something in the boy’s back.
“I know what you’re thinking,” the teacher continues. “My homeroom teacher, Mr. Callahan, has a gun in his desk. Did he remember to bring it with him to hall duty? Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being it’s a 500 S&W Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?”
Apparently this is how Doug Mastriano thinks school shootings can best be prevented.
Not gun control. Not stopping teens from buying assault weapons. Not keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Instead, arm the teachers. Arm the principals. Put a piece in the hands of Lunch Lady Doris. Maybe even the custodians will be packing heat with a bucket and mop.
This is not the kind of serious proposal Commonwealth residents deserve from a representative of the legislature or executive branch. It’s not the kind of serious proposal you’d expect from a grown adult. Heck. It’s not what you’d expect from a small child still unable to tie his own shoes.
School shootings are not action movie scenarios. They’re not run-and-gun video games. They’re not cops and robbers. They’re real life.
Lest we forget, there were police officers on both the campuses of Robb Elementary School in Texas and Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where shootings cumulatively took the lives of more than 30 students.
According to a 2021 JAMA Network study that looked at 133 school shootings from 1980 to 2019, armed guards did not significantly reduce injuries or deaths during school mass shootings.
In fact, when researchers controlled for location and school characteristic factors, “the rate of deaths was 2.83 times greater in schools with an armed guard present.”
Put simply, school shootings are not rational activities subject to cost benefit analysis from the people contemplating doing them. Would-be shooters do not expect to come out alive. They don’t care if there is armed resistance or not. In fact, the presence of armed resistance only encourages them to bring deadlier weaponry – especially semi-automatic guns.
The few people who thought it was a good idea and said they would gladly bring a gun with them to school are nice people – but they’re the last ones you’d want armed.
Moreover, we have a school resource officer who said he was not in favor of the measure because it would make things tougher for law enforcement responding to a shooting. It would make it that much more unclear who the shooter was and increase the chances of friendly fire.
It’s hardly surprising Mastriano is making such boneheaded proposals.
I try to sleep, I try to rest, but worry and hopelessness settle down on me like a shroud.
If you’re like me, you may need some help getting through it all.
So here’s a list of five things we can do – not just you, but me, too – that hopefully will help us rejuvenate ourselves somewhat in the next few months and set us up for a successful year with our students.
1) Be Present with Friends and Family
Teachers often live in their heads.
We’re always planning a new lesson or thinking about how to help a student or improve something from the year before.
But this is summer break.
It’s time to tune out and turn off.
You’re home and hopefully you can find some time to spend with friends and family.
Just remember to try to be there. Actually be there.
Don’t live in your head. Live in the moment.
Let the present open up in front of you and actually enjoy the things you’re doing.
Our professional lives often demand we sacrifice so much time with our significant others, our kids, and the people we care about. Now is the time to balance the scales and enjoy their company. And nothing else.
This can be easier said than done, but it’s worth a try.
2) Don’t Focus on Things You Can’t Change
There is so much going on in the world, and we’re teachers. We’re problem solvers.
We want to fix broken things, and there is so much broken out there. The news is often not our friend.
I’m not saying to ignore what’s going on. We do so at our peril. But we have to try to put it all in context.
We’re just people – individuals caught in nets of complexity. We can’t solve all these problems ourselves.
It could be a sincerely stupid politician accused with pedophilia and insurrection who thinks taking pot shots at teachers will win him votes from the lowest common denominator.
It could be… so many people.
Take a deep breath and let it go.
You don’t need that baggage weighing you down.
As Nelson Mandela is supposed to have said:
“Having resentment against someone is like drinking poison and thinking it will kill your enemy.”
Leave that behind.
There will be plenty more next year.
4) Don’t Expect Too Much of Yourself
Often our harshest critic is ourselves.
We try so hard to be kind to everyone all year. This summer, be kind to yourself.
It’s break time. You don’t have to clean the whole house top to bottom. You don’t have to finally rearrange the utility drawer or any of a million other things that have been waiting around for you to get to them.
By all means, make those doctor’s appointments you’ve been waiting on. Buy a new pair of shoes. Cut the grass.
But if something doesn’t get done, don’t feel like it’s a failure.
You are allowed to simply do nothing.
Sometimes that’s the best thing we can do.
Be as productive as you want. Sometimes that helps alleviate stress, too – the satisfaction of getting things accomplished.
