Stand for Children’s Ballot Initiative: Bad for Teachers, Kids and Schools

The ballot initiative by the numbers:

Words: 2826
Pages: 5
Sections: 11
Provisions supported by data-driven scientific research: 0

Just the FAQs

The “Stand for Children” campaign is called “Great Teachers, Great Schools.” What does the ballot initiative do to help teachers improve their teaching and become “great teachers”?
Nothing. It’s not about that.

What does the Stand proposal do to make schools great—Cut class size? Improve leadership? Lengthen learning time? Help parents get more involved with their children’s learning?
No. It’s not about any of those things.

So what is the “Stand for Children” proposal about?
Many things. One of them is that new, untested teacher ratings would drive critical staffing decisions including layoffs and transfers. (However, principals could ignore the ratings—see below.)

Where would these ratings come from?
They would come from a new Massachusetts teacher evaluation system that is now being developed. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education passed regulations for this system last June to comply with the requirements of federal Race To The Top (RTTT) grants.

Are school districts required to carry out these teacher evaluation regulations, or are they optional?
They are mandatory. Some people are getting the impression that the new state regulations are optional and that the Stand ballot initiative would make them mandatory, but that’s not so.

Is the new teacher evaluation system in use now?
It is being piloted in 40 schools this school year, 2012. School districts that got RTTT grants, which have about two thirds of the state’s students, will follow next September and the rest of the state in September of 2014.

When will the “Stand for Children” proposal take effect if it passes this November?
It would take effect in September 2013, or as soon afterwards as each school district’s collective bargaining contract expires.

Does that mean Stand wants to base important decisions on a rating system that is not yet fully developed, never mind tested—like flying an airplane while the mechanics are still bolting on the wings?

Will the new teacher ratings really measure teacher quality?
Nobody knows because the new system has no track record. Many other states have created new rating systems in the hope of getting RTTT grants, and their experience is not encouraging. The ratings have often turned out to have little to do with anybody’s idea of quality instruction. They swing wildly from year to year. Some teachers who are regarded as stars in their buildings have been given low grades by the complex formulas.

In Massachusetts, every school district must come up with two district-wide measures for each type of educator. MCAS scores can be one measure but they only apply to 18 percent of teachers. We are a long way from a proven system that can quantify teacher quality.

What about getting rid of bad teachers? Isn’t that what the Stand proposal is really all about?
The Stand proposal would make it easier to get rid of teachers, but it could result in more good teachers being fired than bad ones. The current procedures for getting incompetent teachers out of the classroom have often been criticized as too cumbersome. The state’s new teaching rating system is intended to change that. But the Stand proposal pushes the pendulum to the other extreme.

How would the Stand proposal make it more dangerous for teachers to stand up to school bureaucrats?
Administrators display the same range of human qualities as the rest of us: Most are energetic, dedicated, and capable, but a few are not. Let’s say a teacher finds school officials are taking too long to arrange for special services for a student. The teacher goes to bat for the student, perhaps going around the chain of command. If the Stand petition passes, such impertinence could cost that teacher his or her livelihood. If an administrator merely downgrades the teacher’s rating from “exemplary” to “proficient,” that teacher is now vulnerable.

That’s ridiculous! How could a teacher rated “proficient” lose his or her job under the Stand proposal?
Every time a district shrinks one program or school, and expands another, teachers need to transfer. Currently, each district negotiates how that takes place. Stand wants these decisions to be made the same way in every district, based on performance ratings. Experience and length of service would play no role except as a tie-breaker. A brand new teacher rated “exemplary” would have priority over a teacher with 20 years’ experience rated “proficient.”

No exceptions?
Stand does want to make one huge exception: Principals would be allowed to completely ignore the ratings in filling vacancies. And that could make it even more dangerous for teachers to stand up for their students. Just having a reputation for being a rebel could doom your career. Of course, many principals value strong, independent teachers, so a teacher who crosses his or her supervisor might suffer no consequences. But Stand would increase the risks.

How would the Stand proposal lead schools to devote even more time to test prep?
The same way it would make it more dangerous for teachers to stand up for their students: It would make teacher ratings much more important, and student test scores will affect those ratings.

What is “Stand for Children”?
“Stand for Children” is a national group originally formed to organize grassroots support for programs that help children and teens. Around 2009, it began receiving millions of dollars from corporate foundations controlled by some of the richest people in America, like the Walton family of Wal-Mart and Bill Gates. In Massachusetts, it has received well over $1 million from owners of Bain Capital. At the same time, Stand’s efforts veered over to the corporate agenda for schools: more charter schools, more high-stakes testing, more power for school district managers over teachers.

How much money is Stand spending on the ballot campaign?
Their ballot campaign committee, “The Committee for Excellence in Education,” reported spending $365,000 last year, almost all of it to hire a signature-gathering company. That’s more than $3 per signature. Currently, Stand is carrying out a major image-polishing campaign with full-page newspaper ads, TV spots, and radio. These ads say nothing about a ballot question, just what a great group Stand is. We don’t yet know how much it’s costing them, but presumably it’s only a fraction of what they will lay out for the fall campaign.

What groups of educators are opposing the Stand proposal?
The Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, The American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators’ Association, the Massachusetts Elementary School Principals Association, the Massachusetts Reading Association, the Massachusetts Association of College and University Reading Educators, the Massachusetts School Library Association, the Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies and the Massachusetts Administrators for Special Education. Many of these groups helped develop the new regulations on teacher evaluation approved last June by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. They do not want to see this complex new system changed before it can even be tested.

What is the position of Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration?
Education Secretary Paul Reville has spoken out in opposition.
Last August, when Stand announced the ballot initiative, Secretary Reville said:
“For the first time ever [under the teacher evaluation regulations approved last June] we’re including things like student performance and student voice in the evaluation process. … [L]et’s give the instrument some time to prove itself.”
Last November, Reville added:
“I fear that [the Stand] ballot initiative would set up a distracting and divisive battle, engendering an over-simplified public dialogue that would alienate educators and prevent us from achieving a variety of reform goals.”

Why is Stand putting forward this proposal now, when the new teacher evaluation system is just beginning to be developed?
This ballot initiative seems to be part of a national campaign that has little to do with what is happening in Massachusetts. In a talk in Colorado last summer, “Stand for Children” CEO Jonah Edelman described how Stand raised big bucks from rich Illinois business people to beat down teachers unions. Then he laid out his strategy for doing the same across the country. In Massachusetts, he said, “It might be, we have a ballot question on the ballot and we use it as a lever.” One month later, Massachusetts Stand announced its ballot campaign.

Who and what are really behind this group and this initiative?
A group from Portland, OR with advisory board members from Bain Capital and funding from groups such as the Walton family of Walmart, are pushing this Massachusetts ballot question that would lead to even a greater emphasis on the high stakes testing of children. Bain Capital owners have given more than $1 million so far. It’s a cleverly disguised attempt by the top 1% to make public education more like private business. The petition has the innocuous name of “An Act Promoting Excellence in Public Schools” and the organization has the benevolent name of “Stand for Children,” but the only thing that this organization stands for is the corrosive effect of the top 1% on one of our most cherished public institutions. The petition would open up the floodgates of pink slips being given to many hard working and competent educators, much the way that Bain Capital has operated with distressed companies.