By Laura Barrett
M TA President Barbara Madeloni and Vice President Janet Anderson have crisscrossed the state throughout the fall and winter to
hear members’ ideas about how to provide the schools
that students, educators and communities deserve.
Between Sept. 11 and Jan. 29, Madeloni
moderated 31 forums from Pittsfield to Martha’s
Vineyard. She and Anderson said there has been a
remarkable consistency in the messages they have
heard as members talked about their vision for
public education and about the obstacles they face in
achieving that vision.
“In meeting after meeting, we heard that members
want schools that are safe, healthy environments
where students not only learn but develop a love
of learning,” Madeloni said. “They want the kinds
of schools that policymakers and elected leaders
provide for their own children — schools with small
class sizes, a rich curriculum and strong, positive
relationships among students and staff.”
She continued, “When we asked members to put
up on poster paper their vision of the public schools
our children deserve, not once did they write, ‘high
MCAS scores.’ Of course they want their students
to do well academically, but the goal is to foster
thoughtful, creative human beings who are ready
to engage in democracy — not good test-takers.
Members are ready to organize to fight for schools
Two years ago, then-Massachusetts Secretary
of Education Matthew Malone acknowledged that
educators were faced with so many new mandates
that trying to keep up had become like “trying to
drink water from a fire hose.”
Since then, members said at the forums, the
number and pace of federal, state and district
mandates have only gotten worse.
“We hear from members that the constant
changes and new initiatives are disruptive and
are taking time away from teaching,” Anderson
said. “Unfortunately, the stress is driving some
good educators out of the profession or into early
retirement. They want their union to help them
advocate for a new direction.”
Some of the concerns raised are:
n The high stakes associated with MCAS for
students, educators, schools and districts are causing
districts to impose more and more tests to get
students ready for it.
n Each new phase of the educator evaluation
system adds components that have to be developed
and implemented. Educators contend that they have
to spend so much time documenting what they
do, they have less time to actually teach and plan
lessons. One summed it up this way: “Now the rule
is that I have to constantly prove that I am a good
n District-Determined Measures are the most
recent requirement under the new system. DDMs are
creating more testing and paperwork — though many
doubt the validity and reliability of the measures
and others are concerned that they will lead to more
standardization of practice.
n Kindergarten teachers in 171 districts now have
to implement the new Massachusetts Kindergarten
Entry Assessment, generally administered as
Teaching Strategies GOLD. Many preschool teachers
are required to administer TS GOLD as well. Many
teachers say this takes time away from teaching
and interferes with how they relate to their students
without providing useful new information.
n PARCC was layered on top of MCAS in
many classrooms during last year’s field tests, and
more than half of all districts are scrambling to get
ready to administer the full PARCC assessment this
year. Concerns include how the tests will be scored,
whether they will be aligned with what students
are being taught, and whether students and districts
are prepared for the technological challenges of an
online exam as well as the impact of more testing in
n RETELL has proven to be extremely
time consuming, and scheduling courses has
been a disaster in some districts. Some teachers
have questioned the quality of the professional
development provided; others wondered if it would
be better to return to bilingual education models.
n Drastic changes are being imposed on schools
designated Levels 4 and 5 with inadequate input
from educators and their unions. This has included
requiring all staff members to reapply for their jobs
and replacing veteran educators who had stellar
evaluations with newer ones willing and able to work
longer hours for less pay. “Some call this classic
union busting,” said Madeloni.
n New charter schools are being opened,
disrupting district budgets and enrollments.
F orum participants were asked to analyze what forces they believe are behind the impediments to improving schools. Opinions varied widely.
Some blamed the companies that profit from
selling the new tests, curriculum materials and
professional development needed to implement
Some blamed state and federal education
officials and local administrators for being out of
touch with what goes on in classrooms and failing to
listen to what educators say they need.
Some blamed larger political and economic
forces that they believe benefit from having a
small number of elites who are well educated and a
larger group of compliant workers who are good at
following rules — good test-takers — but not prone
to questioning authority.
Some blamed families and students themselves
for not taking school more seriously and for not
backing up educators.
Regardless of their views of who was at fault,
many educators were eager to “reclaim public
education” by trying to bring about change.
While there was no consensus on how to do
that, there were many ideas shared and there was
widespread agreement that change has to come from
members themselves, starting at the grass roots.
A common theme was that educators need to
build stronger connections with parents and other
members of the community. Steps might include
holding community forums, building coalitions,
appearing more often in the media and meeting more
often with local and state policymakers.
The MTA’s elected leaders have begun
discussing what was learned at the forums. The
association’s legislative agenda, which grew out
of the forums, calls for a three-year moratorium
on high-stakes testing and new charter schools.
Statewide organizing around those bills is underway.
In mid-December, the MTA held an inter-divisional retreat to begin planning organizing
activities. Teams have formed to work on specific
issues that require grassroots activism and statewide
“We have shown that we can be powerful when
members are informed and organized,” Madeloni
said. “Thanks to member engagement, we defeated
a bill to lift the cap on charter schools in July and a
plan to link educators’ licenses to their evaluations in
November. With more members getting involved, we
can change the terms of the debate and breathe new
life into the core values that brought us to teaching in
the first place.”
Nicole Byrne, who teaches English language
arts at High Rock School in Needham, shared
her thoughts during a forum in Dedham.
Photo by Laura Barrett