Thursday, April 9, 2015

Does VIVA's Idea Exchange implicate teachers?

As an organization committed to advancing "...classroom teachers’ participation in important policy decisions...," VIVA Teachers has had a nice run, and was even better when Xian Barrett was advising them. However, their recent invitation to discuss the Common Core tilts towards teacher bashing. Below is an excerpt from a VIVA invitation to dialogue:

To ensure that teachers are key players in the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, New Voice Strategies is inviting you to participate in this VIVA Idea Exchange™.

Your recommendations will foster the environment necessary to ensure successful implementation of Common Core....

I am not against academic content standards that engage students and teachers. I am for teacher stewardship of educational reform. However, the assumption that teachers are "...key players in the implementation of Common Core..." overwrites, if not co-opts, teacher leadership. To what extent have teachers been the authors of the Common Core State Standards?

A recent VIVA blog post by Paul Toner actually passed editorial review while advancing the teacher bashing meme:

We’re all familiar with the negative stereotypes that paint teachers unions as only being concerned with salaries and benefits and disavow being held accountable for student performance.

I am concerned by the phrase "... being held accountable for student performance." The assumption is that teachers are, indeed, accountable for student performance. But if children arrive at school stressed out, hungry, or tired, then a teacher's ability to be effective is diminished. According to Renee Moore, "The health of the public schools is a primary indicator of the health of an entire community." So if a community is stressed, and children arrive at school stressed, why would anyone implicate teachers? 

Teachers love their students. We love them so much that we know we have to advocate for systemic equity and reform so that children arrive at school ready to learn. We could agree or disagree on the teachers' role in low student achievement. However, there are so many factors that influence student agency, and I would argue that teachers are only a small portion of that. And what about reciprocal accountability?

So what next? Do teachers get more involved in the VIVA Teachers dialogue? Do we pick our battles? Do we embrace our own respective organizational mission (Teachers Lead Philly, Teacher Action Group, Caucus of WE, CTQ, NBCT)? Do we focus on what we want rather than what we don't want? Do we enter the discussion as advocates or diplomats?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Call for the End of "Parent Trigger"

We've got to stop using the phrase "parent tri**er." For those not literate in edu-speak, "parent tri**er" is a process in which parents can call for the closure or transformation of a school if it is not doing well.

As a society, we've got to eliminate the use of "trigger" in association with our schools. It evokes violent imagery and sets up parents v. teachers when the real issue is two-fold:
  • Are children arriving at school ready to learn? Children need to feel safe and be well-fed, well-rested -- and curious -- in order to do well in school. If the answer to this question is "no," then we need to look at the variables that influence learning readiness. That is a societal issue worthy of a systemic response.
  • Do schools have the capacity to engage students? In wealthier schools, the answer is yes, but we have to ask to what end? Are we preparing students for individual achievement or civic engagement, or both? In our less wealthy schools, we need to develop the school cultures that foster effective learning and working conditions so that students make connections between school and society and teachers can do their jobs -- and flourish.
Can schools be more effective? Certainly. However, we've got to develop systemic solutions that engage families and unfurl educators' professional stewardship of education.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sustaining a Hybrid Teacher Network

Thanks to Nicole Gillespie, KSTF's CEO, I just finished reading "Getting Ideas into Action: Building Networked Improvement Communities in Education (2011). This article advances the idea that [K-12] educational practitioners should also be at the table when educational research -- and policy -- is designed.

As a busy practitioner, I know I could benefit from succinct access to academic research frameworks. And I KNOW that teacher voices can enrich and ground the often-lofty "Here, try this..." interventions.

Looking ahead to the elusive "Hybrid Teacher Network," teachers need time and support to stay in the classroom (1/2 time), but also have stewardship of the profession (1/2 time). Everything from curriculum, instruction, assessment and policy is on the table, and practicing teachers need to be creating the narrative with community partners.

How can NNSTOY, NBCT, VIVA Teachers, Hope Street Fellows, TAFNet, a nascent STEM teacher network, and other groups advance and sustain hybrid teacher roles?

What can we learn about teacher networks that aligns with [inter-]national educational equity and is based on local innovation?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

What is Effective Teacher Leadership?

I just re-read Carrie R. Leana's "The Missing Link in School Reform (2011)," and I agree that teacher collaboration, described by the author as a form of social capital, is what makes really good teachers become excellent.

