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  • Big Win #3: Taking on the Hogan-DeVos Privatization Agenda

    Majorities of Marylanders oppose extreme school privatization proposals

    Photo: U.S. Department of Education

    Educators, students, and public schools scored several big wins this legislative session. We’ve look at two of the biggest wins and what they mean for Maryland schools: the Protect Our Schools Act and the More Learning, Less Testing Act. Today we’re looking at the defeat of Gov. Hogan’s charter schools bill.

    Governor Hogan and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos share a fixation on promoting charter schools. At every turn, they seem eager to cherry-pick data, loosen accountability standards, and redirect tax dollars from traditional neighborhood public schools to charter schools.

    In her home state of Michigan, DeVos spent years — and millions — trying to eliminate even the most basic accountability and transparency standards for charter schools. A Politico analysis described the result:

    Despite two decades of charter-school growth, the state’s overall academic progress has failed to keep pace with other states: Michigan ranks near the bottom for fourth- and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading on a nationally representative test, nicknamed the “Nation’s Report Card.” Notably, the state’s charter schools scored worse on that test than their traditional public-school counterparts, according to an analysis of federal data.
    Critics say Michigan’s laissez-faire attitude about charter-school regulation has led to marginal and, in some cases, terrible schools in the state’s poorest communities as part of a system dominated by for-profit operators. … The results in Michigan are so disappointing that even some supporters of school choice are critical of the state’s policies.

    Unfortunately, Gov. Hogan has ignored these results (and those from many other states) and introduced increasingly extreme charter school bills during his time in office. This year, his bill was modeled on the destructive changes DeVos lobbied for in Michigan: a separate charter authorizing board, the shifting of operating and facilities funding from traditional public schools to charters, allowing charter schools to hire uncertified teachers, and stripping away collective bargaining rights from charter school employees.

    Back in 2015, Gov. Hogan introduced his first piece of legislation that would have lowered standards and accountability for the state’s charter schools. In response, educators worked hard with legislators and charter school advocates to find a compromise that preserved our strong law while also granting increased flexibility for high-performing charter schools.

    But this year, there was no common ground to find in the governor’s proposal — with elements seemingly straight from the DeVos playbook. In another win for public education, legislators and a strong coalition of educators, parents, and civil rights advocates pushed back, defeating Gov. Hogan’s charter school fraud bill.

    Joan Carter Conway, chair of the Senate’s education committee, at MSEA’s February Protect Our Schools press conference: “If [Hogan] did his research and history, he would understand that [lowering charter school standards] was a recipe for fraud and failure. It didn’t work in Michigan, it didn’t work in Ohio, and we’re definitely not going to have it in the state of Maryland.”

    Marylanders Disagree with Gov. Hogan on Charter Schools

    When the House Ways and Means Committee voted down the governor’s charter schools bill by a 15–8 vote on March 1, they acted in step with the priorities of Marylanders. By a nearly 50-point margin (68% to 19%), Maryland voters want elected officials to focus funding on improving existing public schools rather than shifting funding to privately-run charters and private schools. This sentiment is widespread — and bipartisan.

    Response to: “Which of the following better reflects your opinion: School leaders and elected officials in Maryland should focus education funding on improving public schools, OR School leaders and elected officials in Maryland should focus education funding on shifting taxpayer dollars to schools under private-sector management like charter schools and parochial schools?” (Order rotated)

    As seen in the map, resistance to Gov. Hogan’s focus on lowering charter school standards, accountability, and transparency is strongest in Baltimore City — despite most so-called education “reformers” focusing their efforts there.

