Wednesday, August 8th, 2012
The Washington Post
A Barstow Elementary School educator is getting a chance to help her peers through a fellowship that’s giving her a national look at education reform.
Speech language pathologist Lisa Mills is a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow and is studying the best and worst practices of the federal Race to the Top act and its effects on teachers nationwide.
Mills, 42, was one of Hope Street Group’s initial 13 teacher fellows from around the country and one of six to have her fellowship extended through January.
She said the fellowship, which she started in May 2011, gives educators an opportunity to discuss education reform with policymakers at the state and federal level.
Mills, who maintains two residences — one in Port Republic and one in Vienna, Va., — said the fellowship has been focusing mostly on the federal Race to the Top program and its plan to evaluate teachers based on student achievement.
In 2010, Maryland was awarded one of the federal government’s Race to the Top grants in the amount of $250 million across four years, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.
The program is aimed at boosting student achievement, reducing gaps in achievement among student subgroups, turning around struggling schools and improving the teaching profession, according to the Department of Education Web site.
Hope Street Group Vice President Rebecca Wales said one of her organization’s greatest goals is to make sure that teachers have “a seat at the table” when it comes to implementing the new teacher evaluation system.
“It can’t just be the decision makers at the very top,” Wales said.
“A lot of the same problems, everyone is having . . . They need a lot of the same solutions,” Mills said. “It’s really nice to be able to engage with people around the country.”
Mills said the group has worked with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.), as Delaware was one of the first states to implement Race to the Top.
“I would like to see [the new teacher evaluation] maximizing student achievement and elevating the teaching profession, but I want to make sure this is something we’re doing together, not something someone is doing to us,” Mills said.
She said her involvement with Hope Street Group started in 2009 when she became a volunteer and team leader for the organization.
She was selected for the fellowship in May 2011 and started working on the organization’s Teacher Evaluation “Playbook,” which Mills said is an online tool kit that provides practical advice, guidelines and a look at what different states are doing regarding the new teacher evaluation.
Wales said the playbook will highlight best and worst practices in Delaware and Tennessee, which she said were the first two states to receive the Race to the Top grants.
She said one school system in the playbook didn’t even have e-mail addresses for all of its teachers, but instead posted updates in classrooms — this has since been amended.
“We’re not trying to make activists out of teachers. . . . We’re trying to make sure they know what’s going on,” Wales said.
“I’m building that up to get more states [included in the playbook], so we can eventually have all of them,” Mills said, adding the new evaluation system will affect her own job even though she isn’t considered a classroom teacher.
“I’m an educator. There are lots of educators who aren’t ‘teachers,’” Mills said. “I don’t look at this as a teacher evaluation system but as a schoolwide accountability system.”
Regarding her own evaluation, Mills said, “If done effectively,” she will have goals “specific to my own needs instead of a mass professional development.”
Mills said she also was researching how other states look at student achievement for subjects that are not tested, such as music, art and physical education.
“You come up with other growth measurements,” she said, explaining a physical education teacher could measure a student’s ability to dribble and pass a ball.
Wales said her organization was drawn to Mills for “her energy, her enthusiasm and the fact that the Playbook is something she believes so wholeheartedly in.”
The Playbook is available for viewing at playbook.hopestreetgroup.org, although Wales and Mills said it still is a work in progress.
Mills said she received a $5,000 stipend for her first year with the fellowship but is not being compensated for the extension, other than receiving free training and travel.
Although a new group of fellows will start in January, she said she hopes to stay involved in the organization.