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CTA President Dean E. Vogel Speech to State Council


Oct. 26, 2013

Good Morning State Council! 

Well, I hope you brought your party clothes with you this weekend, because we have some celebrating to do. It’s going to be a weekend of remembering and celebrating our past, while also looking toward our future. I'm really excited about the gala tonight and the program that our 150th Anniversary Committee is presenting. I tell you, they’ve really gone above and beyond the call of duty. It’s going to be great.  

And I can’t think of a better reason to celebrate than CTA’s 150 years of advocacy, activism and unionism.  That’s a long time! CTA is older than the National Weather Service, older than the first professional baseball league. And while we may not be older than the Democratic or Republican parties, I’d say after the antics of Congress during the past few weeks, we’ve been a whole lot more effective.  

I do have to tell you, I am going to miss John Swett. This past year, I felt like the man had my back. And I know my work was strengthened as I learned more about CTA’s history. Think of what John Swett had to do to organize teachers in this state. Remember, it was before we had SFO or LAX to fly into. It was before freeways and cars. It was even before the Transcontinental Railroad. Look, we have our own battle scars from this work, but I don’t know if I could do it by horse and stagecoach.  

Swett was clearly a man of his times. In fact, he seemed to be cut from the same cloth as his good friend and fellow Martinez resident, John Muir. Did you know they were close friends?  I like to think of both of them on the porch talking about current affairs – public education, preserving the environment, and most likely, the changing face of California.  

Funny how these issues continue to be crucial to our state. But I’ve also come to realize that just as Swett was a man of his times, this is our time.

Let me say that again, This is our time.  

As we are celebrating 150 years together, I think it’s important to acknowledge our own accomplishments and think of the opportunities we have right now to set the education agenda in this state, and in this country.  

Three years ago, we helped elect Governor Jerry Brown into office. It was a significant and strategic move because the governor has been good for public education and good for the economy. Governor Brown is his own man, of course, but he is a man with an eye on the future. 

For crying out loud...think about where we would be if Meg Whitman was governor. Every school would probably be dealing with the iPad disaster going on in LA Unified, or worse. Instead, with Jerry Brown in office and with his support, we were able to pass Proposition 30. Voters actually approved the first tax increase in 20 years! And it was a tax increase that focused on ensuring that everyone paid their fair share.  

That’s $47 billion coming to public schools and colleges over the next seven years. We were able to pass Prop. 30 because of you and who you are in the community and how you're regarded in the community. People trust teachers and they value you what you have to say.  

With the big money of the corporate education reformers focused on attacking public education, educators and their unions, it’s easy to think their distorted view is more widely shared. I’m reminding you today that it is not. People trust educators and they value you and they value your opinion.

In public opinion research earlier this year, 90 percent of voters rated teachers favorable – 90 percent. When I use that term teacher, I’m talking about all educators in the school community: counselor, classroom aid, speech pathologist, librarian, college faculty…you are all part of the fabric of that school and have the same connection in the community. And because of that, we have a responsibility to be part of it.  

As educators and union members, we must take an active role in building our local communities. We must speak out for what our students, schools and colleges need, because we have the power to make a difference.  

This is our time.

We have a tremendous opportunity coming up right now with the Common Core State Standards and the Local Control Funding Formula to engage our communities. There's a lot confusion out there. And people are looking to us to set the record straight, to tell them the truth about what's really going on. As voters passed Prop. 30, they now want to know where that money is going.  

Let me tell you where it’s going. It’s going to each and every school district in our state to begin repaying years and years of cuts. It’s going to our states neediest students. It’s going to our communities and giving each and every educator, parent, and school district the opportunity to decide locally what tools their students need to succeed.  

And for that reason, the Local Control Funding Formula is another important vehicle for engaging our communities — communities that support us and look to us for guidance on what’s best for their kids. The LCFF gives us an opportunity to be right in the middle of that conversation to engage parents and to serve our communities.  

The Common Core State Standards are refocusing what is happening in schools. We will be spending much of this year dealing with the implementation of the Common Core. I know it’s not going to be easy and there are going to be challenges. But the new standards do allow critical thinking skills to once again be part of our students’ educational foundation, and we decide how to best teach that, not some district level administrator, who hasn't been in a classroom for fifteen years, and certainly not some bureaucrat from Washington DC. 

These standards put teachers back in control of crafting and tailoring the education of their students. What a concept! Teachers as the pedagogical leaders and decision makers. 

While we support the standards, that does not mean we are rushing to implement the high-stakes testing that some want to bring along with them. In fact because of CTA, Governor Brown, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and the State Board of Education, California will NOT be rushing to implement the test like New York and other states on the east coast.  

CTA supported AB 484, which the legislature approved and the governor signed into law. This law suspends state testing this year while California overhauls its assessment and accountability system and aligns it to the new standards. No student will take the STAR test this year! 

In July at the NEA-RA, CTA members led the National Education Association in demanding that there be a moratorium on high-stakes testing until the Common Core standards were in place...until curriculums were developed...until textbooks were aligned...and until educators had appropriate opportunities for professional development.  

