Politicians want and need to hear from you

Faye Snodgress is executive director at Kappa Delta Pi.

2014 Day on the Hill Sen Warren's officeLast week, 10 KDP members joined AACTE for its annual Day on the Hill. From members of the Texas State University chapter acknowledging their appreciation of Pell Grants to introducing Congressional staffers to education for sustainability, the experience was a huge success.

Our AACTE colleagues provided guidelines and suggestions related to pending legislation, information about appropriate etiquette when calling on elected officials, and more, all bundled with words of encouragement and appreciation.

Congressional staffers, including the new Under Secretary of Education, Ted Mitchell, who addressed the entire AACTE/KDP group, were interested in hearing our thoughts and reactions to current bills and proposed regulations.

Our discussions focused on the following legislative issues:  encouraging continued funding for Title II of the Higher Education Act, particularly the Teacher Quality Partnership grants; support for a bill currently in the HELP committee that addresses induction and mentoring and embedded professional development; and the consideration of integrating education for sustainability.

The Department of Education is expected to release new Teacher Preparation Regulations in July, which is a time when many people are traveling or out of the office. Those in attendance asked Under Secretary Mitchell to consider a 60-day comment period to ensure that all stakeholders have an opportunity to provide feedback on the regulations.

As we look to the start of a new academic year, the Public Policy Committee and State Delegates will be working together to help KDP members get more engaged in policy discussions at both the state and federal level.

Politicians want and need to hear from you. A key message from members of Congress that we all need to remember is “if there is a void in input on education policy, it will be filled by someone” – and that ‘someone’ needs to be members of the KDP community. We must make sure that our voices are heard on what’s best for educators and the students we serve.

Look for upcoming messages and resources from the Public Policy Committee about how you can be involved and share your thoughts!

If we aren’t at the table, we’re on the menu

Faye Snodgress is executive director of Kappa Delta Pi.

Teaching is a political activity but we don’t always do a good job of participating in the political aspects of education.

I’m grateful to our colleagues at AACTE for providing KDP members with the opportunity to participate in its Day on the Hill, which takes place June 11-12. I, along with many other KDP members, will learn more about the ways in which we can speak out about our core values and most importantly, who needs to hear our voice.

In the words of Katherine Bassett, Executive Director of the Network of National Teachers of the Year and a valued colleague, “If we aren’t at the table for education policy discussions, we are on the menu.”

In addition to the important efforts of our Public Policy Committee and  other committed KDP members who are involved in advocacy, participating in the Day on the Hill is another way that we are working  to be sure that we are “at the table” and not the entrée.

As a community of educators who use evidence-based strategies and practices, we have much to offer legislators about what works in education and how we want schools to be.

I hope you’ll stay tuned in the weeks to come for updates from our experience!

The Common Core State Standards: What is Happening?

Sally Rushmore edits the New Teacher Advocate. She formerly taught secondary science and computer applications at a community college.

I live in Indiana, the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and then formally reverse that adoption. And Indiana is the first state to replace those standards with their own. However, they are not alone in reversing their thinking. The New York Assembly approved a measure that requires a two-year delay in using assessments aligned with the CCSS for teacher and principal evaluations. In fact, lawmakers in 15 states have introduced legislation to repeal the standards or replace them with state-specific standards, with Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma on their way to making major changes.

So what are the facts? What are the myths? What is really happening?

The idea behind common core is laudable and becoming increasingly necessary. The idea for common core standards did not come from the government in Washington, D.C., but came from a collaboration of those most important to running education in each state—the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center). They simply wanted the increasingly mobile and global society to be able to move from state to state and have their children pick up where they left off with no huge repeats of what they had learned and no gaping holes in their knowledge that would later cause them to fail in coursework.

At the time, most states had some form of standards, but some states had very sketchy standards and some had very rigorous, detailed standards with very specific outcomes. The content for math in third grade in one state did not necessarily match the content for third grade math even in a neighboring state, so the child that moved across state lines could have gotten A’s in math in the first state and be frustrated and failing in the new state. The leaders of the states’ departments of education and the governors of the states were very excited to have a plan to make education more “normalized” among the states and did not intend for the Common Core State Standards to be viewed as a national curriculum.

Indiana was a state with rigorous and detailed state standards. Some groups in Indiana felt that these new standards were not as rigorous and had not been proven to help students be more successful in college or careers than what Indiana had been using. Textbooks have not been written or aligned with the CCSS. Teachers need many resources to teach in the ways described by the CCSS, so without reliable sources for resources and without ready-make units or textbooks (along with student books and auxiliary materials like CDs and DVDs), teachers are having to spend many, many hours preparing for each class. Two consortia are writing assessments to be used with CCSS, but they have not been used enough to know if they are assessing what is being taught.

