Senator Shaheen’s New Ad BURDEN: Fighting For Student Loan Refinancing

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New TV Ad: Jeanne Shaheen Is Fighting Rising College Costs, Working To Make A Difference For New Hampshire Students And Their Parents

Manchester, NH – A new television ad from Jeanne Shaheen’s campaign highlights how Shaheen is working to lower college costs for New Hampshire students and their parents by giving them the freedom to refinance their college loans, just like they can with a home mortgage or car loan.  The ad, running 30 seconds, began airing Sunday on televisions stations in New Hampshire.

“Jeanne Shaheen has deep roots in New Hampshire. She raised her family here and her record proves she shares our values. She understands the importance of education to our kids and their future,” said Campaign Manager Mike Vlacich.  “That’s why as Governor she expanded public kindergarten and created a tax free tuition savings program, and why as Senator she’s introduced new legislation to lower the cost of college loans.  New Hampshire comes first for Jeanne Shaheen and always has.”

In the Senate, Jeanne Shaheen was an original cosponsor of the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinance Act that would allow students in New Hampshire and across the country to refinance their loans at lower interest rates.  While the legislation was blocked by congressional gridlock and a Republican filibuster, it would have helped 25 million borrowers across the country save thousands of dollars on their loan payments.  Individuals with older loans at higher interest rates would be able to refinance at rates below 4 percent.

New Hampshire college graduates leave school with $33,000 in student loan debt on average.  It is the second highest rate of debt in the country.  Over half of the more than 200,000 Granite Staters with federally backed student loans would benefit from Senator Shaheen’s legislation.

Independent economists point to the relatively low share of first-time home buyers in today’s market compared with historical levels as a result of increasing levels of student loan debt.  Graduates with high monthly student loan payments are less likely to qualify for a mortgage or have been able to save money for a down payment on a home.

“New Hampshire students leave college on average with $33,000 in debt. It can slow them down for years. But right now, our students can’t refinance their loans the way you can refinance a car loan or a mortgage,” says Senator Shaheen in the new television ad.  “I want to change that.  I am fighting for a bill to allow students to refinance their loans. It will lower rates and save families thousands of dollars.”

Watch the new television ad here http://jeanneshaheen.org/burden

Stop The Attack On Public Education — AFT Welcomes “Democrats For Public Education”

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Written by Larry Graykin

As a longtime liberal and a union member, I have been dismayed by the Democrats extended, gradual slide toward the political right. Once a little left of center, the typical Democrat nowadays is akin to a moderate Republican of years past. There is no question Eisenhower would be judged “too liberal” for any Republican primary nowadays. My fear is that he’d be deemed too liberal for the Dems, as well.

The worst of the Dems, to my way of thinking, are the Neo-Liberals, simply because they are fleece-wearing wolves. According to Elizabeth Martinez, the main points of neo-liberalism include:

  1. THE RULE OF THE MARKET. Liberating “free” enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government (the state) no matter how much social damage this causes. Greater openness to international trade and investment, as in NAFTA. Reduce wages by de-unionizing workers and eliminating workers’ rights that had been won over many years of struggle. No more price controls. All in all, total freedom of movement for capital, goods and services.
  2. CUTTING PUBLIC EXPENDITURE FOR SOCIAL SERVICES like education and health care. REDUCING THE SAFETY-NET FOR THE POOR, and even maintenance of roads, bridges, water supply — again in the name of reducing government’s role.
  3. DEREGULATION. Reduce government regulation of everything that could diminish profits, including protecting the environment and safety on the job.
  4. PRIVATIZATION. Sell state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors. This includes banks, key industries, railroads, toll highways, electricity, schools, hospitals and even fresh water. Although usually done in the name of greater efficiency, which is often needed, privatization has mainly had the effect of concentrating wealth even more in a few hands and making the public pay even more for its needs.
  5. ELIMINATING THE CONCEPT OF “THE PUBLIC GOOD” or “COMMUNITY” and replacing it with “individual responsibility.” Pressuring the poorest people in a society to find solutions to their lack of health care, education and social security all by themselves — then blaming them, if they fail, as “lazy.”

In other words, Neo-Libs are Libertarians in Democrats’ clothing. And yes, as you might wonder, they DO have ties to ALEC, as demonstrated by Mercedes Schneider in her book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education. 

I’m a teacher, and so I’ve been watching the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)—the Neo-Lib’s PAC that attends to education—for some time now.  From DFER’s “Statement of Principles”: “We believe that reforming broken public school systems cannot be accomplished by tinkering at the margins, but rather through bold and revolutionary leadership.  This requires opening up the traditional top-down monopoly of most school systems and empowering all parents to access great schools for their children.”  These are the lovers and promoters of Michelle Rhee, of charter schools, of vouchers, of top-down educational reforms (e.g., high-stakes testing, Common Core national standards, the use of VAM in rating teacher quality, etc.)  They support policies “that stimulate the creation of new accountable public schools and which simultaneously close down failing schools.”   These, in short, are enemies of the NEA and the AFT.

