Articles posted by Dean Vogel

On This Day of the Teacher, Thank a California Educator

Ask any man, woman or child in California about their favorite teacher, and you are bound to get a variety of animated responses. In fact, chances are that if you ask people about who had the greatest influence on them, many will name a teacher.

Today, May 9, is the 30th annual California Day of the Teacher. It’s a perfect time to send a note or e-mail of thanks to your child’s classroom teacher, or perhaps even to one of your own teachers. You can probably find a few on Facebook. So many teachers make a lasting difference in so many lives.

For me, it was Mr. Chavez, my fourth-grade teacher at El Rancho Elementary School in Chino. He was one of those teachers who could nourish the gift that every child had, and I remember that he was very open to everybody, not just the kids who were the best behaved or the kids who seemed to be the smartest or got their work done on time. And I was a kid who needed that kind of connection. I needed to know there was an adult in the world who believed in me, and he was that guy. I didn’t know it then, but I suppose the memory of Mr. Chavez influenced my decision to become a teacher.

This past year, as part of the “Thank You, Teacher!” project, the California Teachers Association (CTA) has asked our members to share thank you notes from their students. We have been running many of them in our California Educator magazine and on our website. The letters are from grateful students who never expected to go to college, from parents who never thought their child would thrive in school, and yes, from students who never thought they would themselves become teachers. And all because of a teacher who inspired, who cared, who encouraged them.

I challenge anyone who has been a determined critic of classroom teachers to read these letters and not be moved by them.

The CTA theme of this year’s Day of the Teacher is “California Teachers: Building a better state for public education.” We know that California’s future success depends on the students we serve, and that’s why this year’s theme is so aptly chosen. We are building a better state for public education, and we are working in public education to build a better California.

The theme is also appropriate because this year is an election year that offers Californians the opportunity to re-commit themselves to the well-being of our state by supporting the Schools and Local Public Safety Act of 2012 funding initiative that is headed for the November ballot. The initiative is sponsored by Governor Jerry Brown and the Restoring California Coalition, and is designed to put California, our cities, and public schools on the road to recovery.

No one knows better than teachers about the impact on our students of the more than $20 billion in cuts to public schools over the past few years. And nobody knows better than teachers about the impact of 40,000 teacher and education support professional layoffs in the past four years. It has been devastating to watch. Yet, in spite of all this, California’s educators are working hard every day to prepare our students for success in the future. We are working to build a better state, and that’s a lesson plan all of us can learn from.

This op-ed appeared in the Long Beach Press Telegram, Torrence Daily Breeze and the Los Angeles Daily News.

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Parent trigger misfires, again

The Adelanto Elementary School District Board of Trustees boldly stood up for students and the rights of all parents in the school community by rejecting an attempt led mainly by a group of outside organizers to shut down an elementary school, replace the entire staff, and create a privately managed charter school.

The trustees recognized that Parent Revolution organizers at Desert Trails Elementary School had failed to meet the simple majority threshold required by the state's so-called "parent trigger" law because many parents who initially signed the petition now wanted their names removed amid allegations of misrepresentation and harassment by some signature gatherers.

The Adelanto School Board meeting drew some heavy-hitter outsiders to the district, including parent trigger author and former state senator Gloria Romero. Acknowledging she had never been to Adelanto before, she urged the board to send a national message and approve the trigger petition. One board member respectfully reminded her that their role was not to send political messages, but to follow the law and do what is best for Adelanto students. The final vote was 5-0 against the petition.

The California Teachers Association opposed the parent trigger law when it was proposed for a number of reasons, none of which included any desire to exclude meaningful parent participation in struggling schools. On the contrary, educators welcome parent involvement and we know that students perform best when parents take an active role in their progress and in their school. Our concerns about the trigger law were borne out of the lack of concrete regulations and procedures, which has played out in both failed attempts in Adelanto and Compton, where irregularities on the petitions and public charges and counter-charges of bad behavior were rampant.

One of the law's fatal flaws is the petition gathering process. Under the parent trigger law, there is no requirement for any kind of informed discussion, for open meetings, for an opportunity to hear all options or another side, or even any practical way to monitor what signature gatherers actually say. Once the majority signature threshold is met, that's it. Parents who don't sign the petition are excluded from crucial further decisions about the school, including if and which management company will take over.

So it's no wonder that many Desert Trails parents asked to rescind their signatures once they learned that their school would lose its staff or that it would become a charter school run by as yet unnamed operators. Many said they had been told the petition was simply to make general improvements or to bring new money to the site. Others said they felt harassed into signing, width relentless home visits often occurring late into the night. More than one parent said, "I signed it so they would just go away."

Despite another embarrassing failure, Parent Revolution is threatening legal action, and continuing to blame the union, the district, the "entrenched status quo" instead of taking an honest look at their own practice of coming in width paid organizers and needlessly confusing and dividing a struggling school's well-meaning parents and community.

At Desert Trails, a school that has struggled to raise scores, Parent Revolution never stopped to ask the basic question, "Why?" They overlooked many contributing factors, including the fact that the school has a devastating student transiency rate. Since the beginning of this school year more than 140 students have enrolled and already left. They didn't talk about budget cuts that have increased class sizes and left students width less one-on-one attention. They ignored recent changes put into place by new school leadership that have started to improve student learning. Instead, their only solution was to point fingers and cast blame.

CTA believes that to help schools that need it, all reform options should be on the table and that parents must play an integral role.

Our local chapter, the Adelanto District Teacher Association, is moving ahead in partnership width the school district and parents to enact proven reforms at Desert Trails and other district schools. But Parent Revolution is still burdening the district width costly legal action despite evidence that their plan does not have majority support. They're going to give parents reform whether they want it or not.

