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Monaghan: reclaim the promise, return the joy to teaching and learning

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Speaking to more than 200 delegates and guests at the Louisiana Federation of Teachers’ 50th Annual Convention, LFT President Steve Monaghan called for reclaiming the promise of public education and returning the joy to teaching and learning.

“The promise of education should be that each child has a joyous, meaningful experience in school,” Monaghan said.

The LFT president criticized what he termed the “education cliché factory” for “creating phrases that are tossed around as if they really mean something.”

In particular, Monaghan said, he was referring to the overused call for more rigor in public education. “Rigor be damned,” he said. “Remember that the word following it is ‘mortis’.”

The call for rigor has created such an overreliance on standardized tests that some schools can spend as much as 16 weeks in Common Core testing before all students are finished, Monaghan said.

“If you compromise art and music and remove recess to accommodate testing, you have killed childhood,” he said.

“It’s not that we are against testing,” he said, “but we must be sure that the testing we do is for a sound educational purpose.”

Monaghan told the delegates that the Federation is a “strong, focused advocate” for public education, and that by standing firm for the values that animate the union, we are winning the fight for public approval.

“We are winning because the house of cards built on the administration’s education policies cannot stand,” he said.

Monaghan pointed to a recent nationwide survey that showed 64 percent of parents do not believe that the current tsunami of standardized testing is helpful to students.

As further evidence of success Monaghan said, the Federation has a seat on a commission that is investigating the current teacher evaluation system in the state.

“The very fact that the commission exists is an admission that the system is broken,” he said.

There is not yet a revolution against the corporate-modeled education reforms that have characterized the Jindal administration, Monaghan said, but one is certainly brewing.

The Federation president pointed out that this year, the Jindal administration reached out to the union to develop legislation that makes due process for teachers fairer.

“We were able to negotiate a change in the tenure process,” he said. “It is far from fixed, but it is better than it was."

One of the LFT’s goals is to build on that start in the coming legislative session. “The process is now a little fairer, but in 2015 our goal must be to take out Act 1.”

Even though the State Supreme Court ruled that Act 1 does not violate a constitutional ban on multiple objects in one bill – after lower courts ruled three times that it does just that - Monaghan said, the LFT lawsuit challenging the governor’s signature education reform bill served an important purpose.

“We kept alive a conversation about an issue that was not well understood,” he said. “We never thought the courts could make this act all right. We always knew that no matter what the outcome in court, we would have to go back to the legislature.”

Looking forward to the upcoming legislative session, Monaghan said that two other important goals will be to protect benefits offered to employees through the Office of Group Benefits and to concentrate on employee compensation.

Under the Jindal administration, a $500 million surplus on the Office of Group Benefits has been largely depleted, and the administration is working to dramatically increase employees’ out-of-pocket expenses as well as to raise health insurance premiums.

“This is a noble fight at the heart of what we all want,” Monaghan said. “Employees deserve affordable health care, whether you work in the cafeteria or are the superintendent of the district. That is a fundamental, basic right.”

The LFT president stressed that legislative changes in the way teachers are paid was an attack on the profession.

“The idea of destroying the teacher salary schedule was intentional,” he said. “They modeled this design to pay10 percent of teachers ‘rock star’ wages, and that can’t work.”

The challenge, he said, is for teachers and school employees to take charge of the profession and reclaim the promise of public education for the benefit of educators and eh children we serve.

“We are winning,” he said. “But if we stay in this room and do nothing, then someone else will take the ball and run.”