Guest OpEd: Indispensible For School Reform

As the November 6th general election draws near, I thought readers might like a chance to see where some local candidates stand on the issue of education.  Education has always been a topic of interest on Living Snoqualmie, as well as in the Snoqualmie Valley. 

Brad Toft is the first to share some of his views – maybe they will help you decide between him and his opponent.  You are welcome to agree or disagree.  Leave a comment, but please stick to the issue at hand, not the person.

This article does NOT express the views of Living Snoqualmie.  I have NOT endorsed any candidates in this election.  Brad’s opponent for Washington’s 5th District Senate seat, Mark Mullet, has also been offered space on Living Snoqualmie to share his position/views on education in our state.  I hope to be able to bring you those soon.

Part 1 of a 2 Part Series on Public Education in Washington, by Brad Toft

If we were to start with a blank sheet of paper and draft a plan for a world-class public education system, it’s hard to make the argument that we would construct the school system that exists in Washington State. During this political season, the topic of schools is hotter than ever. Valid arguments are being made for ways to improve the system. Make no mistake, new ideas should be vetted and debated. Something must be done to change the environment in which these discussions are happening.

The Bully On The Playground
There is an obstacle embedded within public education that will not allow for serious discussions to take place. It wasn’t always this way. But if this problem is left unaddressed, necessary school reforms at the state level will not happen. There is a bully on the playground that attacks anyone who calls for school reform. After 30 years of accumulating power, the teachers union has become an obstruction against progress.  What’s more, the leadership in the legislature has lost its bearings, showing contempt for the taxpayers who fund the system.

In a new public education system, children and their parents should be the paramount  stakeholders. I believe that great teachers make the biggest difference in the quality of a child’s education, which is why the system should be designed to attract the best and brightest professionals. To be clear, however, the end result by which our schools should be measured is children completing their education. They must receive an education that equips them for jobs and prepares them for higher learning. Career satisfaction for teachers should be a major objective, without confusing it as the primary goal of the system.  Union leadership has lost its bearings.  They show more interest in accumulating power against taxpayers, rather than being a voice for children.

I do not believe a candidate can be credible in suggesting reforms for our schools without first acknowledge the need to stand up to the bullies on the playground.

In part 2 of the series I will identify reforms at the state level that should be priorities for improving our public schools.

Thanks for reading,

Brad

Comments

  1. Brad makes some good points with regards to our children’s education and their future. With one child in college, it’s apparent to me that her high school preparation wasn’t all it could have been. It just makes the students work harder at a higher level. High schools need to refocus away from non-stop activities and extra-curricular events to academics.

  2. Linda Grez/snovalley says

    At which elementary school did someone learn to spell ‘indispensible’?

  3. I respectfully choose to strongly disagree with Mr. Toft.

    Really?

    Teachers who unite to stand up for the rights of children, a more equitable education for everyone and better learning and working conditions are “bullies?”

    My knowledge of teacher’s unions history and political motivations comes not from hearsay but from experiencing the educational issues first hand for the last 40 years, and seeing my “Education Association” being “bullied” into politics and now being vilified as a big bad, or horrors, a “teacher’s union.”

    In that 4 decades, I have never gone on strike for money or benefits.

    But I have gone and would go on strike again, to get counselors in the elementary school, (LWSD-1988).

    I have helped bargain in good faith to reduce class sizes again and again, often to no avail with the full support of my teacher’s union.

    Yes, I did campaign and rally to get a statewide initiative passed to lower class sizes and would do it again tomorrow in a heart beat with the support of my teacher’s union. (unfortunately the legislature overturned it)

    My local, state and national teacher unions supported me in these movements. That makes them bad???? To stand up for lower class sizes?

    I have held picket signs to get more time for all teachers, not just those at a certain grade level, to plan better lessons, and my teacher’s union supported me.

    I have argued for release time to receive better training to provide better instruction and my teacher’s union supported me.

