Sadly, the first specific statement from the Brookline School Committee about negotiations with the BEU is provably false. Their offer does not contain the percentage increases they report. We wish that it did; we would be closer to settling the contract. It is in fact $785.00, less than 1 percent average, in year one; $1600.00, about a 2 percent average increase in year two (given the average pay of the bargaining unit, $79,010), and in year 3, a 2 percent increase. They also proposed the possibility of an additional year of the contract, with a 2 percent increase in September and 1 percent that would start on the 92nd school day. Included is an additional step in the salary scale, at 1% above the current top step, and a mandatory additional 2.5 hours a week to the elementary teacher’s in-school time (30 minutes extra a day). The BEU rejected the notion of such an additional year, as the additional time would increase the elementary teacher’s mandatory day by roughly 7.5%, without a compensatory increase in pay.
There are many issues regarding student safety, class size, workload, paperwork, and preparation time that remain unresolved. The BEU is happy to review both our proposals and the School Committee’s proposals, word for word, with anyone who is interested. We and the School Committee have ground rules that we agreed on before negotiations began that prevent members of the public from attending our bargaining sessions. However, we are prepared to open up these negotiations to public scrutiny if the School Committee would also so agree.
What is wrong with the School Committee’s current proposals?
1) The School Committee is double dipping on the same 1% and in so doing they are taking advantage of the teachers’ goodwill. Last year, the teachers delayed a 2% raise until mid-year so the Override budget numbers could stay consistent in the months that discussion was underway in the community. Now they are trying to count half of that 2% increase toward another, separate contract. That’s not appropriate. What they are really proposing is 1%.
2) As for the other 2% and 2% they have made it contingent on a longer school day in a fourth year, and for that year, they insist on cheapening the value of the minutes well below any adjustment that could be made for making just elementary educators stay longer.
3) To say that the added step is for everybody is too abstract. It is for those who are willing to wait years and years to get it, and frankly, it is already long overdue. No one should have to work more hours to get it. Nor should steps be treated as raises. Steps are not raises, they are a suppression of salaries that deny educators for years and years what their skill and performance warranted already.
4) Teachers are already working, including collaborating with others, for the amount of time the SC seeks to add, and much more time than that, but at least they control where they do it. During the school day we have now, their minutes are being double and triple booked. Forcing them to be in one place either shows that they are not trusted, or shows how disingenuous it is to call the use of the time as at the teacher’s discretion, or both. If and when you increase paperwork, data analysis, “coaching” and other demands that the teachers do away from their students and student work, it becomes clear that there is no choice at all as to how the added time must be used. Of course there is no time during the school day to get all of the work done in a quality way. The amount of it is absolutely unrealistic. Teachers will simply start their lesson planning and grading later in the day, and it will stretch later into the evening.
5) This is why we remain committed to having the School Committee work with us to ensure that workload cannot be expanded without limit. (Anyone who heard our proposal as a “veto by teachers” does not understand the proposal.)
This School Committee is increasingly interrupting teachers’ ability to focus on each and every student as a whole child. They are even refusing to preserve limits on student loads that are in place now and refusing to discuss caseloads with clinicians. One wonders: why didn’t the School Committee present the BHS class sizes (see below) when they celebrated the small number of elementary classes of 25 or fewer? And why is 25, or close to 25, okay? Do parents want them to also add another section of classes for each teacher on top of this in departmentalized grades? How about 6, or its equivalent (consider the expanding middle school Advisory). Why is the School Committee unwilling to commit to a current practice at BHS (4+1) that IS working?
When you allow larger class sections and more of them, standardization is not far behind as a practical matter. Of course, if you think that “common assessments” and commonly used curriculum are the way to go, you care less about class size anyway. And you better not care about true individualized instruction (as opposed to faux, that is, standardized differentiation) because the teacher will not have time to plan in response to the student he or she comes to know in all of his or her uniqueness. Given the meetings and expectations, there is not enough time left in the 24 hour day.
5) Finally, all of these constantly arising “district-wide” initiatives which will presumably “drive” “standards-based” and “data driven”, “continuous improvement” in instruction need constant training. Is this why teachers cannot be given 10 minutes of a meeting to speak about matters of importance to them (a proposal that has been rejected)? If training is cheaper (2 days, including Saturdays, at half pay, if the School Committee chooses — thereby turning teachers into on-call employees who cannot even depend on the already woefully disrespectful pay)–what stops the School Committee from reducing the value of all training or non-student time? Oh wait. That’s exactly what they want to do by adding the thirty minutes and not paying for the time at a regular rate.
We will not accept a longer workday and a longer year that cannot come close to making a dent in the workload that this School Committee may not understand is undermining the quality of education students are receiving. And we certainly won’t accept working more for free.
If you’re lucky, then at least once you have a teacher who makes all the difference. My firstborn — who’s now on his way to grad school — lucked out when he was 6, with Mr. Weinstein.
