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The First Year of InterACT

March 16, 2011

birthday cakeExactly a year ago today, I clicked “Publish” on the first post here at InterACT.  That post was titled, “Beginning in Sadness” – and I’ve re-posted it below in its entirety.  I wish I could say that, one year later, the news is any better, but in fact, I think it’s worse.  Education reform is still largely in the hands of non-educators who don’t understand classrooms, students, or teachers.  Pontificating about students’ needs though they never work with students, they imagine they can reform teaching without teachers.  They misunderstand our needs, our practices, our motivations.  They collect six and seven-figure salaries from supposed philanthropies that are agenda-driven and whose money isn’t going anywhere near students.  Instead they pay for favorable media coverage and public relations, keeping former politicians, administrators and executives gainfully employed and handsomely rewarded.  They keep pushing tests they’ve never seen to be used for purposes the tests were never designed to accommodate.  They’ve supposedly raced some of us to the top, chartered and standardized and triggered, and even stripped some of us of bargaining rights.  They wondered where Superman was and tried selling us a super-woman to defeat evil in the name of students first.  In California, they’ve slashed and burned and sold off chunks of public districts. They’ve labeled us defenders of the status quo for daring to point out that our students are suffering and that they have needs greater than test preparation.

Take a look at my post from last March 16, down below, and see if any of what I covered has improved.

BUT, there are some signs of hope.  In the words of some friends of mine, perhaps we’re awakening a sleeping giant. Perhaps teachers and the public are  up to the challenge of speaking out, organizing, and fighting for public education and the teaching profession. Our allies and advocates are piercing the edreform rhetoric, and our numbers are showing in the streets; their numbers are entered into formulas and produce standard deviations – but never quite add up the way they’re supposed to.  Our potential is great, and the urgency to act is even greater.

I hope Accomplished California Teachers will continue to advance the teaching profession, and continue to bring teacher expertise into policy debates and public forums.  I hope InterACT continues to offer readers with useful perspectives and information.  I hope that, despite all the negatives out there, you’ll join me in this urgent effort to protect and improve public education.  It will take more than a year, but how much more depends largely on our determination.

Many thanks to my InterACT co-bloggers, Kelly Kovacic and Martha Infante, to our guest bloggers this year, to our ACT colleagues Anthony Cody and Sandy Dean, and our guide in Accomplished California Teachers, Linda Darling-Hammond.  And finally, thank you to our subscribers, readers, and commenters.

Beginning in Sadness – March 16, 2010 (click the link to see the original post and comments)

Thank you for taking a moment to read the very first blog post on InterACT, which will eventually become a group blog produced by members of ACT – Accomplished California Teachers.  You can read more about our organization by clicking the link above, but in short, we are a new and growing network of California teacher leaders, committed to bringing more teacher voice to the debates and discussions around education policy.  It’s all well and good for think tanks and politicians and pundits to tell us all what they think they know about education, but there’s usually a credibility gap that they need to be called on.  They don’t understand classroom realities.  They don’t understand teaching and learning the way that we do.  It’s up to us to show why that matters and bring about better results in our field.  We look forward to sharing our vision, and hearing from our readers.

I had no shortage of ideas about what to write for my first post.  ACT is about to publish a report on teacher evaluation reforms, at a time when the federal government and state are looking closely at that topic as part of the “Race to the Top,” and Los Angeles Unified School District is also looking at significant changes in evaluation.  We’ve had major changes to state education policy, raging debates about charter schools and a “parent trigger,” and every time you look it seems like LAUSD has new school reform plans, or the willingness to hand over the reins to someone who does.  At the same time, the Department of Education has proposed its changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known in recent years as No Child Left Behind).  You can read their press release, or Diane Ravitch’s critique of the plan, and I’m sure I’ll take up that issue later as well.  It might need to wait because the Common Core Standards drafts were just released, and depending on whom you ask, that’s wonderful or dreadful.  Anyone else getting dizzy yet?

And yet, I find myself unable to focus on any of those topics today, because of these:

My heart goes out to all of the teachers, students, and all of their families as they confront these difficult times.  But, beyond an expression of sympathy, I want to ask a few questions.

How do we even sustain the current quality of a school, let alone improve, when we remove the people most responsible for the fulfilling the mission of the school? It’s not as if the teachers who remain can continue the same quality work they were doing before the layoffs.  When class sizes expand beyond the capacity of the room, and beyond the capacity of the teacher to plan lessons or grade work, then even those who remain are likely to be severely hampered in their efforts to carry on.  When you’ve designed curriculum and projects that are organized around a certain allocation of time and resources, then, at a minimum, you have to retool the work to fit the circumstances, and in most cases, I’d suggest you have to sacrifice certain qualities of the curriculum.  And when the shuffle of teachers puts teachers in a new position, then, as experienced teachers will tell you, the first year in a new position is rarely as effective as the years that follow.  So every teacher forced into a new job will likely have some adjustments to make that will add to the challenges we face.  (There might be some sensible reforms to enact regarding the strict reliance on seniority in these situations, but you can’t expect to craft wise policy reforms in a rush, and in this economic climate).

How do we overcome the ever-growing student-teacher ratio and expect to make a dent in the dropout crisis? The dropout problem is a matter of relationships, support, relevance, and trust.  Preventing students from dropping out is intensive work, often one-on-one work.  It’s good work, important work, work that pays off both in the spirit and in the strength of our state finances.  But, with that many more students to teach, few counsellors, no librarians, we’re guaranteeing that many more drop-outs, that much less higher education and that much less skilled labor, lower productivity, lower revenues, increased crime and all of the costs associated with that.

How do we prepare to meet the growing need for teachers? With a wave of retirements ahead of us and a wave of students going through the system, we need more teachers at a time when we’re paying for fewer, and we’re choking off the supply of future teachers.  How many wonderful new educators have we lost?  How many more are we about to lose?  How many potential teachers are looking at this mess and choosing an alternative career, and how many of those will we reclaim?  Time may allow for the shifts of supply and demand to work out in our favor, but the years that it takes for that to happen are years that our students are spending in school.  We are not dealing with a factory that can can order more or less raw material and adjust the pace of production.  The students are coming.  (Whose children, though?  I can’t help but wonder how many state legislators have their own children enrolled in “revenue limit” public school districts – those hit hardest by the budget cuts).

The students are there.  Our students.  Is it naïve to call on our leaders to show a sense of allegiance to our state, some compassion for fellow Californians?  It shouldn’t be optional to offer a decent education.  It should be unthinkable for our state to treat students and their families with such contempt, to allow education to be so degraded.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 16, 2011 8:12 pm

    We are going through the restructuring process at my school. Our Advisory Vote is tomorrow and Saturday for Yolie Flores’ invention Public School Choice 2.5. We have a choice between a school plan that forces us to interview and reapply for our own jobs or to sign an annual Election to Work Agreement and work for a Pilot Complex, which is a new concept in schools which will have us reapply annually for our own positions. It’s between bad or worse. Both plans break the UTLA contract, and it is doubtful no matter how hard I nag, to get any lawyers into the mix. Day by day we give it all away.

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