An Open Letter to the Arizona Legislature and Governor from Arizona Teacher Leaders

   We, the undersigned, write to express our opposition to proposals within the Arizona legislature that would expand vouchers to private schools and divert needed funds from students in Arizona public schools.

   Recent and pending legislative action lays bare the intentions of proponents of school vouchers.  Incremental steps toward privatization have been abandoned, inviting unprecedented expansion of school vouchers, with no distinctions made based on student need or school performance.

   Moreover, this loose distribution of public funds would support private schools held to a different level of accountability for student performance than the stringent standards to which public schools are routinely held.

   Public school educators are not categorically opposed to school choice. We are opposed to school choice masquerading as a euphemism for school preference, enabling a few to benefit while leaving others behind. Educators denounce reformers trumpeting the need for competition, accountability, standards and incentives not because we oppose these concepts, but because they often mask either the true intent of the reformer or the complexity of the issue requiring reform.

   We urge the legislature and the Governor not to starve public schools while simultaneously offering incentives to private schools then selling the results as “choice”.  These proposals won’t improve education; these proposals would only heighten the increasing division between the haves and the have nots of Arizona rather than allocating the necessary resources to ensure the success of all children in our state.


Respectfully submitted,

Tara Dale, 2014 AEF Ambassador for Excellence

Tabetha Finchum, 2014 AEF Ambassador for Excellence

Beth Maloney, 2014 Arizona Educational Foundation Teacher of the Year

Jonathan Parker 2014 AEF Ambassador for Excellence


Joining in support:

Laurie Burrell, 2007 Ambassador

Rebecca Cavazos, 2013 Ambassador

Manuel Chavez, 2009 Ambassador & NBCT

Jodi Chesbro, 1996 Ambassador

Chuck Gallagher, 2008 Ambassador

Lindsey Herlehy, 2013 Ambassador

Lisa Hoelzen, 2008 Ambassador

Ginny Kalish, 1999 Teacher of the Year

Dr. Robert Kelty, 2008 Teacher of the Year

Nancie Lindblom, 2013 Teacher of the Year

Jim Manley, 2000 Teacher of the Year

Amanda McAdams, 2011 Teacher of the Year

Donna Moore, 2010 Ambassador

Mary Perez, 2007 Ambassador

Dr. Lucy Popson, 2006 Teacher of the Year

Cynthia Rolewski, 2010 Ambassador

Dr. Harriet F. Sandberg, 2004 Ambassador

Mamie Spillane, 2007 Ambassador

Eileen Snook, 1996 Ambassador

Jay Stanforth, 2002 Ambassador

Patricia Tate, 1997 Ambassador

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(from left to right) Jonathan, Beth, Tara, Dayna, and Tabetha

 Note: if you would like to show your support in our open letter, please leave your name and title in the comments section.

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Let’s Stay the Course – One Teacher’s Opinion on the Common Core/Arizona College and Career Readiness Standards

Note: Please understand that this is my opinion as a teacher who is responsible for implementing the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards.  I believe in the power of the standards when they are implemented well.  Finding the best ways to implement the standards and a better assessment for them continues to be a challenge.

I’ve been implementing the Common Core, or as we know it in Arizona, the College and Career Ready standards for three years in my fifth grade classroom.  But I’m going to let you in on a secret: it hasn’t changed my teaching very much.  In fact, the standards finally caught up with what many good educators have been trying to do for a long time – move away from rote memorization and isolated skills and return to creativity and in-depth learning in the classroom.  We are finally seeing a return to cross-curricular, integrated learning which help students build connections to the real world outside of the classroom.

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Some of my 5th graders analyzing text, searching for evidence to prove their opinions.

Unfortunately, these standards have been used as a tool to increase the divisiveness involved with current politics while completely overshadowing our priorities as teachers and parents to provide the best education for our children.  To give the standards an honest evaluation, we must separate them from the political hysteria that has surrounded them. 

The educational environment varies greatly from one classroom to the next, and that variety continues and expands at the school, district, state, and national level.  These new standards help unify educators from around the United States in a way that will ensure continued excellence from accomplished teachers while motivating all teachers to expect the best from our children.

Here’s what I appreciate about the standards as both a parent and a teacher:

·        They define what students should know and be able to do – not how teachers should teach.  The standards are not a curriculum – we will maintain local control of how the standards are taught and with what materials through our local school districts, school boards, and teachers.  I can tailor my teaching to the needs and interests of the individual learners in front of me each year.

