Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday post

It’s clear that people feel strongly about the topic of education. We are dealing with the single most important factor in parent’s lives: their children. Non-parents also have perspectives about education, as employers, community members, and stakeholders in other ways.

Since I came to the Alliance almost three years ago, it has become clear to me that the more you learn about public education, the deeper you understand how complex the issues are. We, as a school district and community fail too many children across our city. The number of students who don’t graduate is too high; 33.5%. As an organization, we want to find ways to actively support them and keep them in our schools.

At the Alliance for Education our agenda is about supporting a public school system in Seattle that can effectively address the needs of a diverse population and help all students graduate ready for college, career and life. It’s that simple.

I will answer a couple of the questions you’ve brought up here, but for other questions I’ll point you to the web, or invite you to call us directly.

Educational Investments:

Our investments are listed on our web site, with a few updates needed (we’ve been without a communications manager, but that position is filled and he will be starting soon). We currently support academic investments such as Readers and Writers Workshops, a highly successful literacy program, and local college readiness programs that have not previously had consistent support, training, or outreach materials. We also invest in long-neglected infrastructure needs, such as the performance management system. This tool will be used to help teachers better understand student needs, principals better understand teacher and individual school needs, and for central office staff to direct resources to the areas that need additional support, starting in the classroom.

These are a few of the investments, but more are listed on our web site and in our report to the community:

There are also new investment initiatives that take place regularly, for example one that is not currently listed is supporting leadership development for principals and central office staff. To Charlie’s point from a previous thread, this might be a place to talk about the chain of accountability.

Teaching Quality

There has been a lot of conversation about the recently released NCTQ report, in schools and in the community. We’re hearing about conversations taking place in the teacher’s lounges, some positive, some not. We’re excited because that’s where we need to start.

Charlie’s point about defining teacher quality is an important one. It’s a conversation that needs to take place between teachers, administrators, community members and others. There are many definitions out there already, but it is up to us as a community to learn about the context here and have the discussion here in Seattle. And we absolutely need teachers at the table, as they are the ones that know the challenges and barriers firsthand.

Here are some thoughts to start the conversation:

One definition lists five primary factors of teaching success:

· Teachers are committed to students and their learning

· Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students

· Teachers are responsible for managing student learning

· Teachers think systematically bout their practice and learn from experience

· Teachers are members of learning communities

But this is just the beginning of the conversation. As with all complex issues, working through an issue like defining teacher quality brings up more questions. For example, if a teacher has the ability and skills to engage students successfully in learning how do you measure that? And how do you measure that equitably across student populations, with vastly different resources and individual school challenges, e.g. leadership? Clearly it is difficult to address all of the pertinent issues, but our suggestion is not that we back away from the challenge, but take it on.

On a personal note, my older daughter went to Seattle Public Schools graduating from Garfield a few years back. She had fabulous teachers. She still talks about many of them, keeping in touch with Mr. Acox, and wondering where Mr. Cerquitella went. My younger daughter started middle school this year at Eckstein. Many teachers there have been there for years. It’s been a wonderful transition at a really difficult age for kids.

From my perspective, the vast majority of teachers have been incredible: supportive, pushing the kids, and going the extra mile when the kids need help. On a personal level, I have no complaints about my kids’ experiences. But I don’t face the barriers that many people face in our communities in supporting and advocating for their children. And our schools have low teacher turnover and strong leadership. That’s great for my kids. But I want that for the other kids too.

I’m sure in the context of addressing the societal challenges of supporting all students in our schools, we will not all agree. But let’s start from the place that matters: the students, the children in our communities. Our commitment is to them. And I invite you to come to the table to talk about what we can all do to improve opportunities for all kids in the system.

No comments:

Post a Comment