And into this landscape trots Donna Brazile.

Donna Brazile, says Wikipedia, is “an American author, academic, and political analyst who is Vice Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. She was the first African American to direct a major presidential campaign, acting as campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000.” And she is also one of the founding members of “Democrats for Public Education,” an organization that she first announced at AFT’s convention. “I am ashamed of some of Democrats in my own party. We’re not going to be silent while you are being attacked.”

It’s a wonderful speech. Watch it here:

Democrats for Public Education is brand new. Their website is not yet up. Their Facebook page  has little more than a “Stay tuned…” message. But we already know what they stand for. Brazile, along with two co-chairs, former governors Ted Strickland (Ohio) and Jennifer Granholm (Michigan), has indicated that “the group intends to champion additional funds to make quality public education available to everyone, and reject what Brazile called ‘market-driven’ reforms that undermine the learning environment. ‘We have done a poor job educating people about education. Only when we have clarified that, can we talk about how best to achieve it.’”

So…we have a new environment in which Democrats must live.  Each candidate must answer a question that once could be avoided: Will you continue to pay lip-service to unions while aligning yourself with DFER? Or will you truly stand on the side of teachers, students, and unions, and affiliate yourself with Democrats for Public Education?

As Pete Seeger asked in song, “Which side are you on?”

Granite State Rumblings: Ideas To Spend Quality And Fun Time With Kids This Summer

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Every Child Matters NHI am just coming back from vacation and can honestly say that during my 10 days off I tuned out all of the work stuff, (if you left me a voicemail or e-mail, I’ll get back to you this week!), and just concentrated on having fun with Spidey. And we had a blast!

Every April we start a list of things we want to do together during the summer. Last year his list was full of places like Story Land, Santa’s Village, Clark’s Trading Post, and Disney World. (All wonderful places but they can be expensive). We always do one or two of the “family vacation” places, but last summer I introduced him to a lot of activities that we could do right in my backyard. He must have enjoyed them and they stuck with him, because this year’s list, while there was still Story Land, included almost all of the activities from last summer.

So we spent last week in the backyard and the living room more than we spent it on the road to those expensive family adventures. And, Spidey added some extra elements to the activities this year to make them more fun.

In case you forgot to write them down last year, or this is your first year receiving the newsletter, I thought I’d share them again, before the summer is gone.

Swing in a Hammock

Snuggle close, and sway the afternoon away. Look for pictures in the clouds and watch them change, or read books to each other.

Do Yard Work Together

Toddlers can help pull weeds and sprinkle the flowers with a tiny watering can. Have a kid-size rake and a bubble-blowing lawn mower on hand.

Play Dress-Up

Collect funny hats, gloves, purses, flowing gowns, and “superhero capes” at a garage sale or thrift store. Slip into your new finery, and have a make-believe garden party, Spider-Man adventure, or masquerade ball.

Build a Secret Fort

Drape old sheets over lower tree limbs and clotheslines. Eat dinner there. Stay up chasing fireflies and listening to “night sounds.”

Hold a Car Wash

Park your car in the driveway and let your child give it a good scrub with a pot of water and sponge or with the garden hose. Get the whole family involved for added fun!

Go on a Bug Safari

Dig for worms, scout for lizards, and hunt for frogs and tadpoles. Marvel at an ant carrying an oversize crumb.

Befriend a Firefighter

Bake cookies (or pick up some ice pops), and deliver them to your local fire station. The firefighters will appreciate the surprise — and your child will meet some heroes, see those awesome trucks up close, and learn a lesson about giving to others.

Chalk it Up

Everyone loves sidewalk chalk. Use the glow-in-the-dark kind so you and your child can glimpse your artwork from the window at bedtime.

Make Beautiful Music

Spread a blanket in the backyard for a stage. Ask preschoolers to create (and collect) “tickets” to the big event. Invite the neighborhood  kids to bring their instruments and perform — even your littlest musicians can join in using pots, wooden spoons, and shakers. Set up lawn chairs for the audience, and cheer your little stars.

Dance in the Rain

Surprise your kids by taking them outside during a gentle summer shower. Dance around in swimsuits, catch raindrops in your mouth, and jump in all the puddles.

Card Board Box Creations

Go to the grocery store and grab a bunch of boxes of all different sizes. Throw in some duct tape, markers, pillows, blankets and flashlights and build a city, a fort, or an apartment building!

Home Movie Time

Let your child make videos or a movie with your iPhone (most apps are $2-$5). Then make some popcorn, pile on the couch and have Family Movie Night starring your kids!

Go on an “Alphabet tour”

Bring a camera(s) and a notebook. Head into town and walk around. Beginning with the letter a, find something that starts with that letter (i.e. Adams Street). Take a picture of that item and write it down in your notebook. Continue with each letter and when you are done, each child has a personal and creative alphabet memory book.

Take a class together!