    During the legislative session, the Baltimore Sun featured op-eds from two city educators arguing that Gov. Hogan’s charter schools bill was the wrong approach for Baltimore (and Maryland):

    The defeat of this bill, a slap against the national hysteria toward privatization in the guise of innovation, illustrates the desire of many to end the trend toward market-based solutions in education and instead find solutions based on common sense. — Baltimore Sun op-ed by City teacher Morgan Showalter

    And Teachers’ Democracy Project Executive Director Helen Atkinson wrote:

    The first charters were devised by progressive educators in the spirit of allowing flexibility to address specific community level concerns and students’ cultural interests.
    The rhetoric and argument has shifted completely. Gov. Larry Hogan, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Maryland State School Board Member Chester Finn and President Donald Trump, to name a few of the players calling for the expansion of charter autonomy and funding, have a completely new set of arguments. Their reasoning has nothing to do with improving our existing school districts serving low income black and brown children. … They conclude, contrary to much of the evidence, that the only way to improve…is to bypass all government constraints and all government oversight and give free reign to private groups — and even to religious groups — to use public funds as they see fit.

    Thanks to the work of legislators and advocacy of public education supporters, Maryland’s strong charter school law continues to be intact—despite Gov. Hogan’s attempts to bring it down.


    Big Win #3: Taking on the Hogan-DeVos Privatization Agenda was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

  • Big Win #2: The More Learning, Less Testing Act

    The new Maryland law will cut 730 hours of school testing

    Rachel McCusker, Carroll County Teacher of the Year in 2015–2016, speaks to reporters about reducing student testing.

    Maryland’s educators have gotten a lot of attention for helping to pass the Protect Our Schools Act — legislation to reset the state’s school accountability system so there’s less emphasis on standardized testing and greater focus on other measures more indicative of a student’s opportunity to learn.

    But there was another hugely important education bill that passed the Maryland General Assembly this year that reduces testing in a much more direct way. The More Learning, Less Testing Act — which cleared both the House (139–0) and Senate (47–0) without a single no vote—limits mandated testing to 2.2% of the school year, except in eighth grade, when the limit is at 2.3%. That comes out to 23.8 hours in pre-kindergarten through seventh grade, 24.8 hours in eighth grade, and 25.7 hours in high school.

    And while that might sound like a lot of testing, it’s far less than the amount of time many Maryland school districts have used for mandated assessments in recent years. Here’s how many hours of testing each district in Maryland will cut —across the 14 grade levels (pre-K through 12th grade) — to comply with the new law:

    According to 2015–2016 data collected by the Maryland State Department of Education.

    Added together, the More Learning, Less Testing Act will eliminate an estimated 730 hours across 18 districts when the cap goes into effect during the 2018–2019 school year. In six districts, mandated assessments likely won’t have to change unless there were data collection problems, although the law does prevent them from over-testing like the other counties have until now. But for students in school systems like Anne Arundel, Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, and Queen Anne’s, there will be a lot less standardized testing. For example, fifth graders in Dorchester County will have 29.2 fewer hours of testing—the equivalent of having an entire week of instruction added back to the school year.

    “Educators applaud legislative leaders in both parties for coming together to establish a commonsense safeguard against over-testing in our schools. This means our kids will have more time to learn important well-rounded skills, and our teachers can get back to why they went into the profession in the first place: inspiring their students to love learning.”
    — Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association

    Big Win for Students Follows Years of Advocacy from Educators

    After New York enacted a 2% testing cap in 2014, Maryland educators began a three-year plan to pass a similar law in our state. In order to find out exactly how much mandated testing there is each year, we passed a law in 2015 creating the Commission to Review Maryland’s Use of Assessments in Public Schools.

    When students went back to school for the 2015–2016 school year, educators launched a public awareness campaign to explain how over-testing takes away valuable instruction time and narrows the curriculum.

    When the Commission finished its study of how much testing goes on in Maryland schools (a lot), MSEA teamed up with Del. Eric Luedtke — a former teacher — and Sen. Roger Manno during the 2016 General Assembly session to introduce legislation to cap federal, state, and district mandated testing at 2% of the school year. Buoyed by educator voices calling for the testing limit — including an energetic “Week of Action” and thousands of emails and phone calls to state representatives — the bill passed the House of Delegates unanimously. But it stalled in the Senate after legislators expressed an interest in waiting for the Commission to make final recommendations.

    In the summer of 2016, the Commission released its recommendation that every school system create a District Committee on Assessments — including classroom teachers, test coordinators, and support professionals — to identify redundant or unnecessary testing and make cuts to local assessment mandates. But just five districts agreed to implement the recommendation in full, frustrating legislators who hoped the issue could be addressed locally.

