Maureen Ramos has been in the classroom for 45 years. The 66-year-old teacher will be retiring this year, after spending the past eight years asking hard questions as the president of the region’s largest education union. The Spokane Education Association represents more than 3,000 educators. In her role, Ramos has been at the bargaining table for contracts for 11 diferent groups employed in Spokane schools.
Q.What’s wrong and right in education?
A.Certainly what’s more right compared to 20 years ago is the effort to form relationships with students to keep them in school. It’s unacceptable to have the dropout rate that we have. What’s wrong is that we are totally test crazy.
Q.Is it better to have no standardized test or measure of achievement?
A.It’s good to see whether or not people are meeting standards. What happened in this state is we just went crazy. We are using a standardized test to determine whether or not a student can graduate from high school. That’s insane. So, standardized test? Yeah. High-stakes standardized test? No.
Q.What should Spokane parents be asking?
A.They should be asking, why is my kindergartner in a class size of 26? Or why have 103 of these extraordinary, young, great teachers been laid off? If it’s in our state constitution that it’s the paramount duty of the state to fund public education, why hasn’t that happened?
Q.Are there too many administrators, too many qualified people who should be in the classroom teaching?
A.Our research says that building administrators have actually gone down by about 7 percent.
Q.What are your thoughts on the education reform bill signed by the governor last week?
A.The task force charge was on figuring out a way to fund public schools. They came back with a reform, and I don’t even want to call it reform, let’s call it a switch batter, or whatever it is in baseball when you send somebody else up instead. They came back with something that had no funding. In fact, it took away funding from this district.
Q.Parents feel like teachers are just teaching to the WASL. Is that a valid complaint?
A.Yes. The WASL has narrowed curriculum. When you are, for instance, at an elementary school when you have 90 minutes of math and 90 minutes of literacy, and then you figure, what’s left for science or social studies? And any kind of music, band, art, whatever or library? We are lucky to still have art and music.
Q.The WASL is on its way out. Is the replacement going to be better?
A.It’s going to be shorter. When you think about three weeks of instruction time lost to WASL, plus the gazillion hours lost to teaching to take the WASL, it will be shorter. The results, we hear, will also be much more immediate.
Q.How do you respond to critics who say teacher unions sometimes stifle progress?
A.Somewhere people bought into the message that public schools are failing. It’s all the teachers’ fault. Oh no, it’s the union’s fault. When in fact the unions have been fighting for full funding, and are not blockers. It’s maddening. It’s like people bought into a failure message, instead of looking at the incredible positive work that we have been doing these last 10-plus years.