#ISTP2013 travel log: Teaching at a crossroads

Barnett Berry’s second dispatch from the 2013 International Summit on the Teaching Profession.

As today’s International Summit on the Teaching Profession begins, this week’s Education Week commentary, “The Political Future of the Teaching Profession” (March 12, 2013), is a relevant and timely must-read. The piece, written by Michael Usdan and Art Wise—the chairman of CTQ’s board of directors—poses ask a hard but fundamental question: Does our country want a teaching profession?

Or, to put it another way: Do we want a deregulated occupation of teaching, its ranks filled with haphazardly trained itinerant teachers expected to teach to a standardized curriculum (designed in the 20th century)? Or do we want one filled with legions of expert practitioners who have the preparation and autonomy to teach “mathematics for analyzing and problem-solving, history for interpreting and citizenship, science for knowledge and experimentation?”

You would think, given the global economy and the complexities of teaching, as well as new demands on public education in the U.S., that the Obama Administration would be advancing the latter. But it is not.

Messieurs Wise and Usdan do not address the politics of the choices being made by today’s leading U.S. policymakers, but they do make the poignant case that the teaching unions could readily take matters into their own hands by coming together and embracing professional accountability. To this point, policymakers have taken, at best, half-measures.

Wise and Usdan point out that policymakers have “created the mechanisms for professional accountability and quality control, but have failed to advocate for and secure their universal application.” The unions, and their national leaders, say the right things, but in the maelstrom of local politics, much is sacrificed in order to hold the line on traditional bread and butter issues.

This is complicated stuff of history, sociology, and politics.

Wise and Usdan make it clear that a merged union could turn the corner—if they could uniformly focus on investing in teaching and learing and take seriously the need for more rigorous preparation and credentialing. These increased standards would then “engender public confidence in the capacity and quality” of teachers as as a collective. Other top-performing nations—from Finland to Singapore—have figured it out, and their unions have been instrumental in teacher quality control.

Let’s see if these lessons make their way back across the pond—I sure hope so.

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  • Lindsey

    Unions Are Instrumental Yet Frustrating

    Thank you for bringing to light the role unions must take in transforming the education profession. As an active union member and representative, I can say, I’m fed up. I get it, we must *fight* for the bread and butter… but you know what? I’m not interested in that. It doesn’t inspire or motivate me. I am interested in the art of teaching and learning, and my union doesn’t seem to have the time or will to support or advance this interest. I understand the situation is complex. I also understand that as a “younger teacher,” I may not fully understand all of the history. However, I can say this- I do understand how teacher leaders can work together to transform the profession I love, and I know WE cannot do it without our unions’ support.