A week and a day ago I came back from Washington D.C. and the Teach for America 20th anniversary summit (One Saturday to reflect on our organization and education reform). I have had time to digest what was said and have decided to reflect on it now. I have broken up this post into several sections so you can go to what interests you most. The sections are: Reflections on the City, Reflections on the summit, and Now what
Reflections on the City:
I love Washington D.C. Every time I am there I am just so happy to see the monuments and the museums. My roommates and I arrived midday Friday to D.C. and spent a good portion of the afternoon walking around the monuments and the museums. I always wish I had several more moments to see everything. Throughout the weekend we ate some amazing food and got to see some of the cities night life (including a chance to see some college friends!)
Reflections on the Summit:
There was amazing energy in the convention center, all focused on educational reform. Or at least that is what I would like to think. It was obvious that some people were there only to make connections or party with old friends, but overall a good sense of togetherness on a cause. When the summit started on Saturday morning they shuffled all 11,000 teachers into a room through 2 doors for the first session, a little chaotic. The first session included a great pump up speech from the chancelor of D.C. schools Kaya Henderson. She was brought up to the stage by the music of a local marching band (which reminded me of my own lovely students!) Wendy Kopp spoke about all that has been accomplished and what still needs to be done in educational reform (surprisingly, not very inspirational for the founder of TFA, she always seems a little lackluster in public). Several other speakers where introduced and a panal was brought out for discussion. The panal included Michelle Rhee (former chancellor of D.C schools), Joel Klein (former chancellor NYC schools), Geoffery Canada (Waiting for Superman), Dave Levin (Co-Founder KIPP schools) and others. The panal was interesting as it was said by several panalists that teachers unions aren’t to be villanized, but at the same time we need to villanize them to get our students further ahead. As with future sessions, common themes would come out in needing to get rid of unions but not, we need to get more behind the educational reform movement as the civil rights movement of our day and this all needs to be done now.
In the afternoon sessions I attended there are several things I was struck by. Michael Johnston (former Delta TFA alum, and Colorado State Senator who passed a recent education bill in that state) had some comments about working with teachers unions. He said that it comes out many times that teachers are villanized by associating with the unions while the decisions that education reformers really come from the top of the union organizations, not necessairily from the members. Andres Alonso (Baltimore Schools Superintendent) also pointed out that teachers unions do their job, protecting the teachers. This point was not taken well by Adrian Fenty (former D.C mayor who hired Michelle Rhee) who seemed to villanize unions the most out of all people I heard speak. Overall the afternoon panels slightly ran together with common statements being restated over and over again.
Finally, the final session was awesome. The session started with Arne Duncan (Secretary of Education) talking about the need for reform, and applauding the work that has been done. President Obama made a short video for our session as well. The remainder of the session was reflections on what to do after TFA and how to keep a part of the educational reform movement even when not in the classroom. There also was an awesome performance by John Legend (accompanied by a KIPP schools band). Overall a very inspiring message came out that we all can change the lives of students as teachers, or in any other profession we choose. This is the civil rights issue of our day and it is up to us to help gaurentee a quality education to all students regardless of their demographics.
I came back from summit excited to continue teaching my students. When I finish this year I have a renewed belief that I will continue to be a part of the education reform movement even as I pursue my graduate degree next year. We can change education in America, I will do my part.