Baking, crochet, cross-stitch, guitar, painting, bread-making, illustrating, pottery, archery, kickboxing, creative writing, sculpting, acting, braiding, cake decorating, weaving, anything. Tons of local colleges, restaurants, craft stores, trade schools, and culinary institutes offer one-day classes or more. Such a fantastic way to connect with each other over a new skill. Plus you can harness their new skills for your own personal gain. Fresh bread, anyone?

Whatever you decide to do with your children this summer, know that the most important thing is not the place or the cost, but the time spent together.

Have fun!

AFT Calls For Education Sec. Duncan To Resign, After He Gets His Due Process

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AFT Members Commit to Fighting Back Against Vergara, Harris Decisions
Special Order of Business Passes at AFT Convention

LOS ANGELES—Today, delegates of the American Federation of Teachers’ biennial convention in Los Angeles unanimously passed a special order of business—recommended by the executive council—to fight back against attacks on unions and teachers like Vergara v. California and Harris v. Quinn, and to fight forward to reclaim the promise of America.

The special order characterizes these lawsuits as “contributing to an escalating and engineered imbalance in our democracy.”

Amended from the floor, the order—originally drafted by the executive council—was revised to include strong language on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who publicly supported the Vergara decision. It derided his promotion of “misguided and ineffective policies on deprofessionalization, privatization and test obsession.”

The order called upon the president of the United States to “implement a secretary improvement plan which will be based upon standing up for public education, supporting teachers and all school workers, inspiring parents and the public to join us in creating the public schools we want and deserve, and leading with us in reclaiming the promise of public education.”

It asked the president to take the following actions:

  • Enact the funding and equity recommendations of the Each and Every Child report issued by the congressionally chartered, bipartisan Equity Commission;
  • Work with us to change the NCLB/RTTT “test and punish” accountability system to a “support and improve” model; and
  • Promote rather than question the teachers and school support staff of America.

It goes on to say that if “Secretary Duncan does not improve, and given that he has been treated fairly and his due process rights have been upheld, the secretary of education must resign.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten made a statement following the passage of the special order:

“This special order is basically saying, “Enough is enough.” Teachers are evaluated and their future livelihoods are linked to that. And when they fall short, they should have a chance to improve. And that’s what this special order represents. Make no mistake about it: There’s a lot of hurt that has been expressed from the floor—the feeling that the secretary of education doesn’t walk in the shoes of public educators or provide the support and resources necessary to ensure all children have a high-quality public education.”

AFT Members Pass Resolution Advocating for New Teacher Accountability System

Image by AFT Union

Resolution Calls for Move from Test-and-Punish System to Support-and-Improve Model

Image by AFT Union

Image by AFT Union

LOS ANGELES—To restore joy to teaching and learning and create strong community public schools that are safe, collaborative and welcoming places, AFT members today passed a resolution taking a bold stand against the obsession with testing and calling for an end to the failed test-and-punish accountability system to one focused on support and improvement. AFT President Randi Weingarten called it the most important resolution passed at the AFT convention.

The resolution, “Real Accountability for Equity and Excellence in Public Education,” which passed virtually unanimously, states that “the very purpose of public education and the joy of both teaching and learning are now at risk because policymakers perversely attempt to capture—and evaluate—everything about teaching and learning with testing.”

“Our obsession with testing, in the guise of accountability, is hijacking public schooling,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Testing should be about giving students a sense of where they stand and teachers and parents the information they need to tailor instruction and support kids. Instead, it’s being used to reduce children to test scores and teachers to algorithms.”

The resolution specifically calls out:

  • The over-reliance on flawed value-added measures (VAM) used to punish and sanction teachers;
  • The use of test results to fire teachers, close schools and hand schools over to privatizers;
  • The failure of test-based accountability to improve student performance or ensure equitable distribution of resources;
  • How the current system fails to recognize that two-thirds of the achievement gap is attributable to nonschool factors and is the opposite approach taken by education systems that outcompete us globally;
  • The increased segregation through public school disinvestment and charter school and privatization expansion;
  • How inappropriate education policies, austerity budgets, deprofessionalization and privatization have made education about competition instead of about the needs of all children; and
  • The need to respect teachers’ professionalism and engage teachers in improvin equity and excellence in our schools.

“Accountability shouldn’t come down to test-and-punish, and classroom teachers shouldn’t be the only ones held accountable,” Weingarten said. “That’s why we are making the call for a thoughtful accountability system that makes students, not data, the priority, focuses on meaningful student learning and ensures adequate resources. It’s time to stop the failed policy of making every child in every grade take standardized tests every year and evaluating teachers on standardized test scores of students they haven’t even taught.”