·        We’re hearing from colleges and employers that our students must be able to read and analyze complex information.  Our graduates need to be widely literate to be college ready and employable.  The standards emphasize more non-fiction to provide our students with what they will need as graduates.

·        They raise expectations for all students.  We have to raise the floor so we can raise the ceiling. A common set of standards is one of the hallmarks of top performing countries around the world.  

·        The standards emphasize less discrete skills and honor the whole child.  In implementing our previous state standards, I felt like I had to race through with little time for the depth my students deserved.  Now there are fewer standards so I can take the time to delve in.  Do I want my daughter or my students to regurgitate facts on a test like a computer?  No!  That’s what Google is for.  I want my daughter to have an education where she can be an independent learner and critical thinker where she uses evidence to form opinions and make decisions. 

We are heading in the right direction.   We are building a high-quality educational foundation for every student in Arizona and the nation.  Let’s stay the course.

Note: this op-ed has been published in the Northwest Valley Republic, the Surprise Today, yourwestvalley.com, and the AZ Capitol Times.

 

An excerpt from my speech at the Celebration of Accomplished Teaching

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With Carolyn Warner, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction, champion of students, and one of Beth’s heroes. P.S. She gave me a kiss after my speech and said, “Way to go, kid!”

On February 1, 2014 the Arizona K12 Center hosted a fabulous event to recognize and celebrate Arizona’s newest National Board Certified teachers and Master Teachers.  I was thrilled to be invited to speak.  Here is an excerpt from my keynote:

Welcome to the family!  We are many, but we speak with a unified voice, especially when we say congratulations.  You have elevated the credibility of our profession.  Take the time to let this achievement land. 

There was a recent study that asked: What does the public want to see from their teachers?  The 3 P’s: passion, professionalism, patience.  You have dedicated yourself to those.  And you proved you can follow directions really, really well.

I recently had the privilege of attending the National State Teacher of the Year conference.  At the conference they asked us to reflect upon the question: Why am I here?  Why have I been given the title “Teacher of the Year?”  I really struggled with this question.  I know many, many teachers who are so deserving of that honor.  It dawned on me only upon some deep soul-searching: National Board Certification.  Everything changed for me when I became a National Board certified teacher.

The process changed how I viewed my role as a teacher and the impact I have on my students, their families, and our community.  I was prepared for the rigorous and intense Arizona Education Foundation’s Teacher of the Year application process because of everything I had learned and accomplished when becoming National Board Certified.  I had already become deeply analytical and reflective of my practice.  And I had already grown accustomed to being videotaped constantly.  I’d gotten over those, “Is that really what I look like from behind?” moments.

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Don and Beth Maloney at the Celebration of Accomplished Teaching

Please take the time to celebrate your accomplishment. Spend time with the loved ones who supported you on your endeavor.  Do something just for you – you’ve earned it.  But I have to tell you- this is not the end, but the beginning of your journey.  You are now an ambassador of our profession. 

Teachers are born AND made.  We all know the teachers who were born with an apple, a Sharpie, and a book in their hands.  But teachers can be made.  And even the born teachers constantly strive to improve their practice.  Mentor teachers and coaches know this well because they help improve the practice of new and veteran teachers every day.   They help “make” teachers.  As every good educator knows, the day you think you know it all is the day you should leave the classroom. 

Now that you have the letters NBCT to put after your email signature, people will look at you differently.  Doors will open for you.  You’ve proven your dedication to your students and schools.  You are a teacher leader.  We teacher leaders are an untapped resource for educational change. 

We know that we need a whole new structure for today’s schools.  We need to leave the 19th century factory model of learning behind.  We need to empower teachers to lead this change, explore new ideas, innovate, and take risks.  These changes cannot come from the top-down model of education we’ve been using for too many years now, where people outside of the field make the decisions that affect our teaching and our students daily lives in our classrooms. 

One of the aspects of the National Board Certification process that makes it so unique is that it acknowledges the complexity of teaching and the role that context plays in evaluating a teacher and in a teacher’s decision-making process.  It allows time and opportunity for reflection.  It allows a teacher to look deep within and chart a course for the future of his or her students using professional expertise, knowledge of their students and communities, and mastery of their craft.

Teaching in the 21st century is complex, challenging work.  Do you think just anyone can do what we do, day in and day out?  Mark Twain said “Teaching is like trying to hold 35 corks underwater at once,” and that was over 100 years ago!