The U.S. Department of Education's Blueprint for Reform (2009) suggests that teacher evaluation include room for multiple measures such as teacher leadership or peer-review (see p. 4).

I appreciate the flexible, aim-focused tone of the Blueprint. I wonder how the Department could be more explicit about what teacher leadership and peer review actually look like. How can the Department advance incentives, infrastructure or models that develop and sustain the essence of teachers' stewardship of the profession?

I also wonder about the future of the Blueprint, its intersection with Race to The Top and the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind). What can the Department do to foster policy that engages the millions of teachers we already have in our classrooms?

Cultivating the Effective Hybrid Teachers

Effective teachers help students develop a love of life-long learning.  Do our school systems provide opportunities for teachers to effectively use their wondrous crafts? How can teacher effectiveness be enriched by the hybrid teaching role? 
Essentially, hybrid teachers spend part of their time in the classroom and part of their time in stewardship of the profession. But before we agree this is idea, we have to develop the infrastructure that supports and sustains hybrid teachers. Bruce Taterka and I will be facilitating a conversation about the hybrid teacher at this year's annual EduCon in Philadelphia. 
An abstract of our conversation follows:
In order for K-12 teachers to be more effective, we need opportunities to study the intersection of curriculum, instruction, assessment and policy. For example, as federal agencies call for more teacher research, and states design high-stakes standardized assessments of student growth, teachers need to be more involved with what goes in in schools and districts. One of the challenges we face is that many teachers already work 50 hours a week; where do we find the time we need to lead? Data from the 2013 Measures of Effective Teaching study also shows that teachers also seek opportunities to lead without leaving the classroom.
We'd love to hear more about your experiences with hybrid teaching. What experience do you have with hybrid teacher roles? What systems should be in place so that the hybrid teacher roles are effective and sustainable? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How can the Feds enrich public education?

I'm delighted to be attending a White House briefing on public education.  I know there will be a lot of people in the room and if I have an opportunity to make some suggestions, I'll have to be brief and focused.

Below are three recommendations for what I think we need to do on a federal level.  Of course the details matter, yet I thought it would be helpful to set some worthwhile aims.
  • Effective school systems should align federal, state and local policy that supports teacher leadership. 
  • Federal policy should ensure that all teachers have effective working conditions. 
  • Most importantly, the federal government should do everything it can to ensure that all children are "school ready." That means that all children should be well-rested, well-fed and healthy.  All children should come from safe homes and neighborhoods in which caregivers have time to spend with their children. "School ready" children are curious and eager to learn.
If you had a few moments to talk about education with White House officials, what would you like to say?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Building a Better Economy

Once again, the print edition of The New York Times (NYT) included the "Building a Better Teacher" theme for the Schools For Tomorrow conference (Jun 25 & Jul 2, 2012; p. A18 & p. A16, respectively).  The NYT should consider modifying the "Building a Better Teacher" theme.

"Building a Better Teacher" is an ideologically-loaded theme that 1) advances the notion that schools are failing because of bad teachers and 2) alienates over 3 million teachers in the US. And not one of the 14 featured guest speakers is a teacher.

Of course teachers can get better at their craft; we are life-long learners.  Yet Secretary Duncan estimates that 10% of California's teachers don't belong in the classroom. Dan Goldhaber, a research professor with the Center on Reinventing Public Education, estimates that nationally, the number of unqualified teachers is closer to 7%.  So what are we doing for the other 90-93%?

If we want teachers to be better at their jobs, we can first cultivate effective working conditions.  Yet the idea of "Building a Better Teacher" is aligned with the notion of human capital; "If we only had good teachers, then education would improve."  A more worthwhile approach to supporting education is to consider teachers' working conditions and their social capital; "If teachers have the support to collaborate and then influence curriculum, instruction, assessment and policy, then education will improve." Better working conditions translates into deeper teacher and student engagement.

We can also consider the importance of children's "school readiness."  Children will learn better if they are well-rested and well-fed, feel safe and are curious.  Children's proximity to poverty diminishes their school readiness.  Families in or near poverty are less able to provide the stability necessary for children's healthy development. This suggests that we might consider "Building a Better Economy" as one means to better engage students in their own learning.

The idea that print media are failing because of weak journalists is as preposterous as the idea that public education is failing because we have weak teachers. What if teachers decided to hold a conference called "Newspapers for Tomorrow" with "Building a Better Journalist" as a theme? The Guest Speakers would feature everyone BUT journalists.