    So in December, educators and legislators announced a plan to bring back the legislation to cap testing at 2% of instruction time, especially in light of the refusal by most school boards and superintendents to act on their own. The Baltimore Sun covered the plans on their last front page of 2016.

    The legislation moved quickly through the House, which again passed the bill unanimously, and the Senate made minor adjustments to the bill — including increasing the cap slightly to 2.2%. The House and Senate then agreed on a compromise version of the bill that included provisions to:

    1. Create the District Committees on Assessments that most school systems refused to do on their own.
    2. Change a state-mandated middle and high school social studies test into a performance-based assessment — an innovative, hands-on way of measuring student success beyond the traditional standardized test.
    3. Give districts a waiver to the 2.2% cap in cases when the local educators association agrees that more time is necessary for student learning.

    On the final day of the 2017 General Assembly session, the More Learning, Less Testing Act was passed and sent to Gov. Hogan’s desk for his signature. He has not committed to signing it yet, but it appears likely that he will.

    Between the Protect Our Schools Act and the More Learning, Less Testing Act, Maryland has positioned itself as a national leader in reducing both the high stakes and time that go into standardized testing in schools. As MSEA president Betty Weller said in a statement earlier this week:

    “The legislature has put Maryland schools in a position to show that our children are more than a test score. The overemphasis on testing has failed to close achievement gaps for the last two decades. It’s not enough to know that some students perform worse than others — we need to know why. Now Maryland is a national leader in refocusing time and resources on the kind of learning opportunities that truly help kids thrive in school.”

    Big Win #2: The More Learning, Less Testing Act was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

  • Betty Weller: We Should All Be Proud

    Our big wins are good for students, schools, and communities

    Betty Weller, MSEA President

    What a great General Assembly session! First, we passed the Protect Our Schools Act that gives Maryland a school accountability system that truly invests in and improves our schools by placing less emphasis on standardized testing and broadening the focus of what’s needed to create a great school — closing opportunity gaps, increasing equity, and creating a supportive, safe school climate. The legislation prevents the state from using federal Title I funding meant for high-poverty schools for private school vouchers, forcing public schools to be converted to charter schools, or taking over public schools and handing them over to private operators — the exact agenda Governor Hogan favors and that aligns so closely with that of Secretary Betsy DeVos.

    The bill ensures that educators and parents have a seat and voice at the table when developing plans to improve low-performing schools. Good ideas are generated when communities come together for a greater good, not from top-down dictums that don’t reflect specific experience or interest in our communities.

    Not only did we pass the Protect Our Schools Act, we overrode Gov. Hogan’s veto of it. Maryland is now leading the fight to protect public education from the destructive DeVos privatization agenda.

    Legislators heard us on the issue of over-testing our students, too. It took two years of fighting, but on the last day of session legislators passed the More Learning, Less Testing Act that sets a limit on the amount of annual mandated and standardized testing. We’re now able to reduce the burden of testing and shift the focus back to where it belongs — on creating school atmospheres of curiosity, discovery, and joy for both students and educators.

    This exciting and successful General Assembly session shows us what we can accomplish when we speak with a united voice for our students and schools. Thanks for everything you do and congratulations!


    Betty Weller: We Should All Be Proud was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

  • Toolkit: Teaching Academic Life Skills and Loving It

    Meet Howard County teacher Kara Brooks-Odom

    Kara Brooks-Odom teaches at Mt. Hebron High School in Howard County.

    Students in Kara Brooks-Odom’s academic life skills classes typically have an IQ below 80 and may or may not be social, or even verbal. Kara says many are able to find gainful employment with some minor modifications to the task or workplace and that brings her great joy.

    Here are some of the tools she uses to make it happen:

    SOCIAL THINKING CARDS (See photo above) These are used to prompt students to think about their classroom or work behavior. The cards reduce the need to verbally correct students, allowing them to think about their own behavior and self-correct.