We need to engage the public in a dialogue about what is really happening in today’s schools.  We need to counter the negative message people hear in the media by spreading the positive things we see happening in our schools each day.  We need to work with businesses to ensure that our graduates leave high school with the skills employers want.  We need to rethink school finance to ensure equity and equal opportunities for all students regardless of their zip code.

We need to work in cooperation with university teacher preparation programs to ensure that teacher graduates meet rigorous performance standards and demonstrate management skills so we ensure the next generation of teachers is the best, the brightest, and the most prepared for life in the 21st century classroom. 

I want to encourage you to support excellence in our profession by becoming a Candidate Support Provider and encouraging other amazing teachers in our field to experience this incredibly personalized, focused professional development of National Board certification.   My husband calls being a Candidate Support Provider being a “sidekick.”  Being a “sidekick” for Dysart teachers and teachers around the state of Arizona for the Arizona K12 Center is one of my most fulfilling roles.  If you aren’t lucky enough to have benefitted from such support networks, maybe you are the catalyst.  Maybe you could begin.  Think of how many teachers (and students) you would impact by supporting other professionals on their journey toward National Board certification.

Let’s stop for a moment and reflect on the 2014 landscape of education.  I’ve heard it called the “perfect storm:” new standards, (while many of us are still teaching the old standards), new assessments, new evaluations, and increasing, on-going budget cuts.  We are seeing (and many of us leading) fundamental shifts in teaching, learning, and school systems. 

My parting advice to you is to leverage this moment to get the most out of it- to make a real difference for education in our nation.  What are you passionate about?  What do you want to solve?  Work on?  Make happen?  You are now a National Board Certified Teacher…people will listen to you!  People will ask your opinion and they will care about your responses! 

Have your elevator or airplane speech ready so that when that man on the airplane sits down next to you and asks what you do and you proudly respond “I’m a Teacher!” and he growls “Don’t get me started on teachers!” you’ll be prepared to respond on behalf of all of us.  Be ready for that chance meeting with a law maker for thirty seconds in an elevator.   Get your message out there because if you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you. 

The 2014 local and state elections are going to have a huge impact on our classrooms and students.   I recently heard “If teachers aren’t at the table, we’ll be on the menu.”  It is time to use your teacher voice on behalf of all teachers and the students we teach to get us off the menu and at the table.  Dream big!

We are standing on the cusp of a great opportunity to fulfill the promise of our democratic republic.  It would be a shame to squander this opportunity to make great changes. 

One last thought for our celebration.  I want you to eliminate the word “just” when you are speaking of your career.  Never say “I am just a teacher.”  I AM a teacher.  I am a skilled, passionate, dedicated teacher.  I am a National Board Certified Teacher. 

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The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards 2014 Teaching & Learning Conference

 

With scientist Steve Spangler

With scientist Steve Spangler

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the 2014 Teaching & Learning Conference put on by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards this week.  I was able to come together with teacher leaders from across the 50 states and other countries from around the world to learn together.  This was an amazing chance for our field to share different and innovative ways of teaching.  We listened to expert teachers translate what is happening elsewhere and apply it to our varied contexts. 

I valued the time to support and listen to each other tell stories and share our realities.  It helped me appreciate the genius and passion that is alive in our profession.  This kind of dynamic collaboration reminded me of my two favorite teacher qualities: love of our students and love of learning. 

I had the opportunity to meet and learn with people I’ve only known in the on-line community. And I found many new leaders to follow and read.  I enjoyed time with local colleagues strengthening our connections and plotting new innovations together.    

We know that true reform will only come from within as we break the barriers in our system.  Who is better suited to lead the charge than teacher leaders?  We have the skill and expertise to make great things happen. 

With author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin

With author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin

Let’s maintain these connections that we made this week.  Let’s continue to fight for equity for our students.  We are stronger together.  We must recruit more teachers to become National Board Certified, and we must support them on their journey.  As Ron Thorpe reminded us, we need to grow to scale.  We must become a true profession and create a system where it is not assumed that leaders leave the classroom, but lead from within.  The world will always need more talented, caring teachers.    

So I return home to my students with more than I left with.  I came home with a long list of new books to read and a few books that I was lucky enough to have the author sign.  I also came home with some homework given by National Teacher of the Year and National Board Certified Teacher Jeff Charbonneau.  He challenged us to better our profession by spending 5 minutes a day lifting up our schools and each other.  I also brought home the sparks of optimism and energy that I took from the conference.  I’m reminded that the spirit of our profession is that collaboration is the key to innovation.  I’ve got boots on the ground tomorrow, ready to teach.