Instead of the current failed policies, the resolution calls for:

  • Engaging all stakeholders in planning and implementing accountability systems that are transparent and readily understandable by teachers, families and the broader public;
  • Ensuring that students are taught a well-rounded curriculum, including the arts, the sciences, social studies, civics, world languages, health and physical education, and social, emotional and character development;
  • Assessments that are aligned to higher-order thinking and performance skills;
  • Relying on sampling instead of testing every student at every grade level every year, but retaining disaggregated reporting by race, ethnicity, poverty level, English language status and disability;
  • Identifying schools needing improvement through measures beyond test scores;
  • Holding policymakers and administrators accountable for allocating the necessary resources to support schools;
  • Holding all stakeholders, not just teachers, responsible for meeting students’ needs and achieving both equity and excellence for all students;
  • Ending austerity budgets; and
  • Investments in wraparound services to address the social, emotional and health needs of students.

“Taken together, the education resolutions passed at the AFT’s convention offer a blueprint to help fulfill public education’s essential purpose as an anchor of democracy, a propeller of the economy and the vehicle through which we help all children achieve their dreams,” said Weingarten. “They help build the foundation for a public education system focused on great teaching, a rich and vibrant curriculum focused on learning over testing, safe and welcoming neighborhood public schools, valuing and respecting the voice of educators, and ensuring children have the resources and services they need to enable their success in the classroom and in life.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten Lays Out Bold Call to Reclaim the Promise of America

AFT President Weingarten  (Photo by Bruce Gilbert)
AFT President Weingarten  (Photo by Bruce Gilbert)

AFT President Weingarten (Photo by Bruce Gilbert)

Los Angeles—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten kicked off the AFT national convention in Los Angeles today by outlining a bold plan to both fight back and fight forward to reclaim the promise of America and create economic and educational opportunity for all.

In her keynote to more than 3,500 delegates, Weingarten outlined the coordinated attack facing working people, unions, public education and public services—by those who starve public institutions, criticize public institutions, demonize workers and unions, marginalize those who fight back, and peddle private alternatives.

Reclaiming the Promise of America

“The promise of America is being undercut by people who devote their fortunes to decreasing our strength, to advancing the politics of division and to promoting economic policies that redistribute more income to fewer people,” said Weingarten. But, she said, the AFT is better positioned than ever to take these challenges on.

“Despite the toughest environment unions have ever faced, I’m proud to announce that our ranks have grown since we last met. Today, we are larger than ever, a union of more than 1.6 million members,” Weingarten said. Since the AFT’s last convention, the union has grown by more than 64,000 members, making it one of the few unions growing and overcoming the challenges posed by harsh austerity and attacks from politicians such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. The AFT gained members in K-12 education, higher education, healthcare and public services, with membership growth in 16 states, 180 new locals in 20 states and 83 new units in 19 states.

Weingarten noted that educators have additional forces lining up to support them, lauding the creation of a new group, Democrats for Public Education, led by Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Donna Brazile, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, “who want to stand up for our students, for our educators and for public education.”

The centerpiece of Weingarten’s speech focused on the need to fight back against the attacks and fight forward to reclaim the promise of America by being solution-driven, community-engaged, member-mobilized and “badass”—a term gaining currency with educators frustrated with attacks on public education and the current direction of education policy. While acknowledging that the promise of America has been more an aspiration than a realization for many Americans throughout our history, Weingarten said that “what’s been enduring and unifying is a vision of America based on a foundation of democracy and economic opportunity. You’ve heard it often: If you work hard, you’ll have a decent life.”

But the promise of America is more than that, said Weingarten. It is ensuring that every kid has a great neighborhood public school that is safe, collaborative and child-centered, not test-obsessed; that students can take advantage of college without being disadvantaged in the process. It is ensuring good healthcare and that Americans won’t go broke if they get sick. It is being treated fairly at work, getting a real raise once in a while, and not having to choose between one’s job and taking care of a sick child or aging parent. It is guaranteeing that a lifetime of hard work will culminate in a retirement with dignity, and that the voice of everyday people won’t be drowned out by the political purchasing power of the wealthy.

Increasing Educational Opportunity

Weingarten outlined key policy solutions to increase educational opportunity, move from a test-and-punish to a support-and-improve accountability system, realize the promise and potential of the Common Core State Standards, and ensure due process for educators. She called out the testing obsession that, under the guise of accountability, is hijacking public schooling and said that too many officials are “reducing children to test scores and teachers to algorithms,” especially by using value-added measures.

“They call what comes out of that black box a ‘value-added measurement,’ or VAM. I call it a sham,” said Weingarten.

She continued, “Accountability shouldn’t come down to “test-and-punish,” and classroom teachers shouldn’t be the only ones held to account. … A support-and-improve accountability system makes students, not data, the priority. It focuses on meaningful student learning and ensures adequate resources. It’s built on a foundation of professionalism and capacity to get the job done.”

On the Common Core, Weingarten said, “Some of you in this room think the standards should be jettisoned. Some support them because you’ve seen them help develop the deeper learning that is the antithesis of “drill-and-kill.” Some of you—myself included—think they hold great promise but that they’ve been implemented terribly.”

