Denver teacher offers her take on Won’t Back Down movie

Won’t Back Down is a work of fiction that looks to parent trigger laws as a strategy for school reform. I want to emphasize the word fiction for anyone who missed it the first time. Much has already been written about the film, for or against it. I will share what I know to be non-fiction, based on my 25 years of practice as an accomplished teacher. These things I know…

I am one of “those” kids. When speaking of kids living in poverty, many people refer to “those” kids. This is not a reason to feel sorry for them (or me) or to make excuses about why we cannot learn. But it is the first step in creating separation between people and factions.

In Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children, she suggests that as long as we consider “those” children as other people’s children and not “our” children, we will never provide all students the education that they need and deserve. Pronouns can mean a lot. I have been one of “those” kids and can speak from experience about what “we” need and what we don’t. But even those whose demographic data is different can help support our children. All of them.

Perpetuating separation and divisiveness maintains the status quo. Pitting parents against unions, teachers against parents, Teach for America teachers against career teachers, veteran teachers against novice teachers and ed reformers against unions ensures that we stay mired in division that simply maintains the situation as it is. Casting blame and shame only perpetuates the false dichotomy of us versus them. Meanwhile, our kids sit by day after day while adults play power games at their expense.

Meaningful change requires collective action. Margaret Wheatley in Leadership and the New Science, suggests that, “Real change happens…only when we take time to discover what’s worthy of our shared attention.”

As it turns out, it’s not so difficult to identify factors that are worthy of our shared attention. For example, teacher evaluation must improve to encourage individual teachers’ growth and, when necessary, allow for dismissal.  School leaders need to be equipped with the tools and resources necessary to support teaching and learning. We need to rethink school design so we can tailor instruction to students’ needs.

But creating systemic and sustainable change will require us ALL to work together to redesign the system for our kids. And teachers must play critical roles in identifying solutions—for we will be the ones who bring the changes to life in the classroom each day.

We WILL change the system when we actually muster up enough will to do so. As long as all of the different factions involved in education hold tight to oppositional roles, we will not muster the will to actually change anything. When we REALLY decide that ALL students deserve a quality public education—when that becomes our genuine priority and is the outlet for our energy and motivation— then we will make that change happen. It is as simple as that.

Our kids and our country deserve better.

I, for one, am ready to collaborate. Are you? I don’t care what factions you’re part of, what label you wear, or what your history (or your organization’s history) may have been. I am willing to work alongside all who are truly dedicated to supporting the collective action and systemic change that is so sorely needed by our most vulnerable kids.

Our kids do not have time to waste on adults slinging mud like children. Our kids and our country deserve a better public education system and I intend to help provide it for them.

Who among us is willing to lift yourself up out of the divisiveness, connect around a common vision and create a system that works for all children? While some “won’t back down,” I Will Stand Up for our kids, for our community and for my profession. Will you join me?

Lori Nazareno, NBCT
Teacher in Residence, Center for Teaching Quality
Denver Classroom Teachers Association-CEA-NEA Member

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NBC Education Nation starts in Denver tonight

NBC’s Education Nation and its annual focus on public education is right in our backyard. Channel 9 TV, an NBC affiliate, is the major partner in the events through April 20.

You can expect to hear a lot about Colorado’s education reforms of the last few years: the recent overhaul of the state’s academic content standards; CSAP-to-TCAP-to-New Assessment changes; the emphasis on literacy and grade-level reading at the Legislature; SB 191 and teacher evaluation; Innovation Schools in Denver. (Wonder if we’ll hear about our billion dollar shortfall in school funding?)

Tonight is the first big event, a Teacher Town Hall at the new Colorado History Center near the State Capitol in Denver. Many Association members will be there. Watch the Teacher Town Hall and participate in a live chat at EducationNation.com or watch the event on Denver Channel 20. It’s tonight from 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Read about all the events this week at the Events section of Education Nation.

CEA working in partnership with education groups, others on early literacy

During February 27-March 2, the Colorado Education Association (CEA) was proud to play a role in Colorado Literacy Week, a vibrant movement led by Governor John Hickenlooper, Lt. Governor Joe Garcia and literally scores of groups around the state.  Literacy Week was the outgrowth of a broad coalition of partners including business, elected and community leaders, along with CEA, organized to focus attention on and address the challenges we face with early childhood literacy.

Friday, March 2, as part of a nationwide program by the National Education Association called Read Across America, CEA helped sponsor and conduct special reading events in dozens of classrooms around the state.  CEA believes it is unacceptable for even one student capable of reading at grade level to fall short of this critical standard.

As Gov. Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Garcia emphasized in the Colorado Reads: The Early Literacy Initiative report issued last week, literacy neither starts nor stops in school.  When it comes to the classroom, however, CEA members have been working for decades on advancing literacy.  We supported the 1997 Colorado Basic Literacy Act as a critical foundation for making teaching literacy a top priority.  CEA members were also instrumental in revising the Colorado Academic Standards and integrating literacy into all academic content areas. Our members are committed to bringing the highest quality instruction to all public school students, especially those who struggle to read.

