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Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 05/06/2011

What 2011 Teachers of the Year told the Ed Dept.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Angie Harmon, Teacher of the Year from New Hampshire, told a group at the Education Department that she was “annoyed” by an open letter that Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote to teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week. She was actually referring to a speech Duncan had made to the Mom Congress earlier this week.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan wasn’t able to make it as scheduled, but a handful of his top staff members spent some time on Thursday talking about school reform to the visiting 2011 Teachers of the Year, and what wasn’t said was as striking as what was

The single time spontaneous applause erupted from the teachers was when Angie Miller, the 2011 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, spoke candidly about teachers and mentioned that she was “annoyed” by comments he had made to the Mom Congress earlier in the week.

Miller was one of a number of teachers who served as representatives of discussion groups that had earlier come up with recommendations for the Education Department to consider in rewriting No Child Left Behind. The panel of department officials included Deputy Secretary Tony Miller, Assistant Secretary Carmel Martin, Duncan Chief of Staff Joanne Weiss and Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton.

Angie Miller, a language arts teacher at Holderness Central School, was the last teacher to address the panel. Her topic was parent involvement (she started by saying that it was appropriate that she spoke last because parent involvement is always given short shrift), and she brought up issues often ignored in school reform discussions:

*That the No. 1 correlation regarding student academic achievement is with the education level of the parent (which itself correlates to family income).

*That she was “annoyed” by Duncan’s remarks entitled “Looking in the Mirror” that he presented to the Mom Congress earlier this week. Though the speech was about parent involvement, she said in an email that she felt he didn’t address the real issues of why many parents are not active in their child’s education.

(Her comment about Duncan’s comments elicited a joke from the panel’s moderator, Massie Ritsch, deputy assistant secretary for outreach, about how the department could rescind her Teacher of the Year honor. Teachers laughed, and a panel member noted that he didn’t have the power to rescind it. Funny stuff.)

*That no reform program ever has made parent involvement a central focus.

*That the entire conversation in the auditorium at the Education Department up until that point had placed the responsibility for ensuring student success “on our shoulders,” meaning that teachers were being held accountable for student achievement even though there are many factors over which a teacher has no control.

Other recommendations from the discussion groups given to the department staff included:

*standardized evaluation for effective administrators

*federal funds to pay highly effective teachers who become mentors to other teachers (to which Tony Miller inexplicably mentioned how he had been examining foreign school systems, including China’s, and how Confucius -- yes, Confucius, the educator and thinker who lived around 500 BCE) -- had developed mentor teaching).

Meanwhile, the biggest issues that teachers write to me about -- being evaluated and paid by standardized tests -- was not discussed. It can’t be that they all think it’s a great idea, can it?

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By and --  |  04:00 AM ET, 05/06/2011

 
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