It’s Time to Take a Seat at the Table
Pick up a newspaper or magazine. Peruse the internet or your daily dose of tweets. It won’t take long to hear the complaints as the bill of particulars lodged against our public education system grows longer with each passing day. Whether the issue is funding, tenure, assessments, choice, or unions, it seems no one is pleased these days. And, yet, everyone is an expert. No doubt because they once attended a school somewhere.
As the debate rages on about how to close the achievement gap and provide a quality education for all children, there is no shortage of viewpoints and philosophies. However, there is little consensus about most issues except, maybe, the relatively small role that teachers play in education policy. It is more than a bit ironic that the very professionals who teach students are often the last voices heard in policy discussions. I’m not talking about folks who used to be teachers or once studied teaching or represent teachers or know a teacher. I’m talking about the folks who are currently entering the classroom, teaching a full day or more, and then getting up and doing it again the next day. Rarely are we asked by the national policy makers on either side of the issue: “How does this policy affect your ability to instruct your students?” or “What is the best model to gauge the growth and learning of your students?” or “What data should be used to hold you and other teachers accountable?”
However, now there is an opportunity for teachers to get involved, and the result just might be a seat at the table for teachers.
As the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) goes through the reauthorization process, there are some obvious concerns that must be addressed. As a nation, we must find a way to guarantee accountability without demoralizing teachers. We must create methods to assess literacy and numeracy without eliminating creativity and the arts. We must develop models to gauge growth in learning that are based on high expectations for all students, but also take into consideration the gap in academic readiness between a kindergartener living in poverty and one living in a more privileged community. In addition, as the late Senator Ted Kennedy advocated, we must bring together standardized test data with qualitative data that can only be gathered by those who are in classrooms working with students.
The Teachers at the Table Act is an opportunity for teachers to play a legitimate and meaningful role in education policy decisions. Initially introduced in 2007 by Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) as S. 2060, and by Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and Representative Lee Terry (R-NE) as H.R. 2896, this Act was reintroduced in the current Congress as part of the reauthorization of ESEA as S. 1137 and H.R. 2624. Proposed by state Teachers of the Year, the legislation is an effort to bridge the gap between intention and the implementation of ESEA and No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The legislation calls for the creation of a Volunteer Teacher Advisory Committee, whose duty “shall be to monitor the effects of [ESEA], on the ground and in classrooms, and the focus of the Committee shall solely be on children and families.” This non-partisan committee of twenty teachers, representing various geographic regions, grade levels, and subject areas, will submit annual reports to Congress and the Secretary of Education. The contents of the report will include, “both quantitative and qualitative data that evaluate the effect of [ESEA] on student achievement” as well as “the effect of [ESEA] on closing the achievement gap between high and low performing students.”
Teachers, along with parents and students, must demand a seat at the table, rather than simply standing on the sidelines and letting others speak for us. The Volunteer Teacher Advisory Committee as contemplated by the Teachers at the Table Act will give teachers, representing the true nature and diversity of our students and schools, a genuine opportunity to provide direct feedback on the critical issues facing our profession and the state of public education.
Every federal, state and local policy relating to education affects classroom instruction, curriculum, and assessment in some way. If we do not speak out and offer solutions to bring about positive change, change will be forced on us by those who do not stand in the classroom and teach our students. The Teachers at the Table Act is a move in the right direction. It allows qualified practitioners who see the daily impact of education policy to have an opportunity to represent what is best for students and their learning environment.
We teach our students the power of the thoughtful and informed voice. Let us use our thoughtful and informed voices now to help pass the Teachers at the Table Act.
Write your Senators and Representative and ask for their support for the Teachers at the Table Act. The website for the correct addresses for your Senators is http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm and for your Representative is http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/index.html