Weingarten reaffirmed her call for a moratorium on the high-stakes consequences for students and educators on Common Core-aligned assessments, and said that AFT members would debate the standards on the floor of the convention later in the weekend. She also announced a new AFT Innovation Fund grant for members who are dissatisfied with the standards or their implementation, and have a better solution to meet the needs of their students. And Weingarten called out Education Secretary Arne Duncan and state superintendents like New York’s John King for dismissing the concerns of parents and educators about the implementation of the standards.

“We need a secretary of education who walks our walk, and fights our fight for the tools and resources we need to help children, said Weingarten. “And we are deeply disappointed that this Department of Education has not lived up to that standard.”

In light of the recent Vergara decision, Weingarten launched a full-fledged defense of the need for due process.

“All workers should have due process,” said Weingarten. “And educators, healthcare workers and public workers need it. How else do we have the freedom to stand up for what’s right, for our kids, our patients and our communities? How else do we exercise our professional judgment and prevent going back to patronage systems, where your job depended on who you knew, not what you know?”

Weingarten made clear that not all due process laws are perfect and that, while we must protect against false allegations, there can be no tolerance for sexual misconduct. She also made clear that no teacher wants to work alongside someone not cut out for the profession.

“So I would hope that we could all agree that if someone can’t teach, we should first help, and if that doesn’t work, the person shouldn’t teach. And it shouldn’t take 10 years to litigate whether a teacher should be removed from the classroom,” said Weingarten.

Weingarten specifically condemned the Vergara decision as the wrong prescription, saying that it “presupposes that for kids to win, teachers have to lose.”

“The bitter irony is throwing out due process will make it harder to attract and keep great teachers,” she said. “So yes, we will fight it in the courtroom and the court of public opinion.”

Increasing Economic Opportunity

To create an economy that works for all, Weingarten outlined essential policy proposals that the AFT would advocate for, including growing the labor movement and reviving collective bargaining; increasing retirement security; easing the burden of student debt; funding a higher minimum wage, paid family leave, universal early childhood education, and full, equitable funding for all schools; and increasing investments in infrastructure and incentives to once again manufacture in America. She also highlighted the AFT’s work to invest union member pension funds in infrastructure and create 150,000 good jobs.

Weingarten also called for all Americans to pay their fair share, including closing tax loopholes for carried interest and enacting a financial transaction tax.

Doing all of this, Weingarten said, we will reclaim the promise of America.

“When we fight forward—with the full strength of our union, united with community, prepared to call out problems and bring forth solutions, and willing to be a little bit badass—we not only fight forward, we move forward.”

Weingarten closed out the speech with a call for members to be deeply engaged in politics, saying that elections matter—determining who nominates Supreme Court justices, and whether working people have elected officials who stand with them or attack their jobs and livelihoods.

Senator Shaheen Introduces Bill To Support And Expand Afterschool STEM Education Programs

Senator Shaheen on the Senate Floor 4-29-14  (Screen Shot)

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today introduced legislation to strengthen and expand afterschool programs that focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and help encourage students to pursue careers in STEM. The Supporting Afterschool STEM Act would provide resources to support afterschool STEM programing and strengthen state, local and community partnerships that research has demonstrated is critical in building STEM-relevant skills and interest among students.

“Encouraging students to pursue careers in STEM fields will help meet future economic demand for skilled, high-tech workers in the 21st century,” Shaheen said. “Giving young people the opportunity to get involved in STEM after school and develop STEM-related skills at a young age will help foster our economic competitiveness in the future and ultimately help grow New Hampshire’s economy.”

Research shows that most students who go on to pursue STEM fields in college and beyond are exposed to and engaged in STEM activities by the 8th grade; by bringing STEM education and activites to students in afterschool programs, Shaheen’s bill will help grow our increasingly important STEM workforce.

“The STEM Education Coalition is proud to stand behind Senator Shaheen’s Supporting Afterschool STEM Act,” said James Brown, Executive Director of the STEM Education Coalition. “One of our Coalition’s top goals is to ensure that we are using every opportunity possible to improve student success in the critical STEM fields, and this bill will help advance the notion that afterschool and informal learning programs have a powerful role to play in addressing our national challenges in STEM education. We need to leverage federal programs in this area, along with private-sector and non-profit efforts to ensure that we are improving student access to high quality afterschool STEM experiences – and this bill will help do that.”

“We commend Senator Shaheen for her ongoing commitment to afterschool programs and their role in STEM education,” said Jodi Grant, Executive Director of the Afterschool Alliance. “In New Hampshire and across the country, afterschool providers have enthusiastically embraced STEM as an important component of their offerings for children. Many providers want and need support and technical assistance to grow and scale their STEM programs. Senator Shaheen’s bill recognizes this need and will help them get those resources, leveraging existing support systems like the New Hampshire Afterschool Network and other such statewide afterschool networks.”