California students, parents, and school communities deserve better than this deeply flawed law and the questionable tactics of a group that is more interested in making national headlines than in helping students. Unless parents are fully informed and involved in a transparent and inclusive reform process, California's parent trigger will continue to miss the target.

This Op-Ed was recently published in the San Bernardino Sun

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Compromise Tax Initiative Explained

The Governor, legislative leaders and the California Federation of Teachers have reached a compromise on a new funding initiative. The new measure uses the structure of the Governor’s proposal to provide funding widthin the general fund, close the budget deficit, pay down the state’s wall of debt and restore funding to public schools and colleges. Using the structure of the Governor’s initiative also ensures that state funds can be used to restore cuts to essential social services and pays for the services shifted to local counties.

The compromise measure increases taxes on the wealthy and reduces the temporary sales tax hike to just a quarter of penny. Under the new proposal, income taxes on households earning $500,000 would increase 1%, households earning $600,000 would increase 2%, and households earning more than $1 million would increase 3%. The income tax hikes would last for seven years. The measure raises about $9 billion a year.

The new measure is quickly making its way through the process and may be cleared for signature gathering just in time for discussions at our State Council of Education meeting this week. The compromise stands to bring more people together in supporting a responsible tax plan to move California forward. At our meeting in January, we had an open, honest and robust debate of the various tax plans. I plan to follow the same process at this meeting.


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CTA responds to RIF notices, "weighted-pupil" funding formula

Nearly 20,000 pink slips were issued to California teachers last week as the state deadline for sending Reduction in Force notices passed. CTA coordinated three media events to speak out against the state budget cuts and to speak up for increasing state revenues. Events were held in Brisbane, New Haven and width the statewide Educational Coalition in Sacramento. These drastic annual layoff notices continue to hurt students and families for generations. If you received a RIF notice, please know your legal rights and know that CTA will be there to support you.

CTA and the Education Coalition are also speaking out against the Governor’s proposal to change the school funding formula this year and move to what is called a weighted-pupil formula. While the proposal is designed to achieve some laudable goals, it would radically change the way schools are funded in California and would essentially make the $20 billion in cuts over the past four years permanent. First, we are concerned about timing. Changing the school funding formula in a year when local districts will not know their actual budgets until after a November Election is too big of a risk and is the wrong time to make drastic changes. We cannot support any formula where some students and districts become big losers, while others become big winners. All disparities must be explained and justified. And finally, the proposal eliminates the state’s Class Size Reduction program – giving districts the extra dollars width no requirements to maintain smaller class size. We believe the Governor must provide a detailed analysis of the proposal width public hearings at all levels widthin the education community.

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Common ground on Initiatives is good news for CA, schools

It is good news that the governor, legislative leaders and the Restoring California Coalition have found common ground on a funding initiative for the November 2012 ballot.

The new plan uses the structure of the governor’s initiative to ensure additional revenues will flow through the state general fund to close the state’s budget deficit and to restore cuts to schools, colleges and other essential public services. It also promotes tax fairness by increasing income taxes on the wealthiest Californians.

Hopefully, this new agreement will bring more people together supporting a responsible plan to put California back on the road to recovery.

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Working in Our Schools and Communities

Read Across America was a huge success as thousands of reading events took place in California schools. It was also a great day to include community members in the work we do in our classrooms. I enjoyed reading width the president of the California Professional Firefighters Association, Lou Paulson, at Nicholas Elementary School in Sacramento. A big thanks to all of you who organized reading events and helped us highlight the importance of reading to kids every day.

I also enjoyed visiting and helping out at Project Angel Food in Los Angeles. As part of our community outreach efforts CTA has contributed to Project Angel Food for several years. The organization cooks and delivers free meals to those who are suffering from terminal illnesses. They deliver more than 13,000 meals every week. On March 9, myself and other CTA leaders joined sixth graders from Vine Street Elementary to help prepare meals for that day. Working width the students and other volunteers was exciting and rewarding. Getting out into our communities or taking opportunities to bring others into our schools is a great way to share what we do as educators, talk about the importance of public education and work together to build a better California.

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An opportunity to thank educators

My meeting with Arne Duncan

President Obama’s Jobs Act includes money to rehire educators

Putting the needs of Main Street ahead of Wall Street, President Obama announced the American Jobs Act, a bill designed to jumpstart economic growth and job creation. It includes resources to prevent educator layoffs and rebuild public schools and colleges. The Jobs Act calls for $30 billion to help prevent up to 280,000 teacher layoffs nationwide, including about 37,000 educator jobs in California. He’s also proposed $25 billion for school infrastructure. California would get about $2.8 billion, which would help create another 36,000 jobs. Joining educators in the call for tax fairness, Obama also outlined his plan for closing the budget deficit, which includes letting tax breaks for millionaires expire and closing tax loopholes for special interests like oil companies. Email your lawmaker today and tell them to support middle class America and the Jobs Act.

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Working with Coalition Partners on Initiatives in 2012

CTA has been working width other labor unions, community groups and legislative leaders in hopes of getting additional revenues into the state budget. Various initiative ideas are being talked about to change tax structures in California and to raise additional revenues for education and other essential services. For too long, California has relied on short-term solutions to our budget problems. The consequences of the growing inequality of wealth and income in the state are undermining the foundations of our democracy and the future of our public schools and colleges.

CTA is also working width a coalition of labor unions to fight the expected paycheck deception initiative next year. This initiative is deceptive and dangerous. It claims to ban political contributions from both unions and corporations, but when you read the fine print, it actually unfairly impacts only unions by banning payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. It singles out middle-class workers and does nothing to stop big corporations from tapping their vast profits for political funding.

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Every child deserves a chance to learn and no child succeeds alone.

© 1999- California Teachers Association