David Weinstein has taught first grade at the Pierce School in Brookline for 29 years. He’s gifted, dedicated and beloved — so I was stunned to find out that he is retiring, early.
In his early 50s, he’s leaving as the Brookline schools are immersed in contentious contract negotiations, largely about the data and documentation workload for teachers. This isn’t just a Brookline issue — it’s part of the national story of education reform.
Weinstein says it’s the main reason he’s stepping down. Even in a progressive town with an acclaimed public school system, he says, the paperwork is overwhelming.
And this is not a guy with an aversion to detail. For instance: Every year, since 1987, he has mailed a birthday card with a personal note to every student he’s ever taught.
Weinstein’s last day as a teacher in Brookline is Monday, June 20. As the day neared, he paused to reflect.
Here’s a condensed and edited version of what he said.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time now, just in terms of how the profession has changed and what we’re asking of kids. It’s a much more pressure-packed kind of job than it used to be. And it’s challenging.
The pace is intense and I feel for kids, because they’re rushed. They’re constantly being rushed. You only get to be a child once. And you don’t get to enjoy childhood when you’re constantly being rushed from this place to that place to this, and being assessed in this way.
There’s a lot more data collection than we used to do. Data collection is important; part of education is assessment. Data collection isn’t inherently bad.
What becomes problematic is when an outside party is asking you to collect data which isn’t tremendously useful to my tailoring instruction to children. And that — that becomes frustrating to me as an educator, when I’m spending the limited time that I have each day collecting data, as opposed to developing lessons and working with children.
There are only so many hours in a day. And I’d rather spend those hours doing something else which I think would be more beneficial to children.
All this assessment and all this testing — what I think a better reaction is, is supervision of teachers. You want to have your principal as your instructional leader. You want principals and vice principals and all the administrators to be going into classrooms and to be watching what’s going on, on a regular basis.
But our administrators are so overwhelmed and overburdened by all the mandates that have come down. Our teacher evaluation system is unbelievable in terms of the amount of work that has to be done — self-assessments, and reflections, and have meetings, and download evidence, and create goals, and all this paperwork, which is not nearly as valuable as someone coming into your classroom all the time and saying, “I really liked what you were doing here,” or “Would you think about doing it this way?” or “What about this?” or “I noticed so-and-so was having a hard time with that.” Those discussions, those wonderful rich discussions, that’s what moves education forward.
There’s a lot of looking at standards — that’s the big thing in education — and really with the goal of trying to break education down into bits and pieces, so that we can have a clear understanding of where kids have mastery and where kids don’t have mastery. All these little pieces don’t necessarily add up to a whole. It’s hard to say that if you’ve mastered this and this and this, you have an educated person. That I don’t believe.
My favorite quote is “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” That’s what education’s all about. We want to get kids excited about learning. I want kids to leave first grade and want to learn more and be excited about learning and coming to school and discovery. That’s what education is all about.
I guess the big-picture problem is that all this stuff we’re talking about here is coming from on top, from above, be it the federal government, the commonwealth of Massachusetts, the school administration. But the voices of teachers are lost. I mean, nobody talks to teachers. Or, if they do talk to teachers, they’re not listening to teachers.
And that’s, I think, the frustration — that this stuff just comes down, and we sit with each other: “Well, who thought of this?” or “Why do they think this is a good idea?” It’s kind of like “Why not come and talk with us first?” We actually are professionals who work with kids. We want what’s best for kids. We know what works. We know what doesn’t work.
Education is always changing. What we know about teaching and learning is always changing. But the people making those decisions should be teachers. It should be educators making those decisions, and not politicians, and not people who aren’t in schools.
Would I be leaving teaching if things were different? Probably not, no, I wouldn’t be.
You know, honestly? If it wasn’t so intense now, all year long, every single day, I would do it for longer. I would. But the reality’s a reality.
I think what I’ll miss the most is having my own group of students. That’ll be hard, because that’s like — that’s one of the things that actually brings tears to my eyes. Because it’s, like, every September, I’ve had this new group of kids to form and to work with. And I won’t have that any more. So that’s hard.
But then I think to myself, “You know what? At some point, you’re gonna have to say goodbye.” And I think, you know, I’ve had 29 groups of first-graders. I was lucky enough to get to have these groups of students. They’re still around. OK, they’re not 6 years old anymore, but that’s a good thing — they’ve moved on. But, you know, that’s hard.
And, under different circumstances, would I like to have a few more groups of students? Yeah, I would. But it is what it is.
Credit: Sharon Brody, the voice of WBUR’s weekend mornings. On Saturdays and Sundays, she anchors the news for Weekend Edition and other popular programs such as Only A Game, Living on Earth and Car Talk. During the week she frequently anchors the midday and afternoon news shifts. She also contributes essays to Cognoscenti, WBUR.org’s opinion page.