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at a conference jointly sponsored by the Education Writers Association (EWA) and the Carnegie Corporation of NY.  The title of the one-day get-together was "The Promises and Pitfalls of Improving the Teaching Profession."

Organized by Linda Perlstein, public editor of EWA, this was the first time such a conference included not only journalists but also some prominent teacher/bloggers.  I was not on the original list of invitees, but was invited when a good friend could not make the event and suggested me as her replacement.  Originally the plan was to try to have journalists who cover particular school systems with teachers from those systems.  There were also a number of national education journalists not tied to a specific school system, such as Claudio Sanchez of NPR and Amanda Ripley, who has written for Time Magazine and is now working on a book on education.

I previously posted An idea for journalists covering education, in which I offered a few comments about this event.  Let me now place the entire event into context.

Those of us invited as teachers were under the impression when we accepted that this was to be a dialog.  Thus when we saw the announcement of the structure of the event, we were mildly upset.  Other than the continental breakfast, this was the outline of the day:

9-9:15 a.m.     Welcome
    Caroline Hendrie, Education Writers Association

9:15-10 a.m.     Introduction: The Strategic Management of Human Capital
    Talia Milgrom-Elcott, Carnegie Corporation of New York

10-11:30 a.m.     Teaching Teachers: Education Schools and Alternative Pathways
    Hamilton Lankford, SUNY, Albany and Teacher Pathways Project
    Sharon Robinson, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
    Kate Walsh, National Council on Teacher Quality
    Moderator: Linda Perlstein, EWA

11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.     Bringing in the Best: Recruiting and Hiring Practices
    Vicki Bernstein, New York City Department of Education
    Dan Goldhaber, Center on Education Data & Research
    Spencer Kympton, Teach for America
    Moderator: Caroline Hendrie, EWA

1-2:15 p.m.     Lunch

2:15-3:45     Learning on the Job: Improving Professional Development
    Karen Hawley Miles, Education Resource Strategies
    Ted Preston, Achievement Network
    Judy Zimny, ASCD
    Moderator: Stephen Sawchuk, Education Week

3:45-5 p.m.     A Conversation Among Participants
    Moderator: Linda Perlstein, EWA

No teachers were on the panel.  We had been under the impression that we had been invited at least in part to offer our perspective as teacher/bloggers who were both recognized as effective teachers and had demonstrated our ability to articulate about matters of education.  Two of us, Steve Lazar and myself, were union building reps.  Two others, Ariel Sacks and Jose Luis Vilson, were among the authors of an important book on teaching by teachers,  Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools--Now and in the Future (about which I wrote in  this piece).  No teachers were on  the panels - although to be fair, except for moderating, neither were journalists.  Still, we thought we were going to be offering our insights.

As you might imagine, there was some reaction.  Several of us wrote letters to Linda Perlstein, to which she responded about her intent in how she was shaping this.  She asked that we trust her and see how it worked out.  Meanwhile the teachers began to communicate among themselves and with others whose judgment about education and educational journalism we trusted.  Linda did ask that we submit questions for the first part of each panel, a request to which only a few of us responded, several making it clear that they wanted their interchanges with the 'experts' on the panel to be fresh, not canned, in the 2nd half of each panel session.

Steve Lazar organized some of us getting together the evening before.  7 of the 12 educators who would participate were able to make that dinner.  Some of us knew others:   four of us, Dan Brown (who was not able to make the dinner), Jose Vilson, Ariel Sacks, and I are members of the Teacher Leaders Network (I was a replacement for Renee Moore, also a member, who was another author of Teaching 2030 but who could not attend).  Steve had sat with Ariel at the Teacher Town Hall of Education Nation, after he came off stage (he was in the very first panel with Brian Williams).  Steve had met several of the others from around New York.

We got to know one another, shared our concerns and our hopes about the event.   We did not agree on everything, as would become clear during the next day.

First, we are all grateful for the opportunity.  As you can see in the post  in which Ariel Sacks posed her suggestion for journalists, she began like this:  

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being at a conference on hosted by the Education Writer's Association and the Carnegie Foundation here in NYC.  It brought together an interesting group of education reporters, teacher bloggers, and education "experts" (=policy people & researchers) to discuss the topic of teacher effectiveness.  The event was quite unique and engaging, though I would have liked to see teachers featured on panels as "education experts" as well.  

Like Ariel, I would have liked to see the voices of teachers included other than as questioners during the formal part of the seminar, although in fairness the journalists were quite willing to hear what we had to say, particularly during the Conversation Among Participants.  That was really three separate conversations, three different groups, one around each of the topics presented by the panels of "experts."  I know that the conversation in which I participate, which ostensibly focused on "Teaching Teachers," traveled over much of what had been said during the seminar.  It was free-flowing.

