A Tale of Two Meetings…Reports…Perspectives
Part of my job as executive director of the Learning First Alliance (LFA) is to attend meetings here in Washington, DC, where new K-12 education reports or projects are released or introduced to policymakers, educators, parents, and interested stakeholders. Over the past week I attended two such meetings, which provided a stark contrast to approaches used by education leaders and researchers in addressing changes that could benefit both the US public education system and the students it serves.
The Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report authored by Allan Odden titled Getting the Best People into the Toughest Jobs: Changes in Talent Management in Education. The underlying assumption on which this report’s recommendations are based is that the current workforce in public education is not very talented, should be held accountable for their poor performance, and removed from classrooms and schools. Indeed, Odden points out what we know is true: the effectiveness of the teacher and principal are key to student success, and it is very difficult to keep the strongest personnel in the schools with the most challenging student populations.
My problem with the tone and focus of the report is the disrespect shown for the current teaching force and the uncritical depiction of “reform” groups such as The New Teacher Project (TNTP) and Teach for America (TFA) as heroes in system reform. What saved the CAP report release meeting was the thoughtful and nuanced discussion that followed the report overview presentation. Panel discussants Cami Anderson, superintendent of the Newark, NJ, public schools; Heather Harding, senior vice president, Teach for America, and Bill Raabe, director, Center for Great Public Schools, National Education Association (NEA), were in general agreement that principals need to be strong leaders who address both teacher strengths and weaknesses in ways that benefit the practice in their schools, and teachers need to be supported with continuous professional learning opportunities. All agreed that the focus should be on student learning and a school culture that supports the professionals working in the building while holding them to high standards.
The WestEd and National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) meeting that released a series of reports on formative assessment was, in my view, more meaningful in exploring and explaining the complex nature of teaching and learning and the care with which policymakers must move when dictating school district goals and practice. One of the papers, “Assessment for Learning: What Policymakers Should Know About Formative Assessment” provides a good foundation for explaining to the lay person and reminding educators the role that formative assessment must and should play in an effective education system. Panelists and presenters Margaret Heritage, assistant director for professional development at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, & Student Testing (CRESST), UCLA, and Stanley Rabinowitz, director of the assessment and standards development program at WestEd, clearly explained the role that formative assessment plays in learning and providing the teacher with data to discover how the student is learning, so approaches can be modified to meet the student learning style and provide strategies for the student to gain responsibility for his or her own learning. The emphasis in the formative work is learning and student empowerment and less about teaching or “telling the information.” The teacher’s role is to motivate, provide context, set learning goals, and provide a pathway for reaching the learning goals in partnership with the student. The case studies supplied by presenters, Nancy Gerzon, senior research associate at WestEd and Yvonne Watterson, former principal, Girls Leadership Academy of Arizona, provided concrete examples of the challenge of supporting teachers and their principals to learn and use formative assessment as teaching tools as well as the success that students achieve when the school culture and professional capacity is achieved through thoughtful, intensive professional development, collaborative effort, and ongoing support.
Both of these gatherings provided food for thought and lots of data on public school challenges and ideas for improvement. The difference in the two events was the first painted a grim picture and set up a dichotomy of “good guys” and “bad guys,” while the second provided solid information on what learning should look like and the hard work that all of us will need to undertake to ensure that our teaching force is as strong as it can be so all our students can succeed in an increasingly complex world.
In the end, the complexity of the work we do was not honored or explained in the CAP report. The WestEd/NASBE gathering delivered information that was concrete but also nuanced, acknowledging the work is not easy and all of us need to be more skilled if we’re to achieve the results we want.
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- Actress/Mathematician Danica McKellar on girls and math
- Best Selling Author Kenneth C. Davis on engaging with history
- Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Danielson on providing health care at school
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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