However, this break is not all about crossing things off your TO DO list.
Alabama, New Mexico, and Mississippi have already boosted teacher pay, with Florida, Iowa and Kentucky potentially set to do the same. Meanwhile, even US Congress could pass a nationwide measure to heighten teacher salary and encourage educators to stay in the classroom.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 567,000 fewer educators in our public schools today than there were before the pandemic. And that’s on top of already losing 250,000 school employees during the recession of 2008-09 most of whom were never replaced. All while enrollment increased by 800,000 students.
The more impoverished the school where teachers work, the higher the tax credit available to increase their salaries. The bill would also double the educator tax deduction to offset the cost of school supplies, and expand eligibility to early childhood educators.
The bill was introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), John Larson (D-CT), and Mark Takano (D-CA). It is supported by a broad coalition of organizations including the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA).
Thankfully, Congressional proposals aren’t the only attempt to make teaching more attractive.
Some states have already taken action.
The Alabama Senate passed a budget that would raise minimum salaries for teachers with nine or more years experience. The raises would range from 5% to nearly 21%, depending on years of experience.
A teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 20 years of experience would see their salary rise from $51,810 to $57,214. A teacher with a master’s degree and 25 years experience would see their pay rise from $61,987 to $69,151.
In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill that would increase base salary levels by an average of 20 percent. This advances minimum salary tiers for educators by $10,000 to $50,000, $60,000 and $70,000.
In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves signed off on an average increase of $5,100 that will raise educator salaries by more than 10 percent.
According to Politico, both Republican and Democratic Governors are proposing teacher salary increases or one-time bonuses as part of budget proposals and legislative priorities.
Such measures are even being proposed in Pennsylvania. Sen. Judith Schwank (D-Berks) recently introduced Senate Bill 1211 to boost starting pay for teachers from the current minimum of $18,500 listed in state law. She proposes increasing it to $45,000 a year. However, the bill sent to the Senate Education Committee has several Democratic co-sponsors but no Republicans, making it doubtful it will progress anytime soon.
Beginning in 2011, enrollment in such programs and new education certifications in Pennsylvania — my home state— started to decline. Today, only about a third as many students are enrolled in teacher prep programs in the Commonwealth as there were 10 years ago. And state records show new certifications are down by two-thirds over that period.
And it’s not just classroom teachers – substitutes are even harder to find.
Last June almost a third of working educators expressed a desire to leave the profession.
According to a survey in June of 2,690 members of the National Education Association, 32% said the pandemic was likely to make them leave the profession earlier than expected. So we don’t have enough teachers now and one in three educators we do have are ready to walk out the door.
A survey by the RAND Corp. reported that the pandemic has increased teacher attrition, burnout and stress. In fact, educators were almost twice as likely as other adult workers to have frequent job-related stress and almost three times more likely to experience depression.
However, the RAND survey went even deeper pinpointing several causes of stressful working conditions. These were (1) a mismatch between actual and preferred mode of instruction, (2) lack of administrator and technical support, (3) technical issues with remote teaching, and (4) lack of implementation of COVID-19 safety measures.
It’s a problem of exploitation and normalization.
Exploitation is when you treat someone unfairly for your own benefit.
We piled on so many extra duties – online teaching, hybrid learning, ever changing safety precautions – these became the proverbial straw that broke educators’ backs.
There are things we can do to alleviate this situation – reducing nonessential tasks, eliminating unnecessary paperwork, refraining from excess staff meetings, forgoing new initiatives, letting teachers work from home on professional development days – anything to give them a break and an opportunity to heal from the years of overburdening.
But we also have to start paying teachers more.
Thankfully our lawmakers are taking this matter to heart and actually getting some results.
Hopefully this trend will continue until every teacher in the nation is adequately, equitably and sustainably compensated for the work done in the classroom.
Like this post? You might want to consider becoming a Patreon subscriber. This helps me continue to keep the blog going and get on with this difficult and challenging work.
However, after months of controversy over the legality of the move, at last night’s special meeting, the board voted to let him go FOR REAL.
Holtzman has accepted a new position at Beaver Area School District, approximately 50 miles northwest of McKeesport.
His last day is June 30. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Tia Wanzo will serve as Acting Superintendent immediately upon his departure.
The controversy stems from a move last year by the outgoing board to retain Hotlzman in McKeesport when he had been poised to accept a new superintendents position at Kiski Area School District. He resigned and was rehired at MASD in order to secure him a new contract with a competitive salary and years of service.
