Republican lawmakers share how they got schooled


By Amanda Litvinov

When the last bell rang one afternoon last November, high school English teacher Ryan Anderson and several of his colleagues set out across the state of Utah to attend a forum with a freshman state Senator who had sponsored a bill that the Utah Education Association President deemed “a nightmare.”

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Utah Senate Bill 64 was the sole topic of conversation during that five-hour journey, with its provisions that would make all educators at-will employees on a one- to five-year contract; eliminate early termination protections; limit bargaining rights to salary and benefits, all but destroying educators’ ability to advocate for students at the bargaining table; and base at least 25 percent of teacher compensation on evaluations, with little clarity as to how those assessments would be carried out.

Utah educator Ryan Anderson

“There was impassioned speech that night—paraprofessionals, teachers, support staff, superintendents, business administrators all speaking out, hoping our views as professionals would be heard,” said Anderson, who has nearly 35 years of teaching experience.

Now, a year later, Anderson still sounds amazed by the reaction he and his fellow educators saw in Osmond. “We could tell from his comments and his insightful questions he was really listening,” said Anderson. “The change in his perspective was visceral.”

“I came into office thinking I knew everything I needed to know about the direction we needed to go with public education,” said Osmond, who served as CEO of a for-profit education company prior to taking office. But after four meetings like the one Anderson attended held around the state—one of which was attended by more than 500 educators—plus a dozen classroom visits and hundreds of emails from educators, Osmond says he came to understand the challenges public school educators face in the course of a typical day: overcrowded classrooms, outdated technology, language barriers, behavioral issues, and students who are hungry and unbathed.

State Sen. Aaron Osmond

“It’s just amazing to see the skill these committed teachers have. They’re getting so little in terms of compensation and they deal with so much, yet they’ve been framed as the enemy in public education rather than as the group we need to support the most,” said Osmond.

Osmond soon called together UEA leaders, educators, and other stakeholders like the State School Board and the superintendents association not only to create a vastly improved bill that would support educators by holding school administrators accountable for fair and effective evaluations, but to forge a working relationship that would change the tenor of the conversation about public education in the state legislature.

Some of those initial conversations were uncomfortable. Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, who taught elementary school for more than 30 years before becoming president of the Utah Education Association, says they had to confront the widespread perception that educator unions make it impossible to get rid of bad teachers. “But Senator Osmond heard us saying, hey, we don’t want ineffective teachers in the classroom either, that hurts the profession and worst of all, it hurts kids.” Once all parties realized they were on the same side, the conversation turned to authentic teaching standards, observational tools, and building in training and time for administrators to conduct fair and regular evaluations.

Later, when Gallagher-Fishbaugh presented to members the new SB 6—which would require educators to place in the top two evaluation tiers to move up the regular salary schedule—“they applauded,” she recalled.

The Senator wanted to let educators know what they had taught him throughout the process, so he wrote it on a blog he called Lessons Learned. His posts resulted in an outpouring of support from the statewide education community—even if they didn’t agree with Osmond on everything, educators expressed great appreciation for his willingness to listen and his transparency. But some of his colleagues back at the statehouse weren’t so enthused.

“There were conservatives on both sides of the aisle who felt he had set their agendas back, and he took heat for it,” said Gallagher-Fishbaugh. “But all of this work has opened the door not only for us to have a voice, but for those in the legislature who were waiting for this more moderate person to reach out to an unlikely ally. Some of his colleagues even said, ‘Great, thank you, we’ve been waiting.’”

Rep. Judy Biggert in the classroom

Though at times it seems that too few GOP lawmakers are willing to buck the party line and work with educators to find the best solutions for public education, Osmond isn’t an anomaly. In Washington, Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) has taken courageous stands against giving disproportionate weight to standardized test scores in teacher evaluation and voucher schemes that drain tax dollars from public schools to fund private and religious schools.

“My goal is to empower local educators to pursue the strategies that work best for their classroom, and to unleash the kind of innovative thinking our students need to compete and thrive in the 21st century,” said Biggert.

Like Osmond, Biggert says her view of public education was formed by spending time in classrooms, much of it as a HeadStart volunteer in Chicago. “I’ve seen what a profound difference innovative teachers can make in children’s lives,” said Biggert. “It was by working in the community that I learned to appreciate how crucial early education programs are to ensuring our students have the solid foundation that’s necessary for lifelong learning.”

