Why Montgomery teachers won't stop advocating for schools

By Doug Prouty
Silver Spring
Sunday, March 14, 2010

Do teachers have a right to be involved in politics?

Since Feb. 5, The Post has seen fit to run three editorials attacking the Montgomery County Education Association and its political activism. One has to wonder why The Post, given its stated support of reform efforts in public education, chooses to single out the local teachers and union that have done more than any other in the area to bring such efforts to fruition. The MCEA has a long and meaningful history of partnering with Montgomery County public schools to improve teaching and learning, something that The Post recognized when it ran a front-page article this past summer about our Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program ["Throwing a Lifeline to Struggling Teachers," June 29]. PAR is only one part of the jointly designed and managed Teacher Professional Growth System, a model teacher evaluation system for school systems around the country and abroad. Education Week has ranked Maryland's schools No. 1 in the nation for two years -- in no small part due to the student achievement gains that are the focus, indeed the commitment, of the educators of the Montgomery public schools.

The Post posits that the MCEA wields too much influence over the political process in Montgomery County. We do not apologize for our efforts to inform voters about the candidates our members -- the people trusted to care for, challenge and teach the students of MCPS -- believe will best support them in their work. The Post itself has noted the transparency of our process, which is markedly more democratic and open than the process The Post's editorial board uses when endorsing candidates.

In 2006, we asked for voluntary donations from candidates who recognized that pooling their resources to publicize their support for public education and from educators was an effective means of reaching the voting public. The coordinated mailings fully complied with Maryland campaign finance law. No donations were sought or accepted until well after our recommendation process was completed. All contributions were reported to the State Board of Elections. There was no quid pro quo; candidates did not have to donate a cent to our coordinated campaign. Some did. Some didn't. This effort was reported on by the media in 2006 -- more than three years before The Post's recent decision to recycle the story and express such shock and outrage.

Do we advocate for our members? Of course we do. Do we want them to have the resources they need to be at their best every day? No doubt. Do we want politicians who will work with us to protect our classrooms? Absolutely.

When the economy crashed last year and a contract we had bargained in better economic times was no longer feasible, MCEA members voted overwhelmingly to forgo $89 million in pay raises for the current school year. We know that the recession has made it necessary for everyone to make sacrifices. We worked with the Board of Education and the County Council to avoid even more drastic cuts to the instructional program of MCPS.

So why is The Post so vitriolic in its smear campaign against MCEA? Josh Kurtz, a senior editor at Roll Call, concluded that The Post's "unbridled ferocity" was an effort "to reassert its power over Montgomery County elections . . . by tear[ing] down the institution it sees as its biggest rival for winning the hearts and minds of county voters." John Farrell, a contributing writer at U.S. News & World Report who is married to a Montgomery teacher, wrote that The Post's editorials were "semi-hysterical" and that the paper "owes the teachers a correction, if not an apology, for recklessly tossing around words like 'corrupt' and 'shakedown.' "

The Post apparently believes that the First Amendment applies only to itself and those who agree with it. We believe that the voters deserve to have as much information as possible to make informed decisions. We will not back down from our advocacy for our schools, any more than we will lessen our efforts in the classroom every day.

Doug Prouty is a high school English teacher and president of the Montgomery County Education Association.

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