Mass. teachers union snubs National Teacher of the Year

Votes down motion congratulating Dorchester charter school teacher

SYDNEY CHAFFEE WAS WELCOMED to the White House last month. She was honored at an event in Boston by the governor and the state education commissioner. But the first Massachusetts educator ever named National Teacher of Year was given the cold shoulder by the state’s largest teachers union.

Delegates at the Massachusetts Teachers Association annual state convention last Saturday voted down a motion to “publicly and formally congratulate and recognize Sydney Chaffee” on receiving the award.

The motion to recognize a nationally-recognized classroom instructor from Boston would appear to be the most uncontroversial proposal that could be brought forward to a gathering of Massachusetts teachers. What turned the resolution into a contested issue at the convention is the fact that Chaffee teaches at a charter school.

National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee.

Chaffee is a 9th grade humanities teacher at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester, which seems to have everything to do with the teachers union turning down a call to pay tribute to her achievement.

Charter school teachers are generally not unionized, and that is the case at Codman Academy. It is believed to be the first time the National Teacher of the Year award went to a charter school teacher.

The Mass. Teachers Association has taken a strong stand against charter schools, including serving as the main funder of last year’s successful effort to defeat a statewide ballot question that would have raised the cap on charter schools.

The motion to congratulate Chaffee was put forward by Peter Mili, a retired Cambridge math teacher and longtime active MTA member. “I was disappointed that, as an organization of educators, we couldn’t for the moment put aside the charter school issue and national politics and just recognize this individual for her accomplishments and her work with children,” said Mili.

He said people speaking against the motion raised everything from the fact that Chaffee taught in a charter school to concerns about national education policy under President Trump and Betsy DeVos, his education secretary.

Mili said he does not know Chaffee and was not trying to make any statement on the broader charter school debate that has roiled the education waters in the state. Mili said he had a “No on 2” lawn sign in front of his house during last year’s campaign and shared the union’s concern about charter school expansion.

Mili said the issue should be “not so much where she worked – the structure of the school she taught in – but the fact that she’s a teacher being recognized for really good work with Massachusetts children.”

Mili said he emailed MTA president Barbara Madeloni several times in the weeks leading up to the convention to urge that Chaffee be invited to address the annual gathering, but never got a response.

A spokesman for the MTA said Madeloni was not available to comment.

A year ago, Chaffee was named Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. In April, she was chosen for the national award, which is given annually by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Paul Toner, a former MTA president, said the union has always invited the state teacher of the year to offer remarks at the annual meeting. “It’s unfortunate that the politics surrounding charter schools led to this outcome,” said Toner. “Sydney is a teacher, not a politician. We should respect all of our teachers.”

Liam Kerr, director of the Massachusetts chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, a pro-charter organization that also advocates for increased funding for district schools, called it “middle-school-bully” tactics to shun Chaffee and not invite her to speak at the state convention.

Madeloni has staked out a hard line against charter schools and has also pushed for an end to the use of high-stakes tests in Massachusetts schools.

Although Chaffee was not invited by Madeloni to speak at the state convention, the MTA’s parent union, the National Education Association, has asked her to speak in June at its annual convention, which will be held this year in Boston.

“It is our tradition to invite the National Teacher of the Year to the annual meeting of the National Education Association regardless of whether or not he or she has been an NEA member,” NEA president Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement.

Last month, García addressed the state teachers of the year from all 50 states, who were invited to Washington and honored at the celebration where Chaffee was recognized as the national winner.

“Sydney, we adore you,” García said, in a videotape of her remarks. “We all have the same heart that says teaching is not our job, it’s our cause. It’s a social justice cause. It’s how we intend to change the world.”

Paul Reville, the former state secretary of education, said the Mass. teachers vote was a sign of how out of touch the union’s leadership is with the real needs of students.

“MTA’s decision to disrespectfully dismiss the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year is just one more indication of MTA leadership’s obsession with quashing charters, choice, and stifling any reform that threatens to disturb the status quo,” Reville said. “The problem is that the status quo is still not working for so many students. This consistent opposition to change takes us backward while guaranteeing that inequities will persist.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said excellent teachers should be recognized no matter what type of school they are in.

“I support all teachers working to educate students in our city, regardless if they serve at a private school, charter school, or public school,” Walsh said in a statement. “As a Dorchester resident working with a Dorchester school, Ms. Chaffee embodies the strength of our communities, and represents the best of Boston.”

Chaffee declined to respond directly to the MTA vote. “I look forward to the opportunity to continue collaborating with and learning from all teachers this year to ensure that our students get the education they deserve,” she said in an email.

