Teachers union outlines 2014 legislative agenda
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | December 10,2013
MONTPELIER — The state’s largest union is hoping to recruit the brightest students to become educators and reform how the profession is regulated and evaluated as part of a “success for students” push.
The Vermont National Education Association, which represents about 11,500 teachers and education professionals, outlined its agenda at the State House Monday. Union President Martha Allen said legislative changes may be needed to address the union’s issues.
The union is looking to ensure that educators are included in the discussion of how to reform the system in Vermont, Allen said.
“We know, sadly, what doesn’t work: more and higher state standardized testing, cookie cutter curricula that don’t take creativity into account, punitive evaluation systems and the endless drumbeat about the cost of public education,” she said.
The union’s agenda for the upcoming legislative session includes:
Embracing rigorous standards that provide teachers with freedom to teach in ways that are most effective for all students;
Recruiting the best and brightest to become educators;
Encouraging effective, rigorous and fair evaluation of work;
Adopting reforms in how the profession is regulated;
Working with advocates, parents and social service providers to address the effects of poverty in schools.
Vermont teachers are supportive of “rigorous standards” in the classroom, Allen said. But teachers must also have adequate training in the Common Core state standards.
They also need flexibility to use professional judgment in deciding what material to present to students.
A recent survey of Vermont teachers showed a concern with the amount of professional time teachers have away from students in the school day. Allen said teachers are looking to collaborate with colleagues and have time to assess their students’ work.
The union will explore ways to create more time for teachers and will even consider an expanded school day, according to Allen.
“It could be an expanded school day, depending on how that is done. Some schools have been doing that. I think what’s important is that teachers have the time to do their professional work during that day, not necessarily with students, but with their colleagues or on their own,” she said.
Most teachers leave the profession within five years. To help recruit and retain teachers the union is proposing forgiveness of student loans for new teachers who remain on the job for more than five years. The union hopes to create more flexibility for teachers, too, by eliminating the reliance on standardized testing and cultivating “a culture of innovation and flexibility.”
Meanwhile, the union is also looking to implement a fair evaluation of teacher performance. The system should not just rely on test scores to measure teachers’ effectiveness, Allen said. Rather, it should help detect shortfalls in teachers’ performance and use the information to help them improve. Teachers who are performing poorly should receive help, and when unsuccessful the system should “ensure their exit from the profession.”
Allen said the union will be active in the upcoming legislative session as lawmakers discuss education funding. She is hoping that school budgets are not cut, a message that would put her at odds with advocates for cutting expenditures in public schools. It’s a simple “difference of opinion,” she said.
“I’m really hoping budgets aren’t cut, to tell you the truth. To educate all of our students is a very expensive proposition,” Allen said. “How far down are we willing to go before we decide that education funding is low enough? I think it’s always a challenge. It always will be. But this is a really vital, important part of our state’s economy.”
Allen said the union also wants the ability to add policy issues to collective bargaining. State statute currently limits bargaining to salary and benefits along with terms and conditions of employment. Allen said teachers want the ability to ensure that some policies remain in place in schools even when administrators change.