While it may have been a quiet holiday for most of us, the Illinois state legislature was busy readying a vote to reduce pensions for teachers and state employees, as a way to address the under-funding of the pension system. Of course, no one seems to talk about the legislature’s habit of skipping required payments into the system. So teacher pensions are under attack, with the timing cleverly arranged calendar-wise to minimize public attention or opportunity for those affected to voice their concern.
At least the unions in the state are speaking out. So how about teachers’ own individual voices? I was able to find one rather whiny letter to the editor from a retired teacher, on a local small-town newspaper.
But here’s a contrast on another issue, in — surprise! — the state of Texas (thanks to Debra Gurvitz for calling this to my attention). There, the state board of education was being lobbied by far-right activists to reject the adoption of several science textbooks that, horrors, explained evolution as a central principle in biology. But Kathy Miller, President of the Texas Freedom Network, launched a petition drive on the CREDO Action website and obtained 163,000 signatures. Here’s the story, from the Texas Freedom Network website. And here’s what the campaign web page looked like in the midst of the effort. We don’t know how many of the signers were teachers, though of course having the argument come from parents is even better. Either way there’s a lesson here!
Watching the news lately? Seeing/hearing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie yell at a teacher and say all teachers want is more money? NJ school spending has increased, he argues. She then writes to him on a blog, “You have portrayed us as greedy, lazy, money-draining public servants that do nothing. I invite you to come do my job for one week, Governor Christie.” He had previously referred to some schools as “failure factories.”
So who else will respond to Governor Christie?
The facts themselves are in much dispute. Standardized test scores (if you think they mean anything) are, in New Jersey, some of the highest in the country, with some of the racial gaps narrowing — though of course scores are lower in poor areas. And spending? Christie’s administration lumps all education spending together, including construction, old debt, pensions, to get an extremely high number — $18,047 per pupil in 2011-12. But when the categories are separated, the 2012-13 classroom-focused amount was only $8,564. And the range of spending between districts was — like everywhere else in the nation — striking — $25,938 per child in the richest district vs $13,317 in the poorest (again, these totals include much beyond the classroom). Here’s the Wall St. Journal’s report on the controversy over how to count the funds.
So who else will respond to Governor Christie? And how do we help people understand the real story of our classrooms?
Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve been writing fewer posts lately. The reason: I’ve been a little busy leading a team to organize a TEDx talks event. TEDxWellsStreetED on Teacher Voice is coming Sept 28 in Chicago. Our theme: “Exploring Teacher Voice Beyond the Classroom.” Our purpose:
This event will feature a wide range of speakers sharing powerful stories, ideas, and proposals about teaching and learning, and the role of teachers’ voices in education policies. Our aim is to better inform the public and decision-makers about the important work teachers do and the impact of practices and policies — existing ones or those proposed by the speakers — on the classroom. And we hope the talks will encourage more educators to speak out and join the local and national conversations on public education issues.
The event is named after the 2nd superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, who served 1856-1864 and worked to replace rote learning with “a variety of intellectual and physical recreations,” and to reach out to immigrant populations.
We invite Chicago teachers to apply to speak at the event. We seek inspiring, solutions-oriented speakers with stories and ideas about effectiveness and in the classroom and teacher leadership — not just political arguments, as justified as those may be. Talks will be maximum 15 min. long, and will be video-ed and uploaded on YouTube. The invitation links to an online application form.
In addition to teacher speakers, a variety of Chicago citizens will provide perspectives on teachers’ communication with various community constituencies.
More on this to come!
So the blogger Eduwonk has noticed that more teacher voices are making themselves heard — through advocacy groups like Educators 4 Excellence. You or I might not agree with all of the stands that they take, but these are teachers speaking up, 7500 in all, in Los Angeles, Minnesota, and New York. They form teams to study issues and write recommendation reports on them, in each of their areas. Eduwonk especially appreciates that these teachers are busy proposing solutions to education challenges — as compared to the politicians who make policies without consulting teachers who have expertise on the issues, and then rescind them in mid-flight, or fail to come to agreements to achieve anything at all.
