08 Oct Reflection: NBC Education Nation 2011
I recently attended NBC’s Education Nation Summit in New York City with other Hope Street Group Teacher Fellows. Rather than give a summary of all of the events, I want to touch on parts of the conference that stood out and how the event inspired me to make positive change at my school.
During the Teacher Town Hall on Sunday, I was intrigued by the statistics that were shown throughout the event. These statistics come from a comprehensive survey of teachers, sponsored by Scholastic and the Gates Foundation. The survey results are important to me as a teacher and Fellow, because they provide the perspectives of teachers on various issues present in the education reform debate. The survey may be accessed at the following website: http://www.scholastic.com/primarysources/download.asp.
Although I appreciated the comments from teachers throughout the Town Hall, I was a little disappointed that there was no real capacity to have questions asked and answered since there was no one at which to direct these questions. Perhaps having a panel of stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, policymakers), could make the event a more effective town hall in the future.
At the summit, leading academics presented cutting edge research about the brain and its impact on learning. This research was fascinating and made the abstract (child behavior) a bit more concrete. For example, the presentation on how excessive stress negatively impacts the brain was a scientific explanation of why some kids who come from abusive homes may tend to have more issues in school than those students who come from more stable, less stressed filled environments. This presentation hit home, for I am a firm believer that educators should have a solid background in adolescent development in order to better understand the students with which they work.
Additionally at the summit, David Gregory moderated a special edition of Meet the Press, which featured a discussion between Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education and Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone. During this event, Ms. Ravitch spoke of the constraints that she believed testing puts on teachers, how it forces educators to narrow the curriculum and how it is often used to punish teachers, rather than promote progress. In response, Mr. Canada spoke of the importance of assessments and that although they are not perfect, they are necessary for setting a foundation for progress and reflection. In their discussion, Ms. Ravitch also shared her belief that the education reform movement has put too much focus on charter schools, at the detriment of public institutions. Mr. Canada responded that charters are necessary because they are the engines of innovation and have pioneered positive education reforms, which have helped vulnerable student populations. As a teacher at a public school, this statement resonated with me. I wondered what innovative and practical reform could I implement at my school.
When I returned to California, I had a meeting with my principal about changes that could benefit our student population. We reflected on what reforms we could implement that would be practical, research driven and have a substantial effect on student learning. At the summit, both Bill Clinton and Geoffrey Canada spoke of the importance and positive impact of increasing the time students spend on task. With this in mind, and after reviewing related research, my principal and I decided to design and pilot an Alta Vista High School summer academy. The goal of this academy will be to increase the time that students spend on task by extending the school year for key students. We are in the infancy stage of planning this summer academy but are looking to implement a pilot version in summer 2012.
From the event I was reminded of just how many people are involved in the education reform debate. From NGOs and officials at the Department of Education, to elected officials and teachers, there are a number of perspectives all at play. This event, was one of the few times that I was able to witness these perspectives all brought together. To ensure that education reforms are relevant, valid and supported, these perspectives must all have input in the education reform debate. I am proud to be a Teacher Fellow with the Hope Street Group, because this organization seeks to promote cross collaboration amongst these various perspectives in order to promote positive education reform.