Saturday, April 18, 2015

Living in Dialogue, Teacher Voices, and The NEA 360 Report

At his blog Living in Dialogue, Anthony Cody has published an important series of articles about the creation of NEA's 360 report. Taken together, the articles create a picture of the contentious and fraught (depending on your perspective) process involved in creating the report. They are also a primer in how an attempt to include teacher voices can turn into something else entirely (Cody's leading metaphor of auto-tuning is exceptionally apt).

The report was managed by VIVA, and was intended to be a response to this question:

A wide body of research suggests that instructional quality has an important impact on student learning and development, but is not the only major factor. Are we including appropriate measures and indicators in today’s student accountability systems? How should responsibility for students’ education be assigned and measured at all levels of the education system? How should teachers be supported to provide the best possible education in every classroom? Who should be responsible for providing the resources to create a safe and equitable learning environment for all students?

VIVA collected responses from 953 members, and the selected (through a "proprietary algorithm") seventeen leaderly teachers who were given the job of turning those responses into a report. What Cody presents on the blog is a series of reflections by several of those seventeen teachers.

Start with this article by Cody:

The Auto-Tuning of Teacher Voices: VIVA and the NEA 360 Report on Educational Accountability

And then move on through the full package:

It’s Time to Speak Out: Comparing Reports, by Petra Schmid-Riggins
Using Our Teacher Voices: the Fight to Be Heard, by Amanda Koonlaba
Teachers Speak Out, Then Get Schooled, by Rachel Rich.
Let All Teachers’ Voices Be Heard, by Nancy Kunsman.
We Must Create Avenues for Authentic Teacher Voices to be Heard, by Enid Hutchinson.
The Process and the Report: What Went Wrong, by Joy Peters.

There are several different viewpoints represented here, but a picture of the events that led to a softening, editing, edge-smoothing, teacher-shushing rewrite of the report do slowly emerge. It is riveting reading, though for anyone who has ever tried to produce a report with a committee and for management that has something in particular in mind, much will ring true and familiar.

The package of essays is a bit frustrating in its lack, with one exception, of hard specifics. What exactly was edited out and what exactly was it turned into? That part is not as clear as it might be. But the essays are united in their very personal voices; these six individuals will tell you exactly what it felt like to them to be involved, and I found that helpful. Any attempt to create some sort of objective history would have left me searching for and wondering about personal perspectives.

Ultimately how it all happened is more important than what exactly resulted, because the 360 Report that ultimately resulted and which-- well, tell the truth. You hadn't heard of it. You didn't know there was such a thing. If you go search the NEA website, you can dig up some references to NEA 360 Accountability in the 2014-2016 strategic plan. It appears under "Strategic Goal #1:Strong Affiliates for Great Public Schools—Building affiliate capacity to elevate the voices of education professionals is critical to the advancement of public education in America." In the pages used to explain this bureaucratic mush, NEA360 appears as a thing to be integrated into "existing and future affiliate programs." I was going to dig further, but the NEA strategic plan is one of those documents that actually radiates little particles of sleep-inducing numbness, beamed out by string after string of words put together in bland parades of meaningless generality. So, for now, I'll go no further. I quit while I could still feel my face.

But the NEA360 report itself can be read here. It is built around six recommendations:

1) Implement multi-pronged solutions to the multiple factors that impact student learning, enabling legislators, educators, parents, and students to each clearly understand their particular role and responsibility in every student’s learning process.
2) Widen curriculum to promote all areas of human growth such as curiosity, creativity, collaboration
and other life-long skills.
3) Create equity of educational opportunity for all students through appropriate funding, geographical representation in developing standards (and their accompanying assessments), and raising the pedagogical qualifications of teachers.
4) Empower educators to be decision makers in matters related to curriculum, professional development, and school/district policy.
5) Create a new restructured evaluation system of collaboration where teachers have equal voice of their annual professional growth.
6) Honor the commitment for all students to receive Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), recognizing that the diversity of student needs requires diverse programs to accomplish this goal.


Sorry. My face went numb all the way down to my hands.

Look, if any of the 953 respondents said anything close to any of those items, I will eat my hat, deep-fried and stapled to an armadillo. The subheadings (38 in all) are much better, and actually include some useful such as banning the use of standardized tests from teacher evaluation. But there is an awful lot of horse-by-committee hump and spit here. The articles at Living in Dialogue help me understand why.

The articles give a picture of how the impulse to include teacher voices, even when well-meant and sincere (which, okay, maybe VIVA deserves that much credit, or maybe not) can go astray and take us to a place where those voices are just as hard to hear as ever. It's not cheery reading, but while you've got a few extra minutes, it's worthwhile reading. 


  1. 1)" Implement multi-pronged solutions to the multiple factors that impact student learning."
    Right. We will implement solutions to pervasive poverty, domestic violence, drug and sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, learning disabilities, etc, etc. Because teachers are responsible for all of society's ills.

    2) "and raising the pedagogical qualifications of teachers."

    Stop saying this. It just reaffirms the pervasive and damaging notion that "bad teachers" who come from the "bottom of the educational barrel" are the cause of "failing schools", and that if we only "raise the bar" for teacher trainees everything will improve. This is what has led to the insidious new Pearson NYS teacher qualifying tests (Weingarten's vaunted "Teacher Bar Exam") that are currently plaguing our teacher candidates and driving many of them right out of the profession. Just. Stop.

  2. Absolutely, LI Band Director. My university's college of education has been forced to increase the GPA and ACT scores of the students entering the program. I see at least two things wrong with this.
    1. If we want diversity in the teaching force, we need to keep open the door to diverse students, and not just those good at tests and playing the system.
    2. Smart, capable students are not going to want to work in a system that just wants drones to read from a script.

    1. Right, diversity and not just "those good at tests and playing the system." And there are many different qualities needed to be a good teacher. I do think there needs to be more substance in education coursework, but instead of demanding higher test scores to enter, I think there should be more regular classes like cognitive psychology required, instead of just courses specifically for education majors. I think teacher candidates should also take more sociology and psychology courses in general.

  3. As Cody was told when he was involved in a similar experience, "there are certain things the funder requires." When the funders of the supposedly neutral VIVA are Gates and the Waltons, what can you expect. Five of the six teachers seem to feel totally betrayed by the process. I wonder how Lily feels about this.

    It's certainly nothing new but so discouraging just the same. In a reply to Cody's post, a retired teacher comments that, in his experience, every time teachers were asked to generate solutions to problems, the district administrators controlled the process and made sure that the result was what they wanted in the first place, leaving teachers feeling frustrated and betrayed, while the administrators could claim teacher input. In my experience in several school districts, whenever teachers were asked to come up with solutions, the process wasn't controlled, but absolutely nothing was ever done with any of our recommendations.