In essence, those states taking another look at the CCSS are working to delay their full implementation of CCSS. In Indiana, for example, a group of educators and parents worked feverishly to write a new set of state standards (officially adopted April 28) which use Indiana’s former standards but add in the 21st century learning pieces—more emphasis on academic vocabulary, complex text, close reading, and informational text—and rearrange them to be taught in the same grade levels as the CCSS. Teachers can use the same resources and add new ones, or teachers can work with other teachers in their buildings who have been teaching the concept to build units and lessons. This allows time for teachers to prepare and students to learn to make the shifts in thinking that are necessary. It also gives time to re-think the assessments. And it allows teachers to figure out how to coordinate the increased emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), how to bring English Learners up to speed, and how to differentiate these standards so that all students are engaged and learning. It also gives the states time to provide funding for needed professional development and development of resources for teachers.

Common core opponents in Indiana reacted angrily, producing their own report and stating that the state’s effort was a farce since there are elements of common core included in the new standards. Because of No Child Left Behind and other high-stakes testing initiatives, such as Race to the Top, in recent years, teachers and parents are very skeptical of new initiatives and new assessments. It doesn’t help that the national government has offered financial incentives to states that adopt the CCSS and that it has provided $360 million to the two state consortia developing the assessments for CCSS.

Florida has taken a different tactic. They took suggestions from the public and added things like cursive handwriting and calculus to the CCSS. And they dropped out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the two consortia developing assessments. Meanwhile, South Carolina withdrew from the other consortium, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

See which states belong to which consortium and also which states are in what stage of implementing the Common Core State Standards. Then, if you have not had the opportunity, take a look at the English Language Arts standards (which cover other “reading” subjects like science and social studies) or the Math standards.

Post your comments. We want to hear from teachers from every state! Are you using them? Will you be using them this fall? What do you think?

You are incredibly smart and talented at what you do

Carrie Gaffney is the managing editor of The Educational Forum. She spent 12 years as a secondary English teacher and is still active in The National Writing Project and Second Story, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit devoted to bringing creativity to underserved schools. 

Think for a second about your work day.

As a teacher, where are the moments when you feel empowered? Is it in your staff meetings? When your email dings with the latest instructional calendar? When you’re giving yet another timed writing prompt about some totally bizarre and completely irrelevant topic because that’s what the district has decided counts as test prep?

Or is it when you’ve designed a lesson that you know meets the needs of your students, is relevant to their lives, respects their innate curiosity, and is pedagogically sound?

Teachers, I’m here to tell you right now: you are incredibly smart and talented at what you do, despite what your test scores (and subsequent evaluations) might indicate. I know firsthand that good teaching is one part skill, one part passion, and one part magic, and I also know how much of your hearts you put into what you do each and every day.

My last few years in the classroom, I struggled with the number of hours I felt energized by what I was doing in my classes versus the number of hours I felt bogged down and, quite frankly, mystified by district- and state-level initiatives that seemed plucked from anywhere except pedagogical theory.

This tension between what makes you feel empowered during your day versus what makes you unsettled about your career choice is at the core, at least in my opinion, of why advocacy matters right now more than ever.  What is unsettling you is that people outside of education are speaking for you about what is and isn’t going on in your classroom. They are using your test scores to illustrate your incompetence and question your professionalism, while providing you with remediation “tools” that insult the individual intellect of your students and go against the educational theory you were taught.

So, how do you get your power back?

You start talking.

I know, I know. You talk all day to the people who matter most to you: your students. That’s how it should be. After all, they are the most important stakeholders in any teacher’s life.

But there are other people who need to hear your voice, and they will continue to make crazy assumptions about you unless you start speaking up to parents, district folks, and even local and federal politicians.

Speaking up can be scary, though. So when you’re first starting out, I encourage you to speak about the things that drive you on a daily basis: your students and your pedagogy.

What would happen if you wrote a letter to your local representative and detailed (without breaking any rules) the demographics of your students, and what your day-to-day activities looked like? Would there be an impact if you proposed in a staff meeting that instead of the three timed writing prompts your department is supposed to do this quarter, you dropped a couple and assigned a literacy autobiography instead? There is a host of research (Gendlin, 1966; Grumet, 1990; Pinar, 2004) that indicates students who engage in literacy autobiography take a more thoughtful approach to writing in general. You could even score it on the same rubric.

Think about it; what might happen if instead of hearing from multiple sources about what’s not going right in your classroom, you changed the conversation by talking about what is? Would it help you once again feel empowered?