    I have often fought for students rights both in and out of classrooms and my teacher’s union supported me.

    I have stood up in public meetings and complained about unsafe physical classrooms such as a portable I once taught in with only one door and no windows and my teacher’s union supported me.

    The last thing I want or need is to be out in a political arena arguing what is best for children. Why is it, I continually have to? Thank heaven I have a teacher’s union to do some of it for me and support me when I do.

    I want to teach, spend time planning lessons, be home during off hours, not continually have to take up a picket sign because my profession is not honored or my students needs are not met, but over the last decade, on issue after issue, unless I do, unless my teacher’s union does, the loud minority chip away year after year at the fundamental right of an equal education for everyone, not just those that can afford it.

    Yes I want better pay and benefits, is that a reason to vilify my teacher’s union? I think not.

    We have one of the lowest starting teaching salaries in the nation, and my union is supposed to not say anything about salary and the decrease in benefits year after year even during the good times?

    Teacher’s unions have a strong tradition of being non-political. Read the history, that is why we started out as an “Education Association” not a union and maintain that stance today until we are “bullied” politically into yet another confrontation.

    It is only in the past decade or so that we have unfortunately been “bullied” into taking a more active political role.

    It is either stand up and fight for our students learning conditions and our working conditions politically, or get steamrolled.

    My teacher’s union is not an obstructionist. How absurd!

    I teach in a public valley school that has no grade levels, no grades, and is a school of choice and challenge and my teacher’s union has supported all of these reforms.

    My teacher’s union has joined the administration and school board in actively reforming our teacher evaluation system, scheduled to go into effect next year.

    They have collaboratively supported teacher training, supported innovative programs and a multitude of educational reforms.

    They have advocated for and helped design programs to prevent harassment and train teacher’s locally and statewide.

    So what is up with the loud cry from a vocal few that say my teacher’s union is suddenly your enemy?

    Well we might ask who benefits from everyone thinking my teacher’s union is bad?

    If the teacher’s union is bad and can’t effectively advocate for students rights and working conditions, then we will have higher class sizes, fewer teachers and decreased salaries. Who gains from that?

    Those who stand to benefit the most from a weak union are those that would rather have our public schools turned into for-profit schools.

    Those who would want our classrooms to be over crowded so more parents opt. out for private school, those who want all the more experienced teacher’s gone so the brain trust vanishes and the quality decreases so even more opt out.

    Sorry, I believe in equal education for all. And I have seen my teacher’s union fight for students rights and my profession for 4 decades.

    About 10 years ago I began receiving notices from an organization called the “Evergreen Freedom Foundation” telling me my union did not represent me. Check out their revenue source.

    Funny, I had just attended a meeting of the union where we all openly discussed and debated and voted on what student issues we needed to step forward on and stand up for. Bad union??

    I vote annually for who in my building represents me, who at the council and state level represents me. Every single teacher votes every year who represents them at the state convention where endorsements and platforms are decided.

    I am not, nor ever have been in 40 years bullied by my union, nor ever once not been proud of the issues they fight for professionally, politically and personally.

    I have however been bullied by a loud vocal minority, into having to leave my classroom and spend enormous time and energy fighting for what’s best for my students and now to defend even my profession.

    Why is that? ……It is not a bad teacher’s union.

    • Jack, My call for the Union to stop attacking those that call for reform is not a critique of teachers or their commitment to the students. I have witnessed vicious campaigns by the unions against people from concerned parents to politicians who dare to voice an opinion. In my conversations with local leadership of districts, some good constructive relationships exist with the unions, which is why I make this statement. I am calling on the union to do more respecting all of the stakeholders that participate in and fund the education system.

      Your response here, and on my campaign Facebook page only add to the negative image that the unions have. I have reached out to you personally for a meeting during this election, because I know of your passion for the union. To date, you have not taken me up on that, opting instead to just respond to in comments. I hope that you will reconsider.

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