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Educators and parents testify against Stand initiative

Educators and parents squared off against Stand for Children supporters April 10 at a hearing on Stand’s ballot question before the Joint Committee on Education. Testifying on the first panel against the initiative were MTA President Paul Toner, AFT Massachusetts President Thomas Gosnell, Massachusetts PTA Past President Mary Ann Stewart, 2008 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Michael Flynn and Boston Public School Teacher Jessica Tang. Stewart and Flynn are two of the seven plaintiffs on the MTA-backed lawsuit challenging the initiative.

The Stand initiative would make numerous changes in the state’s education and labor laws, including limiting bargaining rights over personnel practices and denying professional teacher status to part-time teachers.

Several speakers noted that the initiative is a “distraction” from what students really need to succeed and could have a “chilling effect” on teachers speaking out on behalf of their students for fear they could lose their jobs. Several opponents of the initiative and even one supporter testified that complex education policies are better made in the Legislature rather than on the ballot.

The Legislature has a limited role in the initiative petition process. It can approve the question, in which case it will be withdrawn from the ballot; or it can report the bill out unfavorably or take no action, in which case supporters will have to collect more signatures to qualify it for the November ballot. The Legislature could also approve a different but related initiative to be considered by the voters at the same time as the Stand petition.

 Michael Flynn and Mary Ann Stewart Among those who testified, Massachusetts PTA Past President Mary Ann Stewart and 2008 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Michael Flynn.

 

Toner’s testimony on the initiative is below. More information about the ballot question can be found here.

MTA Testimony on Stand for Children Ballot Initiative

Good Morning, Madame Chairs and members of the Committee.

I am Paul Toner, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Today I join Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville and many other education experts and stakeholders in opposing House 3883 and Senate 2197. The MTA respectfully urges the Joint Committee on Education to reject this attempt to bypass the open, deliberative and collaborative process that has helped Massachusetts create the best public education system in the nation and helped millions of students succeed.

The MTA has long advocated for high standards for those who enter the teaching profession and those who remain in the field. Indeed, we believe strongly that every child deserves a high-quality teacher in every classroom. We also understand the need to continually improve our public education system. In recent months, the MTA has been a leader in developing a more effective and comprehensive educator evaluation system – one that includes clear goals to help teachers hone their skills and ensure student achievement. This new system is being rolled out statewide over the next three years.

Stand for Children was a member of the task force that developed this new evaluation system, which was ultimately adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The recommendations of the task force were reached through a process of collaboration and compromise over a number of months, and many of Stand’s proposals were adopted.

Soon after this innovative new system was approved, however, Stand proceeded to draft a long and complicated initiative petition without conferring with other education stakeholders. Ten days before the deadline for filing ballot questions, Stand’s leader told me that the group was considering this step. At the time, I asked to discuss the issues of concern to Stand. That conversation did not take place, and one day before the filing deadline the MTA was told that Stand would be pursuing a ballot initiative instead of filing legislation. While proponents claim that the initiative only ensures that the evaluation system will be effective, in fact it will have far-reaching impacts on many other areas. These include what can and can’t be negotiated regarding evaluations, professional status for part-time teachers, regionalization, the negotiating process, and the scope of review in teacher dismissal cases.

In November 2011, as signatures were being collected, Secretary Reville said: “I fear that the 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.”

The new teacher evaluation process was designed to advance the goal that we all support: ensuring that all students in our public schools receive an excellent education to prepare them for the future.

Multi-dimensional policy changes in education should not be brought about by gimmicky slogans designed to make complex issues seem simple. Stand’s proposal is extremely lengthy, dense and difficult to understand. On Election Day, a voter can only give a yes or no answer. As legislators, you know that a ballot initiative is not the way to make such far-reaching and intricate decisions. The Legislature has set up a process that allows for debate to determine whether in fact change is needed and, if so, to allow for refining a proposal so that a consensus can be built that serves the children of our Commonwealth.

This is no time to disrupt the new evaluation system, as the initiative would do. The system provides employees and local school districts with the option to collectively bargain certain details to meet the specific needs of their particular communities, and it is certain to prove effective in achieving its intent. In truth, it is clear that taking this matter to the ballot ill-serves the long-term interests of students, who should be front and center in this debate.

As you probably know, the MTA has asked the Supreme Judicial Court to not allow the ballot question to go forward. Briefly, we believe that the Stand initiative:

  • Asks voters to give a single yes or no answer concerning multiple unrelated issues.
  • Unconstitutionally affects the powers of the courts.
  • And is described by a summary that fails to inform voters of everything that is involved, including the impact on teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

Attached to my testimony is a copy of the MTA legal brief.

The MTA has been a leader in supporting initiatives to help students achieve at the highest levels and promoting the voices of educators with proven expertise in collaborative efforts to help schools succeed. Massachusetts schools are doing well by national and international measures, but we are always open to ideas about how to make them work better. We believe that cooperation and discussion among all affected parties is a far better approach than forcing an up-or-down vote on a complicated and deeply flawed ballot initiative.

The Stand campaign simplistically and deceptively claims that a yes vote is for “great teachers” and implies that those who oppose it are against quality schools. It is education policy by bumper sticker – not by thoughtful collaboration – and its attempt to circumvent the legislative process clearly demonstrates this to be the case.

I respectfully request that you oppose House 3883 and Senate 2197 and give them both unfavorable recommendations.

Thank you for your consideration of this vital request.