Monday, September 12, 2011

Teachers interested in improving teacher evaluation form new groups

NewTLA, for instance, began as a group of Los Angeles teachers who were frustrated with the local union’s failure to put forth proposals on teacher evaluation and professional development.

September 12, 2011
New Groups Giving Teachers Alternative Voice
By Stephen Sawchuk

In times of great uncertainty for U.S. teachers, who speaks for them? The question is almost axiomatic in its simplicity, but the answer is far less clear-cut.

The teachers’ unions remain the most visible, powerful, and probably the most important advocates for teachers. But over the past few years, a number of new efforts have sprung up purporting to give teachers a say in policy, and their emergence is extending discussions about “teacher voice” in unexpected ways.

In general, the groups’ origins, goals, and purposes remain diverse, and their work continues to evolve. Where the groups seem to converge, though, is that their members are gradually becoming involved in conversations about policy, ranging from teacher evaluation to seniority to professional development.

Groups include the Los Angeles-based NewTLA, which operates as a caucus within the city teachers’ union, and the Educators 4 Excellence group in New York City, which has purposely worked outside the teachers’ union.

Two other efforts, one begun by the Boston-based Teach Plus nonprofit organization and the other by the Carrboro, N.C.-based Center for Teaching Quality, have gathered together teachers in multiple cities. Their approaches are similar: providing those teachers with research on issues of interest and avenues for interacting with policymakers.

“There are so many teachers out there who want change and have great ideas, but they’ve had so few venues and vehicles to be heard, understood, and embraced,” said Barnett Berry, the president of the center. “They’re itching for the research knowledge to help them articulate the connections between policy and practice.”
New Majority

It is hard to point to just one factor that has led to the surge in such groups.
Advocacy Groups

Caucus within United Teachers
Los Angeles
No. of Teachers: N/A
Location: Los Angeles

Nonprofit organization
No. of teachers: 2,000
(current fellows and alumni)
Locations: Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, Tenn.

(Center for Teaching Quality)
Nonprofit organization
No. of Teachers: 85
Locations: Denver; Hillsborough County, Fla.; Illinois; San Francisco Bay Area; Seattle

Nonprofit organization
No. of Teachers: 2,500
Location: New York City
SOURCE: Education Week

One important influence, though, could be demographic changes. According to an analysis of federal data conducted by Teach Plus, 52 percent of teachers now have 10 or fewer years in the teaching profession, a phenomenon the group refers to as “the new majority.”

Teach Plus’ founder, Celine Coggins, began the organization in 2007 to give such teachers leadership opportunities and, ultimately, to help retain them in the profession.

“Having a say in how our schools look and function will play a role in their decisionmaking about whether they’re going to stay for another 10 years, or two, or five,” Ms. Coggins said.

The Center for Teaching Quality’s efforts date to 2003, when it began an initiative to assemble a cadre of accomplished teachers to discuss the broad issues facing the profession. Gradually, the idea has evolved into the New Millennium Initiative, in which local networks of teachers work to make their voices heard on topics of local interest, such as the implementation of new state laws.

Support from a variety of private national and local foundations, including the Joyce Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Denver-based Rose Community Foundation, have helped in the transition. (The Joyce Foundation underwrites coverage of improvements to the teaching profession in Education Week, and the Gates Foundation provides grant support to Editorial Projects in Education, the newspaper’s parent company.)

Jessica Keigan, a high school language arts teacher in Denver participating in the initiative there, said she was excited not just about having her voice heard, but also in learning the details of how education policy is made.

“I’d never immersed myself in policy before,” she said, “and it’s been a great way to see how decisions get made and to feel I had some awareness and also some say.”

The Educators 4 Excellence group was formed by Evan Stone and Sydney Morris, who were frustrated by a lack of control over district policy decisions while teaching in a traditional public school in New York City. Their decision to form a group for like-minded colleagues, in 2010, quickly attracted other teachers.

“There are all these new changes created at the 30,000-foot level pushed down to you,” Ms. Morris said. “It’s our mission to include teachers in creation of those changes.”
Whither Unions?
The traditional teachers’ unions have had a variety of reactions to the emergent organizations, ranging from respectful to uneasy.

NewTLA, for instance, began as a group of Los Angeles teachers who were frustrated with the local union’s failure to put forth proposals on teacher evaluation and professional development.

In the union’s recent internal election, NewTLA-affiliated members won a significant number of seats on the United Teachers Los Angeles’ governing body...

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