Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More about the Alliance - Why we are involved in the teacher quality discussion.

I want to continue the conversation about our priority areas of work at the Alliance for Education. In a past blog I outlined four priority areas:

  • Community Schools
  • College Access (includes all post-secondary educational opportunities)
  • Support for Teachers and Teacher Quality
  • Community Engagement

For this blog I want to share a bit more information about our work in supporting teachers and teacher quality, adding to information previously posted. During the past several months, we have been working with Seattle Public Schools, parents, and a variety of community organizations and individuals to engage in a dialogue about how we sustain strong teaching in every classroom.

The primary goal of this work is to help Seattle Public Schools support strong instruction throughout the city. A system that nurtures new teachers, supports continuous learning, and encourages strong educators to work in high needs school.

As you may know we contracted with the National Council on Teacher Quality to conduct a report on how Seattle is doing in recruiting and retaining effective teachers. We held a public event, and you can read the summary in a previous post. The recommendations that resulted from this report are listed in a link on our web site and we have created a summarized document here: http://www.alliance4ed.org/docs/NCTQ%20Recommendations.pdf

Here are the activities we are currently engaged in:
· With the help of an in-kind grant, we sent a copy of the full report to every teacher in SPS. We included a cover letter stating that although we contracted with NCTQ we don’t agree with all the recommendations, but believe it’s a great opportunity to start the conversation.
· We invited teachers to provide feedback as to their areas of priority for this work. For example, is compensation the most important issue? Evaluation? Tenure?
· Community groups are having the same conversations and sharing with us priority areas for us to focus our efforts.
· We will be conducting teacher focus groups to ask additional questions.
· We are compiling responses from all of these activites and we will ultimately share all this information with the district partners, the union and the greater community.

We know that teachers are the most important component of a classroom. They are there to teach our children and are a vital part of student academic growth. But they are also part of a child’s human growth from helping dry tears in Kindergarten to connecting students to college access resources in high school. It’s a tough and complex job and we’ve got to figure out a way to support and provide partnership so we can really all serve all students in the city.

As a parent, my two daughters have overall had great experiences in Seattle Public Schools. My eldest daughter’s first connection to school in Seattle was at Lafayette Elementary after we moved back here from Portland. She had an incredible teacher, one who truly paved the way for her to love school and learning from an early age. Graduating from college this month, she still loves learning. Being a first-generation college graduate, who received my degree much later in life, I’m pretty excited about that.

And I want that for all students in our city.


  1. Karen,
    None of this tells us WHY the Alliance is involved in teacher quality. Isn't this a topic for discussion between parents/commnuity groups and district? Between teachers union and district?

    Why does the Alliance involve itself in this?

    I thought A4E was a fund-raising organization, formed ten years ago, to raise funds for school activities, etc. I had no idea it was actually a conduit to funnel Gates money into NCTQ in order to publish predetermined "recommendations" for discussion.

    If A4E really wanted teachers to "lead" discussion about this issue, it would have actually asked for some teacher input before it hired (using Gates money) NCTQ to do this "report" about teachers. It would have required the metric for the report to actually include teacher comments and perspectives.

    So NOW you want teacher comment?

  2. The Alliance for Education is a Local Education Fund (LEF). Part of our work committed to finding private support for investment into our public schools. There are also other areas of work that we prioritize, such as community engagement, college access, exploring community schools, etc.

    The priorities of the Alliance are listed in our materials, our web site, and you're always welcome to call if you have questions (206-205-0333). And you can look at the Public Education Network Web site if you're interested: www.publiceducation.org.

    We do want teacher comment and are already getting some. There are several individuals and organizations that are bringing people together to talk about these recommendations and we believe the input from teachers, parents, community members, etc. are all valuable.

    We'll be happy to share that info when we've compiled it.

  3. Please share with us the individuals and organizations that are bringing people together so we can join in these discussions.

    Thank you

  4. Please post the comments and ideas you've already received so we can join in the conversation by responding to those.

    Thank you

  5. Sorry to sound like a broken record on this, but how can we talk about teacher quality at all before we have defined teacher quality? How can we talk about recruiting and retaining effective teachers when we have no means for identifying them? This is all a lot of cart-before-the-horse nonsense.

    Let's start by defining - and quantifying - teacher quality. Let's start by identifying effective teachers. All I have seen so far are measures based on standardized test results - results that have much stronger determinants than the quality or effectiveness of the students' current teachers. These cannot seriously be regarded as indicative of teacher quality at all.

    Seattle Public Schools has taken over 100 of its most effective teachers out of the classroom and made them teacher coaches. We need to question that practice. First, is the teacher coach strategy working to improve teacher quality? We don't know, do we? Second, are the students better served by losing these individuals as teachers and gaining the improvement in their teacher as a result of the coaching or would they be better served by having the coaches as teachers? Third, is there a better way to improve our teaching practices than coaching? Fourth, why aren't the principals and mentor teachers doing that coaching work?

    There are a lot of other questions that need to be tackled before anyone can even start making unsubstantiated statements about teacher quality or its impact on student outcomes.

  6. I agree with Charlie. What makes a great teacher? One who gets high test scores on standardized tests or one who prepares students for the next grade and for life? Obviously you can measure test scores, but as I have stated before on another thread on this topic - a teacher can prep the students for the test - to the extent that a learning disability is covered up. That happened to my student. It took another year and a new school to FINALLY get the help needed. But yes, the test scores looked wonderful, on paper.

    The next teacher ignored the test, taught the students what they needed to learn to move on and become contributing citizens. Test scores not as high, but my student learned more that year than any other year.

    Is my experience unusual?

  7. As a SPS parent, and SPS teacher, I want to know what you are going to do about our building level administrators? Once we have worked together to identify qualities of an outstanding educator, how will SPS manage them? Create a cohesive vision at the building-based level? Support budding teachers? Inspire "tired" teachers? If we continue to have such mediocre to poor leadership, it won't matter what we "identify" as quality instruction. We have to have innovative, competent leaders in each of our buildings! Principals whom are familiar with best practices, with vision and strong management skills. To quote my colleague, "I never even knew there were principals like this, until I came to Seattle" (This is not meant as a compliment) Why? What is Seattle doing wrong? Why is it so difficult to attract and retain quality administrators?