 “The New Hampshire Afterschool Network is pleased to endorse this bill,” said Lynn Stanley, NH Afterschool Network Lead and Afterschool Master Professional. “Afterschool and summer programs provide children and youth hands-on, experiential activities that encourage an interest in STEM learning. Younger children exposed to fun and engaging STEM activities outside the school day are more likely to take upper level science and math classes in high school. This sets them on an educational pathway leading to STEM fields and careers.”

Shaheen has made promoting STEM education one of her top priorities in the Senate and is a recognized leader by STEM Connector in their 100 Women in STEM publication. Shaheen helped launch and co-chairs the Senate STEM Caucus and has been a longtime supporter of efforts that promote programs like FIRST Robotics since her days as New Hampshire’s governor. She has met with students across New Hampshire to promote STEM programs and promote policies like the Innovation Inspiration School Grant Program to provide high schools with new incentives to invest in STEM programs.

Granite State Rumblings: Why You Should Take Time Every Day To Read To Your Children

Mother reading to children (Neeta Lind Flikr)
Mother reading to children (Neeta Lind Flikr)

Mother reading to children (Image Neeta Lind on Flikr)

Have you seen those bumper stickers that say, Read Aloud to a Child Every Day? Does reading aloud to a child really matter?

YES! And here is why:

Reading aloud helps children acquire early language skills.

  • Reading aloud is widely recognized as the single most important activity leading to literacy acquisition.  Among other things, reading aloud builds word-sound awareness in children, a potent predictor of reading success.
  • “Children who fall seriously behind in the growth of critical early reading skills have fewer opportunities to practice reading. Evidence suggests that these lost practice opportunities make it extremely difficult for children who remain poor readers during the first three years of elementary school to ever acquire average levels of reading fluency.” Torgeson, J. Avoiding the Devastating Downward Spiral, American Educator. (2004)
  • Reading aloud to young children is not only one of the best activities to stimulate language and cognitive skills; it also builds motivation, curiosity, and memory. Bardige, B. Talk to Me, Baby! (2009), Paul H Brookes Pub Co.
  • Reading aloud stimulates language development even before a child can talk. Bardige, B. Talk to Me, Baby! (2009), Paul H Brookes Pub Co.
  • Research shows that the more words parents use when speaking to an 8-month-old infant, the greater the size of their child’s vocabulary at age 3. The landmark Hart-Risley study on language development documented that children from low-income families hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers before the age of 4. Hart, B. Risley, T. Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children (1995), Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Reading aloud helps children develop positive associations with books and reading.

  • The nurturing and one-on-one attention from parents during reading aloud encourages children to form a positive association with books and reading later in life.
  • Reading aloud is a proven technique to help children cope during times of stress or tragedy.
  • Reading aloud is a good way to help a child acclimate to new experiences. As your child approaches a major developmental milestone or a potentially stressful experience, sharing a relevant story is a great way to help ease the transition. For instance, if your little one is nervous about starting preschool, reading a story dealing with this topic shows her that her anxiety is normal.

Reading aloud helps children build a stronger foundation for school success.

  • “What happens during the first months and years of life matters, a lot, not because this period of development provides an indelible blueprint for adult well-being, but because it sets either a sturdy or fragile stage for what follows.” J.S. Shonkoff & D. Phillips, Eds., From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development (2000), Washington D.C.; National Research Council & The Institute of Medicine, National Academy Press.
  • Once children start school, difficulty with reading contributes to school failure, which can increase the risk of absenteeism, leaving school, juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, and teenage pregnancy – all of which can perpetuate the cycles of poverty and dependency.
  • Reading aloud in the early years exposes children to story and print knowledge as well as rare words and ideas not often found in day-to-day conversations or screen time.
  • Reading aloud gives children the opportunity to practice listening – a crucial skill for kindergarten and beyond.
  • Reading aloud to a child gives them the basics of how to read a book. Children aren’t born with an innate knowledge that text is read from left to right, or that the words on a page are separate from the images. Essential pre-reading skills like these are among the major benefits of early reading.
  • Reading aloud helps them develop more logical thinking skills. Another illustration of the importance of reading to children is their ability to grasp abstract concepts, apply logic in various scenarios, recognize cause and effect, and utilize good judgment. As your toddler or preschooler begins to relate the scenarios in books to what’s happening in his own world, he’ll become more excited about the stories you share.

Reading aloud is, according to the landmark 1985 report “Becoming a Nation of Readers,” “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading.”

Despite this advice, however, some educators and many parents don’t read aloud to children from a young age and thus fail to nurture avid and skilled readers. Indeed, this is especially true for children in low-income families. According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, only 48 percent of families below the poverty level read to their preschoolers each day, compared with 64 percent of families whose incomes were at or above the poverty level. Children from low-income families are also less likely to have exposure to print materials.

So this summer have some fun, free time with your child. Visit the library and get some books. Then in addition to the usual reading places—a couch, an overstuffed armchair, a child’s bed—consider less traditional ones:

  • Outside under a shady tree, in a sandbox or a hammock, or at a nearby park.
  • Toss a sheet over a clothesline or table to create a reading hideaway.
  • Keep a book in the glove compartment of your car for long road trips or traffic delays.
  • Spread a blanket on the floor for an indoor reading picnic.
  • Use your imagination. Almost every room in your house offers exciting reading possibilities.

