I Support Chicago Teachers

The little sister of one of my closest friends from high school is a Chicago teacher. I support her and the other 30,000 teacher on strike, and hope you do too.  Please think about donating or supporting them in other ways.  Below is from the Chicago Teachers Union:

I know you care about education.

I know you believe in justice.

That’s why I’m asking you to join me in solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union by visiting http://ctunet.com/solidarity to donate.

The CTU is currently on the front lines of a fight to defend public education. On one side the 30,000 members of the CTU have called for a contract that includes fair compensation, meaningful job security for qualified teachers, smaller class sizes and a better school day with Art, Music, World Language and appropriate staffing levels to help our neediest students.

On the other side, the Chicago Board of Education—which is managed by out of town reformers and Broad Foundation hires with little or no Chicago public school experience—has pushed to add two weeks to the school year and 85 minutes to the school day, eliminate pay increases for seniority, evaluate teachers based on student test scores, and slash many other rights.

That’s why I contributed to the Chicago Teachers Union Solidarity Fund. All donations will be used to conduct broad outreach throughout Chicago and nation-wide. Specifically, we plan to print educational materials, to distribute information about our positive agenda, such as the CTU report, The Schools Chicago Students Deserve [ http://ctunet.com/deserve ], and to mobilize massive support for educators in rallies and gatherings throughout the city. Any amount you can give will be a great help.

Visit http://ctunet.com/solidarity to help.

SOLIDARITY!

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On Education Panel

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Watch the full episode. See more Metrofocus.

Last week, I had the opportunity to be included as the token teacher on a panal that included many of the more important figures in NYC education.  The full list is here.

With lots to do, I don’t have much time to write a full reaction.  I will say though, that of the four such panels I’ve been on, I thought this one was by far the best moderated.  I appreciated that the moderators went out of their way to ensure that I, as the only full time teacher on the panel, had ample opportunity to engage with and respond to what the more well known panelists had to say.  I thought the panel covered a nice range of topics, and did a good job of highlighting some of the major policy issues facing NYC in the coming school year.

For those who don’t feel the need to watch the full 100 minutes, Jose Vilson wrote a great writeup.  I especially appreciated his kind words:

Overall, I also must give props to the guy who invited me, Stephen Lazar. Not only did he prove that teacher voice mattered, he probably got some of the biggest reactions from the audience and the panel, an otherwise respectful and still set of individuals. When asked about retaining the best and brightest teachers, Stephen Lazar said that he would never say he doesn’t want more money, but the best way to reward the best and brightest teachers is by giving them autonomy and respect. If he can prove, for instance, that he can get students to go well on the social studies Regents exam for five consecutive years, then they should release him from the chains of those Regents so he can actually get his students to think. Some on the panel crossed their legs harder, a couple winced, and Bill Thompson’s eyes jumped out of his head with excitement.

Leaving the SOS March

These are random thoughts I have as I leave the SOS March and Congress in DC to head to Philly for a weeklong seminar on teacher leadership:

  • Democracy is a wondrous thing to behold. Eight thousand people came together with a shared voice on Saturday, and then a couple hundred of these people stayed to lay the groundwork for a new organization that will aim to create a Save Our Schools Movement moving forward. It was the first time in my life I felt like I experienced a mass democratic experience where I had a direct voice.
  • While there are some decisions I would have made differently, I have nothing but awe and respect for the organizers of the March to bring so many different people together for such a huge event. When I started the undertaking that became EduSolidarity, I had no idea that it would take over my life for the next three weeks. I imagine that has been the same experience for the leaders of SOS to an exponentially greater degree. Huge props to all of them.
  • It’s great that there are celebrities like Matt Damon and academics like Diane Ravitch that agree with us, and if that’s what it takes to get some media coverage, so be it. With that said, I worry we, those who are in schools on a daily basis, are cherry picking people who just happen to agree with us at this moment. We need to create our own Matt Damon’s and Diane Ravitch’s.
  • Matt Damon is shockingly short.
  • At the risk of creating a false dichotomy, I’ve been thinking a lot about the different dispositions of thinking and acting. When it comes to large scale movements and efforts to affect change in the public realm, I am much more naturally inclined toward a disposition of thought. I am glad there are people out there who are more disposed to action. As I’m thinking about who I want to be as an educator outside of the classroom, however, I think I might need to yield things like union activism, organizing, and marches to the actors; my preference is for working in smaller groups and creating things, be them writing, curriculum, or assessments.
  • It really concerns me that I was probably one of only five people under the age of thirty-five at the Congress today. While one of the problems with discourses around education right now is a failure to value that there is knowledge that only comes from years of lived experience, there also needs to be a recognition that the teaching force is going to undergo a massive demographic shift in the next ten years. Those of us in the 4-10 years of experience range need to start taking seats at the table, otherwise the table is going to be empty in another decade. With that said, there needs to be some real thought about why younger teachers were not attracted to something like the SOS Congress. This may need to be a whole other post at some point.
  • There seems to be a real divide between two types of teachers who act and lead beyond their classrooms, which can be viewed on Twitter and in Blogs as well as at conferences. Some teachers who primarily act and lead around the economics and politics of education, others focus primary on pedagogical concerns. I had the great experience of spending most of the march with people I’ve encountered from each of these two realms leading to some really great conversations between people I normally engage with only as activists or educators. There needs to be more places where these kinds of meetings occur.  Kudos to the SOS March for creating a coalition of so many from both groups; I hope that can continue.
  • I really cannot stand the city of DC, and am so glad I don’t live there any more. (Nothing against people who do live there, just not for me)
  • I had the wonderful experience multiple times this week of getting to talk with people of whom I stand in awe. Some of these people are well known, others are less so. All are significantly older than I am. It’s exhilarating to be reminded just how much more learning and growing I have left to do, something that I too often forget when I’m the senior social studies teacher in a small school, as was the case at my last school and will be again in my new one.

The Save Our Schools March

I already wrote a bit personally about why I’m marching today, but as I get ready to head over to the elipse to join with thousands of my fellow teachers and our allies, I thought it was worth publishing what is bringing a very diverse coalition of people together in order to try to better the lives of children and young adults across the country:

The SOS March Guiding Principals

For the future of our children, we demand: 

Equitable funding for all public school communities

  • Equitable funding across all public schools and school systems
  • Full public funding of family and community support services
  • Full funding for 21st century school and neighborhood libraries
  • An end to economically and racially re-segregated schools

An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation

  • The use of multiple and varied assessments to evaluate students, teachers, and schools
  • An end to pay per test performance for teachers and administrators
  • An end to public school closures based upon test performance

Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies

  • Educator and civic community leadership in drafting new ESEA legislation
  • Federal support for local school programs free of punitive and competitive funding
  • An end to political and corporate control of curriculum, instruction and assessment decisions for teachers and administrators

Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

  • Support for teacher and student access to a wide-range of instructional programs and technologies
  • Well-rounded education that develops every student’s intellectual, creative, and physical potential
  • Opportunities for multicultural/multilingual curriculum for all students
  • Small class sizes that foster caring, democratic learning communities

Why I'm Marching

At the end of this month, I’ll be joining thousands of other teachers for the Save Our Schools March in Washington.  People will march for lots of reasons, and you can read some great ones herehere, and here.

I am going to do something I don’t usually do with this piece, and make a rather conservative argument:  I’m marching because I don’t have the answer.

I just finished up five and half years of teaching in the Bronx.  I joined a school filled with some of the smartest and most thoughtful people I have encountered in the field of education.  We were given a blank canvas on which to envision an ideal school.  We did a lot of impressive sounding things, many of which worked, others of which failed miserably.  Whether or not the school is a success or failure, of course, depends on one’s stance and perception.  There were many teachers who felt like the early success of the school were ones only of appearances, where good press and high graduation rates hid a number of foundational problems.  But for others (including myself for a long time, though less so recently) we were doing something wonderful in the service of our students.  I may never relive the sense of possibility and efficacy I felt a few years ago, but it was recently captured perfectly by one of my colleagues.

Both views are simultaneously true.  Regardless of where one stands on the value of my former school, there is not one person who thought our work was done.  I left a school with many problems, some of them structural, others created by the mismanagement of the NYC DOE; some of them created by decisions I made, and others from my colleagues and administrators.  The problems, like every single one of the 474 students the school serves, are immensely complex.  So too will be their solutions.

