Voices of Reason From the Classroom

Guestbloggers Sydney Morris and Evan Stone are co-founders of Educators 4 Excellence, a teacher-lead organization of more than 12,000 educators nationwide

Education used to be a place where Democrats and Republicans could reliably come together and collaboratively make important policy decisions. Look at No Child Left Behind, which brought together the likes of Ted Kennedy and John Boehner who both sponsored the bill in their respective houses.

Fast forward twelve years, and the first comprehensive education bill to pass either chamber since 2001 – the so-called Student Success Act – came out of the House without a single Democratic vote—a sign that there was little collaboration to forge a compromise.

We’re seeing this polarization play out at the state level as well, to the detriment of schools, teachers and students.

Just a few years ago, Republican and Democratic governors from 45 states jumped at the chance to sign on to the Common Core standards, a commitment towards providing a more rigorous education for all students. Now, state after state is bailing on the assessments tied to these standards, as a result of a full out assault led by Tea Party activists and liberal democrats in these states.

This education policy yo-yo risks paralyzing the very people these policies are supposed to be helping—teachers and students.

In every state, like Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Common Core is now delayed or dead, teachers have already been training and preparing for months or longer—now with just a few weeks before the start of school, there is a lot of confusion around how to plan for an ever-shifting target.

With the real world consequences of these radical decisions largely being ignored, it’s clear that what public education needs is a return to the middle.  This rational voice is not going to come from Washington or from either of the extremes that are currently defining the debate. It needs to come from the classroom.  Teachers who are focused on the interests of their students need to stand up, take back the ownership of their profession, and demand policies that will elevate teaching and help improve student outcomes.

Teachers don’t think about these issues and challenges as red v. blue or federal overreach v. local control, but rather how they will help them better instruct their students and grow as professionals.

Not surprisingly, across the country we are seeing teachers raise their hands—and their voices—demanding an opportunity to break through the paralysis with reasonable solutions.

That’s how our organization, Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) was born three years ago. As teachers at a public school in the Bronx, New York, we became increasingly frustrated with the policy directives being placed upon our classrooms – decisions were being made with little input from the very educators who would be charged with implementing them.

Since our inception, E4E has grown into a national movement of more than 12,000 educators who have taken ownership over the fight to bring the conversation back to the center and back to a focus on the interests of our students.

In California, E4E teachers pushed for increased funding, but also called for the additional dollars to be tied to meaningful reform so that it did not get dumped into a school funding formula that limited equity and perpetuated a failing system.

In New York City, our members twice stood up for a fair compromise in the debate around teacher evaluation.  First, they called for an appeals system that guaranteed due process through the use of an independent, third party observer, but also expedited the dismissal process for teachers with multiple ineffective ratings.  And then, when the district and union were unable to negotiate a deal locally, E4E-NY teachers encouraged decision-makers to help enact an evaluation system that coupled accountability with meaningful support and feedback, and grounded that evaluation in multiple measures, including their students’ academic growth.

In Minnesota, E4E teachers pushed for increased funding for early childhood education and a local version of the Dream Act because these common sense policy stances are good for our students and good for our country.

America used to be a place of compromise, where left and right came together to do big things on behalf of the greater good.  As we watch the dysfunction in Washington spread from state house to state house, it is becoming clearer than ever that the answers to our country’s pressing education problems need to come straight from professionals – the ones in the classroom, rather than the ones in politics.

13 thoughts on “Voices of Reason From the Classroom

  1. Phillipmarlowe

    Since our inception, E4E has grown into a national movement of more than 12,000 educators who have taken ownership over the fight to bring the conversation back to the center and back to a focus on the interests of our students.

    Sounds like Karen Lewis and CORE.
    Great to see you are on the same page. Join with her to fight for the kids.

  2. John Thompson

    There is no reasonable educational purpose for using test scores in evaluations. That’s just an anti-teacher weapon.

  3. Educator

    Everything written sounds great to me. However, I am a little wary of the emphasis on test scores for accountability. I don’t believe any other nation does this. If these test scores are used to fire people, then these test scores should count for students too in some way. Stakes should be for everyone. Even if accountability increased (by means of making it easier to fire people), it wouldn’t solve the educational challenges we face in poor areas.

  4. jeffrey miller

    “Education used to be a place where Democrats and Republicans could reliably come together and collaboratively make important policy decisions.”

    So what?

    “Look at No Child Left Behind, which brought together the likes of Ted Kennedy and John Boehner who both sponsored the bill in their respective houses.”