Happy reading!

OUR FAVORITES

Image Vivid Image Flickr

Image Vivid Image Flickr

A few weeks ago I asked you to tell me what is on your list of great children’s books. Here’s what I heard from some of you (in no particular order):

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish, illustrated by Fritz Siebel
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr., and John Archambault; illustrated by Lois Ehlert
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Curious George by H.A. Rey
Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue by Maurice Sendak
Olivia by Ian Falconer
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems
Corduroy by Don Freeman
Swimmy by Leo Lionni

Here are a few of  6 year old Spidey’s favorites:

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner (any of the stories in the series)
There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived by Matt Tavares
Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta
Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter Yarrow, Lenny Lipton and Eric Puybaret
Chicka Chicka abc by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault

Want to find some books written by or illustrated by Granite Staters? Check out the list here.

6-16-14 AFT-NH Legislative Update: The Session Comes To A Close, A Look Back At What We Have Done

AFT NH Legislative Update

AFT NH Legislative Update

We succeeded in defeating, once again, the so called “’right to work—for less” bill. Over the past two years hundreds of NH citizens voiced opposition to this bill with only a handful of people speaking in support. This attack on working people like you is led by out of state interests such as the National Right to Work Committee and ALEC.

We succeeded in defeating a bill that would have permitted audio and video recording of a public official while in the course of performing his or her official duties. All employees, both public and private, should have a reasonable understanding that when they are performing their jobs that they are not intimidated or harassed and should have a safe working environment.

We succeeded in passing a bill relative to the filing with a registry of deeds of a fraudulent document purporting to create a lien or claim against real property. As public employees just wanting to do our jobs we should not have to worry that someone unhappy with us could go the county’s Register of Deeds and file a million dollar false claim against your property.

We succeeded in defeating retirement legislation that would hurt public employees even more that the bad legislation passed by the Republicans in the 2010-2011 sessions. AFT-NH believes that:

  • Security in retirement is something every worker deserves after a long, successful career in public service. These workers, after dedicating their working life to educating children, enforcing the law, fighting fires and helping our communities run every day, have earned a benefit that must allow them to retire with dignity.
  • The benefit should ensure a predictable cost for the employers and employees, and it should create, and sustain, a high-quality workforce that is attractive to younger workers to invest a lifetime in public service, in turn adding value to the state’s economy.
  • In exchange for a lifetime of service, workers need to rely on defined and predictable retirement security that is protected against inflationary pressures. Their benefit should ensure sound investment options and strategies that will result in post-retirement stability, even against the economic concerns of today.
  • Public sector workers need to be able to look forward to long productive service. Retirement security should be defined through investments and contributions made over a long-term investment horizon.
  • Instead of encouraging the idea that working for the public sector is less valuable than working for the private sector, New Hampshire’s retirement system benefit for public workers should set a standard, and be something larger employers in New Hampshire should emulate.
  • Public service should be viewed as a respectful vocation; a commitment by workers of service and dedication to their home state. It is service that adds value to the quality of life for NH citizens and visitors. Public service is an investment in New Hampshire and retirement security creates a financial cornerstone of the NH economy.

We were not totally successful with the following but will be advocating for comparable bills to pass in the upcoming session.

AFT-NH supported bills that would have increased transparency within charter schools. We need laws and regulations requiring full transparency in how charter schools operate and making them directly and openly accountable to the public for student performance and their admissions and enrollment policies.  We need stronger policies mandating respect and support for teacher and staff voices in school policies and programs, identification of potential conflicts of interest via disclosure requirements, and the use of public funds by charter schools in the same rigorous manner required in our public schools.

AFT-NH supported a bill that would make sure we have the necessary resources, staff development and support in moving forward with Common Core and Smarter Balance. If these Standards are to succeed, we need to ensure that in each district the following are in place when implementing the Standards:

  • There needs to be planning time for understanding the Standards and time to put them into practice,
  • We need opportunities to observe colleagues implementing Standards in class.
  • We need to provide teachers with model lesson plans aligned to Standards.
  • We must ensure textbooks/other curricula materials align with Standards.
  • We must communicate with parents on the Standards and the expectations of students.
  • We need to develop best practices and strategies along with providing coaching to help teachers teach content more deeply.
  • We need to ensure all districts have the equipment and bandwidth to administer computer-based assessments.
  • We must make sure we have fully developed curricula aligned to Standards and available to teachers.
  • We must be work to align Assessments to Standards indicating mastery of concepts.
  • We must insist that professional development and training in the Standards be offered.
  • We need to develop tools to track individual student progress on key Standards.

To read AFT-NH full statement click here.

