Sunday, March 30, 2014

Addendum: Another Meeting

Bill HJ 1has passed both houses in the Virginia Legislature.  This bill is titled "Teacher Career Ladder program; report.  Requests the Department of Education to study and make recommendations regarding the feasibility of a Teacher Career Ladder program in the Commonwealth.

This legislation had wide approval with 97 voting yes in the House with one Nay vote and a voice vote in the Senate.

What does it mean?  MORE study.  Similar to the report I heard at the meeting in 2001 mentioned in this post.

Talk, talk, talk.  No action.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Stepping on Toes or Time to get Rude

My husband tells me I'm cynical.  Maybe so.

But I can't help the feeling that Arne Duncan's speech to the Teaching and Learning Conference on Friday, March 14 (after the press corps has packed up and gone home for the weekend) was designed to mollify a group of increasingly loud teachers.

He called, in effect, for a meeting where teacher leadership would be discussed.  (There.  That should keep them happy for awhile as we continue with down the road in our mission that already has wheels and full gas tank.)

And he promised money for the meetings.  (For airfare? Snacks?)

It reminded me of my first hopeful foray into teacher leadership way back in 2001.

I sat in Richmond, along with other Nationally Board Certified teachers and teachers-of-the-year and teachers-of-the-building, district, state along with other fresh-faced-Milken-gosh-we-just-love-our-underpaid-teacher-prize winners to hear an alternative career plan for successful teachers.

On the last day a statewide education committee which reported to the DOE said they had been meeting for ten years to decide what a teacher does that can be named.  They decided that there was no way to identify accomplished teaching so they had determined to......wait for it.......have some more meetings.

What?!  More meetings?  Hadn't the National Board for Professional Standards already defined the standards and evaluated teachers?  What is the next meeting for?

At the end of an exciting weekend of discussion about changes to the teaching profession, I got a sinking feeling.  Oh.  I get it.  Delay on a politically sticky wicket.  There's a lot of pushback from somewhere.  After that meeting, no more movement statewide.  It's been thirteen years.

So Duncan has called for more meetings.  A delay.  Sticky wickets (lots of $$ around the current system of evaluation and punishment.)

And then he left the Teaching and Learning meeting to urge state education leaders not to back away from testing and fudged on a question about assessing teachers by using the, still questionable, scores from the current blizzard of tests as evidence of teacher effectiveness.

But Duncan did make a comment that makes sense by acknowledging that Congress is dead in the water: change will come from outside Washington.  States will have to make the reforms needed (and he says, to support the untested experiment in the Common Core that is currently underway.)

So, only one thing left to do my teacher friends.  Waken the Sleeping Giant and be the change you want to see in the world.

No way around it.  It is time to get rude, get some sharp elbows and start making sure that accomplished, successful educators are leading the charge in your district and your state.

Don't sit down for yet ANOTHER meeting.

Stand up for what you believe in and make sure every policy maker knows that what is being done in the name of reform will ultimately improve teaching and learning for every child in the United States.


  • Universal preschool
  • Support for underserved students in the form of nutrition and health care
  • A new school day where teacher development and collaborative learning is built into the day
  • New pre-service models that involve a clinical phase
  • Identification of teacher leaders accompanied by responsibilities and income to match
  • Teachers on EVERY task force from the district to the national level
  • A transformation of teacher unions to self-regulating enterprises with the goal of improved student learning
Would you sit back and let your own child suffer through these nationwide experiments?

Monday, March 17, 2014

And now from Arne the T&L

On Friday afternoon of the Teaching & Learning 2014 conference, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed the teachers before a nearly full room.

As part of his commentary he announced a new partnership with NBPTS. Here is what Duncan foresees as his plan:
We will convene a group of teachers, principals, state Chiefs, teachers' groups and district leaders, among others.  This group will take the steps foster real-world commitments on teacher leadership.  This group will announce significant commitments from districts, teachers' groups, and others who want to be part of the solution to make teacher leadership real at scale.
Duncan mentioned other items which indicate that he has at least been cribbing from all of our online and face-to-face conversations, and he knows the complaints.  Many of his comments seemed designed to elicit nods from those who have been working toward a teacher-led profession for years.  Our own words parroted back.

He acknowledged the flood of departures by effective teachers who have given up in despair after battling damaging reforms.

He highlighted places where teacher leadership has made a real difference.  And he gave lip service to the growing debate over the Common Core--but claimed that where teachers had the chance to work with the standards they were loving it.

