Good Reasons for Excitement

by Nancy Fulton, NSEA President

I don’t believe any teacher worth his or her certificate would shy away from a good challenge. But this past year was more than a challenge: it tested our patience, rubbed us the wrong way, had us running extra laps and kept us after school.

Yes, 2016 was a challenge. We are at a defining moment in our history as a union. But our Association has been strong for 150 years, and we will continue to be strong well into the future. That’s why I’m so pleased to be starting another calendar year. The outlook is good and fresh when the calendar rolls over, and it seems even better when the current outlook is so positive for public schools in Nebraska.

The good news is that Nebraska citizens are supportive of public schools and their teachers. And our schools are bursting at the seams – there are more public schools in Nebraska than ever before. Here’s a true reason to be excited: Nebraska kids exceed the average and proficiency scores of the nation in every test: math, reading, science and writing, according to the Nation’s Report Card.

Two other positives: Nebraska ranks second among all U.S. states in terms of high school graduation rates, and our students rank very high on the statewide average of ACT scores.

The Tortoise Approach

There are many other positives to cheer as the New Year gets rolling. Nebraska Commissioner of Education Dr. Matt Blomstedt recently announced that while minority students in Nebraska still lag behind white students in terms of achievement, that achievement gap is slowly shrinking.

Blomstedt said that in the four years ending with 2015-16, the reading test proficiency gap between white and black students narrowed by 7 percentage points.  The gap narrowed by 4 points on math tests and by 16 points – 16 points! – on science tests! The gaps on those tests between white and Hispanic students narrowed by 7, 3 and 4 points, with similar numbers for other minority groups, including Native Americans. Some of those numbers are better than others, but in every case the gap is narrowing.

The pace of that narrowing will only accelerate, if Blomstedt has anything to say about it. He told the Lincoln Journal Star that Nebraska schools – I read that as “teachers in Nebraska schools” – have done the bulk of the work to close those gaps. That those gaps are narrowing means we are steadily moving in the right direction. While the pace of that effort may not appeal to some, I would rather take the “tortoise approach” and make progress through a well-thought and measured plan, than use the “rabbit approach” of a speedy new teaching fad that may or may not prove to work.

Wonderful Films

While most Nebraska citizens do not have daily contact with public schools – they don’t have children attending – they can learn much about the changes and state of public schools through the wonderful film works of the Nebraska Loves Public Schools organization. This fine organization accurately bills itself as “the place to see what’s happening in our public schools.” Scores of stories touting the success of Nebraska schools reside on the organization’s website at: www.nelovesps.org

Speaking of films, the Nebraska Association of School Boards has released a wonderful film entitled We Are Public Education in Nebraska. It features great kids, teachers and a few celebrities, and the inspiring message is well worth the 8 or so minutes you will invest in watching. Find it at: www.nasbonline.org

 
Words and Their Meanings

Lastly, our mission and value statements are clear. NSEA is in the business of promoting a great public education by placing students at the center of everything we do, while advocating for and empowering those in the education profession.

Our core values are centered on equal access to a quality education that is adequately and equitably funded; valuing diversity as a vital part of the education process; being informed activists contributing to the ever-changing system of public education; valuing the expertise of education professionals; recognizing that fair compensation and respect are vital; and valuing partnerships that foster excellence. These words and their meanings are what centers and drives us to continue leading our profession into this New Year and beyond.

We have much work and new challenges ahead. New issues and new forces will certainly crop up in 2017, some in an attempt to derail our good work. But together, we can continue to be the robust member-driven association dedicated to achieving our mission. That’s good reason to be positive!