Across America, the final votes are being counted and recounted, but we can be sure of one result that will not change: bashing teachers is not a winning proposition in this country. American voters still believe in those teachers that helped shape their lives and that are doing the same for their children, and they are not willing to support ill-conceived policies that demoralize and destroy the careers of their favorite teachers. Even clearer is a second message from this election: those who entrust their children to teachers to nurture and educate them will trust the opinions of those teachers far more than the views of bureaucrats or politicians who promote unsubstantiated programs that are not supported by those who have to implement them. These messages were made very clear on November 6.
To illustrate this, let’s look at one of the reddest states in America, Idaho. The voters were not fooled by misleading slogans like “Students Come First” or the rhetoric of Tom Luna, State Superintendent of Public Instruction. They rejected three recently passed state laws that rolled back collective bargaining rights, implemented merit pay based on standardized test scores, and established laptops and online credits at the expense of teachers and reasonable class size. Voters listened to teachers’ concerns about being excluded from decision-making, using student testing inappropriately and at the expense of quality instruction, and pitting teachers against technology instead of seeing it as a teaching tool rather than a teacher replacement. Teachers exposed the shady business practices of those who were using taxpayer dollars to drive personal agendas as well as the out-of-state financiers of the proposed teacher-bashing laws. Idahoans stood by their children’s teachers.
Now let’s review the returns from one of the bluest states, California. The voters there rejected a blatant attempt to silence teachers from participating in our democracy. The billionaire Koch brothers channeled millions into supporting a proposal that would disallow teachers’ political contributions through payroll deductions. Sadly, even some folks who tout themselves as education reformers participated in the effort to silence teachers. They lost because the voters respected the teachers. Efforts to curtail political activity among teachers have usually come from politicians who didn’t receive the teachers’ political endorsements, and the public can see that. Because the public supports fairness, voters in California sided with teachers.
Finally, let’s go to Indiana. This was a stunner. Glenda Ritz, a 33-year teaching veteran and a National Board Certified Teacher, defeated Tony Bennett, State Superintendent, who had led Chiefs for Change, a conservative group that promoted anti-teacher policies. Ritz took the teacher voice to the voters. She made the case for using standardized tests appropriately rather than for high-stakes decisions on pay, evaluation, and professional development. She also promoted a great public school for every child. The voters trusted her and elected her. The new governor and legislators in Indiana would be smart to work with her on an agenda that truly advances a quality education for every student.
There were many other places where voters listened to their teachers. I hope teachers take a lot of heart and a few lessons from the 2012 election. Lesson 1: Your voice matters, individually and collectively through your association or union. Lesson 2: You do not have to accept bad legislation. Challenge it through the proposition process, the courts, or the next election by ousting those who proposed it. Lesson 3: Uniting teachers nationally and contributing to a PAC allows you to pool resources to fight and defeat the billionaires who have been given new power under Citizens United. Lesson 4: All politics really is local and your power comes from influencing voters in your neighborhood and school district. Lesson 5: Our collective power through a strong and democratic union that is student-centered increases our credibility with voters.
We became teachers to make a difference for students. Let’s assure our political participation has the same goal, and then voters will be our best partners.
The opinions expressed in John Wilson Unleashed are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.