Reflections on the Seattle teacher contract negotiations

Many Seattle teachers were outraged when the school superintendent made an 11th hour change to the labor contract that was being negotiated between teachers and the district. The superintendent added a proposal called SERVE, which would dramatically increase student testing, monopolize the school library for nine weeks out of the school year, and tie teacher evaluations to the student tests. Tying teacher evaluations to the results of student tests has become popular across the nation, but there’s no evidence that it works, and mounting evidence that it does real harm to teachers, students, and schools.

I got involved in parent support of teachers, and I feel good about my contribution, but I could have done more if it hadn’t been so last-minute, or if we already had a grassroots organization of parents in support of teachers.

The union and district reached a tentative agreement on Wednesday September 1st, about twenty-four hours before teachers had to vote on it. This didn’t give teachers enough time to give it a good, hard look before they voted. On Thursday, at the union’s general meeting, many teachers brought strong opposition to the contract. The majority, however, voted to accept it. Was it because they liked it? I doubt it. More likely, they made the best of a bad situation.

The sticking point of tying teacher evaluations to student test scores is still in there. It’s much weaker than the original proposal, though, and that’s a victory for teachers, students, and parents alike.

Going forward, there is a real need for parents to pay closer attention to what is going on at the district level. The media has made a big noisy fuss about teacher accountability, but we need to hold the district accountable too.

There’s also a real need for us to pay closer attention to the “failing schools.” What are the actual problems they face? And in what ways are they succeeding?

Finally, Seattle needs to take a good hard look at institutional racism and the split between North Seattle schools and South Seattle schools. Decades of work to integrate schools have been slowly but surely eroded over the last few years, and the result is both a lack of resources going to South Seattle schools and a lack of connection between North and South parents.

I’m putting some thought into what I can contribute. Overall, we need more grassroots efforts. And we need to add ethics to this conversation. We need to get back to the goal of educating every student. The district has an ethical responsibility to intervene with every student who hasn’t learned to read by third grade. These students need mentors and coaches and textbooks and research-based education and small classes. How do we make that happen?

Here’s what one Florida teacher has to say about the realities of teaching:

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