This law is a step in the right direction. This law means students don’t have to take an outdated test that doesn’t relate to the new standards. It means educators and school districts have time to concentrate on implementing the standards without a hammer coming down on their heads. In fact, the way this law works, California schools will have a three-year accountability holiday, if you will, before any test score is part of the state’s Academic Performance Index!  

And oh, there’s one more provision: This law eliminates second grade testing once and for all! The only one who is not happy about this law…U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  

I’ve got to tell you, I am so proud of our elected leaders. They passed AB 484 over the objections and outright threats from Duncan. He tried to strong-arm the Governor and lawmakers by threatening to withhold federal funding if the state put a hold on testing. And he’ll probably further hurt students and fine California, but thankfully, our lawmakers figured out what Duncan just can’t get: making students take an outdated test or testing them on material that’s not aligned to the standards…MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL.  

I have to agree with Senator Rod Wright…who said from the senate floor during the debate on this bill… something to this effect: Arnie Duncan is just plain wrong, we need to pass this bill, move forward and educate kids the way we know how to do it on California. 

Now, there will be field testing of the computer-based, Smarter Balanced assessments this spring. Students will take either the English language arts or math tests. These field tests will give us the opportunity to expose problems and deal with concerns. And we need to be leading that effort. It is important that our voice be heard because the new law also allows the Superintendent of Public Instruction to further delay implementation if the state is not ready. 

That brings me to our future: How we go about engaging our members, engaging the community and building the CTA we all want. CTA does a lot of things and we do a lot of things really, really well. That’s because of everyone in this room today, and the thousands of members who aren’t here.  

But to keep doing things really well, we have to know where we’re going. And that’s what strategic planning is all about. Two years ago, this Council declared a State of Emergency in education. We took over the state Capitol for a week and exposed the impact of the state budget cuts on our students, schools and colleges. A few people even participated in acts of civil disobedience and spent the night in the Sacramento County jail to drive that point home.  

That same New Business Item also directed CTA to develop a long-term strategic plan. We needed to take a hard look in the mirror, figure out where we want to go — more importantly where our members want us to go — and come up with a plan to get there. We contracted with the Labor Education and Research Center from the University of Oregon to help us facilitate the planning process. 

We then appointed the Strategic Planning Group — more than 75 CTA members, leaders and staff who represent diversity in every sense of that word — including experience, role in the association, and, most importantly…points of view. We didn’t just pick CTA cheerleaders who would say everything is just fine and go with the flow. We wanted real argument and debate from people with concerns. We wanted people who are willing to poke at and challenge the current operations of CTA. And we wanted people who are willing to bring new ideas to the table. 

I can’t tell you how proud I am of the work this group has done over the last year and half, and the enormous amount of time and energy they have given to this effort. But they aren’t the only ones who participated in this process. The extensive amount of data that was gathered came from all corners of CTA, from our members, from our chapter leaders, from staff, from other labor unions and community groups, and even from the media. Thousands of our members participated in this effort.  

The goal of the process from the very beginning was to LISTEN to what members were saying and build a plan around their vision. From that input the group identified eight Strategic Focus Areas that serve as the foundation of the plan. You’re going to get the plan tomorrow and there will be a presentation from members of the Strategic Planning Group, but I want to talk a little bit about it today.  

As I said, this is our time!  

It is our time as educators to unite around common goals, to work with parents and to engage with our communities, and lead the education agenda in California. Rather than playing defense, it’s time to play offense, it’s time to give our students the schools and colleges they deserve. 

It’s time for us as educators to take back control and lead efforts to transform our profession. The plan centers around building an organizing culture in CTA — so that members are continually engaged and so that we are continually talking and, more importantly, listening to each other.  

It’s time to focus on expanding membership and organizing unrepresented education workers. The expansion of charter schools and threats like parent-trigger means more workers in publicly-funded schools are working without representation. And that’s bad for them. And that's bad for students. And it’s bad for this organization.  

I’ve already talked about it a lot today, but community engagement is not only important for the future of public education, it’s important for the future of our state and it's important for the future of our country. It’s our time to reconnect on the issues of social justice, equity and diversity. CTA has always been a leader on these issues and we want to make sure we continue to be a voice and an active force in creating an equitable and just society for all. 

The plan challenges us to build new pathways to union leadership and expands the definition to include members who serve as instructional leaders and devise strategies to transform our profession. And finally, it establishes a process for examining the structure of CTA itself.  

As I said, you are going to get the plan and hear more tomorrow. I have tremendous faith in the people who put this together and I’m proud of what we are bringing forward. The plan provides a roadmap for CTA to ensure we are moving in the right direction and meeting our members’ interests so we can create the best public education system for all of California’s students.  

This is about our profession. It’s about our union. It’s about all of us! And it's about our communities! This is our time!

I want to thank each of you for the work you are doing on behalf of your students and your colleagues. Tonight, we are going to celebrate 150 years of this organization and all that we have achieved. Tomorrow, we once again will roll up our sleeves and continue that work. Because together, with the support of each other, and with the support of our communities, standing shoulder to shoulder, we can get this done!   


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

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