But this didn’t sit well with three board members (Steven Kondrosky, James Brown and Mindy Sturgess) who walked out of the meeting before it was officially called to order.
Lawyer William C. Andrews wrote a letter stating that the measure could be viewed as circumventing the intent of the Pennsylvania school code. The law does not allow such contracts to be extended with more than a year left before they expire. Holtzman still had two years left on his contract.
Holtzman’s own legal council, Mark E. Scott, wrote that the move was, in fact, legal and that it was common practice at other districts.
At a February board meeting where letters from both lawyers were read into the record, Holtzman offered to resign, then and there:
“I will clearly state if they want me to move on, and I’ve said it to them in private, I want a year’s salary and benefits and I will resign tonight. This witch hunt and issue is over, overdone, overstated and we need to move on and once I’m compensated for my attorney fees.”
At the time, it was unclear whether the board could move forward with Holtzman at the head of the district or not.
Apparently Holtzman couldn’t continue to work with them.
A mere three months later, he put in his current resignation.
Holtzman’s tenure at McKeesport was fraught with controversy from the beginning.
Before this, he had been dean of discipline at McKeesport’s vocational department for two years before taking a similar role at West Mifflin Area High School. However, he was mostly known in MASD for his years on the high school football team when he had been a student there (he graduated in 1997) and then at Syracuse University.
The district offered a cyber option for students whose parents wanted to keep them safely at home during the worst of the pandemic. Many districts were able to provide live teachers from the child’s grade level to instruct through on-line services like Zoom. However, MASD used the corporate Edmentum program to provide academics. The problem is it wasn’t created for that purpose. It was created for credit recovery, not robust academics. As a result, the district cyber program was developmentally inappropriate, and full of typos and inaccuracies.
Moreover, there’s an incredible amount of pressure on teachers to not just instruct but to closely observe every student’s behavior and constantly give positive reinforcement to those doing what should be the norm.
And that’s not even mentioning the frequent disruptions necessary to reward those children who can best navigate the system.
But that’s only one way of addressing the problem of bad behavior.
When I heard my school board was considering a proposed district budget for 2022-23 without a tax increase, I wanted to take a look at it. So I went to the district Website and there was a link labelled:
“The Board of Directors of the McKeesport Area School District has prepared a Preliminary Budget in the amount of funds that will be required by the School District for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2022. The Proposed Budget is on file in the Office of the Business Manager/Board Secretary, and is available for public inspection in the McKeesport Area School District Administration Building…” [Emphasis mine.]
What the heck!?
Why not just post the preliminary budget on the Internet!? Why make me go all the way to the administration building (during business hours) to see a copy?
If I want to know how my district proposes to spend the community’s tax dollars next year, I need to either go to the school board meeting or go to the administration office and look at a copy. Will I be able to take a copy with me to peruse at my leisure? Maybe or maybe not.
The problem is how too many public school directors meet these obligations.
MASD, for example, makes its proposed budget available – but not in the most convenient way that it could.
Let’s be honest. It wouldn’t take much to improve this.
Posting the full budget online would take just a few seconds. In fact, it’s actually more trouble to have it available in the administration building and task a secretary with presenting it to anyone who comes in-person and asks for it.
I’ve gone to a lot of school board meetings in my life. A LOT.
And almost every board put unnecessary or onerous restrictions on public comments.
Residents could come to the meetings and address the board but they often had to sign in before-hand. They couldn’t just show up and speak. They had to let the board know days in advance that they were coming and the subject they planning to speak on.
If something came up during the meeting unplanned, technically residents weren’t allowed to comment – though I admit I’ve never seen a school board hold to such a policy in the case of unexpected events.
Also there are almost always time limits on public comments.
Limiting people to two minutes of public comment in a month or even a two-week period is ridiculous.
Then we have the issue of audio visuals at board meetings.
Many school boards have microphones for people to speak into during the proceedings. This is supposed to allow everyone present to hear what is being said. However, the equipment is often so bad that it actually ends up blurring the speaker’s voice until its incomprehensible or board members who don’t want to be heard simply don’t speak into the microphone.
Sure – the entire proceedings are being taken down by hand by an administrator for an official written copy of the minutes. But this isn’t even available to the public until a month later when the board votes on last month’s minutes document. The public can’t get a copy of this material until more than a month has passed from it taking place. And it probably isn’t available on-line.
