This morning I started the day with love in my heart and a hunger for justice.
(I even took at selfie.)
I dropped the kids off for their first day of school and then hopped on the T to make my way to the Massachusetts State House to testify in favor of H 2025 – A bill that would require interpreters to be certified to translate in education environments and help to improve the ability of parents better access information about their children and be able to more effectively advocate for their needs.
This is very close the the heart of many members of Massachusetts Parents United and part of the Parent Action Agenda we ratified two weeks ago during our convention, so off we went to the hearing.
So I spent the day sitting in a hearing of the Joint Committee on Education. Literally hours. And within about 15 minutes of my arrival, my joy was turned to fury at the lack of respect for parents and our place at the table. (My hunger for justice never leaves.)
I arrived to find an entire day full of education bills being discussed. Literally a laundry list of legislative priorities and policies that would have a direct impact on kids like mine.
Interestingly enough — you know who was missing from the majority of conversations happening with almost ALL of these bills?
Needless to say: Massachusetts Parents United was not impressed.
While all of the heavy hitters in the world of “education” — policy wonks, political professors, administrators and the heads of all the fancy teachers unions were given their places of privilege — me and one other parent group were relegated to a little space off to the side. However, with the issues parents came to discuss pushed literally to the end of the agenda — I was able to listen to all of the other bills being heard throughout the day.
Regardless of what was being discussed, the Massachusetts Teachers Union, the American Federation of Teachers and the Boston Teachers Union made it clear — the only thing that is going to fix education is giving teachers more and more power. More voice. More powerful collective bargaining rights. More right to determine what they feel like teaching. More respect for the mere fact that they are teachers. Less questioning about why they do the things they do, why they get (or don’t get) the outcomes they do and less input from anyone else. Period. They know everything. Just give them more power. More money. More. And everything will be better.
Occasionally there was a mention of engaging “parents and community” but nothing more than an after thought. I actually chuckled out loud when the head of the Springfield Educators Association said they had held community meetings to ask parents what they thought was most important and the SEA heard from parents that they just wanted to “kill high-stakes testing.”
(For the record: I have literally engaged with more than 1,700 Springfield parents in community surveys where we specifically asked them about their concerns about education. I don’t think it came up even once. Oh, and I’ve never heard a damn thing about these amazing meetings being held by the SEA in the past eight months — but we did invite the SEA to our MPU meetings where we talked about racism and bullying at the Brightwood Elementary school. They pretty much just shrugged their shoulders. I can’t even get the head of the Springfield Educators Association to return my phone call to try to get her to listen to her own teachers about what’s happening in the damn school either.)
But if I’m being honest, the folks trying to “reform the system” didn’t do much better.
Not much parent engagement from them either.
The whole experience was a little jarring for some of my MPU members.
“Is this really what happens?”
“Don’t they care about what parents think about this? Why don’t they ask us what we think?”
“Do we get to ask these people questions too? They have this all wrong.”
“Isn’t this just going to force my kid into the school to prison pipeline?”
“Why do they keep saying that teachers are the most important thing in education?”
“Why are collective bargaining rights more important than whether the school actually teaches my kid something? Is that really a thing?”
… and most importantly?
“Nope, that’s not what I want for my child or in my child’s school at all.”
By the time we testified — on an issue that thousands of parents said was incredibly important for them regarding being able to communicate effectively with their schools — no one “fancy” was there. The unions, the administrators and policy people all left. At least the Chairs of the Committee, State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and State Representative Alice Peisch listened to us. (And here’s a little clue: they actually care about what parents have to say. In a very real way.)
Today’s hearing was a perfect example of everything that is wrong in our education conversations in Massachusetts. These are our children you are making decisions about. Can’t you at least be bothered to ask us what we think about what you’d like to do with them?
What do you think?