Trying to Be Heard
To the Editor:
I applaud Mary Beth Blegen's Commentary "Where Are the Teachers?" (March
5, 2003). In fact, not only do I agree with this essay, but I serve
as the director of an initiative that has been actively engaged in
including the teacher's voice in education policymaking for the past
seven years. Specifically, the Teachers Network Policy Institute-a
group comprising more than 150 teacher leaders in affiliates across
the United States-was established in 1996 by Teachers Network to connect
education policy with actual classroom practice in order to improve
Over the past several years,
the TNPI MetLife fellows-teachers with full-time classroom-teaching
responsibilities-have conducted "action" research
in their classrooms and schools, developed policy recommendations
based on their research findings, documented their work
in papers and publications, and disseminated this work
locally and nationally. To get the word out, the fellows
also join influential task forces, give presentations
to districts and school boards, and participate in major
TNPI is bridging the gap
among teachers, researchers, and policymakers by transforming
teachers into researchers and policy-influencers, and
by engaging institutional researchers and policymakers
in teachers' work. By assuming leadership positions and
obtaining appointments to task forces, fellows have become
major policy-influencers in their schools, districts,
unions, and at state and national levels.
While participating in our
policy institute is not yet an opportunity open to every
teacher, the initiative has doubled in size in the last
two years and now represents affiliates in 10 locales
throughout the nation. We expect to add several new affiliates
during the next year.
The genesis of the institute was in 1989, when the first President
Bush and the nation's governors, including then-Gov. Bill Clinton of
Arkansas, held the first national education summit and not one teacher
was invited. At the Charlottesville, Va., meeting, the teacher's voice-that
which is daily and most directly informed through what actually works
with students in real classrooms-was wholly absent from the conversation
on the future of American education.
Once the teachers' network
was established, however, one of the things we quickly
learned was that the teacher's voice alone is not enough
to bring to the policymaking table: Teachers also need
to be able to speak policymakers' language and provide
real data to buttress policy recommendations. Action
research provides this data-and serves as the catalyst
for teachers to have open and constructive conversations
with policymakers about what needs to happen in schools
for meaningful change to take place.
While individual fellows'
action-research studies vary, the heart of the teachers'
research has remained constant: to examine what it will
take to ensure teacher quality; specifically, what it
will take to recruit and retain high-quality teachers.
Along these lines, the fellows recently authored a book,
Ensuring Teacher Quality, which has been disseminated
to 5,000 superintendents and policymakers. It distills
the fellows' findings to four education reform recommendations:
Engage teachers in designing
and implementing effective professional development;
Provide time in the
school schedule for teacher collaboration to improve
instruction and student learning;
Re-envision the teaching
profession as a continuum beginning in preservice
and persisting through a lifetime of growth; and
Include teachers in
the decisionmaking process about school resources,
specifically time and money.
This full report, summary
versions of fellows' action research, and more information
about TNPI are all available online on Teachers Network's
Web site at:
Mary Beth Blegen is right.
The process of change begins with teachers. The burning
question, however, is not "Where are the teachers?" but
rather, "In what ways can the teacher's voice be
successfully brought to the table and included, on an
ongoing basis, in education decisionmaking?"
Senior Vice President
New York, N.Y.