By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
United Educators of San Francisco President Dennis Kelly recently chatted with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about how to improve education. "Reform isn't something to do to us," Kelly told the nation's top education official. "It is something to do with us."
CTA's partnerships and willingness to work with others — administrators, parents and community members — have helped many schools narrow the achievement gap. In fact, successful schools have a "shared vision" between administration and teachers that promotes a collaborative working relationship, according to the EdSource report "Similar Students, Different Results."
"Partnerships are about relationships," says CTA President David A. Sanchez. "Partnerships are inclusive. They allow us to share resources and develop joint projects to improve education. We are always better working together than working alone."
Enemies of public education frequently describe teachers unions as being obstacles to reform efforts. But nothing could be further from the truth. Here are some of the ways CTA members are actively engaged in reform — and collaborating with others — to improve teaching and learning.
Quality Education Investment Act
Many of California's schools of greatest need are benefiting from extra funds to help boost student achievement from the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA). Goals of the program include reducing K-12 class sizes; having qualified teachers in all core subjects; increasing the number of credentialed counselors in high schools; establishing a districtwide teacher quality index to ensure equitable distribution of teacher experience; and quality training programs and time for collaboration. Funding stems from a court settlement of a lawsuit CTA and the state superintendent of public instruction filed to compel Gov. Schwarzenegger to pay back to public schools all funding mandated by Prop. 98 — the state's minimum funding guarantee for public education. QEIA funding cannot be postponed or modified without court approval, and efforts to do so could subject the governor to contempt of court charges. Approximately 500,000 students in 499 schools in the lowest deciles of the state's Academic Performance Index receive QEIA funding.
CTA has offered numerous trainings throughout the state for members, administrators, parents and other stakeholders to discuss the important role of school site councils in regard to QEIA, budget and collective-bargaining issues, strategies to improve professional development and other key issues.
"I think using this money for Program Improvement schools is great," says Regina Tyler-Powell, a Compton Education Association (CEA) member who teaches at McKinley Elementary School, a school that receives QEIA funds. "It's nice that CTA is continuing to assist schools that need help."
To make the best possible use of QEIA funds, CEA members are meeting with district administrators, parents and classified employees.
Institute for Teaching
CTA's Institute for Teaching (IFT), a program that is an arm of the CTA Foundation for Teaching and Learning, has been responsible for many innovative programs that assist schools of greatest need, reform high school education and increase awareness of the importance of school readiness and voluntary preschool. IFT also has formed a partnership with the Sacramento-based Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project, which uses home visits to build parent engagement in schools. Programs are the result of fundraising and grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and others.
"Instead of looking at our schools as something broken to be fixed, IFT encourages teachers, administrators, school board members and community leaders to take a close look at their schools and classrooms to find out what's working well and to use that information to make changes in our schools," says CTA Vice President Dean Vogel. "We think this is one approach that will make a difference."
In an effort to reduce the dropout rate, IFT recently conducted student and parent interviews at seven of the state's lowest-performing high schools to find out what strategies are successful. Based on 800 interviews, IFT found that the following factors drive a culture of success: focusing on the future; strengthening the work ethic; expanding family-school relations; and moving to a learning-centered environment.
The Education Coalition
CTA has long played a leading role in putting together the Education Coalition, which represents more than 2.5 million parents, teachers, school board members, school employees and administrators. Coalition members have worked together to protect schools from devastating cuts and to protect Prop. 98 — the minimum funding guarantee for California schools.
Along with CTA, the coalition represents the California State PTA; the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA); the California Association of School Business Officials (CASBO); the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA); the California Federation of Teachers (CFT); the California School Boards Association (CSBA); the California School Employees Association (CSEA); and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
The Education Coalition has for many years been a crucial force in shedding light on the dire situation of school funding in our state. Despite being the seventh largest economy in the world, California still ranks 47th in the nation for per-pupil spending. And as the cuts continue, the coalition will be there alerting the public that maintaining high academic standards will be near impossible while funding for public schools continues to be decimated.
CTA's Community Outreach Department provides services statewide to local chapters, UniServ units and Service Center Councils in support of community engagement projects. The goal is to build strong, collaborative relationships between communities and local chapters in each of the four CTA regions. These efforts focus on developing projects and partnerships in support of public schools and their surrounding communities.
CTA has collaborated with the Equal Justice Society studying the intersection of unconscious bias and social justice to assess racial bias in the classroom and school environment and its impact on student achievement. Community Outreach has also recently partnered with the National Education Association on a Public Engagement Project (PEP). The project is a community conversation that helps parents and ordinary citizens, teachers, education support professionals, seniors, elected officials, businesspeople and activists meet to talk about how all students can succeed in school. An ongoing PEP project in Davis, California has had wide participation from its community to address the needs of those children caught in the achievement gap.
Two decades of CTA ballot victories
Year Prop. Description
1988 98 Passed Minimum School Funding Law
1993 174 Defeated School Vouchers
1998 226 Defeated Attack on Union Involvement
1998 1A Passed $9.2 Billion School Construction Bond
2000 38 Defeated School Vouchers
2000 39 Reduced 2/3 Vote Requirement to 55% on School Bonds
2004 55 Passed $12.3 Billion School Construction Bond
2005 74 Defeated Attack on Teacher Due Process
2005 75 Defeated Attack on Union Involvement
2005 76 Defeated State Spending and School Funding Limits
2006 1D Passed $10.4 Billion School Facilities Bond