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Public Agenda Alert -- September 5, 2013
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How to Boost Teacher Voice in Policy
Tell Your Success Story
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How to Boost Teacher Voice in Policy

A version of this commentary was published in Education Week. For practical resources that teachers can use to lead discussions on evaluation reform, check out Everyone at the Table

 

The push to involve teachers in policy design and implementation is not new. Teachers' unions historically have served as (sometimes the only) mouthpiece for teachers in policy. In the past five years, other kinds of grassroots teacher-voice organizations have sprouted too, including Educators 4 Excellence, Teach Plus, and VIVA Teachers.  

 

As the school year commences, how can teachers and principals leverage the growing interest in teacher voice to improve teacher engagement at their own schools?

 

Many teachers can probably already think of a few colleagues in their school or district who are ready to jump at the chance to discuss, say, teacher evaluation and common-core implementation. But what do the other teachers think? The most sustainable policy is the one that is based on the widest range of perspectives. Teachers and education leaders should reach out to include those sidelined from the policy debate and to those who hold opinions different from their own.

 

At a meeting this summer of state teachers of the year, Philip Bigler, the 1998 national teacher of the year, said: "When I was a regular classroom teacher, nobody wanted my opinion. ... Once I became the national teacher of the year, everyone wanted to speak to me and assumed I was an expert on everything. But even when I was a regular classroom teacher, I still had a lot to say." Teacher-leaders and advocates have many things of importance to say about teaching, but so do "regular classroom teachers."

 

When it comes to education reform, teachers and others have tough, emotional conversations ahead. Teacher evaluation and preparation, performance-based compensation, instruction, and classroom management, for instance, are often deeply personal, emotionally fraught, politically heated, and mind-bogglingly complex. Leading conversations around them is so challenging that it's tempting to sit some out.

 

To move forward, all players must determine common ground and acceptable compromises. Even when a conversation stays on track and focused on solutions, how can participants identify shared interests? How can they navigate contentions? How do they separate solutions that all will view as workable from those likely to fail upon implementation?

 

This will be hard work, but it will be worth it. It's also not unprecedented:  Many teachers are already engaging their colleagues and informing policy, and they're doing it very well. The nation is facing many complex issues in education policy. Through an appreciation for teachers' experiences, insights, and ideas, and a commitment to genuine collaboration, teachers and education leaders can lead the way on meaningful education improvement.

Successful Schools: Tell Your Story

Amid the sometimes negative clatter surrounding public education, stories of success can break through the pessimism. We learned that first hand when we studied nine schools in Ohio that beat the odds and demonstrated outstanding academic achievement despite tight budgets and a large proportion of low-income students.

 

The stories of these schools are included in "Failure Is Not an Option," our report from last year. We hope these stories can inspire principals and teachers as they tackle the new school year.

 

The practices that the nine high-achieving Ohio schools implement do not address all of the challenges we must overcome to improve our education system. However, their stories both provide a reason to celebrate and underscore the principles that educators and school leaders can adopt to improve achievement within the doors of their own schools.

 

At all of these schools, excellent leadership was one key ingredient for driving student success. And excellent leaders in these schools are not all that different from excellent leaders in other sectors. They build and maintain a culture of high expectations. They promote teamwork, collaboration, and data-informed self-evaluation. They lead by example, emphasize improvement, and hire with care and strategy. 

They celebrate success and spread the credit around.

 

Though strong leadership won't be a cure-all for every struggling school, we hope that the excellent leaders profiled in "Failure Is Not an Option" can, by example, generate more success stories in Ohio and beyond.  

Engaging Ideas


In math and science, students in Massachusetts are out-preforming the rest of the world. What lessons can be learned from the progress to improve education in this state?

Federal Survey Examines Parent Engagement in Education
A new survey from the National Center for Education Statistics found that while parents say they are satisfied with their school, only 52 are satisfied with the way their school staff interacts with parents. For recommendations on how to meet parents where they are, have a look at our survey of parent attitudes toward engagement in the Kansas City region. 

Three in four Americans see public opinion polling as biased
The public opinion poll about the public's distrust of opinion polling (phew!) may have one positive caveat - those who participate in surveys aren't afraid of being honest and offending the pollster.

Pressure is mounting over how the U.S. should address President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons. Here's a quick history of Syria to aid understanding this complex situation.   

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Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate complex, divisive issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at PublicAgenda.org.

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