FOUR PILLARS OF SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT
AFT President Randi Weingarten is urging the education community to steer clear of a new round of education wars by focusing instead on work that improves children’s well-being, supports powerful learning, builds teacher capacity, and fosters cultures of collaboration. These are “the four pillars to achieve powerful, purposeful public education,” Weingarten told a National Press Club audience in Washington, D.C., on January 9, and the underpinnings of these pillars spring directly from success stories based on AFT affiliates’ work with district and community partners around the country.
SAFE, WELCOMING SCHOOLS
Teams of educators, union leaders, administrators, and community leaders from more than 20 school systems nationwide gathered in New York City in January to work together to transform schools into the safe, welcoming environments that all students deserve. The setting was the 2017 Center for School Improvement Leadership Institute, cosponsored by the AFT and the Teacher Center at the United Federation of Teachers. The emphasis at the four-day meeting was on developing and identifying the tactics, training, resources, and rich community connections needed to move away from zero-tolerance discipline policies and establish a positive, inclusive tone in classrooms.
FREE TUITION GETS TRACTION
The New York Legislature is considering a plan to offer low- and middle-income state residents free tuition to state colleges and universities. Announced in January by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Excelsior Scholarships would aid income-qualified students accepted to State University of New York and City University of New York schools; free tuition would begin this fall for families earning up to $100,000 annually, with limits rising over the next two years. Separately, authorities in San Francisco announced a deal in February to provide free tuition at the City College of San Francisco for residents, and books for low-income students, in the next school year.
TRUMP’S EXECUTIVE ORDERS
In his first week in office, President Trump issued executive orders implementing his campaign promise to target refugees and immigrants. Signed in January, the executive order on immigration has been challenged in court. It temporarily banned nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, and it came just days after an executive order threatening to withdraw federal funds from the more than 300 U.S. cities that have declared themselves sanctuaries for immigrants. In response to these and other executive actions, AFT members and union leaders have been actively engaged in protests, and the AFT is working aggressively to circulate information, updates, and resources to assist affected members and those they serve, and to help fight this outrageous abuse of power.
GALVANIZED BY DeVOS
Betsy DeVos may own the dismal distinction of being the only Cabinet appointee in history who needed a vice president’s tiebreaking vote to escape a stalemated Senate, but that may not be her only legacy, notes AFT President Randi Weingarten. During her confirmation hearing as President Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, DeVos displayed a lack of knowledge, experience, and commitment to the mission of the department she now heads—and galvanized millions of Americans in the process. “The public in public education has never been more visible or more vocal, and it is not going back in the shadows,” Weingarten said. “They will be fierce fighters on behalf of children.”
PUBLIC EDUCATION’S DAY OF ACTION
On the eve of President Trump’s inauguration, tens of thousands of parents, teachers, students, and community members took part in the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) National Day of Action. AFT members played a major role in the rallies, school “walk-ins,” and other events in more than 200 cities and towns, highlighting the growing movement to fulfill the promise of public education. The AROS day of action helped build momentum two days later for the historic Women’s March on Washington. More than 1,200 AFT members bused to the union’s national headquarters to join hundreds of thousands of marchers on the National Mall, and union members also played a role in marches in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Francisco, and scores of other cities.