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?