Law & Courts Opinion

Why I Joined Educators 4 Excellence

By Phylis Hoffman — November 10, 2014 3 min read
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I had the opportunity to step out of the classroom several years ago to work in two different areas of education. My first role out of the classroom was as a categorical program advisor at the school where I taught. This role serves to ensure that a school is compliant in spending money given by the state and federal governments for protected classes of students. Think of all the titles under federal education law: Title I, students who live in poverty; Title III, English Language Learners; Title IX, girls receiving the same access to the school programs, etc. After three years of dealing mostly with compliance (meetings, budgets, lots of paperwork), I became a literacy coach, supporting teachers in language arts instruction. Both positions allowed me to see a huge disconnect among the state capital, district offices, and the classroom.

Going back into the classroom four years ago was a rude awakening. I was in the trenches and my leaders had no idea what everyday life was like in front of the classroom. From working in administrative roles, it was clear that teachers really do have meaningful ways to address many of the problems happening in education today. But they don’t have the ability to voice their ideas to those in power. That’s why I joined Educators 4 Excellence (E4E).

E4E’s mission is this: to ensure that the voices of classroom teachers are included in the decisions that affect our profession and our students. Since joining, I have worked on two policy teams. The first team developed policy on creating career pathways here in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the other recently completed discussions on positive ways to revise and preserve teacher tenure. All of E4E policy teams’ topics are based on teacher recommendations. As a veteran teacher, I feel it’s more important than ever for classroom teachers to speak up about their profession and to drive education policy instead of reacting to what the policymakers do. We cannot leave the future of our profession up to the politicians in the state capitals, nor rely solely on our union leaders to bear the responsibility. Who sits on the medical review boards? Doctors do. Who sits on bar associations in each state? Practicing lawyers do. Who sits on E4E’s Board of Directors? Classroom teachers do. For me, this is what E4E is about—getting classroom teachers, like me, together with other colleagues to engage in the most important issues of our day.

E4E has received some harsh criticism, being called an “Astroturf” organization because of their reliance on philanthropic organizations like the Broad Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (They do not accept any money from the Koch brothers.) An interesting fact that E4E critics fail to mention is that E4E does not allow any one donor to give more than 10 percent of their total operating budget. Donors are also not allowed to sit on E4E’s Board of Directors.

But more importantly, don’t we want successful entrepreneurs to be exposed to the effective role teachers can play when given the chance to lead policy development and advocacy? One would hope that had entrepreneur David Welch been invited to discuss ways to alleviate the achievement gap with active classroom teachers, the Vergara case would never have been filed. And the millions spent on Vergara would have been available to serve students across the state of California.

As a veteran teacher, I often feel vilified. The public discussion regularly characterizes veteran teachers as being old and presumes we are “lousy”. My union also shuts me out because I want to talk about changing things. Right now, E4E is the only place in Los Angeles where I can work to make a positive change for teachers, and the students they serve, by elevating their voices.

(Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that Educators 4 Excellence has not accepted funding from the Walton Family Foundation.)

The opinions expressed in Teaching While Leading 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.