PSAT for 5-3-11: Three ways to honor teachers

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and we have to do more than just polish an apple and toss off some rhetoric — see, for example, this “open letter to teachers” from Fed Ed Head Arne Duncan in today’s Education Week.

Arne’s tribute is pretty lame. He talks about how he has “worked in education” for much of his life and that he’s “met with thousands of teachers,” but fails to admit that he has no personal teaching experience.

He acknowledges teachers’ concerns about high-stakes testing and once more promises “better assessments….based on data we trust,” but fails to offer any reason we should trust him on that.

He claims that he values and respects teachers and asserts that he will work with them to “restore the status of the teaching profession,” but fails to admit that it’s his policies and the actions of some of his closest friends that have damaged the profession so much in the first place.

My critique is just a start. For PSAT #1, read Teacher Sabrina’s full-body take-down of Arne’s letter. Teachers have earned this hearing.

A sampling: Sabrina starts out by asserting that “actions speak louder than words,” and she details some of Arne’s actions that belie his rhetoric, charging that he has

…framed criticism of these policies as a defense of an indefensible status quo. This, instead of valuing the views of the people who work daily for America’s students, and instead of honoring divergent views for what they are: a necessary part of any productive problem-solving exercise. How is it respectful to write off the informed opinions of concerned people who have spent their lives serving students and communities?

…undermined the teaching profession by frequently elevating the views of non-educators over those of educated, experienced professionals (and) supporting programs and policies that continually lower entry standards into the profession.

…elevated and increased high-stakes tests that are hastily scored by temporary employees and/or machines over classroom-embedded assessments designed and evaluated by teachers…(which) necessarily indicates that you value teachers’ (and all public school stakeholders’) judgment much less than the opinions of test-makers… and temporary scorers, and machines.

allowed the “highly qualified” standard to be watered down.

Teacher Sabrina then takes this totally legitimate swipe:

More fundamentally, your very presence in the role of Education Secretary reflects a level of disrespect for our profession not found in others. Our Surgeon General is a career physician, who earned a full MD before going into family practice. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is a career naval officer, who studied at the Naval Academy before participating in combat operations aboard a destroyer. Yet despite “working in education” for a while, you never studied education, and you’ve never taught in a public school classroom. Working in non-profits, playing basketball, and being a political appointee are not substitutes for classroom experience.… We need leaders who can combine in-depth knowledge of education policy and history with practical experience at all levels of the public education system, and a proper respect for the perspectives of those doing the work every day. And if we can’t have all that, then at the very least we need someone who is humble enough to admit what they don’t or can’t know, and defer to the those who do and can—instead of seeking the counsel of those who know even less.

PSAT #2: Listen to our great, articulate Chicago teachers (Jay Rehak, Howard Emmer, Jennifer Johnson, among others) on this video of an NBC Education Nation teacher forum taped Sunday. You’ll have to suffer through an overly long self-promoting intro, but it gets pretty good after that.

Education Nation is in Chicago this week (though I have hardly heard a peep about it) and may be trying to make up for some of the mess it made in New York City last year, when seemingly only those starring in, bankrolling, or completely snowed by the documentary “Waiting for Superman” were allowed to speak. The only other event listed on their web site is a panel Thursday with “business and civic leaders” talking about – what else? – what business wants from our schools. Yep, Students First…

PSAT #3 – Please tweet, Facebook, or otherwise share this tribute to teachers from Parents Across America.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.