Monday, March 17, 2014

And now from Arne Duncan....at 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 necessary.....to 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.