There were some interesting moments.  One was to hear Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality basically dismiss Teach for America as a model.  When I spoke with her afterward and expressed my surprise, she told me she says that all the time, that given their concern with teacher quality they simply do not believe TFA or similar programs with brief training programs provides students with a quality teacher.  That was a positive moment.

Another positive moment, or if you will series of moments, came during the final panel.  Judy Zimny of ASCD had been both a teacher and a principal, and her experience in classrooms and schools came through consistently.  As it happens, she was also part of the Conversation at the end in which I participated, and she continued to offer cogent opinions.  She clearly had expertise on the subjects on which she opined.

There were also some not so positive moments.  During one of the other conversations a journalist who shall remain nameless wanted to know how s/he could identify the 'bad teachers' so s/he could write about them.   Somehow that seemed entirely alien to the purpose of the seminar, at least to the teacher who related the exchange to me.  There were several moments stemming from the words of a man there on behalf of Education Next.  He chose to bash Paolo Freire and praise Ed Hirsch as the fount of all wisdom, and both in the 'question' he posed during one of the sessions and in his remarks in the Conversation (he was seated next to me) had a very narrow focus of what he seemed willing to consider and seemed reluctant to hear what others had to offer, although during a conversation with another teacher during drinks before the closing dinner some of us attended was apparently some what more open.

A number of us there were live-tweeting.  We were encouraged to do so, and you can get something of a sense of how it went by going to the hashtag #ewateachers - go all the way down to the bottom and read up, and you will get a very good sense.  Just remember, there were more than a few people who were following our tweets and jumping in, as I found out when I asked Bruce Baker of SchoolFinanceBlog where he was sitting, since i had not seen him there.

A number of people have asked my reaction.   I am grateful for the opportunity.  I found some of the journalists quite open, and wanting to learn.  I found many of them lacking what I consider basic knowledge -  for example, in our conversation, I asked how many of them knew of Campbell's Law, the famous axiom of social science, which reads The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.  In a period where much of our educational policy has been to use various measures in a high stakes fashion, Campbell's insight is critical to understanding the problems that creates.  Of the non-educators at the table, only Linda Perlstein was familiar with it.  I view this as a problem in education writing, which is the lack of understanding some journalists have.  I remember in a conversation over drinks later that evening Bill Turque of the Washington Post, who came to education coverage from a long career writing about politics, admitting that when he began three years ago he had not even heard of Reggio Emilia, which is a critically important model for early childhood education.  

On the other hand, most of the journalists were willing to listen and to learn.  We were asked for suggestions for things to read, which they dutifully noted.

We also learned some of the difficulties they have, from their perspectives.  Sometimes they have trouble getting access to teachers or students.  Even if they can get access to teachers, many are reluctant to talk on the record, fearful perhaps of retaliation - and not always from administrators or school boards - if they are critical of what they see.

I recognize that.  But they had a dozen educators before them, all of whom write online about education, all of whom are willing to be quite candid - of the structure of our schools, about how teachers are trained, supervised, etc.  Even the two of us who are union building reps are willing to acknowledge that unions have not been what they should be, a point made forcefully in Teaching 2030, where the authors talk about the need for the unions to become more of professional guilds.  

Thus if I had to assess the occasion, I would have to describe it as a partially missed opportunity.  I think the journalists and the teachers could have done far better simply talking as we did in the end, perhaps with some "experts"  also participating, it might have been more productive.  

I recognize that from Linda Perlstein's perspective, she wanted to provide important background information to the journalists, and the inclusion of those of us who were teachers was not the main focus, but rather an added bonus.  There was some diversity among the presenters, although I think the panels were tilted far too much in the direction of the 'reformers.'   Yes, there was SOME diversity on each panel, a person who could provide a somewhat different viewpoint:  Sharon Robinson of AACTE, Vicki Bernstein (no relation)of NYC Dept of Education, Judy Zimny of ASCD.  Still, until we got to the questions, and the voices of teachers were among those able to speak, I think, with the exception of the final panel, the presentations were somewhat unbalanced and thus did something of a disservice to the Education Writers.

Would I do it again, even knowing how it was structured?  I think I would, because we need to take advantage of the opportunity to have the voices of teachers heard, to help broaden the perspective of those who write about education for the general public.

Thus while I admit some disappointment in the missed opportunity, it was far from a waste of time.  I formed some new and important friendships among the other teachers.  I got to understand the point of view of what the journalists must address.  

It was a start.

We need more such conversations.

I encourage journalists who cover education and teachers who are willing to speak and write about education to sit down and talk with another.

It was worth the time.  I hope Carnegie Corp. feels it was worth their money.  They were gracious hosts.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (18+ / 0-)

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 01:16:24 PM PST

  •  As Arte Johnson would say "Very Interesting" (5+ / 0-)

    Thank you for writing about this.