As National Teacher of the Year, Chaffee will take a leave from her teaching post in Dorchester and spend the year traveling nationally and internationally as a spokeswoman for the teaching profession.

Thabiti Brown, her principal at Codman Academy, also declined to address the MTA vote. Instead, he emphasized in an interview the degree to which teachers in the area around the Dorchester school work collaboratively to improve their skills and to aid students, regardless of whether they are in district or charter schools.

“It is way more the norm than not for colleagues across district and charter lines to work together,” said Brown. “To Sydney’s credit, she’s a teacher at the end of the day and she’s excited to tell the stories of strong teachers across the country. That’s why she’s a winner.”

Kerr, the Democrats for Education Reform leader, said teachers unions have long complained that charter schools are not fulfilling one of their original intents – to share best practices with district schools that they have developed under the more flexible structure charters operate with. It is ironic, he said, that the MTA would not have Chaffee come speak to their convention.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“The 110,000-member union has decided they’re worlds away from wanting to learn from the National Teacher of the Year,” he said. “They can’t even say, ‘good job.’”

 

  • FrancisMcManus

    Jonas called all the people who rep organizations that pumped millions into Question 2 and lost. The teacher of the year and allour teachers deserve a lot of credit. https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/education That doesn’t mean massteacher has to to host TOY

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Michael Jonas went to a lot of effort to present one-side in this article especially calling the Massachusetts Democrats for Education Reform simply “a pro-charter organization that also advocates for increased funding for district schools” when in fact it is a big money Political Action Committee (PAC) that doesn’t advocate at all for increased funding for public schools.

    • jshore

      Exactly Mhmjjj2012! I had to chuckle when I read that DFER “also advocates for increased funding for district schools!” I’d like to see some credible links to that statement!

  • Dawn Jawors

    Guess you can’t be a good teacher unless you’re forced to pay union dues. No wonder most parents want school choice.

    • FrancisMcManus

      “most parents want school choice”

      A ballot question to remove the cap on charters statewide lost 2:1 in November. 95% of 351 cities and towns opposed. 100% of MA cities opposed.

      MA public schools are excellent. They educate over 90% of school age kids in MA, and the kids score #1 in the US on NEAP English and Math.

      We need to improve Pre-K, funding and graduation rates in urban school districts, more AP courses, lots of enrichment.

      Did you know Boston Schools is #1 urban school district in the US?

      • Joe

        Do you mean NAEP?

  • Mhmjjj2012

    So what’s the Codman Academy Charter Public School’s story? Codman Academy’s Student/Family Handbook states, “The school does not accept additional students into the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades either for slots in the classes or for positions on the waiting list. Therefore, the school does not maintain a waiting list for the tenth through twelfth grades, and the school will not admit additional students to those classes, even if enrolled students leave the school. Further, no sibling exceptions will be made to this rule for tenth through twelfth grade students.” What’s interesting about that policy is Codman loses a lot of students in grades 10, 11 and 12 but those empty seats aren’t filled. Specifically, the 32 students in 12th grade in 2017 started out in 2014 with 51 students in grade 9 for a loss of 19 students or 37%. Last year’s 12th grade class lost even more students by starting out in grade 9 in 2013 with 46 classmates but then by 2016 grade 12 had only 19 students or 27 fewer students…59% of those students went somewhere…who knows where? Did those students go back to their local public schools? While it’s wonderful Sydney Chaffee was named National Teacher of Year, I certainly can understand an unwillingness to add to the extensive praise the pro-charter industry is showering on her and by association charter schools. Too bad CommonWealth cannot bring itself to actually investigate what’s going on in charter schools here in Massachusetts and across the country. This article is just an opportunity to take a shot at the Massachusetts Teachers Association. CommonWealth’s pettiness when it comes to public education knows no bounds.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Paul Toner is more than a former MTA president. Toner is the executive director of Teach Plus an education nonprofit paying its staff big bucks to leach off local public schools. Back in 2015 Teach Plus paid its president and vice president more than $200,000 each in salary with an additional $30,000 plus in other compensation. Teach Plus’s CEO is among the nine staff members receiving an additional $25,000 to $30,000 in compensation bringing him into the $200,000 plus club. That’s probably what the “Plus” is all about in Teach Plus. Life is good at Teach Plus…really good. That’s not all though. Teach Plus hired as an independent contractor Bellwether Education Partners, Inc. for almost $200,000 that same year for “strategic planning.” Bellwether is another education nonprofit leaching off local public schools and pays big bucks to its staff. In 2014, Bellwether’s president took home almost $300,000 and had three other staff members in the $200,000 plus club with another four staff members close to becoming members of the $200,000 club. So why isn’t CommonWealth looking into what’s going on with all these nonprofits draining local public schools of scarce funds?

