Thursday, August 2, 2012
For reforms to work, listen to the teachers
The Milwaukee teachers union is committed to working with any and all community members who believe in public education.
We welcome the support of the GE Foundation, which has set an admirable standard for the business community's involvement in Milwaukee Public Schools. We are actively partnering with both the GE Foundation and the MPS administration to ensure that the GE grant not only helps MPS students develop a love of learning but also prepares them for college, careers and their civic responsibilities.
Many reforms are being discussed: the Common Core State Standards, a new teacher evaluation system, new curriculum and a longer school day. All these reforms have significant potential.
They also share a common denominator: Their success will depend on ensuring that classroom teachers are intimately involved - from the planning of the reform to the final implementation.
In this era of Act 10, it is more important than ever that teachers are respected, valued and included in reform discussions.
Traditionally, the contract has provided a mechanism for ensuring teacher input. Under Act 10, most collective bargaining is prohibited. Unfortunately, some school boards have used Act 10 to adopt a top-down, do-what-I-say-or-else approach to education. That's a recipe for educational failure.
The teachers union and MPS administration have had their differences. But we also have worked together on important and contentious issues. The TEAM program, a contractually negotiated agreement, is a good example.
TEAM stands for Teacher Evaluation And Mentoring and is a collaborative effort between MPS and the teachers union. For more than a decade, we have worked together to assist struggling teachers, helping them to "realize their maximum potential" in either the classroom or some other career.
Because MPS teachers will no longer have a traditional contract in another year, it is more important than ever that collaboration be built into any reform effort.
One of the reforms under discussion is a longer school day. It is a perfect example of the need for teacher input.
I do not know of any teacher who opposes the idea of children spending more time with caring and competent adults. But the devil is in the details.
Will a longer school day ensure that students will now receive physical education, art, music, and library classes taught by certified specialists? More hand-on projects that challenge them to think? More field trips to explore the city and broaden their experiences?
Or will a longer school day mean more drill-and-kill test preparation, given the excessive pressures that are placed on teachers and principals to raise test scores?
If a longer school day means more time for teachers to prepare, more time to collaborate and learn from colleagues, more time to help children learn to love learning - great. But if it means more of the same, only faster and longer at the same pay, then the reform is merely a form of speed up and burn out.
These are just a few of the questions that need to be addressed.
I have been a teacher for more than 30 years. Teachers want children to succeed. They want a successful school district. They want reforms that are actual reforms. And they want to use their knowledge of children and classroom realities to help ensure that reforms succeed.
Teachers are an invaluable resource. Let's make sure that we listen to them, respect them and involve them in reform.
This opinion appeared in the August 2, 2012 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
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