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In May of this year, Gary Abud, a science teacher at Grosse Pointe North High School, was chosen as Michigan's 2013-2014 Teacher of the Year by State Superintendent Mike Flanagan. It's an amazing accomplishment for a teacher who has only been at it for six years. Well-respected by both his students and his coworkers, Mr. Abud was a worthy choice.

To reward him for his outstanding achievement, the anti-union corporatist Mackinac Center -- an ALEC and State Policy Network affiliate funded, in part, by the Koch brothers -- did a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out how much money Mr. Abud makes. Once they found out, they proceeded to use him along with details about his salary to promote passage of House Bill 4625, a bill I call the "'Teach to the Test' Teacher Pay Act".

Michelle Rhee's anti-teacher StudentsFirst group got in on the act, too.

I was curious about how Mr. Abud felt about this blatant exploitation of his position and award so I contacted him. What I found is that he not only does not support HB 4625, he is angry that he is being used in this way.

My full interview with this brilliant, articulate educator can be found HERE. It's a must-read in my opinion. We should ALL be glad we have visionary educators like Gary Abud having a voice in education.

Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

While I don't think that the only factors that should be counted toward compensation are years and degrees, I certainly don't think state test scores are the way to go. They need to be part of a multi-faceted set of factors and not be supplanted exclusively by standardized test scores. I'm an assessment and grading fanatic so when I see "assessment" in the House bill, I don't immediately think state test. However, in the legislative analysis it talks about the implementation of some statewide performance evaluation system. I don't know specifically what that means, but it certainly doesn't match up with my comments about evaluation being locally controlled, having teacher input, and being differentiated by district needs.

There are some very misleading statements out there surrounding this legislation, including in the articles written that use my name and "story." While I often try to see the best in things, I can certainly say that I oppose this legislation.

Capitol Confidential contacted me last week to inform me that they were writing that piece and offered me the chance to comment. After doing a bit of homework, I compiled a blog post and submitted it as my comments to them. I published my blog post on Sunday night, knowing they were sending their article out on Monday. That was the extent of my involvement.

Then, yesterday, I see all these other sources that are using my name and this "situation" to promote their conservative agenda. I have never been associated with, nor in contact with, StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee or Deb Shaughnessy. In fact, there are several articles out there that are using excerpts from the original CapCon story so poorly that they are not even factual.

There are glaring mistakes and untruths in these articles. The first is that I teach science. I always have, and I'm only certified to teach science; yet, these blogs call me a math teacher, or (at best) a math & science teacher. A simple web search could tell you what subject I teach, but apparently that's too difficult for some fact checkers. I wonder how accurate these posts are if they can't even get that right. Also, some posts say I make $20,000 less and others $21,000 less. If they can't get the numbers straight, how can they be a trusted source for anything? For that same reason, I know that Gov. Snyder did not in fact comment on my teaching when he made a statement in a press release because he commended my contributions to the fields of "math and science." Again, I've never taught math. Gov. Snyder's comments included in the Dept. of Ed's press release for the Teacher of the year are identical for me this year and the winner last year. Snyder doesn't even know my name, yet the above mentioned blogs cite how Snyder "described him as an outstanding math and science instructor with a tireless dedication to his craft."

Finally, the original CapCon article misquotes me as suggesting that I think "objective criteria [should be used] as the yard stick for student growth." My actual quote, in the email I sent to the author was in reference to the HB 4625 lanugage itself, as I had read it. My quote was:

"...This language, as is written, does not seem to endorse any particular assessment, but rather "objective criteria," as the yard stick of student growth..."

The StudentsFirst email showed up in the email inbox of several educators I know with it looking like I am now buddy buddy with Michelle Rhee. That couldn't be further from the truth. Your article did a great job of portraying the intended slant of my comments. I can't tell you the number of concerning messages I received yesterday including one from a friend whose 9th grade son received the email from StudentsFirst that you saw about my involvement with StudentsFirst, suggesting that I'm anti-union. They have not been given permission to use my name, photo, story, words, or any ideas.

Do you blame the union for your lower than average salary?

I do NOT blame the union for my lower than average salary. I know how contracts are structured and that I'm newer in this field. In many fields entry level is lower than veteran level on compensation packages. In almost every field, I would imagine. I had the pleasure of working in the biomedical research field before I got into teaching. When I worked for a hospital and did biomedical research for them, you started out at a baseline, entry level salary and, based on your year to year progress, you advanced up the salary scale. After you had some experience and demonstrated performance, your experience contributed to your salary advancement. That's what they're doing with the salary schedules so I can't say that the union wants me to make "X" amount of dollars and blame them the way the Mackinac Center article portrays.

I just have to ask you, how do you feel about the fact that the Mackinac Center FOIAed your salary? That's got to be a bizarre feeling.

It's a very uneasy feeling. I remember when I first started teaching and someone said, "Well, if you want to compare contracts from district to district, there's this website called the Mackinac Center that posts all of the contracts and you can go and see what all the districts pay." And that was the sort of thing that we did when we were in teacher college to get a sense of the field we were entering. At the time I didn't really understand why they were posting those and how they were getting the information. I naively thought, "Oh, this is an informational service for teachers." But, as I'm learning more and getting a little bit wiser, I'm finding out that that's not necessarily their intention.

So, I went to their site and the first line of their story was "here's the Teacher of the Year and here's what he makes for his salary". I find that inclusion of a number, my salary, demeaning. I understand that public funds pay my salary but, when we put numbers on individuals, all we're doing is valuating them. That should not be confused with evaluating them, in my opinion, because placing a value on someone is really changing the dynamic of the human value of that person and the work that they do. I think it's very devaluing to someone whether it's a teacher or a corporate CEO or anyone.

I get the sense that it was very hard for you to get these emails from people saying, "Hey, why are you supporting StudentsFirst and why are you anti-union?"

With regard to the emails that they are sending, I think it's reprehensible that the StudentsFirst organization is using my name and my picture and promoting their agenda using my name and my story. I think the fact that they must have ripped that off from Mackinac Center's article or, perhaps, obtained information directly from Mackinac Center, that's really unfair to me. They're trying to portray my position when I represent teachers in a way that makes it seem like I feel that I'm being somehow short-changed in my own field when I feel like I've had nothing but success in my field because of the structures that are in place.

I did not win Michigan Teacher of the Year because my students had the best test scores. My students performed well on their tests. But they also performed well on assessments in my classroom of what I teach. What I teach is more than just chemistry and physics and science content. It's practices of being a scientist, it's engineering practices that they can take on and use elsewhere in their life. It's thinking skills. It's communication. It's collaboration and it's project-based in a way that mirrors the career world.

Those things aren't assessed on state standardized tests of content areas.

What I do in the classroom cannot be replaced by a computer. That's a big thing that's coming up. There's a lot of talk from StudentsFirst and Governor Snyder's education reform ideas that we can cheapen the cost of education if we do a blended model where teaching is delivered by computer-based sources. The form of education that I do in my classroom is not something that you could reproduce without an individual as the leader of that classroom and it can't be reproduced with computers. The things that I do wouldn't be possible if I were forced to teach to the test and focus only on content instruction.
You can read the entire interview HERE.

Originally posted to Eclectablog - eclectic blogging for a better tomorrow on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 05:18 AM PDT.

Also republished by Motor City Kossacks, Michigan, My Michigan, and In Support of Labor and Unions.

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