Finally, we have recordings of the meetings.
Many school boards now video tape their meetings and stream them live on YouTube, Facebook or some other social media site.
This is a nice improvement from when community groups had to do this, themselves. And, in fact, it’s really a response to that phenomenon to gain control over what becomes public record. School boards began recording the meetings to discourage others from doing it so the district would have control over this material. And in most cases it worked.
However, these recordings are almost always of exceedingly poor quality.
Cameras (and microphones) are placed so far away that it is almost impossible to tell what is happening, what is being said or who said it.
Any teenager with a smart phone and a YouTube channel could do a better job.
Moreover, these videos often don’t stay posted online for very long. They could easily remain posted so anyone could rewatch them and catch up with what happened at a school board meeting they were unable to attend in-person. But school boards make the express decision to take these videos down so that record is not available.
Very few of these are accidents. In most cases these are intentional to push the public away at the exact time when they should be inviting them in.
These are just some examples of how school boards comply with transparency requirements but do so in ways that are inconvenient, onerous or antagonistic.
It is so unnecessary.
Things don’t have to be this way.
School boards should welcome transparency. They should embrace public participation in the process.
The Covid-19 pandemic on top of years of corporate sabotage and propaganda have obscured what public education really means and why it is absolutely necessary to the functioning of our society and any possibility of social, racial or economic justice.
Let’s begin by looking at how the current disaster exacerbated an already difficult situation and then consider why we should care enough to fix the mess.
The Pandemic Effect
Public schools got a bloody nose from the Coronavirus crisis.
In fact, it was the failure of federal, state and even local municipal governments that often made public schools the de facto legislators of last resort. And this is something they were never meant to be.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 567,000 fewer educators in our public schools today than there were before the pandemic. And finding replacements has been difficult. Nationwide, an average of one educator is hired for every two jobs available.
This has left us with a weakened system suffering from more problems than before the pandemic hit.
Why Are Public Schools Important?
Because of what they are and what they represent.
We hear about public education so often – usually in deprecating terms – that we forget exactly what the term signifies.
It is a school where any child can go to get an education.
You don’t have to pay tuition. You don’t have to have a special ability or qualification. You don’t have to be neurotypical, a certain race, ethnicity, belong to a certain faith or socioeconomic status. If you’re living in the US – even if you’re here illegally – you get to go there.
That may seem simple, but it is vitally important and really quite special.
Not all nations have robust systems of public education like we do in the US.
This country has a commitment to every single child regardless of what their parents can afford to pay, regardless of their access to transportation, regardless of whether they can afford uniforms, lunch or even if they have a home.
Perhaps even more significant is our commitment to children with special needs.
We have developed a special education system to help children at the edges that many other countries just can’t touch. In some nations these students are simply excluded. In others they are institutionalized. In some countries it’s up to parents to find ways to pay for special services. The United States is one of the only countries where these children are not only included and offered full and free access, but the schools go above and beyond to teach these children well beyond their 12th academic year.
In every authentic public school in the United States these students are included. In math, reading, science and social studies, they benefit from instruction with the rest of the class. And this, in turn, benefits even our neurotypical students who gain lessons in empathy and experience the full range of human abilities.
That isn’t to say the system has ever been perfect. Far from it.
Moreover, any school that attracts a surplus of students can choose which ones its wants to enroll. The choice becomes the school’s – not the parents’ or students’. In fact, administrators can turn away students for any reason – race, religion, behavior, special needs, how difficult it would be to teach him or her. This is much different from authentic public schools. There, any student who lives in the district may attend regardless of factors such as how easy or difficult he or she is to educate.
But you may luck out. Every privatized school isn’t a scam. Just most of them. So if you have found a charter, cyber or voucher school that is working for your child and doesn’t self-destruct in the time your child is enrolled, you may wonder why you should worry about the rest of us – the kids caught up in a web of privatized predation and neglect?
You have to live in this society. Do you really want to live in a country with a large population of undereducated citizens who cannot figure out how to vote in their own interests? Do you really want to live in a society where crime is a better career choice for those who were not properly educated?
That’s why we can’t let public education disappear.
Many people are upset with what local boards did during the pandemic, but the way to solve this isn’t to flee to schools without democratic principles. It is to seize those principles and make them work for you and your community.