And this is why I’ll join with thousands of others to march.  I don’t have the solutions, nor does any other one of the thousands I’ll march with.  But collectively, I know we do have the solution.  We have the solution because we are the people who are working with students in the classroom every day.  We have the solution because among us we have those who have been successful teachers for more than thirty years, as well as those with the youthful virility and naiveté often required to think outside the box.  We will have the solution because we have the courage to speak truth to power when they offer any of the litany of silver bullet solutions to address the needs of all our schools (small schools, better teacher evaluation, more tests, more data, more cheap accountability, merit-pay, common standards, etc.).

I am marching to organize individuals into something larger than our selves.  I am marching to say no to the self-styled demagogues of the so-called “reform” movement like Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, Michele Rhee, Wendy Kopp, and Geoffrey Canada, or any other future demagogue who comes forth with the solution.  I am marching to call out the gutless politicians like Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg, although I voted for both, who hide behind questionable short term gains tied to the political cycle rather than make an effort to effect lasting and sustainable change in education systems.

I march because I know the solutions to the challenges that face schools will not come from closed door sessions in the White House or Tweed Courthouse, but rather from the  masses of teachers who will gather on July 30 to march, but much more importantly, will gather the next day for a congress to plan for the future.

I will enter DC as individual.  I will march in a group.  I hope to leave as part of an organized movement.

Please Help My Student Achieve Her American Dream

In many ways, I am the American Dream.  My great-grandparents all immigrated to this country in abject poverty, fleeing religious persecution in Eastern Europe.  My grandparents were born in the 1920’s in the shadow of Pittsburgh steel mills.  Each of my grandfathers proudly served during World War II, and upon their return to the United States, they were thanked by our country with the passing of the GI Bill, which paid for them to become the first members of their families, along with their brothers, to attend college. This in turn enable my parents to grow up in the middle class. Both my sister and I are incredibly blessed to have had those privileges and educational opportunities passed down to us.

Over the past five years, I have had the amazing experience of helping dozens and dozens of students in the Bronx become the first in their families to attend college (as well, of course, of helping many who were not the first), taking them each one step closer to achieving their American dreams. As 83% of our students live below the poverty line, federal and state financial aid are the only reason our students can afford post-secondary education.

Unfortunately, each year we have a small handful of students who are not eligible for this aid because they are undocumented immigrants.  To assist these students,  a group of students and teachers at the school created the DREAM Act Club Scholarship.  The DREAM Act Club works to support the passing of the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented young adults who were brought to the country before their 16th birthday a path to citizenship through college education or military service.  As the Act has failed multiple times to make it to the floor of Congress, the club created the scholarship so that the dreams of our students would not be deferred.

This year, there is only one undocumented immigrant in our graduating class, and she is someone I have taught for the past two years.  This student was brought by her parents from Mexico when she was only two years old.  All of her younger siblings have been born in the United States and are therefore citizens. However, my student, through no fault of her own, has no documentation, and therefore is not eligible for financial aid for college.  This student is an incredibly smart and talented young lady.  She does everything she is asked, has never once displayed anything close to problematic behavior, is a model for her peers, and has never once asked for anyone to do her any favors.  I can say without hesitation that in my eight years in the classroom, she is the kindest and most decent student I have taught.  If there was ever a student deserving of a shot at the American Dream, it would be her.  (And if she knew I was writing this letter, she would kill me.)

And this is why I am asking you to help her.  It is my goal that this year’s DREAM Act Club Scholarship will be the largest it has ever been.  It is estimated that four years of tuition at a public university in New York will cost $25,000 over the next four years.  It is my goal to raise this amount to be awarded to my student through this year’s DREAM Act Club Scholarship, which will be awarded at graduation on June 28.

This will not be easy, which is why I need your help.  Just as this country pulled together to send my grandfathers to college 65 years ago, I want to pull together as many people as possible to make my student’s American Dream a reality.  If you can donate any money, that would be wonderful.  Even $10 will make a difference.  But much more importantly, I want you to share this letter to as many people as you know.  If only 100 people can each find 25 people to donate $10, we can join together to send my student to college and help her to move toward achieving the American Dream for herself and for the children she will one day raise.

Donations can be made to the scholarship through the Friends of Bronx Lab.  To donate, go to http://dream.bronxlabschool.org.  In the “Dedication” box, please click “on behalf of” and enter “DREAM Act Club Scholarship”.  100% of your donation is tax deductible.

