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Q & A: Teachers' 'Declaration' for Future

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In March 1991, Impact II, a national nonprofit network of teachers and funder of innovative teaching projects, released a report that outlined a radical future for American schools.

"The Teachers' Vision of the Future of Education,'' the product of a 50-teacher summer institute, visualized schools in which students would take much greater responsibility for their own learning and teachers would do less lecturing.

To help spur local and national action based on that report, Impact II this year produced "The Teachers' Declaration,'' a 20-point synopsis of the earlier document. The declaration is expected to be discussed at public forums nationwide this fall and to be ratified by 600 teachers in Miami in April.

Impact II's president, Ellen Dempsey, spoke with Staff Writer Millicent Lawton about the declaration.

Q.
How does the declaration differ from what was said in the "Teachers' Vision'' report?

A.
The "Teachers' Vision,'' of course, is a full document, and this is very much a synopsis of what that says.

[The declaration is] a buy-in. The vision is very important, but ... this is the buy-in to the hard facts. We really need all of these items to make [reform] happen. ...

As I remember, the vision didn't really talk about public school choice, which is one of the things [this summer's teachers] felt strongly about.

Q.
What other practical effects do you imagine the declaration will have, once it's disseminated?

A.
First of all, one of our primary purposes is to have a public discourse with the teachers' voices heard. We're taking a very strong stand here that the teacher's voice is not being heard in the school-reform movement.

And the purpose of [the declaration] is to clarify [that], if these are the people teaching our children and leading every day, this is what they really want. ... Things as simple as teachers having to have decent work space with telephones and state-of-the-art equipment.

So our purpose is to say, "If America can't provide these things to our teachers, then you can't hold the teachers responsible for doing the best for the kids.''

Q.
Do you feel the teachers' unions are not saying this strongly enough to date, that they're not filling that role at the moment?

A.
No, I don't think it's that. [Among] our advisers are both Albert Shanker of the American Federation Teachers and Keith Geiger [of the National Education Association].

Q.
Do you think you have somewhat of an advantage then over the unions?


A.
Actually, one of the things that's mentioned in the vision is that teachers would do away with school boards. ... The unions aren't going to come out and say something like that, because they're the ones that deal with school boards on contracts.

Q.
So in that sense you may indeed have an advantage over the unions or other voices that speak for teachers?

A.
Our advantage is, our concern is not union contracts, and we don't have to be political about it. We're just trying to bring out the truth of what most teachers view every day and what they feel, and we ... don't try to in any way censor what [they] want to say. If it's controversial, fine.

Q.
What do you think may be some of the more controversial items in the declaration? You mentioned the point that says "Teachers believe schools are most effective when they: Are part of a public-school-choice plan.'' Do you think that's the most controversial?

A.
I think it's controversial in terms of the way things are positioned today, because it's obviously clearly [got] a constituency including the President, ... and I think that's why this came to the fore. Now I must say our constituency is public school teachers, so ... we believe that choice is really important, but we do not believe that public money should be used to support private education.

Q.
Any other points that stick out of the declaration as being new or controversial?

A.
I think the utilization of performance assessments designed by and for teachers is pretty new. ... And I think it's probably controversial in the sense that it's a big business to sell assessments. ...

And I think that's rather important. What they're deciding is they're a profession and they have to have some control over it. And that puts them in a league with professions like medicine, ... where everything isn't designed by other people but is designed by people in the profession.

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