Monday, March 14, 2011

So This is Democracy: An Attack on Education

Deaf Echo
By Jason Franklin

If you arrive inside the capitol grounds of Madison, Wisconsin, you will see tens of thousands of public service workers standing together – peacefully, but in solidarity – against oppression. Thousands of parents are marching with their children, engaging them in a lesson of Civics in action. Thousands of teachers and public service workers such as my wife and myself are marching with our children. We are fighting for freedom. We are fighting against ignorance. We are fighting against injustice and inequality. This is not about money, or unions. This is not about pensions or benefits.

On Friday Night, Jesse Jackson addressed this and said “Labor rights are civil rights! Labor rights are human rights!” He’s right. From California to Florida, people are marching with a common assertion, “we are one!” This fight is as powerful as Deaf President Now, as widespread as what we saw in Egypt, and so historical that it predates every progressive act for equality since 1939. If you think this is hyperbole, or if you think this does not impact Deaf Education, you are dead wrong.

As I write this, thousands of public workers are willingly being bused in from all over Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota to stand together and maintain the human rights afforded to all of us, but especially afforded to our children. As I write, I want to answer the questions “What are fighting for, and who is standing with us?” So many have already spoken up and voiced their support for what we are trying to accomplish in Madison. California’s Teacher Association (CTA) stands with us as do many other states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, Idaho, Florida, and Michigan (to name just a few). The CTA ‘s website regards what the Government in Madison is pushing to do as, “a cynical attempt to undermine the rights of teachers and public sector workers to have a say in their profession, and it affects all of us. The ability of teachers to collectively bargain their contracts has resulted not only in improved working conditions, but in improved learning conditions for students as well.” If the Government is pushing to get rid of these improved conditions, then we must push back.

First off, this bill that you have read and that we march against is not about money, and it will not fix any budget deficit. Wisconsin Educators (all workers) have already agreed to all of the Governors demands, as long as we keep our right to collectively fight for the freedoms of our children and families. But our Governor did not acquiesce, which proves that his attack is on teachers and public workers, and not about money. So what happens if we cannot stop this bill from passing? Here are the outcomes that immediately impact students:

With the passage of this bill and proposed changes, immediately lost will be

* Educators’ and the community’s ability to have control over teaching and learning
* Ensuring safety in our schools (see California Teacher’s Association website for proof)
* Control over class sizes – class sizes could jump to 60-70 students per class. Student achievement scores will fall across the board
* Regulating school schedules is lost – the current version of a 8 a.m-4 p.m. school day could be adjusted at will, without the say of the community, parents, or schools
* No control over the evaluation of teachers or our ability to maintain the most qualified teachers for our students (isn’t this what the NEA wants us to fight for?)
* Professional development days will be gone – we are constantly learning how to teach so that no child is left behind. No longer with this bill (we will be stagnant)
* Pay for one-on-one support, such as teachers aides, secretaries, and other support staff (think interpreters, paras, and other aides) will fall very close to near poverty level (why would they want the job?)
* Quality teachers will lose job security – a qualified, veteran teacher with 20 years is far more expensive than a teacher in his/her first year. The strong teachers will be the first to go
* Incentives decrease for qualified teachers – the most qualified teachers are national board certified teachers. Incentives are in place help encourage teachers to strive for excellence. If this passes, incentives will be taken away, and teachers will go at least two steps backwards, on average, for their pay scale
* Recruiting new and qualified teachers becomes extremely difficult
* Recruiting qualified new teachers and RETAINING them becomes impossible
* **Per Pupil Spending will be significantly reduced** (How can we spend less on the very students we are underperforming for when the Federal Government is fighting to find ways to spend more?!)

