Education Opinion

The Summer of Teacher Discontent

By Anthony Cody — May 28, 2010 3 min read
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Monday we finally had our talk with Secretary Duncan. As I have written, we tried to carry the messages from the two thousand members of our group, Teachers’ Letters to Obama. We worked for hours to prepare our six topics. But in the end, we felt largely unheard, in part because the time was so short, the phone line so poor, the words too few to convey the depth of frustration we all feel about where education is headed.

We have their attention. Somebody up there finally has awoken to the fact that teachers can make a difference -- in politics as well as in the classroom. Perhaps it was the thousands of teachers who mobilized in Florida to stop Senate Bill 6. Perhaps it was the backlash to the administration’s support of the firing of teachers in Rhode Island. But all of a sudden, for some reason, they care what we think. We need to make sure they know exactly what we think, in no uncertain terms.

Two months ago we polled the members of Teachers’ Letters to Obama and asked what issues we should raise when we spoke with Secretary Duncan. The top three issues are: Overreliance on test scores for high stakes decisions (93%), narrowing of the curriculum due to over-reliance on test scores (87%), and tying teacher pay and evaluations to test scores (84%). But in our call to Secretary Duncan, the Department of Education seemed to have quick answers to every point we raised around these issues. We need to develop our understanding, including current proposals, so we can weigh in effectively on the policies being decided upon. We need to do a bit of homework, and sharpen our thinking. Then we need to get out there and take a strong stand on what we believe in.

We need you.
We are proposing a summer of teacher activism focused on getting smart, getting clear, and getting involved in the policies that are affecting all of us and our students -- too often in terrible ways. Here is how this will look:

Discussion Openers: What is wrong about the ways tests are being used? What are the negative consequences? What are alternatives to this approach?

For the month of June, we are asking everyone to jump on this topic. If you have a blog, write about it. If you have books about this, read them. And most importantly, come to the Teachers’ Letters to Obama discussion forums and discuss. We need clarity. What do we want tests to be used for? What do we want to change about the ways they are used? We need to reach a consensus, as teachers, and decide on concrete policies we will support that will enact our vision. We will also have threads where we can suggest ways to affect change: who to pressure, what legislation to support, where to protest, where to write.

We will organize two large webinars for the month of June. The first will be designed as a learning session. We will invite a few experts, teacher leaders and advocates to share some key understandings about standardized tests and the ways they are being used and abused, and some possible alternative approaches. The webinar will be open to all, and there will be channels for participation. This will be followed by a period of active discussion, where we will seek the consensus we need to speak powerfully on this matter.

Then we will hold the second webinar, which will be the Teacher Roundtable, where we will allow prominent and powerful voices from the discussion to speak out publicly. We will invite the Department of Education, members of Congress, and the press to attend. This will be their chance to hear teachers. And our voices will reflect not just the ideas of the few who are speaking, but will carry the power of all who have been involved and contributing. The policy ideas that emerge will become the items that we will ask the Department of Education and members of Congress to act on in the months to come.

Please join us on the Teachers’ Letters to Obama Discussion forum to discuss this process, and the big questions we are raising about our obsession with testing.

What do you say? Will you join in this process and make your voice heard?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.