Heather Wolpert-Gawron

More Details on My Topic for Monday’s Arne Duncan Call: Teachers at the Policy Table

By on May 23, 2010

So, just to continue yesterday’s post on preparing for Monday’s conference call with Arne Duncan, I wanted to cover a little of what we planned to discuss with the Secretary. Our topics, as I said before, were selected from a list of the most important issues suggested by the educators from the Teacher Letters to Obama Facebook campaign.

From there, the 12 of us flushed out each topic, bringing in what we know about the ESEA Blueprint and other reports, bringing in our own experiences as well as those from fellow educators, and bringing in what has worked and what has not. We have been focusing more on solution then complaint, though it’s been a bumpy path. After all, our strength as a group is in our diversity of thought, tone, and philosophy. But if you work with a group of people who are all like yourself, you forget that you have room to grow in your own ideas. And we all have a few stretch marks to show for it. But we also have produced a great baby of a script for introducing our ideas to the Secretary of Education and members of the Department of Education.

I am encouraged that the door is open to us. But I admit that I will be disappointed if this does not bloom into something other than this call. After all, we are bringing them a platter of topics and possible solutions, but this is by no means a buffet of procedures. Sure we can list solutions, but for true change to take place, we must scaffold reform. Reform is a step-by-step process and one that teachers must be a part of.

Our topics which we will be covering are as follows:

College and Career Readiness

Great Teachers and Leaders

Diverse Learners

Safe and Successful Schools

Complete Education


The one I am specifically working on with the wise and awesome Marsha Ratzel is Topic #1, College and Career Readiness. Now, I think this is an important topic (as they all are, of course) because it is something that we can agree on with the DOE’s Blueprint. Our job is and always has been to help our students be prepared for college or career, whatever that career may be. But our argument is that current assessments do not test the very skills that leaders in either business nor higher education are looking for. And the reality is that, in education, assessments drive instruction.

So in a way, we are working in a system where the tail is wagging the dog. Therefore, we need to make sure that the tail is applicable or the dog gets fleas. OK, that metaphor didn’t work at all, but I think you get my drift.

So Marsha and I looked at the Partnership of 21st Century Skills, which provided the results of a poll of over 2000 business leaders who all believed that the following skills are needed for a 21st Century employee:

* Critical Thinking

* Problem Solving

* Communication

* Collaboration

* Creativity

* Innovation

We also looked at such studies as those from the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges who polled professors, many of whom work with freshmen and in introductory courses in the Cal State, UC, and California community college systems who also just happen to mention the same skills as being necessary for entering freshmen to have upon the start of their higher ed careers.

Therefore, if we are to provide a real curriculum of college and career readiness, we must also be assessing those skills and not the drill and kill content that is currently being tested. We also say that there are thousands upon thousands of talented teachers out there who have already been developing better assessments and more critical thinking curriculum, and who are just waiting to have their talents tapped.

By the way, Marsha and I both agree that our current curriculum is engaging or rigorous; it’s just not what we should be testing. Let’s use the content, the rich history, the math, the science. But let’s assess how a student communicates a response to an inquiry or contributes collaboratively to a wiki. Let’s assess how a student performs in a mock job interview complete with cover letter and resume. Let’s assess the growth of a student by looking at a growing portfolio that reflects the best of that student’s work throughout the year or, better, yet, throughout a number of years. Let’s assess a students contributions to a public service project. Let’s assess a student’s executive summary of the results of solving a local community problem.

Additionally, we argue, we cannot make high stakes decisions based on the results of our current assessments because they aren’t testing the very skills the scores are supposed to indicate. How can we call a student NOT college and career ready based on test results that don’t assess those very skills?

Anyway, that’s the gist. And yet, for many of us in our little group, this call is only the B-Story as we try to wrap up this very hard and tiring school year, a year plagued by pink slips and budget cuts. We all still work to make these kids ready for colleges that are becoming increasingly unaffordable and career ready for jobs that are now in drought. But our job remains the same, to help our students towards their futures.

Oh, yeah, and just to keep you guys in the loop, amongst it all, the teacher I was paying to ride the bus with my middle school speech team had to back out so I had to find another willing teacher to take my place in a bus full of excited, yelling debate students. It’s become a photograph of teaching really: A bus of students traveling in front of me, as I drive my CR-V down the 605 with one hand and dial the number for the DOE with the other. But at least my superintendent and principal have agreed to allow me to pay this audio-tolerant, bus-riding teacher out of my Speech funds. Some of the teachers in our advocacy group of 12 have to call in sick tomorrow just to participate in the call.

I’ll update my readers soon of what befalls our little troop of educational reformers.

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…” And that includes you, dear reader.

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