Two teachers in task force that met with education secretary
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Getting to share workplace recommendations and insights with the big boss is a rare and valuable opportunity for professionals.
Two Baldwin High School teachers recently got that chance when they were chosen to be among a group of six educators from across the country to meet with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last month.
"All of us read stories in newspapers and online and see things on TV and say to ourselves, 'I wish I could just get my two cents in on this.' For one day, we got that opportunity and it was very gratifying," said Keith Harrison, a ninth-grade English teacher at Baldwin, who, along with colleague Nicky Lewis, met with Mr. Duncan Dec. 17 in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Harrison and Ms. Lewis, a 10th-grade English teacher, were chosen for the meeting from among some 150 educators nationwide who participated in an online discussion last fall about issues facing classroom teachers. The online forum was sponsored by the VIVA Project -- Voices, Ideas, Vision, Action.
The goal of the VIVA project is to give classroom teachers a voice in the debate on national education policy.
Mr. Harrison and Ms. Lewis were chosen to be part of the six-member VIVA National Task Force based on their classroom experience and their knowledgeable postings in the online discussion. The other four members of the task force were from New York City, Chicago, Marshall, Mich., and Enumclaw, Wash.
The six task force members published a 40-page report called "Voices from the Classroom," based on the comments of the 150 teachers who participated in the online forum. The report discusses five key issues: clinical training for teachers; teacher and administrator evaluation; performance-based compensation systems; appropriate support for teachers; and parental community involvement.
Ms. Lewis' area of participation focused on appropriate support for teachers. "Teachers need more time to prepare and plan and grade papers. Teachers need to be able to focus on their instruction and not so much on the social and welfare kinds of things that are in the modern classroom," Ms. Lewis said.
In the task force report, she suggested that more support staff, including paraprofessionals, guidance counselors and social workers, be hired in schools.
Mr. Harrison participated in discussing and writing about performance-based pay issues. He said teachers are open to the idea, but unsure of the best way to go about it because research has shown that the methods used so far to link increased achievement with merit pay for teachers have not worked.
"There needs to be a body of research that shows performance-based compensation does improve education. Right now the jury is out on that," he said.
Mr. Harrison and Ms. Lewis said Mr. Duncan spent about 30 minutes meeting with the task force and discussing the issues. "He genuinely wanted to hear from teachers," Ms. Lewis said.
First Published January 13, 2011 6:45 am