Forum Seeks To Make Teachers Partners in Reform
The Education Department last month brought together more than 100 teachers for a two-day forum here on education-reform goals, marking the first time, observers said, that an administration has acknowledged through action that teachers are key players in reform.
"Nothing will really happen unless we include teachers, both public and private school teachers, in the process of change,'' Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in welcoming the conferees.
"If there is any one message I can convey to you today, it is this: We don't intend to leave you out of the process of reform,'' Mr. Riley said. "This forum was created by teachers for teachers to make sure that those of us who are not teachers keep our feet on the ground when we talk about school reform.''
Two public school teachers from each state were invited to the two-day event, billed as the "Goals 2000 Teacher Forum.'' Teachers from the nation's territories, possessions, private schools, and the Defense Department were also invited.
Many of the public school teachers invited were current or former state teachers of the year.
In part, the conference was held to explain and to promote the "goals 2000: educate America act,'' the Clinton Administration's reform plan.
The House in October approved the bill, which grew out of an education agenda pursued by the Bush Administration after a 1989 summit of governors. A revised version is awaiting Senate action. (See Education Week, Nov. 24, 1993.)
Ellen Meyers, a spokeswoman for IMPACT II--The Teachers Network, a grassroots teachers' organization, recalled watching coverage of the summit on CBS News when the anchorman Dan Rather pointed out that no teachers had been invited to participate.
"That was a very powerful message,'' Ms. Meyers said.
The forum, she said, "is a long-overdue first step'' toward rectifying that mistake.
Many teachers at the forum said their years of experience had been slighted in the past.
Jeannette Lauritsen, a 1st-grade teacher in Grandview Heights, Ohio, was a teacher of the year in 1978. Despite the award, she said, neither the state of Ohio nor the federal government had utilized her expertise in the classroom.
"I really feel wonderful'' about the forum, she said. "It's validating.''
By bringing in teachers, the government has sent the message that teachers are the link to reform, said Gary Smith, a high school chemistry teacher in Pittsburgh.
"This is wonderful that the federal government has seen to it that teachers will take their message back'' to their states, he said.
Briefing the Messengers
Conference participants also attended briefings on various initiatives associated with bringing "goals 2000'' to fruition, such as the development of teaching standards and core-subject content standards.
At a session on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a group that intends to certify master teachers, participants scribbled away as teachers involved in the assessment process explained it.
Many questioned what they viewed as the prohibitive cost of certification--now about $900 to $1,000--while others expressed doubt that a sizable portion of teachers would be willing or able to undergo the assessment.
"You have been brought here as representatives of your state,'' said Sharon Draper, a high school teacher in Cincinnati. "We as a group are going to have to [persuade] people.''
"You in your states can be ambassadors,'' said Mary Bicouvaris, a teacher at a private school in Newport News, Va., who spoke on content standards for students.
Ms. Bicouvaris began teaching history in Virginia's public schools more than 25 years ago.
She said she wished that she had a compass to guide her, but because she did not, she would pretend that a scholar was seated in the back of her classroom to insure that she was teaching appropriately.
Once the standards are in place, however, teachers will have something to guide them, Ms. Bicouvaris told the teachers.