Education policy is one realm in which greater public participation could make a significant difference to the quality of this process. . .The Internet ‘ with its capacity for asynchronous and real-time discussion, the sharing of documents and personal insights across vast distances ‘ therefore presents itself as a medium for bringing these groups and their respective concerns into one single forum.
It is an environment in which concerned citizens might discuss policy matters with each other and offer advice to decision makers in only the time it takes to send an email.
Source: “Are they talking yet?” Online Discourse as Political Action
Recently, we saw how school district superintendents protested the Texas Education Agency’s decision to go with one vendor solution (e.g. Pearson) over another for a school accountability system. In that blog entry, I asked the following question:
There seems a real effort in schools to “outsource” solutions to commercial companies. Have we so little faith in what administrators and teachers can do?
While it is easy to criticize rather than create, it is important to remember that many TCEA members have been actively involved in trying to bring about change. Yet, those efforts appear ineffectual to critics and again and again over the years, I’ve heard TCEA TEC-SIG Members ask, “When are we going to hire a lobbyist to advocate on our behalf?” For some, the silence has been deafening, in spite of the well-intentioned efforts of some folks.
The current effort is laudable because it goes beyond what has been done in the past. Yet, is it enough? How what should the next effort be? Scott Floyd (White Oak ISD) shares the following comment in response to my original entry:
I have to reiterate my comment on the list serve. I prefer that we not use vendors as part of a committee to decide OUR policy positions. Am I the only one who sees this as an issue? It will make it too easy to shoot down our voice as a valid one if it could have been tainted by commercial interests, regardless of whether it was or not? Policy positions should be of, by, and for the membership. Plain and simple.
So, I asked Scott for some clarification as to what he meant. He left this comment elaborating on his brief assertion above:
“We have been meeting with some vendor and association partners since September formulating position statements and legislative goals.”
Not much to tear apart other than they have vendors helping make the position statements. How many members have been invited to that table (which is the more serious question)? Why vendors and not members who want to be involved? What will it look like when legislators are made aware that there could be a conflict of interest in one of our positions. For instance:
I hope that TCEA has adopted a policy advocating for online testing to be browser-based. This saves ISDs a ton of money and speeds up the ability to test these kids. But, what if one of the vendors is a Pearson rival? If we are pushing for legislation to make Pearson spend some of the Mucho Profits they have made off of the sweat of Texas students change their testing system, and we had a rival company who already has their testing in the preferred format, then it would look like we are just doing their bidding.
While some may say it is a stretch, I am here to tell you it is not. I have been working with legislators during sessions for about five regular sessions and untold specials. I have testified before select committees, regular committees, and traveling committees. I have cell phone numbers for legislators that do not even represent me. I have legislators call me from the House and Senate floor to ask me questions during debates and votes. I say all of this to say that I know they pay attention to these things. You know a company like Pearson would be letting them know who helped us draft the position. My reputation I have earned working with legislators is too important to let something like that (which is out of my control) mess it up. It would make the position a mute point regardless of whether I represent TCEA or myself or whoever because the brush would be broad.
I know of no other educator organization that asks companies to come in and help draft legislative positions.
Now, I commend them for making the wise decision of working with other organizations. That makes complete sense so that we can have a unified, common goal(s) with an even larger voice in the Capitol.
As for the October survey, I am not sure what that was. I hope I filled it out, but I just do not recall being asked for any legislative positions. If so, I would not have been surprised to hear there was an advocacy committee.
Here’s to hoping it all works out. It is great to see we are making a first step. if we make mistakes along the way, then so be it. At least we will be trying to move forward. We just have to open to process more to ALL of the members. A real business meeting (optional to attendees) at TCEA would be a great first step (you know, resolutions, amendments, voting). It has to be done at some point.
Thanks for blogging this, Miguel.
Is Scott’s criticism valid? And, constructive? Or should we simply let the Advocacy Committee do their work? I suppose what I’m looking for is a bit more than a letter. In this, I am ignorant of politics but I know that we cannot sit idly by and let others do our talking for us. Apathy, fear of reprisal, ignorance, other priorities have conspired to keep educators out of the process…but that time is past. I was reminded of my own apathy when I read this quote about new teachers at a college meeting:
Instead, these young people, these young teachers, heard about how they need to become more active in the political process; that, in fact, if they want to be able to teach children and not just prepare them to take more and more standardized exams, they need to spend time talking to legislators, working with politicians and advocating for certain candidates.
Part of me finds this incredibly trying and sad. Mostly, as teachers, we just want to do our work and build the kind of curriculum and relationships and collegiality that will lead to success and fulfillment for young people. But, since that is no longer enough, we and they have to keep an eye out for the political world that is no longer waiting just off school grounds, but which has breached the campus walls and now permeates public education itself.
It’s not enough today just to be a great teacher, because in fact, the very ability to continue to teach, with creativity, passion, skill, determination, originality, is literally being called into question by the contemporary political environment. Realizing that this is where we are and this is what must be done is frustrating.
Source: Teaching IS Political, New Teacher Network
In light of this reality, I do not wish to criticize current efforts, I only want to better understand:
- Why is this TCEA Committee not publishing the notes of its meetings to the public?
- Why has TCEA Committee not posted a full disclosure of which vendors and association partners it is working with?
- What has been the meeting schedule for the Committee’s work sessions, as well as the goals and objectives?
- As a curriculum designer, I’m taught to begin with the end in mind. Is the end reflected in the letter the one we have in mind simply more funding and electronic materials or is it what we think legislators will accept?
- What were the results of the October 2008 survey shared at TEC-SIG? Why were these results not shared?
- What can regular members do? If that plan is not ready, when will it be ready (approximations are O.K.)?
- How can members who are K-12 employees participate in political advocacy safely? There are rules against it (I can’t find my earlier blog post, darnit), but no mention is made of these. Might that be helpful?
While there are more questions, I definitely see a web site like what Texas-AFT, ALA, and others have that address these issues. I sense that some would rather I not asked these questions, that I remained quiet and applauded the work done thus far. Yet, I have done that in the past and the situation seems to worsen. I fear the time for passive support is past, and that each of us must do more than we think wise.
Like many others, I have been complacent in political advocacy, treating it diffidently, keeping the grime and dirt of politics at 6-meters length, hoping to vault it. I can’t continue to do that and like other members, I worry about what I can and can’t do without violating Texas law.
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