    BACKPACK The students carefully fill backpacks like these with basic school supplies that are distributed to students in need throughout Howard County.

    TOUCH CHAT For students who are limited, low, or non-verbal, the TouchChat app becomes the student’s voice. The complexity of the program is student-specific.

    WORK BOXES Sorting, rolling silverware, and packing backpacks are some of the skills practiced and used in community centers, restaurants, and the Career Skills Lab.

    MODIFIED CURRICULUM Our students receiving a certificate are expected to participate in general education classes and have meaningful and rigorous classwork, similar to their peers, but modified to their instructional level.

    UNIQUE LEARNING This reading and math program includes science components that I use to supplement reading comprehension skills. There are stories and math skills related to getting a job, self-care, social interaction, budgeting, and other young adult and independent skills.


    Toolkit: Teaching Academic Life Skills and Loving It was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

  • Educators Lead and Win on Testing and Privatization

    It’s a giant win for students, parents, educators, schools, and communities. The General Assembly’s passage of the Protect Our Schools and the More Learning, Less Testing acts point once again to Maryland and educators leading the way for improving schools and helping all students. No other state can claim similar success in fighting the Betsy DeVos privatization agenda and the crisis of over-testing as Maryland can thanks to these bills.

    Soon after the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced No Child Left Behind, MSEA created an educator workgroup to develop goals for the new state accountability system that ESSA required. Those goals focused on reducing the impact of standardized tests, closing achievement and opportunity gaps, bringing educators to the table to help improve struggling schools, and protecting against the privatization agenda favored by Governor Hogan, Secretary DeVos, and President Trump.

    House Speaker Mike Busch, Betty Weller, legislators, and POSA supporters at MSEA’s press conference, April 6.

    That early work — presenting MSEA’s school accountability proposal to the state board, educating legislators in every county, building a strong coalition of education advocates, and mobilizing MSEA members — paid off. The Protect Our Schools Act (POSA) positions Maryland to have the smartest and most transparent accountability system in the nation.

    We’re now leading the way by reducing the years of singular focus on test scores and adding important measures that every educator knows make a difference, like student attendance, school safety and discipline, and teacher quality.

    POSA also prohibits the state from converting low-performing public schools into charter schools, issuing taxpayer-funded private school vouchers, or hiring for-profit management companies to take over public schools — all goals that Gov. Hogan and his State Board wanted to enact through ESSA.

    Bipartisan support from legislators also passed the More Learning, Less Testing Act, which limits mandated testing to 2.2% of the school year (2.3% for eighth grade). With students in some grades facing 50+ hours of testing annually, this legislation will restore hundreds of hours of instructional time across the state. The legislation also ensures that educators will be at the table to consider which district-mandated tests to keep, shorten, or eliminate.

    “We’ve made great progress,” said MSEA President Betty Weller, “but the fight isn’t over. We’ll need to be vigilant to make sure that the Hogan-appointed State Board follows through on the legislature’s efforts to stop privatization and over-testing as they implement the state’s new accountability system. Let’s be proud of what we accomplished together — and get ready for what’s next.”

    Educators Lead and Win on Testing and Privatization was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Print Edition

June/July 2016 ActionLine

Someone has to take a stand.” Learn how Maryland kindergarten teachers took a stand against the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment when it interfered with essential instructional time. Discover how Ruthie the dog brought curriculum to life in an Allegany County elementary school? Read how to build a reflective practice with an end-of-the-year review. 

March/April 2016 ActionLine

One school in Prince George’s County is helping immigrant students thrive. MSEA’s testing campaign reached more than 1,000,000 Marylanders. MSEA is addressing new teacher induction issues. Learn more about equity literacy and how you can make a difference in your students’ success with culturally relevant instruction. ESPs scored a big victory from the Court of Appeals. Focus on educators from Dorchester and St. Mary’s counties. 

January/February 2016 ActionLine

Meet seven young activists who are setting the tone of 21st-century public education activism. MSEA meets the state commission and makes eight common sense recommendations for testing sanity. Learn more about the Friedrichs v California Teachers Association. Retirees take off in Baltimore and Charles counties.