AFT-NH supported the passage of SB 322: relative to the renomination of teachers. It is time we move back to supporting our teachers in New Hampshire. Three years is long enough to deny teachers their due process when non-renewed. When decisions with such high stakes are being made, all staff should be given reasons why, and should be given time to improve through an improvement plan.

AFT-NH supported bills that would have increased School Building Aid from the state for local districts. Keep in mind that 50% of our school buildings are over 60 years old and many need infrastructure upgrades necessary for a 21st century learning environment. We also supported a bill that would lift the current cap of 72% on catastrophic special education funds and fully fund it.

We were not successful in passing our real pension reform bill, SB 364: relative to group II service retirement allowances and relative to establishing a supplemental savings plan in the retirement system. If nothing is done, New Hampshire will be in a situation where 30 years down the road, we are going to have public employees – at the end of a career – eligible to apply for food stamps, and other social services. This puts a strain on working families by forcing our public employees into social services. This is financially irresponsible for New Hampshire and undignified for our public employees.

If you have any questions or concerns please email me at lhainey@aft-nh.org.

Thank you!

In Solidarity,
Laura Hainey

Please visit AFT-NH.org and AFT-NH Facebook page and clicked “Like Us”?
Late breaking news appears on our web site and on Facebook!

To read the full listing of EDUCATION BILLS click here

To read the full listing of LABOR BILLS click here

To read the full listing of RETIREMENT BILLS click here

To read the full listing of MISCELLANY BILLS click here

Vergara v. California: When Teachers Lose, Schools and Students Lose Too

Teacher in classroom (image by audiolucistore Flickr)
Teacher in classroom (image by audiolucistore Flickr)

Teacher in classroom (image by audiolucistore Flickr)

There is something seriously wrong in America right now and it all stems from blaming workers for the industry failures. Recently we have seen the right wing attacking the workers at the VA, completely ignoring the fact that the VA is underfunded and cannot handle the volume of new veterans in the already overloaded system.

This trend of blaming the teachers for a schools failure has been the staple of the right wing attack on our public schools.  They blame teachers who spend their own money to supply their classrooms, and spend hours of their own time correcting students’ work.

In the case of Vergara v. California, the California Supreme Court struck down the long-standing teacher tenure law.

“We are deeply disappointed, but not surprised by this decision. Like the lawsuit itself, today’s ruling is deeply flawed. This lawsuit has nothing to do with what’s best for kids, but was manufactured by a Silicon Valley millionaire and a corporate PR firm to undermine the teaching profession and push their agenda on our schools,” said California Teachers Association President Dean E. Vogel. “We plan to appeal this decision on behalf of students and educators, while teachers continue to provide all students a quality public education every day.”

Over and over we see attacks on our public schools and the dedicated teachers who work in them, for the fact that schools are under-performing, yet not once do they ever talk about how underfunded these schools are.  They always go right for the teachers and their unions.

“Rather than provide resources or working to create positive environments for students and teachers, this suit asserts that taking away rights from teachers will somehow help students,” said California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt. “This suit is not pro-student. It is fundamentally anti-public education, scapegoating teachers for problems originating in underfunding, poverty, and economic inequality.”

“It’s surprising that the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children,” stated AFT President Randi Weingarten.  “We must lift up solutions that speak to these factors—solutions like wraparound services, early childhood education and project-based learning.”

The group Students Matter, citing the myth that tenure keeps bad teachers from being fired, pushed the case all the way to the state supreme court.

“While this decision is not unexpected, the rhetoric and lack of a thorough, reasoned opinion is disturbing,” stated Weingarten.  “For example, the judge believes that due process is essential, but his objection boils down to his feeling that two years is not long enough for probation.  He argues, as we do, that no one should tolerate bad teachers in the classroom. He is right on that.  But in focusing on these teachers who make up a fraction of the workforce, he strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job of any right to a voice.  In focusing on who should be laid off in times of budget crises, he omits the larger problem at play: full and fair funding of our schools so all kids have access to the classes—like music, art and physical education—and opportunities they need.”

The group “Students Matter” is well funded group led by “Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch and counts among its supporters notable figures in the anti-union, pro-charter, school privatization movement such as Michelle Rhee of StudentsFirst and Eli Broad”, wrote Dante Atkins on the Daily Kos.

For those who don’t know Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization, they are the one leading the charge for the privatization of public schools. That is what this case is really about.  They have to eliminate teachers’ tenure and break the teachers’ unions so they fire any teacher, at any time, for any reason, and can hire new teachers at a drastically lower salary.

Weingarten concluded “This will not be the last word. As this case makes it through an appeal, we will continue to do what we’ve done in state after state. We will continue to work with parents and communities to fight for safe and welcoming neighborhood public schools that value both kids and the women and men who work with them. No wealthy benefactor with an extreme agenda will detour us from our path to reclaim the promise of public education.”

If we want a public school system that works for every child, regardless of their zip code, we cannot continue to starve our schools. Forcing budget cuts and putting more students in each classroom only compounds a school’s problem.  We need to invest in our children’s future by investing in our public school system.