Cinda Klickna, an English and Advanced Placement literature teacher in Springfield, Illinois, and president of the Illinois Education Association NEA, described Biggert as “an independent leader on public education issues and a strong voice for teachers and school employees.” The Congresswoman has also sponsored legislation to double and extend the federal tax deduction for educators’ out-of-pocket purchases of classroom supplies, and she continues to focus on much needed improvements in education and social services for homeless children.

Back in rural Utah last week, Ryan Anderson was busy getting ready for his students’ return. He reported that since SB 64’s passage in March, administrators and educators have opened up conversations “that are doing good,” and teachers have time every week designated for collaborative work.

“Educators by nature are collaborative, and we do our best work together around student learning,” said Anderson. He wishes he could tell all legislators as much: “Don’t legislate education in isolation—we need to work together.”

Reader Comments

  1. After you vote for Saddam Obama; in 4 more years, we will have a 20 trillion dollar national debt, our GDP will be 10%, you will not have a job paying 360K per year, they don’t need unions in a Socialistic environment, you will have plenty of medical service; but you must wait six months or the rest of your life, whichever happens first for treatment.
    Get the Picture!!
    Fools: join the idiots that are not paying taxes and are already spending all of your money and vote for the fricking idiot. Be one of the 47 percenters.
    Print it out/ you have my permission.

    1. Some of the “idiots” who are not paying taxes are named Trump. (But they’re smart, right?)

      Just as a side note…as of today, we (the taxpayers) have spent $10 million protecting the Trumps during their very abbreviated stint as First Family. (yikes.) Nice job on the National Debt, Mr. Trump.
      Compare that to the $100 million which was spent on the Obamas in eight years.. (do the math, teachers!) As far as I know, the Obamas did not shuttle from Trump tower to Palm Beach on a weekly basis.

      I’d rather spend my time and money enhancing and enriching the lives of kids in the United States. Socialist? Call it what you want.

  2. Ten Teachers to the Legislature in Ohio!

    I have a new concept for Field Trips, it is called, “Legislators on the Bus…” – Legislators traveling to the schools, to the classrooms…. listening, learning and trying to teach the kids!

    29 years ago, I began my teaching career filled with purpose and passion for engaging and educating my students by motivating and inspiring them to become the best learners and human beings they could possibly be.

    29 years later, I am running for the Ohio House of Representatives along with 9 other Teachers in the state of Ohio.

    Why are Teachers leaving their classroom to become Legislators?

    To preserve Public Education, the quality, authenticity and integrity of Teaching and Learning in our classrooms so that ultimately, our students can build secure and successful futures.

  3. Please have Sen Osmond contact Indiana legislators!!!!!!! Our state reps have their heads so far up their own back sides they only hear themselve compliment each other on their latest education “reform”. They are so out of touch it would be hilarious if it weren’t so true!

  4. “It’s just amazing to see the skill these committed teachers have. They’re getting so little in terms of compensation and they deal with so much, yet they’ve been framed as the enemy in public education rather than as the group we need to support the most.”

    An excellent statement, even a hopeful one. I hope that Osmond’s sentiments reflect a new appreciation for public school teachers.

    I remember what my state organization said, however, as legislators took away almost everything teachers possess, except their commitment to doing the right thing, day after day: “Do not listen to what legislators say. Watch, instead, what they do.”

    Since the Spring of Terror (2011), a couple of Republican state legislators, as close to moderates as my state now possesses, recently struck a “Gee Whiz!” posture about the Governor and State Superintendent of Public (SIC) Instruction’s radical reforms: “We did not appreciate how sweeping these new laws really are. Gosh! Maybe some moderation and reflection was in order in 2011.”

    Thus, in 2012, to be fair, a few checks were put on the more radical reforms (SIC) put into effect by the previous year’s General Assembly. None of the rights teachers had lost were restored. The funding still tipped disproportionally toward charter schools and private schools. However, a couple of oversight groups were put into place to study proposals before some are out into effect.

    Gosh! Hurrah! Nice to know that these suddenly contrite (sort of) legislators did not understand the implications or the legislation they voted for and passed overwhelmingly. Perhaps their consciences are affected by the loss of money their reelection campaigns might suffer because union membership is way, way down and pac money will not be as available as once it was for GOP legislators who espouse pro public education rhetoric. Again, to be fair, some of it may be sincere. May be.

    I am, nevertheless, somewhat heartened to read that a few GOP legislators have had their “come to reason” moments. Perhaps this will spread to some of their colleagues. Perhaps a few state legislators will now think before the vote to cut public school teachers and our profession to the bone and the, like our State Superintendent of Public (SIC) Instruction boast that his rechanneling of funds to private schools through vouchers will be “the most important” accomplishment of his administration.

