HISTORY WAS made at the May 10 annual meeting of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) when delegates opted for change by electing Barbara Madeloni as the union’s next president.
Madeloni, a member of the progressive caucus Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU), defeated Tim Sullivan, the current MTA vice president, by 97 votes in the race for president. The vote reflected growing opposition among teachers and staff to high-stakes testing and punishment, as well as increased enthusiasm among union members to take action in order to defend their schools.
Madeloni, a former English teacher, is perhaps best known for refusing, along with her students at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, to participate in a standardized teacher-licensing program co-developed by Stanford University and testing behemoth Pearson. Her campaign, led by EDU, is part of a growing movement across the country by teacher activists pushing their unions to organize against corporate school reform.
Union opponents of Madeloni’s campaign tried to discredit her run for president as an “outsider’s campaign,” and she was criticized for a supposed lack of experience and insufficient connections to political insiders. But that is precisely what appealed to her supporters.
EDU based its campaign for Madeloni’s presidential bid on the pledge to rebuild an active, member-driven union that is transparent that stands up to the corporate attacks on our schools and our union. For years, the MTA leadership has made concession after concession on issues of teacher evaluations, high-stakes testing and retiree health care benefits.
… The grassroots organizing efforts of EDU’s campaign were visible throughout the convention. The most confident and vocal contingent of MTA members came from Holyoke, one of the poorest and hardest-hit school districts in the state. Project Grad, a school privatization firm based in Texas, has already taken over one school and part of a second, and instituted a regime of high-stakes testing and evaluations, creating an environment that makes teachers feel they are constantly under threat.
Yet teachers, staff and parents recently won a victory when they took a proud and public stand against “data walls,” which force teachers to publicly humiliate their students by showcasing their scores.
The combination of winning a victory against data walls and their disgust at the methods of Project Grad have persuaded more teachers to get involved in organizing with the union and with EDU. As Kiely explained, “In the past, there would be maybe five people at a union meeting. Now you can’t find a seat. Before you had a union that didn’t speak out.”
Holyoke MTA members talked eloquently about how these school takeovers are negatively impacting the largely poor and immigrant communities that live in the school district.