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Honor our educators by tackling the real challenges they face


(Oct. 13, 2014) — My wife, Dina, has been a school nurse at a middle school in Renton for five years. Previously, she was at the outpatient pediatric clinic at Harborview Medical Center for 20 years and worked at several other jobs as a pediatric nurse and labor and delivery nurse. She is an amazingly caring human being and we are lucky to have her delivering health care to our children.

All of this is an introduction to why I am so angry at the “educational reformers” who attack our teachers and our public schools. Dina is a veteran nurse. She has seen it all! She has first-hand knowledge of the physical and emotional challenges confronted by the children in our schools. She is deeply aware of the obstacles faced by students, teachers and staff in the schools.

While talking over the dinner table in the evening, sometimes my mouth and the mouth of my father-in-law (who lives with us) literally drop open at the complexity of the day-to-day challenges faced by our educators.

corporate-education-reform-testingBill Gates, Arnie Duncan and all the “experts” and politicians who think they know best should spend a school year in our schools — not one of their expensive private schools — and really learn the challenges faced by people who are devoting their lives to public education. The Seattle Times editorial writers frequently discuss how the Legislature failed our children by not requiring the use of test scores to evaluate teachers. Have any of these journalists spent really significant time in these schools?

Lack of resources is obviously a huge issue. We need additional caring people in the schools to help. Besides smaller class sizes, we need social services to provide support to kids in the schools as well as providing support to parents to assist them in assisting their kids.

Teaching is incredibly stressful. Teachers put in much more time than just the time they spend in the classroom. They also make significant financial sacrifices, as does my wife, in purchasing supplies that are needed and are not covered through the school budgets.

I believe there needs to be a sabbatical system where after certain number of years, teachers can get time off with pay to recharge. Some might say that they get summers off but because of teacher pay scales, many, if not most teachers have to find other work during the summer and besides that, the summer break is really not sufficient to recharge. The school year for most school employees finishes at the end of June and they are back planning and working by the beginning of August.

We should be honoring our educators, not by just simply saying “we honor our educators.” Words are cheap and the politicians and corporate types — in which I include the Seattle Times editorial board — can talk but they do not put their money where their mouth is.

school-cutsThe Washington Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary case that the Washington State Constitution declared funding of K-12 education the paramount constitutional duty of the state. We can anticipate that a large number and perhaps a majority of legislators will declare that they have to cut social and health programs to meet the constitutional mandate. If these elected leaders think we will make progress in educating our children by cutting health care and social services to increase education funding, they are wrong.  Our kids and families need additional services, not less services, in order for the kids to be able to come to school ready and able to learn and be successful.

The corporate educational reformers could volunteer to give up their tax breaks that the legislature has handed out like candy in a candy store and join the effort to close tax loopholes. They could fight (like a few of them have done) for a fairer taxing system, making the wealthy pay their fair share. We can look forward to the next Seattle Times editorial that shamelessly carries the water for their owner, by advocating for the repeal of the Washington inheritance tax. Many of these corporate types do everything they can to avoid taxes while criticizing our educators. (Microsoft has gazillions of dollars in off shore accounts!)

stern-robby-14Thank you teachers, administrators and support staff in our public schools. Through your work, you truly are trying to make our communities a better place to live.

Robby Stern is President of Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, chairs Social Security Works-Washington, and serves on the Executive Board of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. This column previously appeared in PSARA’s Retiree Advocate newsletter and is posted here with the author’s permission. For more information, visit

gates-billALSO in Politico Magazine — The Plot Against Public Education (by Bob Herbert) — Bill Gates had an idea. America’s high schools were too big. When a multibillionaire gets an idea, just about everybody leans in to listen. And when that idea has to do with matters of important public policy and the billionaire is willing to back it up with hard cash, public officials tend to reach for the money with one hand and their marching orders with the other… From 2000 to 2009, he spent $2 billion and disrupted 8 percent of the nation’s public high schools before acknowledging that his experiment was a flop. The size of a high school proved to have little or no effect on the achievement of its students. There was very little media coverage of this experiment gone terribly wrong. A billionaire had had an idea. Many thousands had danced to his tune. It hadn’t worked out. C’est la vie. But Gates was by no means finished. He and his foundation quickly turned to the task of trying to fix the nation’s teachers…

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