Education Disaster Marinade:
dash of Glenn Beck ruminating about how teachers only work until 2:30 and get summers off
1 Tablespoon of political pundit No. 731 asserting that teacher evaluations be tied in directly with student test scores
five ounces of the Los Angeles Times publishing teacher names and labels of “effective” or “ineffective” based on test scores of students (which arguably led to the suicide of one such “ineffective” teacher)
3 pounds of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other billionaire businessmen who have decided that schools should be run a la business model (and that smart kids are a product)
3 pounds of salivating U.S. politicians willing to accept the millions being forked over by said billionaires in exchange for selling our children down the river and gaining popularity with voters who have no choice but to accept the assertions of the ingredients listed above, because teachers (despite all the rhetoric to the contrary) are not lining their purses with your hard earned money, and as such, do not have funds to mount a public relations campaign the size and scope of the one the talk news folks, businessmen, and politicians have been able to weave for ratings and votes.
4 cups of National Writing Project funding (dissolved). The National Writing Project has been written out of the Federal budget. Oh, another special pet project gladly zapped out of existence in these tough times? Hardly! NWP began in California in 1974 as a small but powerful contingent of educators hell-bent on promoting the teaching of literacy by collaborating with other teachers. Now, 37 years later, it boasts over 200 local sites across the country, which partner with colleges and universities (who match the grants given to each site by NWP) to offer premier professional development to K-16 educators across all curriculum areas.
My experience with NWP began with my fellowship to the 2008 Invitational Summer Institute held by my local site, the Buzzards Bay Writing Project in Fairhaven, MA. For 16 days in July, we teachers, (who remember, are lazy – we get the summer off) shared writing, favorite authors, tips and poetry, gave demonstration lessons to colleagues, researched literacy issues, created inquiry questions essential to our classroom practice, and then researched those for possible solutions in the next school year, and networked with colleagues in districts across Southeastern Massachusetts in a way that made each of us better readers, better writers, and better teachers of writing. I returned to my classroom in the fall ready to see what my research in The Writer’s Workshop model could mean for my class of socially and emotionally impaired special needs students. The Institute gave me the time to go with my gut and research something that I thought could really work…and it did. Three years later, I’ve presented at workshops – the most prestigious being the NWP’s Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in November 2009, where I was able to network with teachers across the country who are invested in student literacy, as I am. I’ve attended conferences and continued to learn from the teachers who frequent the Buzzards Nest (as we lovingly call our office), and am now Co-Director of the Summer Institute. NWP has given me (and my colleagues) the opportunity to learn what I need to teach my students to write stronger, better, and with conviction. It is quite simply, the best professional development I have ever experienced. Aside from the Institute, I can go to my local site for Drop In Saturdays to do some personal or professional writing, bounce lesson ideas off another teacher, or help colleagues with their own research. I can present a workshop for a district in need of specific help for their writing programs. I can create professional development topics and present them to others who need my expertise. Just last weekend, BBWP partnered with our sponsoring school (UMass Dartmouth) to bring four nationally-renowned authors to campus for a brunch and authors’ talk. BBWP brought one of the authors, Sondra Perl (author of Teaching Those I Was Taught to Hate) to the Nest for lunch and a Q&A session. We had read Perl’s book as the text of our 2009 Institute and I was anxious to ask her about some of the things she wrote about. Perl is an NWP girl, too. A former director of one of the NY area writing projects, she made us smile as she told us how she felt like she was back at home being with writing project people!
So why, with all that good stuff going on in NWP, is the federal government suddenly flicking us off the budget like a piece of lint? NWP is, by today’s standards, cheap! We’re talking less than $50,000 cheap per site. Cooperating universities match the funds provided by NWP’s federal grant, and the local sites supplement that by providing quality professional development to area school districts. We’re on board with what the Federal government has imposed. We weave states’ standards into everything we do. We keep abreast of changes in education law that might affect literacy instruction. We welcome teachers from ALL curriculum areas, as writing is universal and not limited to the English Language Arts. We create sub-networks of teachers from rural sites and urban sites to address literacy issues that are specific to those areas. We take responsibility for the task of educating our children, and sharing what works to that end with the politicians who need to hear it. There is no downside to the National Writing Project.
There is a downside, however, to taking away superb professional development of teachers who are required, by the Federal government, to retain the skills essential to be “effective”. With budgets hurting in every state of the Union, local school districts are limited in their abilities to fund professional development that is effective. With NWP, you know what you’re getting, and you’re getting way more than you pay for.
This Education Marinade doesn’t taste so delightful. I think next, America, we should try a more savory stew.