Schedule a conversation – Eric Isselhardt


Banning Hope – Again


Katherine BassettBy Katherine Bassett


In the April 11th of Rick Hess Straight Up, Rick was kind enough to allow me to express my thinking on the then recently launched Teach to Lead initiative announced by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.  In that posting, I indicated that, while a promising announcement, I refused to hope that we would see meaningful action on teacher leadership.  I intended to hold the Secretary accountable for taking action.


My exact words were, “We do not hope this will happen – we intend that it shall.  We will hold Secretary Duncan and his team accountable for making teacher leadership a reality, rather than an idea. We will act and we will expect that action will result in real roles for teacher leaders. We will work zealously to make this happen – but we will not hope.”


As I listened yesterday to the words of Secretary Duncan, announcing a slow-down, if you will, of the rush to tying test results to evaluation measures, I again had the same reaction.  Nice words; but I refuse to hope that they will take root.  As anyone who has ever worked for or with me knows, my mantra is “hope is not a strategy”.


As my friend, Maddie Fennell stated in her excellent Ed Week piece in Rick Hess’s column yesterday, it takes a big person to stand up and state that he or she made a mistake.  And, basically, the Secretary did this. It takes a big person to say that he or she should have listened more closely, asked different questions, and talked to more stakeholders.  And the Secretary basically did this too.  So, he deserves props.


However, teachers have been saying for over two years that conflating the Common Core State Standards with assessments of those standards with evaluation results based on those test results, is a recipe for disaster.  The Secretary has had numerous conversations with educators, but somehow, this message did not resonate.


I wrote a piece published in the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Reg Blog this week on this very topic.  It ended, “this has been a prime example of 1+1+1 simply not adding up to what is best for our nation’s students.”  The policy shift that we saw yesterday seems to bear this out.


As I consider this important shift in policy, I have two overarching reactions:  sadness and pride.


My sadness comes in thinking about the numbers of educators with whom I have met over the course of the past year who have chosen to leave the classroom as a result of policies that they believe to be not only irrational, but harmful for children. Teachers who have invested inordinate amounts of time in learning to teach to the college and career-ready standards that are now being broken down, as a result, in part because of a rush to testing before implementation was fully completed, and to using those test results to evaluate educators. Sadness at time wasted.


And, ultimately, sadness because this did not have to happen.  There were plenty of teacher voices raised in protest over these policies, making sound arguments against this rush to implement, from classrooms across the country, from teacher voice organizations, from unions.  But they were not heard.


Pride, because I believe that our organization, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, has had a direct role in helping to bring this shift about, in concert with other teacher voice organizations.


At our National Conference several weeks ago, the Secretary engaged with over 125 State Teachers of the Year (STOYs) in an open conversation on testing.  He was told first-hand of instances in which special needs students’ needs were not met through current testing programs; of the impact of poorly implemented evaluation policies on teachers and students; of the inordinate amount of time spent on testing and test preparation as opposed to engaging in critical and creative thinking and meaningful instruction. He heard teachers talk about the devaluation of the profession as teachers felt caught in the middle of conflicting policies and policy makers.


No one was complaining, they were explaining.  They were working to help him see beyond the walls of his office building and into their schools and classrooms.  One teacher, Peggy Stewart, stated, “I am tired of this constant state of evolution.  I want a revolution.”


My pride comes as I think, “Well Peggy, you and other educators have been able to effect a quiet revolution in upending policies that did not make sense for children, and possibly putting us on a more rational path.” Because after that conference, we had a series of conversations with the Secretary’s top staff regarding testing, as did other teacher voice groups. Those conversations made a difference.  This time, our voices were heard.


The key lesson that I take away from the events of this week is that the voice of the teacher is more important than ever before.  I would encourage us now to use our voices to hold the Secretary to his word.


At NNSTOY, we will certainly do that.  We will, again, refuse to hope that this policy shift results in meaningful change in what happens in classrooms for students and teachers.  We intend that it shall do so.  We will be working, watching, and speaking out to make sure that this shift is not theoretical, but impactful.


What can you do?  Educate yourself about this new waiver option and ask your state policy makers if they plan to take advantage of this waiver opportunity. Ask them if they intend to make a shift in state policy regarding evaluation.  Remember, the Secretary has suggested an option to states – but states have to take it.


Do we need to change things in education? Yes. NNSTOY has made a series of recommendations on how to do this in our white paper Reimagining Teaching.  Yesterday’s release of a new report by Marc Tucker, who has argued that the concept of evaluating teachers is illogical, saw the validation of one of our key suggestions, establishment of career advancement structures.


Change should be made, as it always is when most productive, with input from those most impacted by it.  In this case, listening to educators, and education stakeholders, will drive the change that is most meaningful for students, for teachers, and for systems.


Our message to educators is a simple one.  Ban hope.  Embrace action.  Engage with policy makers and shapers and use your voices to drive change.

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