It Is a Wake-Up Call for All of Us

Kappa Delta Pi helped bring the documentary “Rise Above the Mark” to Indianapolis on Friday. You can read all about the premier and panel that followed, which included education reformer Diane Ravitch, on Chalkbeat Indiana. Staff also wanted to share their feelings about the event:

staff“I was empowered by the movie and the discussion. Educators are passionate about the profession and know what changes need to happen for the betterment of all students and the future of our communities and country.” –West Regional Chapter Coordinator, Karen DeLawter

“The overwhelming number of teachers who attended the ‘Rise Above the Mark’ showing clearly demonstrated their passion and commitment to teaching, but also their great frustration with the current political mandates on the profession. Though teachers may not consider themselves advocates or political beings, they need to speak out and have their voices heard—so that they can teach in the ways they know are most effective and do what is best for every student.” –Publications Director, Kathie-Jo Arnoff

“Bringing ‘Rise Above the Mark’ to the Indianapolis community was important to Kappa Delta Pi not just to bring awareness about these issues to the citizens who might not know the struggles teachers face, but to also empower teachers to start a dialogue with their peers, administrators, and legislators. It was inspiring to hear the comments teachers were sharing in the Clowes Hall lobby after the panel. I’m excited to see what ripple effects this one film has on the teaching community.” –Director of Marketing panel& Communications, Laura Stelsel

“The premier of ‘Rise Above the Mark’ was a great opportunity to hear more about the state of education in Indiana. As a former teacher in both private and public schools, it was wonderful to hear both perspectives represented during the panel discussion following the film. I always love hearing multiple perspectives and agree that we need to continue to have more of these discussions to further improve the education of the next generation.” –Northeast Regional Chapter Coordinator, Katie Heath

“I appreciated having a venue where issues of critical importance to education in Indiana were discussed.  It is my hope that the conversation will continue in a productive way that serves to advance all stakeholders’ understanding of the challenges facing our schools so that all of Indiana’s children have equal opportunities for an excellent education.” –Executive Director, Faye Snodgress

banner“Attending this movie and panel presentation really raised my awareness of how the wrong people are now making decisions that affect every student and every teacher. We need to pay attention to what is going on in the legislature. It is a wake-up call for all of us.” –Event and Executive Coordinator, Anne Boley

“I appreciated the documentary serving as a voice for Indiana public schools, and I agree with the comments from Dr. Diane Ravitch that our communities need to be the ones holding THEIR teachers accountable. It is important to use a variety of both formative and summative assessments in the classroom, but I disagree that those should be mandated and evaluated by individuals or groups who do not know the students (or teachers!) on a personal level. The reason that our parents are wanting school choice is because they want someone to make a difference in their child’s life much like the impact a teacher had on them—it’s not all about the test scores. Why can’t we make public schools the schools of choice?” –Assistant Director of Membership & Chapter Services, Chris Beaman

Steps for School Safety in Your District

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, schools have increased (or continued) their focus on school safety and preparation. See this recent post [blogs.edweek.org] What recent or additional steps has your school (or district) taken regarding school safety? How have you involved parents/ guardians and community members in this process?

William L. Sterrett is an assistant professor and CIS coordinator in the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

Contradictions in School Safety Coverage

Why is there so much contradiction when it comes to keeping or making our schools safe? While I do not believe having an armed guard at a school is the answer to safety for children and schools, I do not think reading about the mayor of Philadelphia and the Governor of New Jersey and how they angrily attack the idea of armed guards in schools, then reading in the same newspaper or news release that their schools have armed guards is the answer. These two politicians are presenting  such a contradiction of ideas and beliefs, and I am sure there are other governors and mayors who are vehemently attacking the IRA and armed guards being placed in the schools yet we read in the newspapers about armed guards being placed at their schools as well. Why is there such a contradiction of ideals when we all should be focused on creating a more safe environment and agreeing on ideas about what can and should be accomplished?

A uniform approach and less political posturing are needed. We have experienced horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary and Columbine High School. We do not need politicians who are posturing for re-election or furthering their political careers to be using the safety of our schools as a political issue.

Clear thinking and reasonable solutions are what is needed.  Conversations about real solutions and remedies for this horrible trend have to be had. Conversations that involve all stakeholders and not just politicians can pinpoint real solutions that are based on real situations. Research is telling us that our schools are much safer now than a decade ago.

The conversation should focus on what is working and how to make real choices and improvements that will continue to improve the safety of our most precious national resource.  Instead of new gun regulations that would most likely not prevent a mentally unstable individual from entering a school and shooting students and teachers, a plausible approach would be to look at policies that have already proven to be  successful and add to or improve upon those policies.

Marcia Bolton, Ed.D. is an Associate Professor of Education and the Director Certification, Student Teaching and Intern Programs at Widener University Chester, PA.