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Virtual Teach-in Kicks off the Summer of Teacher Discontent

It has been almost two weeks since our conversations with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and several of his top staff.

As I wrote last week, this is going to be the Summer of Teacher Discontent. Teachers are so ready for change, but we haven't seen it yet. So we are going to take the initiative and combine our understanding of the realities of our classroom with some real insights from experts, and figure out a set of policies we can believe in. Teachers' Letters to Obama is the nexus for a series of virtual teach-ins and teacher roundtable discussions.

The Discussion Forum on Teachers' Letters to Obama is already a powerful engine of ideas and understanding. We are going to fuel this engine with even more information and focus these discussions for the month of June on the issue that emerged as the number one concern of the members we polled in preparation for our talk with Secretary Duncan - over-reliance on standardized tests for high stakes decisions.

We are going to begin this with our first Virtual Teach-in: Testing, Testing, Too Much Testing! On Monday, June 14, we will hear from these three leaders:

Monty Neill, Executive Director of Fairtest, has been a clear and consistent voice questioning our obsession with standardized tests. He led the National Forum on Assessment in developing Principles and Indicators for Student Assessment Systems, which was signed by more than 80 education and civil rights groups. He knows, in great detail, what has been done wrong, and what could be done so much better, in assessing student learning.

Doug Christensen
: was the state Commissioner for Nebraska's public schools from 2002 to 2008. He led the development of an assessment system that resisted the mandates for standardized tests. He described it this way:

STARS created a system of education where the classroom was the center of the system not the bottom of a hierarchy. It centered the work of the system on what happens in the classroom and clarified that the work of the system was teaching and learning. It placed students at the center of what schools do and placed the work of teachers in a leadership role.

Yong Zhao is a professor of education at Michigan State University. He has offered us the unique perspective of someone born and educated in China, who truly appreciates the creativity and freedom of thought that resides in our culture - but is greatly concerned that this is being destroyed through the emphasis on test scores and standardization.

These three guests will share their insights and advice with us as we delve into some of the problems with current policy, and look for clear alternatives we should be advocating.

Some readers may remember the term "Teach-in" from the 1960s. In the 1950s and 60s, the Civil Rights movement used a tactic called a "sit-in," where a group of protesters would occupy a restaurant or a building to protest segregation.

Then, in 1965, some anti-war activists held the first "Teach-in." The purpose of a teach-in is for participants to learn more deeply about the issues of concern, to clarify our sense of purpose and allow us to reach agreement on our goals. This, in turn, allows us to push for these goals with greater unity.

As teachers - and parents and students as well - we have agreement that we are dissatisfied with No Child Left Behind, and we have yet to see any meaningful changes from the current administration. But we need to have a greater degree of clarity around what we want changed, and offer clear alternatives to the many ineffective strategies now in use.

The teach-in will be followed by two weeks of intense discussion on Teachers' Letters to Obama, and on the blogs of our members. The purpose will be to decide on the policies we want enacted by our legislators, and the actions we will take to push for this. We are clearly capable of writing letters, but we can also write editorials, testify, protest, make videos - whatever it will take to get our message across. The next big event will be a Teachers' Roundtable Forum, on June 28th, where we will bring forward teachers to articulate the key policies we have decided must be enacted.

Our friends at Powerful Learning Practice have offered us space using their Elluminate room to hold our virtual gatherings. Please visit the Teachers' Letters to Obama page to find the link to register. The room holds 100 people, so sign up now!

Monday, June 14, 5:30 to 7:30 pm Pacific time, 8:30 to 10:30 pm Eastern time.

(A recording will be made available afterwards if you cannot make this time)

What do you think? Will you join in the teach-in on testing?

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