From the mouths of babes: Young[er] teachers on school reform

Bouncing off a recent review by my TLN colleague, Dan Brown, I wanted to share my admiration for the refeshingly inspiring vision of education reform put forward by a group of young (career-wise) teachers from Washington state.

The Washington New Millenium Initiative, (WA NMI) like other projects of the Center for Teaching Quality, brings togther outstanding teachers to study and address key issues in education. And Dan’s right; these folks should be writing education policy.

In their report, the WA NMI highlight three recommendations that, though clearly grounded in a knowledge of our educational history, go beyond the horizons of what I’ve seen or heard from other, more 20th-century bound education reformers.

  1. “We suggest that local, state, and national leaders envision an assessment system balanced between the uses of high-quality, national standardized tests that can act as benchmarks and local assessment systems that truly support the work of teaching and learning.” I applaud the teachers call for greater and systematic support of formative assessments at local levels. Genuine formative assessment IS NOT giving students a weekly mini-version of their state tests. Done properly, valid, regular classroom level assessments are critically important tools in the hands of skilled educators for measuring and advancing student learning.
  2. The WA NMI recommendation for a two-tiered teacher evaluation system is inspired. First, in its recognition of the need for a teacher to have multiple (they suggest 3 – 4) observations over the course of a school year, and evaluations consisting of “at least several” measures of teacher effectiveness that include parent and student feedback. That’s what I’m talking about; fearless teachers. The second-tier would be “trained teams of teachers” evaluating and providing feedback to each other. This is the essence of professionalism–opening up our work to each other for review and critique. WA NMI member Renee Agatsuma spoke for many of us when she noted: “If teachers raise questions about the proposed teacher evaluation reforms, it’s not because we’re reluctant to be held accountable. Our concern grows from our knowledge of how past systems that were poorly designed and implemented have often undermined our efforts to teach effectively “[emphasis mine].
  3. I not only agree there needs to be greater support for Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) both as professional development and as vehicles for meaningful and systematic peer evaluation, but I’m among those who would like to see them flourish among educators at every level. Although PLCs started and have been most widespread in elementary and middle school settings, there is good, research-based guidance and increasing examples of how powerfully effective they can be at the high school and even collegiate levels (where they are better known as Faculty Learning Communities).

Like Dan, I’d encourage folks to look to our TLN colleague and Solution Tree author, Bill Ferriter for more on the workings and promise of PLCs.

The report is even more inspiring given the authors are teachers with less than 10 years of experience (many with much less) who have chosen to stay in the profession. Consider the horrific attrition rates among new teachers in this country: “Almost 25% of novice teachers leave within the first three years., and most of them in their first year…in high needs schools..up to 50% are gone after three years…57% of all outward mobility occurs within the first 10 years of a teacher’s career” (TEACHING 2030, p.102).

That these young teacher-researchers have chosen not only to stay, but to step-up as leaders, exploring the issues and offering thoughtful, pragmatic, what we like to call TeacherSolutions, encourages me about the future of education.