  • Mhmjjj2012

    If anyone had a doubt about how one sided this article is then look up the CommonWealth commentary by Liam Kerr dated November 4, 2016…just before voters cast their ballot…”Real Democrats support charter schools.” LOL! What public school funding did Kerr’s OpEd piece mention? “The mechanism by which charter schools are funded is also fundamentally progressive. In Massachusetts, the money follows the child. This means simply that schools receive funding for the number of students they educate.” LOL! Not a word about how the money follows the child but the costs mostly stay with the public schools from fixed costs to the fact charter schools’ student demographics do not reflect the sending local public schools so charter schools mostly have easier to teach students while leaving public schools with a higher percentage of higher cost students: special education, low income and English language learners. CommonWealth your jig is up. Start honestly covering public education in Massachusetts and stop giving the wolves in sheep’s clothing cover for their attacks on public education and teachers.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    And what about Paul Reville? Who is he besides “the former state secretary of education?” Paul Reville is a charter school board member. In fact there’s more to Reville on the Match Education website: He is a board member and adviser to a host of organizations, and a frequent writer and speaker on education reform and policy issues.” How could it possibly be surprising Reville came up with such a nasty statement for CommonWealth to quote?

  • abner godfrey

    Unfortunately, the MTA also makes it difficult for new people to break into the teacher ranks if they have advanced degrees. I possess the teaching credentials and advanced degrees, and they have made it virtually impossible to secure a new teaching position … all because it would disadvantage (supposedly) one of their long-time members. I don’t understand it. It ought to be a win-win for everybody, and the MTA insists on seeing things in terms of zero sum losses.

    • jshore

      You are misinformed and misinforming Abner Godfrey. Teachers are hired by the school district in the city or town you are seeking a position it. The teachers union has nothing to do with you applying for and getting a position. If you see a position advertised, apply for it. You join the teachers union after you are hired.

  • Azr43l

    Absolutely shameful. The MTA and it’s members that voted to snub this outstanding fellow teacher because of politics are an embarrassment to education.

  • FrancisMcManus

    Michael Jonas,

    Did Codman Academy invite Audrey Jackson, MA 2016 Teacher of the Year, when she won?

    If they didn’t, is it fair to assume it was a snub and that their attitude is they have nothing to learn from her?

    I thought you were an honest journalist. You may just be a hack.

  • jshore

    Commonwealth Magazine Michael Jonas sure likes to shake the pot doesn’t he! Considering the award was given by the Council of Chief State School Officers, I have concerns that it was awarded to a Boston charter school teacher to give Michael Jonas something to stir in that pot!

    I’m sure Sydney Chaffee is considered a great teacher by her community and the charter school network. Shouldn’t they be celebrating her success instead of concerning themselves about what another organization is doing? I am a BTU member, and if I was awarded “National Teacher of the Year,” I wouldn’t expect to be formally acknowledged by the Massachusetts Charter School Association or the MTA for that matter.

    The MTA is a democratic union whose members took a vote not to have Ms Chaffee speak at their convention, I respect that. I don’t know why this is even an issue. If an MTA member Mili doesn’t agree with the membership vote of his organization, nothing prevents him from sending Ms. Chaffee a congratulations card.

  • paulunion

    I missed my first Annual Meeting of Delegates in about 40 years. Had I been there, I’d have urged a congratulatory letter, with the wish that she worked with us in the Public Schools. Where the real work goes on. The gardeners who work outdoors with all the elements can appreciate the hothouse gardener, but still wish she’d come out and join the real work.

  • Bill Schechter

    Ms. Chafee, whom I am sure is an excellent teacher, was chosen state teacher of the year in the runup to the Question 2 campaign. I think there was a sneaking suspicion about the timing, namely that the Charter industry would use her award to advance their interests. Ditto with the national award conferred with the support of Betsy Devos. Does this suspicion have any basis? Here is what the head of the Charter School Association had to say: “Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said the award shows that in the 20 years charter schools have existed in Massachusetts, the taxpayer-funded but independently run schools have become an important part of the state’s public education system. ‘It seems like another threshold that the charter school movement has now crossed over into respectability,’ Kenen said.” (Boston Globe). So now the union seems cruel, ungracious, etc. Meanwhile two imposing guns are aimed at the public schools and the union. One is (wo)manned by Betsy Devos, the other by the Supreme Court. Where is the graciousness in that? As for Paul Toner, he was very kind and deferential to those who wanted to do public schools in, along with their staffs. I am certain this very bright and inspiring teacher understands that the union response to her appointment has nothing to do with her and everything to do with a political context. I have asked Mr. Kenen how his group honors public school awardees. I await his response.