    Again, so what? Doesn’t mean it was a good piece of legislation just because two pols with otherwise different views came together.

    “With the real world consequences of these radical decisions largely being ignored, it’s clear that what public education needs is a return to the middle. This rational voice is not going to come from Washington or from either of the extremes that are currently defining the debate. It needs to come from the classroom.”

    This characterization of the middle does not flow from your thesis about political polarization. At all. It just sounds good. You folks are as much trapped inside your own timeworn, misguided conceptions as the people you accuse.

    Your website is remarkably free from sponsorship or who actually runs it. Fortunately, some of us ask questions and get answers: “The largest source of funding is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which currently has $13.5 million invested in nine teacher-advocacy groups, including $975,000 over two years going to E4E. – See more at: http://www.joannejacobs.com/tag/educators-4-excellence/#sthash.2KD785uI.dpuf

    Why join your organization? All you do is make policy statements and play politics. You have no real organization, no conferences, no play books, no nothing but exist as a convenience for other political entities.

    We have enough astroturf organizations already.

  5. Phillipmarlowe

    “Look at No Child Left Behind, which brought together the likes of Ted Kennedy and John Boehner who both sponsored the bill in their respective houses.”

    And Yalta brought together Churchill and Roosevelt and Stalin

  6. Steve Zemelman

    At Teachers Speak Up (http://teachersspeakup.com) we spotted and blogged about this appreciation for E4E. We’re encouraging more teachers to tell the stories of their work. Nice to see that E4E has organized such voices to get them out to the public and policy-makers in a structured way. Our focus is more on just bringing the public to understand teachers’ work, so they can better support it. Stories and advocacy — two parts of the larger work.
    –Steve Zemelman

  7. Jessica Greenfield

    I, too, am disappointed about how behavior and politics of federal, state, and local law makers have trickled down into what we do in our classrooms.

    I feel that teachers are being left out of the decision making process. We have been given tremendous responsibility to educate the youth and yet our voices aren’t being heard in the areas that matter most.

    I like what was said earlier about “Teachers who are focussed on the interests of their students need to stand up….” We need to be treated like the professionals that we are. Our opinion and say should have some weight and deserves to be heard on various levels. Change needs to come from within.

    As teachers we should be able to come together and help policy be shaped that provides equitable and meaningful learning opportunities and measurable success for all of our students.

    I live in Texas and am working in a public charter school in the area of mathematics. I was wondering if there are any organizations that anyone could recommend that I look into, here in my stat, that can help me get more involved?

  8. TNrmTeacher

    I agree that educational philosophy should not be connected to politics. We all want a level field of opportunity for every student in America. Policy makers should work together to assure that any child in any state will receive the same quality of education. Teachers can certainly provide valuable input towards that goal.

  9. Erin

    I really enjoyed reading this. I have not been teaching for too long, but in the few years that I have, there have been so many changes. I, like most people, chose to be a teacher because I wanted to help children but with everything they are throwing at us & changing, it makes our jobs a lot harder. The decisions being made about education absolutely need to be made by people who are actually working (or have worked) in the field of education. Teachers, principals, and other people who have worked in a classroom, teaching students are the ones who know what’s best for them!

  10. Jamie Thompson

    I agree that teaching professionals who are currently in the classroom need to have the majority say in the educational policies that are going into effect. We are the ones who work with these children every day. We know that they learn better through hands-on learning and that gearing all learning towards a single test is not feasible.
    Each of our students are different. They learn differently. They experience different opportunities. By us giving every student in the state the same test and judging the student based on how he/she does on that test is setting the student up for failure.
    I care about my students and know how to interest them in learning. I know what needs to be given to that student for them to succeed. Some politician sitting in Columbus or Washington does not have the same connection. They are looking at the big picture when sometimes we have to look at each detail.
    I believe that we would have higher success rates if active teachers designed the education policies. Politicians also tend to be from the wealthier income bracket. They tend to design policies based on that mindset that all schools have the materials to accomplish these goals. As teachers from a multitude of income backgrounds, we know what it’s like to be without materials and ways to still help our students succeed. Politicians also have a lot of other issues to deal with, were teachers main focus is education reform. Let’s put those who actually care about the students back in charge of the students’ learning.

  11. Sharron Johnson

    The people who sit at their desks making educational decisions need to spend time in a classroom on a daily basis. If they spend nearly half the time teachers spend in the class with their students a lot of their decisions would be different.

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