Labor Voices: Next Tuesday’s election will decide the future of Michigan schools

After nearly three years of a pandemic, school closures, virtual learning, severe educator shortages and a student mental health crisis, it should surprise no one that test scores are down.

The National Assessment of Education Progress scores, released last week, show a decline in math and reading scores across almost every demographic. While standardized test scores are an inadequate measure of student achievement or teacher performance, there’s no question that we have work ahead to get our kids back on track and prepare them for long-term success.

The question is: What are we going to do about it?

That’s what makes next Tuesday’s election so pivotal. Our kids’ future is on the line. If we want to provide them the greatest opportunity to be happy and healthy, to live as engaged citizens, to pursue their dreams and to contribute to our state’s future, then we must pay attention to what educators keep telling us they need to do their jobs.

Far-right candidates have made education a centerpiece of their campaigns — but not in a way that helps our kids make progress. Instead, they’ve made hay out of peddling false conspiracy theories that get more outlandish by the day, attacking educators, school librarians, school board members and even LGBTQ students.

Their goal, from the governor’s race down to local school board elections, is to use disinformation to drive a wedge between parents and educators when we should all be working together to improve our schools. While divide-and-conquer might make for good politics, it’s hurting our kids.

We are amidst a crippling educator shortage, from teachers to paraprofessionals and bus drivers to school mental health experts. Too many talented educators are leaving the profession for other careers that provide better pay, more professional respect and fewer political attacks. Witnessing this, fewer talented young people are choosing education as a career.

It’s hard to blame them.

Elizabeth Gates, an instructional coach in West Michigan’s rural Greenville Public Schools, says the attacks on educators — combined with the recent politically motivated book-banning crusades — have caused her to consider other careers.

“Teachers do not want to work in a community that doesn’t trust them,” Gates said at a Greenville school board meeting earlier this year. “They don’t want to work for a Board of Education that doesn’t trust their professionalism. And they do not want to be where they are not valued. Teachers will leave, and they are leaving.”

Gates holds a master’s degree in education, served as president of the Michigan Reading Association, was a semifinalist for Michigan Teacher of the Year, and is renowned for her leadership skills. There’s little doubt she could find another job — likely one that pays considerably more.

While she would be fine, Greenville’s students, educators and community would suffer from her departure.

This story is playing itself out across Michigan: talented, valuable educators are being driven out of their profession by political extremists looking to win a school board, legislative or gubernatorial election and advance their own careers.

It’s incumbent upon our state and local leaders to work together and address the real challenges facing our schools, like the educator shortage, student mental health and helping kids catch up following the pandemic. It’s incumbent upon us to elect those leaders.

So as you research the candidates and make your choices between now and Tuesday, consider which candidates have been part of the problem, spreading disinformation and undermining educators, as well as which candidates support our neighborhood schools and want to provide educators the necessary support to help our children succeed.

What happens next is up to you.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Ray Curry, Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights Executive Secretary-Treasurer Tom Lutz and selected Service Employees International Union members.

(Posted as submitted to Detroit News – https://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2022/11/02/children-behind-listen-to-teachers-election-schools/69607982007)

 

 

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