AFT president Randi Weingarten visited two innovative schools in Boston March 31 as part of AFT's Making a Difference Everyday Tour. The trip highlighted teacher-led education reform at the Clarence R. Edwards Middle School and at the Boston Teachers Union School, which was created by district teachers who now run the school.
At Edwards Middle School, in Boston's Charlestown neighborhood, teachers agreed to extend the length of the school day in 2007. Students now stay in school until 4:30 p.m.; the extra learning time is devoted to tutoring and electives, including music, drama and art. Under an agreement negotiated with the Boston Teachers Union (BTU), teachers who participate in the extended learning program receive additional compensation.
Building representative Ted Chambers explained that teachers at Edwards faced the prospect of seeing their school closed unless they were able to boost student achievement. And while test scores have soared since the school day was lengthened, the experiment also has produced another important outcome: strong teacher leadership. Despite significant administrative turnover (Edwards has had four principals in the past five years) the school has continued to improve, thanks to the commitment of its teachers.
"The staff here has really embraced the challenge of becoming a model of how to do education reform," said Chambers, who with two of his colleagues, math teachers Kevin Qazilbash and Tracy Young, received a grant from the AFT Innovation Fund to develop high-quality lesson plans tied to Common Core standards. (See a story on the school in the February 2011 issue of American Teacher.)
Weingarten praised teachers at Edwards and their union for creating what she called a new model of accountability, one that emphasizes shared responsibility. Weingarten was joined by BTU president Richard Stutman and Boston Public Schools superintendent Carol Johnson, along with other school administrators, union and elected officials.
Next, Weingarten visited the Boston Teachers Union School, opened by district teachers in 2009 and operated through an innovative partnership with Simmons College, which has helped teachers develop a leadership model and also provides assistance with professional development. The K-8 school has no principal but is run by its teachers, who are involved in virtually every decision, from the curriculum that's taught to the way in which teachers are evaluated. It was Weingarten's second visit to the school; the first was shortly after it opened.
Berta Berriz, who is lead teacher for the school's lower grades, said: "We've created a school where teachers don't have to fight for power. Our knowledge and voices count."
"It's incredibly rewarding," said Laura Davila-Lynch, a visual arts teacher who taught for 17 years in the Boston Public Schools before joining the staff of the Boston Teachers Union School. "The decisions that are made here—we own them."
In a question-and-answer session with teachers, union leaders and elected officials, Weingarten said the Boston Teachers Union School embodies the spirit of collaboration and trust that effective school reform requires. "You're showing in a very concrete way what the road to success looks like," she added. While comparative testing results won't be available till this summer, teachers at the school say they already see measurable student learning gains in the classroom. [Jennifer Berkshire, AFT Massachusetts/Video by Brett Sherman]
April 5, 2011