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What Accomplished Teachers Really Think about Federal Education Policy

By Katherine Bassett, CEO NNSTOY

We've probably all done it, but it still annoys me.

I'm in a meeting about a proposed policy change and someone in the meeting brings up his knowledge of "what teachers think" to support or reject the idea. I wonder, how does he know what teachers think? (If I ask, all too often he tells me something along the lines of "my mother-in-law is a teacher" or "I talk to some teachers at the gym.")

images.pngIt's an issue, right? Trying to solve problems in education without engaging with educators themselves or knowing what they think. Hospitals wouldn't institute a new surgical procedure without talking to a doctor. A city wouldn't pass a new building code without consulting engineers, would they?

Before making any sweeping changes to education policy, I would want to know this: What do teachers think? Even better: What do our best teachers think?

The question has taken on greater weight now, as control of education policies and practices moves to the states. State policymakers and education leaders who were initially relieved to be out from under the constraints of NCLB have been celebrating, and rightly so. As time passes, however, we are beginning to see that the transfer of responsibility is often a blessing and a curse. While the NY Times characterized the new ESSA law as one that "allows states and school districts to set their own goals and to decide how to rate schools and what to do with those that underperform," state officials are learning that the "how" and "what" parts can be downright tricky.

During the 2016-17 school year, state policymakers and educational leaders will be tasked with developing and submitting their own comprehensive state education plans. The state plans will include their strategies on a huge range of issues: closing achievement gaps, improving schools, holding schools accountable, intervening to support schools and students, evaluating and supporting existing teachers, and recruiting new teachers.

 This year, states have been offered a period of grace. During this time of transition they are examining current policies and practices and engaging with stakeholders--including teachers and principals--to consider revisions to state policy. This grace period is a perfect time to learn and reflect. It is a time to stop and listen to educators.

 The National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) just released the results of a national federal policy survey, a tool that offers education leaders and policymakers the views of accomplished teachers on a range of important education policies. The teachers who participated in the survey--National and State Teachers of the Year and Finalists for State Teacher of the Year--represent every grade level and virtually every field of teaching. They teach in rural, suburban and urban settings and serve students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.

What they share is passion for teaching and learning, knowledge and expertise that come from experience, and recognition for their considerable accomplishments in the classroom. In releasing these results, our intention is that we all pause to read the survey and talk about it so that we can have more authentic conversations about what teachers think.

Katherine Bassett is the CEO of NNSTOY and the 2000 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year 

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