Texas retirees fight to repeal rules that cut benefits

Paula Cooper worked as a chemist in the oil industry before she became a teacher at 34. She had worked in the Houston public schools as a science teacher for nearly eight years when she learned that the Social Security benefits she earned as a chemist might be reduced because she would also receive a public pension someday from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. Texas is one of more than a dozen states affected by the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset, which reduce the Social Security benefits of public employees. This fall, the AFT announced its support for the Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act, federal legislation to address the offset of Social Security benefits for public employees receiving pensions, like the retired teachers in Texas.

Democrats slam Betsy DeVos, ‘denier in chief,’ on student debt forgiveness

Members of Congress grilled Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Dec. 12, and things got heated as they called her to task for leaving so many students out in the cold, refusing to relieve their student debt even when the “colleges” they attended failed them. “When you’re the secretary of education, you should be doing everything to help [students],” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. Instead, DeVos has denied borrowers the promise of an affordable higher education. “That’s why we call her the denier in chief,” says Weingarten.

Rochester educators brace for layoffs, students walk out in protest

More than 200 Rochester, N.Y., teachers and school staff got midyear layoff notices Dec. 6 despite passionate arguments to “cut from the top” and leave classroom personnel alone—at least until the end of the school year. Students were so upset that hundreds walked out of school to protest. “Cut your salary, not our teachers,” their picket signs read, targeting district administrators, and “My biggest concern should be grades, not losing my teachers.”

Historic school funding bill signed into law in Massachusetts

After years of campaigning by educators, students, parents and other public school advocates, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has passed a historic school funding bill that will deliver billions of dollars in additional state aid to local schools over the next decade. Signed into law Nov. 26, the landmark Student Opportunity Act commits the state to achieving equitably funded public schools over a seven-year span, promising $1.5 billion in additional annual state aid and directing the lion’s share of resources to communities with the highest concentrations of low-income students.

U.S. student scores rise in international assessment

Students in the United States have improved slightly in math, science and reading, according to a recent international assessment comparing student achievement across 79 countries. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, measures 15-year-olds’ ability to apply knowledge “to meet real-life challenges.” Though scores show little change in the long term, the recent uptick is a change AFT President Randi Weingarten attributes to a turn away from high-stakes testing and toward students’ real needs.

The Aeronauts takes viewers to new heights in science and weather

The AFT’s Share My Lesson and Amazon Studios are celebrating the adventurous spirit of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) pioneers with a contest for educators to win a private class screening of The Aeronauts in a local theater—complete with popcorn, beverages and a free one-year Amazon Prime membership. The movie is about how the real-life “father of meteorology” and his fictional daredevil balloon co-pilot break the world altitude record in a hot air balloon. Free lessons about hot air balloons, weather, layers of the atmosphere, and women in science—among other topics—enhance the experience. Spread the word about the contest: Deadline for entering is Dec. 3.

AFT leads talk on future of the workplace

While avoiding wild predictions about how many jobs will be eaten by robots, the AFT and other public sector unions are considering how to shape the future of artificial intelligence on the job. During a recent webinar, AFT President Randi Weingarten joined union leaders and researchers worldwide in discussing how unions can use collective bargaining to make sure digital advances serve the public interest. This discussion was the first in a series of webinars on the future of jobs and the workplace.

Tearing down the testing barrier to teaching

Dozens of members of the Washington Teachers’ Union, threatened with losing their jobs if they do not pass the Praxis teacher certification test, recently attended an AFT-sponsored “Praxis boot camp” to prepare for the notorious hurdle to the teaching profession. The training, which included insider information from the people who design and score the test, was one way the AFT is working to make teaching careers more accessible; another is the union’s efforts to address the test’s racial bias and ensure the test is relevant to classroom realities.