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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 02/ 3/2011

The VIVA Project: What teachers told Duncan

By Valerie Strauss

More than 150 public school teachers from 27 states, seeking to get their voices heard by education policymakers in this let’s-bash-teachers era, collaborated to devise solutions to problems that most affect their profession. They wrote their conclusions in a paper called "Voices From the Classroom," and then, in a town where such reports are constantly released and then forgotten, they got to do something unusual: present them to Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The effort is called the VIVA Project -- Voices, Ideas, Vision, Action -- which was created to give classroom teachers a chance to share ideas and take a role in making state and national policy decisions involving public schools. The project's aim is to connect teachers with public officials so that the latter can better understand what reallly goes on in classrooms.

The project was launched last fall with an on-line discussion that led to the report that targeted these five issues: clinical training for teachers, performance-based compensation systems, effective teacher and administrator evaluations, appropriate support for teachers, and parent and community partnerships.

Some highlights of the report:

*There should be a national teacher education curriculum and all novice teachers should be given structured, systematic support.
*All teachers benefit from self-selected and differentiated professional development.
*When teachers have a skill deficit which cannot be addressed by profesional development or administrative support, they need “targeted teacher remediation.”
*While the single-scale pay system for teachers now in place does not reward teaching excellence, there is still not a body of independent research to support performance-based compensation.
*It is necessary to look beyond standardized test scores when focusing on student achievement.
*Universal family access to early education services should be created.
*Full-service community schools should be funded.

Some of the teachers who attended the meeting with Duncan said the discussion was spirited and polite, but they didn’t pull their punches, especially when it came to Duncan-supported reforms that call for evaluating and paying teachers on the basis of student test scores.

Keith Harrison, a 9th grade English teacher from Baldwin High School in suburban Pittsburgh, said he told Duncan that teachers are concerned about schemes that use standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. Though he said teachers are “open to dialogue” on it, they are concerned that policymakers are rushing into these systems without adequate research.

Lesley Hagelgans, an 8th grade language arts teacher at Marshall Middle School in Michigan, said her focus in the discussion was on using multiple measures to evaluate teachers.

“Teachers involved with the VIVA project feel that we really need to look beyond test scores. Right now they are wrong 26 percent of the time," she said, referring to a 2010 report on value-added measures by Mathematica Policy Research that said there is about a 25 percent chance of an error if three years of test scores are used in the evaluation.

Curious as to whether the teachers had persuaded Duncan to reconsider any of his positions, I asked the Education Department for his reaction or assessment of his discussion with the teachers.

I did not receive one.


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 3, 2011; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan, Teacher assessment, Teachers  | Tags:  Arne Duncan, The Answer Sheet, VIVA project, education, education secretary duncan, evaluation and teachers, performance-based evaluation, school, teachers  
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Thanks for telling readers about this meeting. Many of the suggestions from teachers have merit (I've also been an urban classroom teacher and administrator, a local PTA President and a member of the Mn state PTA board). It will be interesting to see how the US Dept of Ed uses the information the teachers shared.

Posted by: jnathan2 | February 3, 2011 7:26 AM | Report abuse

Great topic, Valerie.

Educators must be included in the reform dialogue so it was good to see the administration at least willing to listen.

The question remains, what happens to their suggestions?

Posted by: phoss1 | February 3, 2011 9:07 AM | Report abuse

If testing is removed, what measures are teachers offering as a substitute? How will parents know the measurement of the child's learning? How will funders know their money is invested correctly?

If we resort to merit pay, who will say the teacher's efforts were the cause or possibly intervention by parents? As an example, those teaching special needs children will see the same scales? Teachers in rural area schools without the benefit of large city resources will be judged how?

What are teachers offering different that is better? Will a child's progress be determined by a teacher? A disgruntled teacher passed over for merit pay because the class is from a more impoverished area will certainly produce WONDERS in the classroom.

Yep, another reason for improvement...if your class is at the top of their game. Why not instead provide merit pay for the class?

Posted by: jbeeler | February 3, 2011 9:45 AM | Report abuse

It is great to hear, or read rather, that the teachers are getting their own thoughts together on what needs to change in public education and that they were able to directly present their ideas directly to Mr. Duncan. Thanks for the report on it.

Posted by: 1citizen | February 3, 2011 10:46 PM | Report abuse

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