He also reminded us that teaching can be a rewarding profession.  If, as I was told once by a supervisor, a strong teacher finds a way to do what's right for kids in spite of policy.

This is how teacher leadership has played out in most situations--a ballsy teacher taking all the risks of innovation--working outside of the lines.  Duncan gave anecdotal instances where teachers had created real success for kids.  Now, if only THIS--elevating effective practice--were the policy instead of the exception.

Some heads were nodding.  But many had assumed the wary, arms-folded posture of the once-hopeful teacher who has been duped one too many times into sitting on a committee where their presence was a token nod so the real "deciders" could claim that teachers were a part of the decision making.

Fool me once.....

The only enthusiastic applause in the speech occurred after Duncan indicated that funding would follow the announcement.  We at least know that words without dollars are just that: words.

For the most part, we remained polite.  (Just like my school weary students.  Gotta love 'em.  They are at least polite to the teachers who have been boring them out of their minds to reach pass rates...)

A panel of teachers were invited to question Duncan after his remarks.

The cheer-inducing question came from Maddie Fennell who asked Duncan how he could envision a collaborative workplace in the face of the highly competitive levers already in place--like (she did not say, but I improvise) public VAM scores, graded schools and systems, high-stakes tests, and a races for funding that pit districts and states against each other.  How can you ask teachers to be innovative when the stakes are so high?

For most of the questions, including this one, Duncan pulled out the old politician canard of relating anecdotes of individual successes, as in "See?  It's already happening."  (But only by those ballsy teachers mentioned above. If they succeed, we'll make a movie out of it and rally round a teacher hero. If they fail, new profession.)

On the VAM scores Duncan denied ever endorsing VAM as a measure of effectiveness and found the publishing of scores unacceptable. (Time to go to the tapes?)

For my own part, I was alert when I heard him say "We're meeting next week to figure out how to do this."

So, announce first, figure it out later.  Hmmm...doesn't sound like a lesson plan to me.  I count myself among the wary arm folders.

Disclaimer:  I had forehand knowledge of what Duncan planned to announce: a partnership between NBPTS and DOE around teacher leadership.  Duncan was, and has been, pulling from the report I helped author as a member of the NEA Commission of Effective Teachers and Teaching. Maddie Fennell chaired that Commission.

I still stand by that report as having the potential to help create a real profession since the observations in it were drawn from the current landscape in the profession, from teachers own hopes for our future, and from proven effective teacher induction and teacher-led reform. It spoke to all the stakeholders, including the NEA which was encouraged to assume a voice in the quality of instruction and the preparation of teachers nationwide.

Duncan has pulled from that report before when announcing the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. program.

The what? Yeah, he said that--in February of 2012.

The conversations around gaining respect were held--I held one with teachers in my district--and a RESPECT vision was produced.  The document is "a discussion document for use in conversations with teachers and principals about the teaching profession."

i.e.: Rhetoric.

However, I may part with some of my colleagues in my hopes for the future of the teaching profession.

In 2001 when I began working on policy in earnest, Teacher Leadership was never discussed by policy makers.  I was told by a union activist that she "had a lot of problems with that."  Now there are a consortium of organizations working toward this vision and Duncan has made Teacher Leadership part of his official platform, in words anyway.

It is up to us to make sure it shows up in deeds as well.

Leaders lead.

Though I still have my arms folded in scepticism from decades of being the token teacher, I still believe in the power of conversation and argument to win the day, and that it is naive to think that one side will say "Yeah, you're right" and capitulate.  It will be an ongoing struggle to get things right.  And we are going to have to be rude.

The online conversations must persist.  Our parents need to be informed about the damage that has already been done in the past decade.  We all have to take responsibility for making the change, for insisting on change as a moral imperative.  I sense a tipping point coming.  We have to be alert.

I return to my image of yesterday's posting.  There are two rivers converging.  Both were represented at the T&L Conference.  John Holland, friend and colleague of the CTQ, feels it too.

By far, for the attendees, the spokespersons who married reality with research had our ear.  We loved Doris Kearns Goodwin (the only standing ovation).  We loved Tony Wagner, and Linda Darling-Hammond, and Pedro Noguera, and Pashi Salzburg.

We loved our own teacher-practitioners who brought effective lessons and shared. The rooms where this was happening were packed.  Teachers are getting the work done in spite of, not because of, current reforms.

But the money people were in the room too and the attendees went and listened.  We know how to model democracy.

