'Teachers need a voice - they are profoundly undervalued in how they are treated'

1st September 2016 at 19:17
Randi Weingarten
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wants more support for teachers and students in the poorest parts of the country

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As the presidential election approaches, leading educators have been assessing the legacy of Barack Obama and debating what the new education secretary should do to improve schools.

Following the thoughts of Andy Hargreaves and Julia Freeland Fisher, this week Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, gives her views on the big questions facing education and education reform.

Randi, what will be the legacy of Race to the Top and Barack Obama’s other education initiatives?

President Obama should get credit for ushering us out of recession with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Although it included Race to the Top, which, combined with waivers, exacerbated the test-fixation under No Child Left Behind, President Obama and Secretary Duncan both acknowledged late in the administration that “there are too many tests that take up too much time.”

If we could turn back the clock, we would like to have seen a greater emphasis on our biggest challenges–funding inequity, segregation, the effects of poverty. We would have welcomed a major expansion of high-quality early childhood education, and greater support for career and technical education and community schools.

That said, the Education Department is showing growing support for increasing the diversity of our teaching corps, focusing on the whole child and the need for a well-rounded education. And the administration worked with parents, educators, the broader education community and the U.S. Senate to create a reset through the Every Student Succeeds Act.

What has the U.S. as a whole accomplished since 2012 in the field of education? What are the critical steps we need to take to produce a new education framework for the U.S.?

The passage of sweeping new elementary and secondary education legislation to replace No Child Left Behind is a major accomplishment, and it’s one many inside and outside of Washington, D.C. had written off as impossible.

If implemented properly, the Every Student Succeeds Act has the potential to move our nation toward every public school being a place where parents want to send their kids, where students are engaged, where educators want to teach, where the curriculum is rich, and where there is joy in teaching and learning.

Whether this happens depends largely on how states and districts design their plans and assume the responsibilities that have been returned to the states, including standards and accountability, teacher development and evaluation, and interventions.

Perhaps most important, states now have the opportunity to use a framework of indicators for school success that is far better aligned with the skills and knowledge students need to be successful in college, career, citizenship and life, rather than default to standardized test scores.

What toll does poverty take on learning opportunities? How do we begin to reduce its effect on students?

Schools in low-income communities are underfunded and under-resourced; therefore, students with the greatest needs are shortchanged. 

There are essential elements for our public schools to fully develop the potential of both students and educators.

They should be centers of community, where students, families and educators work together to support student success. They should foster collaboration. Teachers need time to engage with colleagues–whether shadowing, mentoring, co-teaching or conferring. They need a voice in school decisions and to be trusted as professionals.

Teaching is a profession in which capacity building should occur at every stage of the career – novices working with accomplished colleagues, skillful teachers sharing their craft, and opportunities for teacher leadership.

Learning should be engaging. Testing should not be the be all and end all. All students should have a broad curriculum that includes the arts and enrichment.

Student and family well-being should be front and center. Today, half of the students in America’s public schools live in poverty. Think of what that means–stress, hunger, uncertainty and countless unmet needs.

Government leaders should:

  • Fully fund Title I.
  • Broaden access to high-quality, affordable early childhood education.
  • Equitably and adequately fund public schools by using a state education funding formula that takes into account student need, such as in California.
  • And, since schools reflect our society, officials must address inequality in wages and access to high-quality healthcare.

How can we make teaching a more prestigious career?

Prestige begins with properly preparing, inducting, supporting, paying and respecting teachers. It includes ensuring teachers have the time, tools and trust they and their students need to succeed. And we need a higher bar for entry into the profession, along with much better support and mentoring for new teachers than most now receive.

Teachers need a voice – too many educational policies of the past decade have favored over-testing, narrow measures of progress, and managed instruction over teachers’ professional development and professional judgment.

A poll released recently by TeachStrong found that nearly three-quarters of Americans believe teachers are profoundly undervalued in terms of how they are treated and supported.

Providing support for prospective and new teachers can make it an attractive prospect, such as teacher residency programs in which aspiring teachers work under the tutelage of a master teacher for an entire school year. Teachers need to know they will work on a team, and it is the team who will be responsible for the learning of their students.

How do we manage the competition for resources between public, private and charter schools?

In my opinion, this is the wrong question to be asking. We have an obligation to provide a free public education to America’s children. In fact, it is their right guaranteed by the constitutions of each of our states.

We should focus on what it takes to adequately resource a high-quality public education for all our students. The conversation should be about support and opportunity, not competition. Most parents want a safe, welcoming, high-quality public school in their neighborhood.

The zero-sum game policymakers and profiteers would have us play in too many of America’s cities and communities today is disgraceful and a diversion from our important task of making that goal a reality.

The original version of this article first appeared in The Global Search for Education series on CMRubinWorld.  Follow on Twitter @CMRubinWorld


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