5 Questions for . . .
Rachael Avery Barton, Middle School History Teacher in Leominster
Michael Capuano, U.S. Representative for Massachusetts’ 7th District
Kenneth Hawes, Senior Lecturer in Education, Wellesley College
Phillip James, History Department Coordinator, Lincoln-Sudbury R.H.S.
Véronique Latimer, High School Art Teacher
Arthur Unobskey, Assistant Superintendent, Gloucester Public Schools
Isa Zimmerman, Executive Director, Massachusetts ASCD (Association
for Supervision and Curriculum Development)
4. If every school district in the Commonwealth chose one teacher with a minimum of 10 years classroom teaching experience to convene with the others to decide how to improve education in Massachusetts, what reforms do you think they would agree on?
Rachael Avery Barton
I strongly believe they would agree that trust in their teachers is tantamount to a successful system. I am not saying that every teacher is an angel who does everything they should (trust me I have known poor teachers in my day), but ultimately the majority of us get into the profession because we want to help kids learn and succeed! What we have created is a system where teachers are not trusted, and hence all the problems that follow.
I think they would also agree that standards are great to have, so that people everywhere are not just getting random learning here and there based on the whims of the teacher in front of them. However, there should be fewer standards and those that we do have should be broader and more like “essential questions.” The time it takes for a student to master these standards should not be limited either. Fewer is better! The amount students “need” to know now is ridiculous, and they end up knowing almost nothing instead. People need to understand, it is ok if every person doesn’t know EVERYTHING! I mean look at my 8th grade history curriculum, the amount of history (almost 2000 years in 6 of the 7 continents) is essentially impossible to teach in the 7 months (testing is done in March). I’d rather be able to focus on 15 essential questions…not 64 (not including the abcds that go with them) standards.
Cookie cutter is not best! No more one-size-fits-all testing and timeframe. Honestly, it would be better for students to understand 10 important skills strongly than 40 near useless ones horribly (which is what is happening). We need to make sure our kids master the basics before they move on.
There should be more time for creativity and problem solving in the classrooms. We need to have fewer standards, but we need to add in new ones that really will make students succeed in the 21st century.
I am laughing out loud (LOL). Putting 404 10-year teachers in a room to agree on reforms will result in the exact same situation we have now. Maybe they could agree on increased salaries and maybe granting teachers more control over daily work plans, but that is it. Welcome to my world (health care, tax reform, and every other major issue we consider). In fact, I would love to see if your consideration of this aspect comes up with results.
I imagine one thing they would agree on is that you have got to build a teacher evaluation system on trust. Another might be that student test scores not be used as a decisive factor for any high stakes decisions. A harder area to reach agreement on might be what form of test or other evaluation of students is worth having at all.
A very interesting question. I am not sure if I can give a definitive answer. I do think they would concentrate on smaller class sizes, de-emphasizing standardized tests, and giving teachers more autonomy in designing curriculum. Teachers should be the driving force behind education reform, not politicians or business people. Treat teachers like professionals, such as doctors or lawyers, who have control over the practice.
I can’t think of too many teachers who would think that standardized tests are the way to go! Smaller class sizes would be fantastic for one...but here I am going to get on my art teacher soapbox, but I really think Arts education – along with all Humanities courses are really essential. I have seen over my ten years of teaching more and more kids who feel like they are pressured to specialize or take classes in high school that will teach them technical skills that they can apply to their careers, which they are trying to have figured out before they begin college. Most of this is due to the crazy costs of college, fear of student debt and understandably worried parents – I understand that, but it is very disheartening to see students giving up a Painting class because they think AP accounting is going to be more “practical.” It is sad that our education system is encouraging this. Art classes, and other classes where you create, encourage innovation, imagination, can be life-changing! I’ve seen articles over the past couple of years along the lines of “Where have all the English majors gone?” lamenting this narrowed focus on technical skills in education. Humanities classes encourage thinking, engaging in the world around you and being a part of something bigger. I have probably strayed off course in my answer to this question, but I do think we need to stop focusing so much on teaching only “marketable skills.” MassCreative’s “Arts for All” campaign has the right idea for things that I think would reform our current education system. They are working on including arts education as a university admissions requirement for Massachusetts state schools and adding the “A” in the “STEM” education model and have worked with the Massachusetts DESE on implementing a Creativity rubric which measures students’ opportunities for creativity and innovation in school projects. This is all on the right track!
They would want a system where strong teachers have a career path that keeps them teaching but gives them coaching responsibilities.
They would agree that strong teachers in struggling districts should receive a bonus. They would also agree that teachers who are measured as exemplary should receive bonus pay.
They would want a process of involving teachers in the evaluation of the principal to ensure that all perspectives were accounted for.
They would want a sabbatical system where teachers would spend their year outside the classroom writing about what they had learned as a teacher the previous seven years.
They would want limits on standardized testing so that they lasted for 2 weeks in mid-May and one day every 8 weeks throughout the year.
• How to use the ever-changing technology to improve student learning
• How to learn from all the tests to provide a better education so all the testing is not a waste of time, energy and money
• How to improve PD [professional development] in order to stay current
• How to engage students so that they can learn independently and as part of a team
• What changes need to be made to pre-service education to enable novice teachers to be more effective at the start of their careers