CEA has dedicated increased resources and energy to promoting strategies that are clearly effective in raising early literacy skills. This means first ensuring students have the resources, time and support to be successful readers and teachers have the preparation and training to effectively meet the needs of their students.  It also means focusing attention and awareness on approaches that have been proven to make a meaningful difference in helping our kids read, such as all-day kindergarten and summer reading programs. 

CEA members who are experts in early literacy and work with the most challenging cases every day emphasize that these kinds of programs are essential to helping kids read.  Success also means broadening awareness of the role school readiness, parental involvement, and early intervention play in literacy.  Moreover, we must acknowledge that achieving lasting results in early literacy involves confronting the other critical factors that greatly impact our system of education, including poverty and drastic cuts in school funding. 

Our mission is to capitalize on every opportunity to improve public education and early literacy.  CEA has been working in close partnership with other education groups, the state legislature and the Hickenlooper administration on a broad-based approach to early literacy.  A bill now before Legislature that looks to update rules regarding literacy teaching, HB 1238, is one part of this effort. CEA is working with others to amend the bill and collaborate with sponsors and  partners to it better results for public school students, their families and the Colorado citizens who invest in our system of public education.

Teacher unions step up to lead education reform

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel is featured on the front page of the Huffington Post’s Education section today, talking about NEA’s Priority Schools
Campaign and what educators are doing to improve schools and boost student achievement.

Van Roekel, an Arizona high school math teacher, wrote about Romulus Middle School in Detroit, summarizing what he learned about the school as he studied how educators there were working to improve it. Van Roekel said, “After countless grand policy initiatives, and decades of education reforms and gusts of innovation, here is the lesson I think we can draw: the only way to turn around struggling schools is to work together — by demanding concrete changes that make low student achievement totally unacceptable for any group of students.

“Done right, this approach can not only help students in so-called “failing” schools, but is a scalable strategy for fixing America’s troubled urban school systems. It’s hard work, and the transformation won’t happen overnight, but that’s all the more reason to get started as soon as possible.”

Read the entire blog post at Huffington Post’s Education section and comment on what Van Roekel has to say.

State Board endorses statewide evaluation system

On Wednesday, the Colorado State Board of Education approved rules and regulations for the implementation of Senate Bill 10-191. CEA is generally satisfied with the outcome of the State Board’s deliberations and final vote. We view the new rules as a first step in implementing SB 191 and in the creation of a comprehensive, high quality, and meaningful statewide system of teacher and principal evaluation.

The framework for the new evaluation system is the core of the work on SB 191 to date. While there are unresolved issues about SB 191, such as how to measure educator effectiveness in non-CSAP subjects, our Association believes that when the law is fully implemented in 2014, we will have a solid statewide system because school districts must meet or exceed the state level standards.

The “statewide” issue arose in September as the State Board reviewed draft rules written by Colorado Department of Education staff. The issue was whether there would be a single statewide evaluation system or if districts would be permitted to have their own systems that skirted the intent of the law. CEA’s position continued to be, throughout recent debate, that the evaluation system must be a single statewide system. Yesterday the State Board confirmed our position.

Our Association began working on teacher evaluation when Gov. Bill Ritter formed a task force before the Legislature even passed SB 191 during its 2010 session. Three CEA members worked tirelessly on the State Council for Educator Effectiveness (SCEE) for more than a year to make sure Colorado’s evaluation system is the best it can be. On behalf of our 40,000 members, we thank Amie Baca Oehlert (District Twelve EA), Kerrie Dallman (Jefferson County EA), and Jim Smyth (Mesa Valley EA) for their contributions to SCEE’s work. These three local association presidents have been working with administrators, parents, students, and the business community on evaluation and are expert resources for our organization.

CEA is committed to continuing the collaborative work begun by the State Council and supporting the work that will be done by teachers and principals in the SB 191 pilot districts. Lessons learned from the pilot will inform the next steps in SB 191 implementation.

CEA members want accountability in public education and in their schools – accountability for educators and for everyone that results in improving the quality of teaching, increasing student achievement, and making schools safer, better places to learn.

Educators, use this Sunday’s Education Nation to speak up about teaching profession

NBC’s 2011 Education Nation Summit will be live this Sunday, September 25, at 10:00 a.m. (Colorado time).

Join educators from across the country to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing our schools in this teacher town hall, moderated by NBC anchor Brian Williams.

Learn more about “Education Nation” at CEA’s home page story about the September 25 event. We hope you’ll take advantage of this opportunity to talk about teaching and what works in your classroom and school.

Engage in educator effectiveness conversation, Friday night on RMPBS

We encourage CEA members to tune into a Rocky Mountain PBS program on Friday about educator effectiveness.

It’s “Colorado State of Mind” this Friday night, September 16, from 7:30-8:00 p.m. The regular 30-minute on-air program will be followed by a panel discussion that will feature Michelle Conroy, a teacher in Craig and Moffat County EA member, and Henry Roman, a Denver teacher and Denver CTA president. There will also be a live online chat from 7:30-9:00 p.m., moderated by Alan Gottlieb, publisher of EdNews Colorado, an online education news source.

CEA is a co-sponsor of this program. Rocky Mountain PBS is partnering with PEBC (Public Education & Business Coalition) and EdNews Colorado on this program with the goal of exploring the challenges of measuring educator effectiveness.

You can post questions and comments now and throughout the Friday night live program — and we hope you will.