We need to make sure that the flood of commentary rises on our side of the river and an effective education system for all of our children is the end result of all the rhetoric.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Teaching and Learning from Bill Gates in the Nation's Capitol

Maybe it was Doris Kearns Goodwin's passionate admiration of son Michael Goodwin's Rivers and Revolutions instructional program that brought the image to mind, but this weekend's inaugural Teaching and Learning Conference at the Washington D.C. Convention Center presented by NBPTS felt like standing at the confluence of two rivers.

Or maybe one river and one tributary swollen with unlimited cash.

By far the longest line (besides the one for Starbuck's Coffee) was for Bill Gates' plenary session at 1 p.m. on Friday.  The house was packed.  But that session revealed the gaping disconnect between the world of corporate charity and real teaching.

I had just left NYU professor Pedro Noguera's session on Education and Civil Rights in the 21st Century where he spoke without notes but from the clear experience of his research and work in bringing the bottom up through the only equalizer we've ever had: education.  (His newest book is on teaching resiliency to young men of color, Schooling for Resilience.)

All of Noguera's comments struck a chord.  I still remember the classroom before NCLB. I remember the seventies,  and work daily with children of poverty and second language learners.  Locally we are preparing for the next flood of underserved students which will smash headlong into the boulder of "more rigorous testing" that will supposedly make all children above average. 

Noguera knows the landscape well.  He echoed my world. "We are boring our kids to death." "We were making progress in the '70's when we were paying attention to childhood development."  "Give up on the feds, and even the states, and work locally.  Our kids can't wait.  We need this now."  

He reminded us that America is where public education was born, not as a commodity to be bought and sold by Wall Street investors, but as the only hand-up we can offer citizens to level the landscape.  He told us we need parents as partners in education, not as consumers.

It was a bit of a whiplash to go directly from Noguera to Bill Gates. As an English teacher I would have advised Gates to consider his audience when preparing remarks--though admittedly this involves a leap of imagination into empathy that can be challenging.

He addressed the room of teachers in a boardroom-appropriate flat affect. He indicated that we should help shore up the Common Core.  He needs teachers (now, he has realized) to make the program work. If we get behind CCSS we can make it possible for all kids to go to college. He told us kids need to be better readers.  He told us teachers need to be better teachers.

The audience was polite.  (If teachers have a failing it is that we are too polite.)  

Set aside for a moment that by show of hands throughout the weekend nearly two-thirds of the crowd were already highly accomplished, board certified teachers. And ignore also that we all know with clarity just how well our students can or cannot read with depth and understanding. Even set aside the notion that we are aware that setting high-expectations is a cornerstone to good teaching.  

The argument that more rigorous testing and standards and a college educated workforce are the solutions to the American doldrums is an assumption that is still highly debatable.  But to the very successful Harvard dropout, Bill Gates, college-for-all is the goal.  

Conversely, Tony Wagner, in his plenary speech the following day, indicated that the top innovative companies like Google and other start-ups find GPAs and SATs "worthless."  They are not interested in college degrees, but look for problem-solvers and collaborators.  Our top students generally negotiate the current system of schooling by following rules and meeting deadlines. By that measure, increasing standardization is the enemy.  The schools Wagner revealed in a short video sparkled with activity, color, and students working hard while having the kind of fun Daniel Willingham promises real learning can engender.

Gates stayed on stage to take questions from George Stephanopoulos.  Not much there that I can recall, except my worry that a star-struck audience might get distracted from substantive issues.

After seeing Pedro, Bill seemed woefully out of touch, describing perhaps a teaching and testing system for the children of the upscale Seattle suburbs and not my kids--who miss school to watch over younger siblings while mom goes to her minimum wage jobs--who dismiss the need for homework when they can work through the night at the grocery store, and then fall soundly asleep during Silent Sustained Reading. Or miss multiple days due to asthma attacks, or anxiety, or illness from poor diet, no exercise and infrequent doctor visits, or just stay away to avoid the sheer boredom of spending the days preparing for THE test and then more days taking THE test, remediating for the FAILED test, retaking THE test....

He didn't even seem to understand my own children, all of whom have college degrees and are married to college graduates. Their lives have had slow and rocky starts as they shoulder the shared debt of earning those degrees, trying to start families, find jobs in a depressed market, look for (and not find) affordable daycare.....

Gates didn't hang around to shake hands.

Next Blog:  Arne Duncan and Teacher Leadership