    Incredibly, some of my state’s teachers will support this man in 2012.

    Rumor has it, from reliable sources, that when he was in the classroom–a short time, you may be sure–he did not have the respect of his colleagues and was known as a rather dull and ineffective classroom teacher.

    1. You are surely talking about Dr. Tony Bennett from Indiana, ask anyone who taught with him and his daily lesson plan in Biology was the film of his basketball team from Friday night’s game.

  5. I think that every high school teacher should teach at least one advanced course and one basic course, so that the evaluator can see his/her range of scores.

    Also, it was excellent that so many Utah teachers could go and point out the flaws in the offensive bill. However, many teachers can’t do anything on school nights because they have to plan, take care of families, or they are just simply exhausted.

  6. I am convinced these people are on to something really positive and good for our education system. So many good teachers have to deal with students whose parents are not able or willing to be involved with their children’s academic experiences. Theses parents need training just like for any other important job. It starts with pre-natal care and should be an ongoing process supported by organizations that need our financial help. Removing funding for these organizations is like shooting ourselves in our collective feet. It costs a lot more to keep a child gone wrong in prison than it does to prevent that situation with a good education. And likewise it’s hard to learn when you’re hungry!

  7. I’ve been hearing this since before i became a teacher. “Anyone can be a teacher, but I wouldn’t want to do it.” Everyone expects good things from education and rightly so, but it takes a lot to educate a child. Its not just the teacher and the student, its the whole community.

    When legislators understand what goes on in education to accomplish the job, they’ll be better prepared to make laws. Until then they should leave education to those trained and gifted to be educators.

    1. I do not believe that “anyone can be a teacher”. It takes a special person to deal with the day to day problems in the classroom whether it be student behavior, teaching lessons, or dealing with administration and helicopter or neglectful parents. The public thinks that “anyone can teach” which is one reason we are so maligned. Not everyone, if fact very few, could deal with what teachers do each and every day while keeping a calm, safe, effective classroom.

  8. My 86 year-old WW2 vet father taught me a lot. One of the many things he said included, “Walk a mile in another man’s (person’s) shoes before you make judgment.” Sometimes I wish legislators were required to teach one a semester before being aloud to write or even vote on legislation pertaining to public education. I know it won’t happen and I know that there are many smart legislators who can understand the challenges of education in this country because they are good listeners, open-minded and transparent. Maybe they should all start there……

  9. Having talked to legilators over the years, I find they have no idea what it is like to try teach and reach and all the different abilities, backgrounds, emotions,in today’s classrooms. They think one size fits all and it doesn’t (standardized tests).

    1. Thank you for your comment. As the saying goes…one size does not fit all. Until all of these blinded legislators walk in the shoes of the education community, they do not have a clue what we all face each day whether in the classroom or on the school bus. As a veteran teacher also with industry experience and an active Virginia Education Association member, I find it disheartening to see our profession treated with such disrespect. We educate the future leaders of tomorrow….should we not be treated as professionals?

  10. My first year of teaching was in 1958 & I retired in 1990. My range of experience was from kindergarten through college. Most of that time I was a Junior High Science teacher. In 1964 I entered a new Junior High and I remember that year, NEA was saying as loud as they could “Build good schools now, or build lots of prisons later” For the remainder of my career, all I ever heard from Republicans were slogans. “Run schools like a business!” “Fire bad teachers!” “You want the Cadillac & we want the Chevrolet!” “Accountabiity in education!” or how about the unfunded campaign slogan “NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND!” Early in my last year, I remember telling my High School students that their teachers cared about them and we would give them a leg up on their future. Then I looked from their faces and around the room at 5 waste baskets catching water dripping from the ceiling and the textbooks with broaken bindings. I remember thinking then that Ants put a much higher priority on their young than humans.

  11. Please ask Rep Biggert to have a long talk with Rep. Robert Hurt (-VA5) about vouchers and using test scores for teacher evaluations. He thinks giving tax mnoney to private schools creates choice. Teacher evaluations should be based on test scores only if the teacher gets to choose the students. Since that’s not going to happen, test scores are
    not a realistic measure of a teacher’s competence..
    Many thanks

    1. I would not want my evaluations based on test scores even if I could choose the students.
      All students deserve the best I have and I will deliver it every day but it is a two way street, students have to do their best as well. Education is an individual, family, community and national issue that deserves top priority. The people making the decisions need to be those who are knowledgeable about educational issues.

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