How does this immediately affect our Special Education students, and in turn, teaching for our Deaf children across the country? Looking at the NEA website (National Education Association). Here are their recommendations for Education to work:

* ESEA should provide increased funding to all states and school districts to meet the growing demand for globally-competitive education of U.S. students (ESEA is the law that came before No Child Left Behind, in the 1960’s)
* ESEA should help provide great educators and school leaders for every student (Deaf Educators require specialized instruction, so this is powerful)
* ESEA should promote innovation, high expectations, and encourage development of 21st century skills in public schools (Universal Based Instruction)
* Programs such as Title I, IDEA, and Pell Grants are already underfunded and cannot meet the needs of eligible students (Can our students still go to college?)

This is what the NEA website says IS happening and could be happening with a version of national budget cuts proposed by the House of Representatives:

* The federal government has failed to live up to its commitment to provide 40 percent of the costs of providing special education services to students. Because of inadequate federal support, schools are often unable to provide the full spectrum of services mandated under IDEA. In addition, administrators must sometimes cut other critical programs to fund mandated IDEA services
* America’s public schools are struggling to provide quality services to increased numbers of disadvantaged students and students with special needs, while also implementing accountability and testing mandates
* Title I would be cut by $693 million, reducing or eliminating services for 957,00 thousand high-risk children and potentially causing the loss of over 9,000 education jobs (with the passage of budget cuts)
* Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) state grants would be slashed by $557 million, shifting to states and local districts the costs of educating 324,000 students with disabilities, therefore, increasing local tax burdens. In addition, the cuts could result in the loss of over 7,000 education jobs (with the passage of budget cuts)
* Pell grants would be cut by $5.6 billion, making it more difficult for low- and middle-income families to pay for college. These cuts would eliminate or reduce aid for almost 1.5 million students (with the passage of budget cuts)
* Head Start would be cut by over $1 billion, leading to elimination of enrollment slots for 127,000 poor children and the potential loss of over 14,000 jobs (with the passage of budget cuts)

Deaf Education
Special Education has finally been afforded more protection in recent years than ever before. Deaf Education is protected by the IDEA Act (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997), which ensures that what is on their Individualized Education Plans is appropriate and guarantees them access to Education. But we’ve seen that even with these new guaranteed protections, our students are faltering. We need to “stand as one!” to ensure that the way Deaf students learn is happening. What is happening in Madison is regressive. IDEA is under attack. The funds provided for IDEA are under attack. If a School or University is receiving federal funds (for example PELL grants, Title I money), then our students are protected under Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Section 504 and ADA are also under attack. In fact in Wisconsin, The Governor’s plan is to tell the Federal Government their money isn’t wanted. So in the end, what does this attack look like in the classroom?

- Decreased access in the amount of approved accommodations (see NEA website)

- Decreased access to equal teaching opportunities

- Decreased access to fair assessment opportunities

- Decreased opportunities for full participation in the General Education curriculum

- Curriculum modifications that assist in providing better instruction (Universial Design for Learning) are lessened

Do you see anything increasing? We are already struggling in finding qualified teachers who understand the needs of our students, who know how to differentiate instruction, who know how to help students learn about their identity and how to advocate, and most importantly, who know how to communicate with our students. How are they being encouraged and fostered? Nobody has said one word about interpreters yet. Want to guess why? Two reasons… 1) they make up one of those groups of “support” staff mentioned earlier that will be earning a living near poverty level, and 2) with the way we write IEPs under attack, there is no way quality interpreter access will be provided, or what our students will need to do they need one (a throwback to A Case about Amy, anyone?). Our students’ basic access is under attack, and it is our job to fight back, even if this means we are AWOL. This is Democracy – welcome to our fight, we are one!

What better way to close than with this quote from a renowned Coloradoan Educator: “But this is about more than Madison, Wisconsin. Madison is the first snowball. Once it starts rolling, it may be unstoppable. We’ve got a lot of mountains here in Colorado and I hope that snowball heads our way. The corporate education reform going on here is devastating… (this has happened before)… I watched it’s evil hand touch children, teachers, schools and districts.”

Works Cited

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