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Teachers from Boston, Somerville advise top White House officials on education policy issues

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  July 11, 2013 02:37 PM

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Two public school teachers, one from Boston and one from Somerville, traveled to the White House this week meeting with a member of President Obama’s cabinet and some of his top advisors to discuss education policy issues.

Andrew Vega, an English language arts teacher at Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury, Catherine Tighe, a kindergarten teacher at Arthur Healey Elementary School in Somerville, and teachers from other cities met Monday with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his senior staff in the nation's capital before heading to the White House to meet with senior education advisors on Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, according to an announcement from the national, Boston-based nonprofit Teach Plus.

The two local teachers as well as the five other public school teachers from Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Indianapolis, Memphis and Chicago are Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellows or alumni.

During the meetings, the teachers and leading policymakers spoke about a range of issues including testing, education standards, teacher evaluation reform, and early childhood learning, the organization said.

Tighe said she offered recommendations on improving both teaching and learning by changing educational assessments.

“Identifying the right assessments is critical, both for our students’ learning and for how our effectiveness as teachers is evaluated,” said a statement from Tighe. “We need assessment systems that honor authentic learning, developmentally appropriate practice, and high quality instruction."

Vega discussed his experience working in a turnaround school and transitioning to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a set of math, reading and writing benchmarks developed in 2010 that has been adopted in Massachusetts and 44 other US states.

"I witnessed my students performing poorly on remodeled [Common Core] assessments and saw them become frustrated," said a statement from Vega. "[But,] through close examination and action planning with my colleagues, along with unwavering support from my principal, we eventually got to a place where students were experiencing tremendous achievement under the Common Core.”

“I hope the Department of Education will be supportive of teachers in this process, as I think an initial slip in testing data will be a national trend as we implement the Common Core," he added.

Teach Plus CEO Celine Coggins said that having teachers help shape education policies is critical.

“One of the defining characteristics of a profession is that practitioners are considered the experts of their field,” said a statement from Coggins. “The U.S. Department of Education and the White House are signaling that teachers are professionals whose expertise should be consulted on the most complex and critical issues facing our education system.”

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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