So take a hint! contact E4E about creating a chapter in your community. Or start pulling together a teachers’ education policy group of your own. Yeah, it takes work. But public education needs SOMEONE — lots of us, really — to speak for it.
And thanks to Marilyn Hollman for reminding me about this group and noticing the Eduwonk post.
On May 4, 2013, Barnard College hosted a conference titled, Reclaiming the Conversation on Education at which a series of outspoken educators (and one outspoken student!) addressed the concerns that policies, funding, and testing are undermining effective teaching and learning in schools. Groups and events like this are developing with greater and greater frequency, now. While not every teacher will agree with every position espoused at that conference, it’s a hopeful sign that increasing numbers of teachers are realizing that their voices need to be heard and their expertise made a significant part of the decision-making about education in this country.
So watch some of the talks. And then step up to tell your own story — of the great things that happen in your classroom (don’t worry about bragging – everyone else in the world does it, and it’s needed), the obstacles you have to deal with, the support and the policies you wish you had — and perhaps you’re even in a great school that is doing engaging and creative things for kids, and could be a model for others.
More and more voices are urging teachers to project their voices into the public debates on education. We hope teachers hear them and are encouraged to speak out, so permit us to connect you with several good discussions.
First, I took part in a Google Hangout panel on this topic Wed. night, June 19th. You can see & hear it on YouTube at your leisure. You can also see the chat that took place simultaneously at the Teachers Teaching Teachers page on edtechtalk.com . I was joined by a very savvy group of educators plus one journalist who shared their strategies and struggles in getting heard by legislators and government leaders. Katherine Schulten, editor of the NY Times Learning Network website was especially helpful about getting journalists’ attention:
- Don’t complain about tests – they hear that all the time. But you can describe what it’s like in the moment, as kids are struggling with the tests.
- Start with a lively story from your immediate experience in the classroom. That brings to life what the reporters & readers don’t get to see.
- Find a hook – something already in the news that your experience and ideas can shed some light on.
But we’ll try to get Katherine to tell this to us in her own words!
The second discussion is with the Education Week – Teacher Teaching Ahead Roundtable. Five teachers from around the country talk about their attempts and successes at getting to the decision-making table. As Jennifer Martin so cogently puts it, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” What a great way to condense into one smart sentence what this whole Teachers Speak Up website is about!
Education and poverty add up to a social justice issue . That’s why I keep writing these posts and urging more teachers to speak up.
Increases in U.S. childhood poverty by 4.5 million over 11 years are unconscionable, as the numbers are showing. Can education help? Studies by the Chicago Consortium on School Research show that schools with strong internal conditions such as inclusive school leadership and strong professional community can make a difference in any community. They also found, though, that the challenges are much greater in neighborhoods and communities where social supports are weak and children face more day-to-day obstacles.
Can more rigorous standardized testing help? In another study the Consortium also found that the more time Chicago high schools spent on preparing students for standardized tests, the WORSE their scores.
But Here’s one teacher, Casie Jones, in Memphis, who asserts that she can and does make a difference for the struggling children she works with. And it’s great to learn that she and other strong teachers in that city are being recognized publicly for their work.
Of course it takes resources to make that difference, and it’s especially painful to have policy makers around the country demanding greater success for children at the same time that those resources are being cut.
So our challenge is how to tell three stories at once: 1) the successes that teachers achieve in their classrooms in spite of great obstacles; 2) the obstacles of poverty and weak social supports that absolutely must be addressed for children; and 3) critique of education policies that undermine great teaching and learning instead of helping it.
New York Times writer Charles Blow outlined in an Aug. 24th column how the U.S. is failing to support education, and the coming consequences for our country (click on the link here or on the “Be Informed” page on this site). Teachers need to speak up not just for themselves and their jobs, and not just for our children, but for the future of this nation. Teachers, as this new academic year begins let’s use our voices to let the public know what great teaching and learning look like and why children and the country need it to be much more robustly supported. Use this website to help you do so — thoughtfully and with support from your principal.