| May 01, 2012
It’s been a busy couple of days for members of the International Reading Association’s Teacher Advisory Panel. After spending all of Saturday engaged upon strategic planning during the pre-convention day of Institutes, the panel met yesterday, during the opening day of the Chicago Convention, with Robert Baroz, a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow from the Office of Communications and Outreach at the US Department of Education.
Robert Baroz, US Ed Department Teaching Ambassador Fellow, sitting at the head of the table, participating in a focus group exchange with IRA’s Teacher Advisory Panel.
This meeting was arranged to provide the TAP members with an important opportunity to participate in the Department’s current outreach effort entitled The RESPECT Project, Envisioning a Teaching Profession for the 21st Century. The Department is conducting similar sessions with teachers from around the country.
According to Baroz, the goal is to have substantive discussions with about 5,000 teachers by the fall. To date, the Department’s Ambassador Fellows have met with about 1,500 classroom educators. “We want to get to the point where teachers are shaping policy,” he explained, “rather than policy shaping teachers.”
Baroz himself is no stranger to the issues facing teachers. A teacher in the Boston public schools, he recently found himself in the news when President Obama, who claimed to have met him personally, cited Baroz’s experience in being pink slipped due to budget cuts as a good example of the negative impact of declining funding for education. In fact, Baroz did secure alternative employment.
The RESPECT Discussion Draft
Baroz’s give and take with the members of the IRA panel was centered in a 17 page discussion draft which the panelists were asked to review. The draft explains that RESPECT is an acronym for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching. Something more than a wish list but less than a blueprint, the discussion document envisions new ways of doing things which are expressed in a series of accumulating subjunctives.
The most accomplished teachers might be asked to serve a larger number of students per class, the document posits. High quality data measuring student learning would be made available and accessible to students on an ongoing basis, and teachers would work professional weeks and days that extend beyond the traditional school day to include the extra hours to get the job done. Students would no longer be held in lock step, age based cohorts (grades), but would instead progress through the system based on what they know and can do.
Of course, an attempt to implement these desiderata is likely to entail a host of serious collateral issues. It is to this end that the Department is seeking to engage a broad range of stakeholders in a national discussion. Nevertheless, the short term push is on, and given the current political context, it is not clear just how compressed the period of stakeholder engagement and deliberation is likely to be.
As explained in a letter from Secretary Arne Duncan which was also given to the panel members: “In his fiscal year 2013 budge, President Obama is seeking $5 billion to support the transformation of the teaching profession. None of us underestimates the challenges ahead, but we also understand the implications of doing nothing. Our students need us now more than ever, and the opportunity for real and meaningful progress has never been greater.”
The Panel’s Input
Baroz sought frank comment from the TAP members, and that is exactly what he got. Some of the panelists felt that the $5 billion plan was just “pie in the sky.” Others questioned the authorship of the initiative, suspecting that political concerns and business interests may have trumped an informed educational perspective.
The plan’s linkage of teacher pay to experience and performance was thought to be a “two edged sword.” Some of the panelists expressed disappointment that issues such as the power of publishers are not even addressed. Others thought that teacher education needs to be designed more like the national board certification projects.
Interestingly enough, the panelists candidly acknowledged that they were themselves split on many questions. In particular, some felt that teachers need to make business interests react to education, while others saw business as the prime consumer of the education system’s “product.” One item in the RESPECT document that did get general support was the notion that teachers shouldn’t have to leave the classroom and move into administrative roles to get higher compensation.
With respect to standards and mandates, one of the panelists made the room erupt in laughter by explaining that “fidelity” was her new “f-word.” All in all, the input was robust, and the IRA Teacher Advisory Panel gave Boraz many ideas and suggestions to communicate back to the powers that be in the federal education establishment.
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