    Practice tolerance, kindness and charity.

    by LWelsch on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 01:22:15 PM PST

  •  Fantastic read (5+ / 0-)

    I'm glad to see the inclusion of "non--traditional' groups like bloggers.

    Falling forward, tumbling backward

    by campionrules on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 01:23:47 PM PST

  •  Just curious (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, lcrp, blueoasis, Mostel26

    and I really do have to leave, so I will check your answer later this evening.

    Was anything mentioned about special education and its effect on schools, in terms of teaching and in terms of financing?

    Peace, Hope, Faith, Love

    by mapamp on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 01:35:17 PM PST

  •  Hey, Ken, did you see this one from Dept of Ed? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, mapamp

    Talking about contract negotiations including ideas on how to get past the standard traditional adversarial process.

    Worth a look.

    Keep up the great work, Ken.

    Stop clapping. Stop screaming. Open your mind. Listen.

    by Benintn on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 02:05:39 PM PST

    •  had a report from someone who was there (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      as a Teacher Ambassador inside the Department

      but thanks for thinking of me

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 02:11:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I've been retired from the profession (4+ / 0-)

    for almost 14 years now, electing to take early retirement when I became eligible because of burnout though I was still considered to be highly successful and effective by others.  I could just no longer face the endless battles to maintain the standards and values necessary to quality learning.  One of the big changes, as administration began to usurp teacher roles in curriculum and instruction was a district wide mandate that curriculum be solely dictated by textbook selection and the company's teacher's manuals.  Further teacher objects and the general language used in discussing specifics of curriculum was that "the textbook TEACHES____.  The use of the phrasing "the STUDENT will LEARN" was also abandoned.  From what I can detect over the years this is increasing the direction that teaching, or education, has taken, just with the addiction of standarized testing.  Teachers and students are being indirectly removed from the process and the relationship created is between text and test with the role of the teacher relegated to verbalizing a textbook and monitoring and reinforcing performance on the knowledge or skills, usually low level, which the test measures.

    Good teachers can and will encourage and develop reading/writing/thinking skills as well and attempt to exposure students to aspects of the human condition appropriate to the age and maturity level insofar as possible.  But it seems to me to be an incredibly difficult task today and if the current reforms as they are being presented are eventually mandated, an almost impossible one.  Most of the reforms are simply rightwing attacks on the idea of liberal public education, in what used to be the nonpolical sense of achieving a liberal education.

    I could go on for quite some time, but your experience with
    the symposium/panel is a good illustration of the chief problem with education today.  As I've mentioned before, I admire your tenacity in working toward defending the best in teaching and reforming true weaknesses in the system.

    Humankind cannot stand too much reality. T.S. Eliot

    by blueoasis on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 02:29:21 PM PST

    •  I do what I can, but it is bone-wearying (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueoasis, mapamp

      there are times that I fantasize about taking whatever pension I can grab and simply packing it and doing something for a little income that does not require so much time and energy

      then I think of my students and refocus -  which I will have to do early tomorrow morning after I figure out if
      a) we are on time  -  right now unlikely
      b) we are on a two-hour delay, or
      c) we are closed

      Given either b or c, I would have to replan what is left of the week, so I will get up at 4 AM and see what if anything has been decided - although sometimes they go as late as 5:30 before announcing a delay.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 02:44:07 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        teacherken, Predictor, mapamp

        It's the students and caring that keep so many good teachers in the profession as long as possible.  I taught for 30 years and would periodically toy with the idea of changing professions, but the genuine joy of seeing the lightbulbs come on again and again and the many expressions of appreciation from students and parents kept me going until I begin to feel so drained, as well as never having enough free time in the evenings or over weekends -- the endless stream of work.  Luckily I had a long time hobby from which I could make a bit of money and put less pressure on myself with the different challenges that that entailed.  Still, I do miss much of the stimulation and the personal rewards that come with teaching.

        Weather stresses, the modifications because of them, the increased absences, the make-up days, all of that I'm relieved to be free from.

        Humankind cannot stand too much reality. T.S. Eliot

        by blueoasis on Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 03:05:25 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Education Journalists (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    the fan man, mapamp

    I am very wary of many education journalists. So many of them are just out to get their articles sold and make a name for themselves. Amanda Ripley and Seyward Darby come to mind as some of the most opportunists. Although I really like Linda Pearlstein, it doesn't at all surprise me that no teachers were on the panels. That's pretty much how it goes at conferences on education these days.

  •  As usual, a great report . . . (0+ / 0-)

    coming from you, Ken.  However, it does sound like the Villagers wanted to make sure they controlled the agenda and the conversation.  (I would except Linda Perlstein from my remark.)  i notice Bob Somerby wasn't on the panelists list, either.  Bob's writing on educational issues is often the best around, but probably too controversial for this crowd.  BTW, who would take the trouble to attend a conference like this in order to dis Paola Friere?  Must have been from Cato or AEI.

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