– By Conrad Floeter. Conrad is an Illinois teacher, activist and delegate to last week’s IEA Representative Assembly.
We heard a lot at the IEA-RA about communication problems between leadership and members. The culprit most often identified was unopened e-mails sent to local leaders. But based on the fact that Fred and at least half the delegates thought the New Business Item that Marsha Griffin and I introduced was not supported by leadership, the problem runs a lot deeper.
Marsha and I were ad hoc leaders of a loose coalition of members seeking to derail the PARCC test and support the opt out movement. After the Wednesday evening board meeting it seemed that leadership had moved a lot closer to where we wanted them to be with a legislative platform amendment supporting opt out and a NBI to seek alternatives to the PARCC.
Seeking to move the IEA a little further in the right direction we submitted a Legislative Platform amendment. The Legislative committee suggested that it might be better to submit a New Business Item directing the Executive Director to form a task force. After submitting the NBI, our Executive Director, Audrey Soglin approached me to say that we didn’t need a task force. She shared with me her yet-to-be-delivered presentation on “Putting the pieces together to safeguard our future”. One of the 5 pieces included a bullet point on “Developing community partnerships” which could include opt out parents. She also shared her presentation on PERA that discussed how teachers can be the leaders in determining appropriate assessments and stand up to administration on unnecessary testing. Based on her input, we crafted our NBI.
I told her I didn’t think most members understood how they could take charge of mandated student assessments and based on all the questions that were raised during her presentation they don’t. And as far as the “Putting the pieces together” presentation I doubt there are more than a dozen delegates who could tell you even one of the five pieces. Despite the defeat of our NBI, I was told that we needed to go ahead with training on building alliances to fight over testing of our students. Let’s see if IEA can come up with something simple and straightforward that empowers our members.
I believe it’s time for leadership to stop trying to be clever and cute and start being more straightforward. One of the objections to our NBI was that it created an “us vs. them”dynamic. Not sure who us and them are, but since NBI was to provide training to collaborate with parents, I’m guessing to wasn’t parents. I’m told members are afraid to confront administrators and school boards. But isn’t that why we have unions? We need to recognize that it is already us vs them, and us includes teachers, parents, administrators, school boards and our students – anybody who genuinely cares about good public schools. There is a lot more of us than them, but they have lot more money which is how they’ve gained the power and the influence to convince the public and our legislators that education is in a crisis and in need of reform. PARCC and other high stakes tests are just another weapon in their arsenal to label teachers and schools as failing, paving the way for privatization through charter schools and dismantling our union. The opt out parents are the best allies we have right now and we need to build on that.
The debate on our opt out legislative amendment got bogged down in pointless discussions on what exactly is a standardized test and the inclusion of district testing which isn’t the issue and is not included, for good reason, in HB306. Debate was closed before my yellow card was called. But it seems like other delegates had similar questions to mine, which included “Is there any specific statutory language that gives DOE or ISBE the authority withhold funding based on opted out students?, “Will IEA aggressively defend members disciplined for sharing opt out information with parents” and “Does this amendment mean IEA will lobby for HB306?”.
We got our answer Saturday morning when our President, Cinda Klickna, told us that she had heard those questions and that our legislative platform amendment did not support any specific legislation (like HB306). That opting out students could put us at risk of losing funding and that members were vulnerable if they spoke to parents about their opt out rights. So what exactly does our support of opt out mean?
Earlier in the RA, Cinda told us that if we all stood together in our locals when administration came after us for fighting unnecessary testing, we could not be defeated. IEA needs to stand together with all the other states and state affiliates who are fighting toxic testing and standing up for members. Simple and straightforward, like this resolution that a fellow NEA member from Hawaii shared with me. One tenth the words as our opt out legislative platform amendment. Saying just what needs to be said.
“The Hawaii State Teachers Association believes in the right of parents/guardians to collaborate with teachers to determine appropriate assessment options for their child’s proficiency if they wish to opt out, and/or refuse to allow their child to take the statewide standardized assessment. HSTA believes in advocating for the right to do so without retaliation.”