I cannot imagine where my family would be today had this country not paid for my grandfathers’ education.  I hope that in another 65 years, my student’s grandchildren will be thinking the same thing.

Thank you so much for your help,
Stephen Lazar

You Don't Stand With Us: My Response to an #EDUSolidarity Highjacking Attempt

Two weeks ago, I was asked for the umpteenth time why a teacher like me would support the UFT, let alone want to be chapter leader. Realizing that answering the question by myself would do little to change anything, I reached out to some colleagues, and very quickly the EDUSolidarity project developed.  Twelve of us, including my hero, Deborah Meier, signed on as co-sponsors, and a week later, we had the pleasure of watching over 100 teachers stand up in solidarity to answer this question.  Each poster interpreted the “like me” part in her or his own way and used it as the foundation for why she or he supports unions.

In a Gotham Schools Community post (where I also blog), Ruben Brosbe claimed to stand up with us.  EDUSolidarity was an open thread and he was certainly entitled to write whatever he wanted in response to it.  His post, however, was an insult to everything we were trying to do, and failed to address who he is as a teacher.  I want to explain this through the lens of what I meant by “teachers like me.”  A teacher like me teaches students first, using the content in my class to engage them as people and current or potential citizens.  Among the different things I teach my students, I teach them about philosophy, democracy, and character. Continue reading You Don't Stand With Us: My Response to an #EDUSolidarity Highjacking Attempt

Democracy and Possibility

Two quotes to start the week:

The first, a recent one, from Deborah Meier:

In all these years we have never seriously confronted society with the question of “why?” Do we really want schools to undo our class divisions? Do we want them to produce adults who are members of a shared and commonly cherished adult world—with inequities that we could all imagine living with? With adults who more or less equally appreciate and utilize democracy for their own self-interests, have more or less equal access to the media, to political influence, with fair and equal protection of the law?

I’d like, Diane, given the obvious reality of the above (it’s said harshly, but isn’t it the simple truth?), to suggest we shift the discussion. Maybe it’s time to think together about what schooling could be if we truly saw it as the bedrock of democracy—if we imagined we cared enough for the future of democracy to put everything we have into using schools toward such an end. We need something to fight FOR, not just against. The billionaires’ reforms take us backward, so what would forward look like?

The second, a much older one, from the philosopher Hannah Arendt:

Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable.  And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.

~Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (New York: Penguin, 1968), 196.

Democracy and possibility?  That sounds like something worth fighting for to me.  Let’s get to this first period, tomorrow morning.

This is What #EDUSolidarity Looks Like – The Full List

Watching EDUSolidarity take place on Tuesday was one of the most empowering and inspirational days of my life.  It was amazing to see so many educators around the country (and even two internationally) stand up together to support our brothers and sisters whose unions are under attack.  What started as an idea in the shower as a response to an old question, quickly ballooned to involve over 100 different bloggers sharing their thoughts and experiences.  There is an incredibly wide variety of viewpoints here, and I would encourage people to read as many as they can.  Moreover, I would encourage people to take the time to leave comments on those you read.  I will be doing so in the coming days, as well as posting more in response to things I read. Continue reading This is What #EDUSolidarity Looks Like – The Full List

Guest Post: Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

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This post is just one of many being published a day late as part of the #EDUSolidarity project, of which I am an organizer. After you have read this, please take some time to read the wide variety of posts that were added yesterday at EDUSolidarity.us.

Guest blogger John McCrann has worked with me for the past three years after starting his career in North Carolina, and is currently the Department Chair of our Integrated Math & Science Department.  He is also extremely tall.

I am currently in my 6th year in public education and am in the relatively uncommon position of having spent the same amount of time in one of the most labor un-friendly states in the country as well as in a state with a strong and active union. I spent the first three years of my career in two different schools in central North Carolina, a state with a constitutional ban against collective bargaining in the public sector. From North Carolina, I moved to New York where I am a proud member of the United Federation of Teachers and enjoy the benefits and security that come from that membership.

While I tend to be viscerally opposed to political movements that would discredit the organizations that brought us the weekend and child labor laws, the recent outburst against public sector unions by some conservative political and economic figures made question my stance and challenged me to reflect on my experience in the union and non-union environments in which I have worked. I know many great educators in North Carolina, perhaps Scott Walker and his allies are right that unions stand in the way of achievement for students? Continue reading Guest Post: Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions