NBC brought its “Education Nation” project to Atlanta today with a two-hour town hall meeting with teachers at the Georgia Aquarium.
The web-streamed event revisited the usual education topics, teacher effectiveness, career and college readiness, the global workplace, charter schools and the role of technology.
While each of the four panels had a theme, panelists often strayed, so the discussions traveled far and wide. The teachers on the panel and those in the audience were articulate and committed; they certainly put forth Georgia’s best face in education. Many were National Board Certified teachers or county Teachers of the Year.
One of the panelists was a Georgia Teacher of the Year, Jadun McCarthy, a Bibb County high school teacher. (I have quoted the outspoken and eloquent Mr. McCarthy frequently on the blog in the past; he was more constrained under this format than when simply loosed at a microphone.)
McCarthy credited Georgia with applying for and winning a waiver from the federal No Child left Behind Act, enabling the state to adopt more comprehensives measures of school effectiveness to show progress.
With the shift to its own accountability measures, Georgia is now looking at multitude of things that go on in a school to see if a school is effective, such as AP and SAT scores and attendance numbers, McCarthy said.
One teacher talked about the technology gap, calling students “digital natives” while their teachers are “digital immigrants.” He said schools were using “18th century techniques to prepare students for a 21st century world.”
The slickly produced event allowed teachers in the audience to vote on the topics under discussion using hand-held clickers — 83 percent voted that technology was improving their instruction — and take to the microphone to comment, with several talking about their system’s aggressive efforts to incorporate technology. All the teachers who spoke considered technology ” an integral part” of the future.
Web watchers could submit comments; one cautioned that while kids love technology, at the end of the day they also need real human interaction, a sentiment that won a smattering of support.
The panels also discussed the Common Core Standards, which won praise from McCarthy. “The standards are going to allow us to compare apples and apples. So often, we hear Georgia ranks 49th out 50 in education. But what are we truly measuring?”
He noted that the state by state comparisons often focus on SAT scores. “We send all our kids to take the SAT while some states only send their college-bound to the SAT. The Common Core allows us to compare our apples to Alabama apples, to Minnesota apples.”
Using their clickers to vote, teachers in the audience voted on how difficult it will be to integrate the Common Core into their classrooms — 51 percent said it would be moderately easy to implement Common Core; 29 percent said it would be moderately difficult; 15 percent say it would be easy.
A Clayton teacher praised the alignment of the Georgia Performance Standards and the Common Core, saying, “I think we are ahead of the game in Georgia, and that is a great thing.”
The next panel featured Ron Clark, peripatetic founder of the Ron Clark Academy, Milken Award winner Kelly Stopp of Meadowcreek Elementary in Gwinnett and Korri Ellis, a Grady High School teacher and 2008 APS high school teacher of the year.
I am unsure why the moderator failed to explain that all of the panelists were recognized as outstanding educators and had won prestigious awards. Perhaps, it was the time limits as the event had to end in two hours. These three panelists — whose area should have been teacher effectiveness and classroom techniques — were supposed to talk about the changes to the HOPE Scholarship.
But Clark neatly sidestepped that issue and delved into his favorite theme — the need for high expectations for all students.
Within seconds of his first question, Clark was off and running on the importance of passion and energy in teachers to engage students in learning.
“Where is the passion? Where is the energy? We have too many teachers sitting on the stool. I call it the stool of drool,” said Clark. “We’ve got to to find solutions. Don’t make excuses. At the Ron Clark Academy, we find the brightest student in the class and that’s who we teach to.”
“When I was teaching public school in North Carolina, I found kids were resilient. The harder I made it, the harder they worked to get there,” said Clark.
A school counselor stood up and challenged the notion that all kids have to go to college.
Clark countered that even if children were going to be carpenters, he wanted them to be well educated carpenters. “I make it really hard in the classroom. But I fire it up. I bring it to life. I don’t want to take kids and say, ‘This kid is a a low- level learner.’ I want all kids to have options.”
Two National Board Certified teachers stood up and agreed with Clark.
Clark complained about parents who want all children to get a trophy, no matter their performance. “Parents are driving us crazy, to be honest,” he said, prompting the loudest applause of the event thus far.
He then shared his oft-told tale about baking cookies for his class once and skipping over a girl because she did not work hard enough to merit a treat. The child’s mother complained to Clark, who defended his exclusion of the child, but promised she could earn a cookie the following week if she worked hard enough.
“I told her, ‘If you start working hard, you will get one of these cookies next Friday.’ She worked so hard and got a cookie,” he said. “Parents, don’t expect us to reward your child when they haven’t earned it.”
The final panel — on Race to the Top — featured Milken teacher Shekema Silveri of Clayton County. A high school AP teacher, Silveri has been filmed as an example of excellence in the classroom as part of standards setting in the Race to the Top grant.
Fellow panelist Jill Beracki, who teaches at South Atlanta High, cautioned that it is important not to stifle the creativity of teachers by plunking them in front of videos and telling them this is the way to teach. She urged more trust of teachers.
Georgia master teacher Heavenly Montgomery talked about the new requirements being piled on teachers, noting that teachers are now asked to disaggregate data, to master the best practices of the new standards movement, to create more parental involvement.
“At some point, we have to take time during the day to let these teachers have time to collaborate. If we don’t have that, we can’t build teacher efficacy,” she said.
Montgomery said the classroom workload is so extreme now that when she is up late and sending emails at 2 a.m., she often gets instant responses because teachers are up and awake.
A teacher stood up and pointed out that Race to the Top is positioned as a race, which means there will be winners and losers. The grants rely in large part on test scores to rate success, he said. Why not stop supporting the growth of a billion dollar testing complex and work together to improve education?
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog