NCOEA President

News from Sue Stark

To really appreciate who we are, we need to understand where we have been. So, here is a very short abbreviated history lesson on public education: Public education began in the 1640s in Massachusetts. It was basically to make sure that the Puritan children were taught to read the Bible and receive information about their religious beliefs. The rich, on the other hand, educated their children through private schools where academics were the focus. Most schools were not free. “ Parents paid tuition and provided housing for the teacher in order to have their children educated. The focus was on family, religion, and community. In the 1700’s Thomas Jefferson proposed a 2 track educational system; one for the laboring and one for the learned. He stated that allowing some laborer’s children to be a part of a higher level of learning would “rake a few geniuses from the rubbish”. Obviously he thought that would be rare. While our leaders believed in education, they clearly did not believe in equality in the institution. Working conditions were not ideal. Many states used a Lancasterian model of education in which one “master” would teach 100 students of all levels in a single room by first teaching the lesson to the older students who would then pass the lesson on down the line. Discipline and obedience were emphasized in order to supply a work force for the factory owners. Girls were taught to read but not to write. As the concept of public schools spread across the country, it was evident that there was a teacher shortage. Many men used teaching as a stepping stone to other, more lucrative careers so it was proposed that women would be good educators for two reasons; they were naturally nurturers and they were extremely cheap labor as they would not be paid the same as the men. Women took to the profession quickly, as this was one of their first job opportunities. Over time, they realized that the low pay and terrible working conditions that they were faced with needed to change and they were instrumental in forming associations and demanding change in those areas. I need to explain compulsory education laws at this point: There is no federal law requiring children to attend school of any kind. All compulsory education laws are state mandates. This allows the federal government to stay out of education as much as possible. And to emphasize the point; AS of 2017, 8% of school funding in the United States came from the federal government. The first compulsory education law was enacted in 1851 in Massachusetts. Their goal was to civilize the poor immigrants coming from Europe so that they would make good workers. In 1848, testing services were being developed with the backing of the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations. They continued the work of eugenicists like the originator of the SAT, Carl Brigham. Eugenicists believe in excluding certain genetics groups to improve the quality of the human population. Brigham did research proving that immigrants were feeble minded. In the late 1800’s, small family farms were being bought up by rich farming industries and our society moved from an agrarian (or farming) workforce to an industrialized one; forcing many to move to the larger cities for work. This added many students to the classrooms that were already overcrowded. Inequality of schools became more and more evident. This led to Brown v. Board of Education’s ruling that segregated schools must be abolished. What I think gets little press, was the 1974 ruling, Milliken v. Bradley which stated that schools would not be able to desegregate across school districts. So wealthy white families lived in one school district, effectively leaving out African American families who were not able to move there due to extreme prejudice or financial disparity. In 1983, a report was written entitled “A Nation at Risk” in which the concept of public schools failing was born. From that report grew “No Child Left Behind” as well as many other movements which pointed the finger at just about anyone and anything that our children were not being educated well. Ultimately, the blame landed on educators. Unfortunately, the research was faulty. The Department of Energy commissioned a report to follow up on the Nation at Risk. Their report was called the Sandia Report, which showed steady educational gains over time. This was really something since much of the data used in the earlier report started out by looking at college students in the 1960’s who were primarily rich white men. College attendance was still rare at that time. Comparing a much larger and diverse population to a homogenous group still showed gains. The Sandia Report was actually held up by the government for many months. One can conclude that Education reformers in the government were hard at work restructuring our educational system and did not want the report to be released. So what’s going on today? I think a lot is still happening! We are still segregated. We still treat immigrants poorly. Some states are better than others in their educational system. Education in all 50 states is not uniform. A 9th grade education in Massachusetts is equivalent to a 12th grade education in Mississippi. And in Ohio, one of the educational experts who has the ear of The Ohio Senate Education Committee thinks that educators need to be evaluated on performance based on salary potential of students. Eric Hanushek, a Stanford University Professor and native of Lakewood, Ohio also claims that schools do not need more money. They need to be regulated and told how to spend the money they have. Today, we know we are battling our own government over our profession. And don’t miss the point that it’s a battle. Looking back at our history we can see plainly that it’s been a battle ever since we’ve been a country. Westill have to battle that we do not treat everyone equally. Westill have to battle that we are having success, despite claims that we aren’t. But most of all, we still have to battle for the future of this nation; our children. We can try to tell ourselves that we’re too busy, or too disinterested in politics, or too professional to get into the fray; but the very fact that we are public employees puts us there, whether we like it or not. We must stand as a united front, a team like no other, a team that is a part of the largest union in this country; the NEA. And as a part of that great organization, NCOEA stands here today, committed to all of you, all of us. Together we will win the day.