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Nurturing Teacher Knowledge

How and Why Union-Led Professional Development Is Raising Reading Achievement

By Neill S. Rosenfeld

It's spring 2006 and third-grader Bryonna McAlister is in tears. She has failed the state's reading test. In a typical district, she would face two bleak options: either being retained in the hope that a second dose of third grade would be more effective than the first or being socially promoted and spending 4th grade—and possibly the rest of her academic career—struggling to catch up. But Bryonna has a better option—a research-based, highly effective summer school designed for students just like her. It's one of several programs offered by Toledo's Reading Academy, which was formed six years ago when the Toledo Federation of Teachers (TFT) teamed up with the school district to improve literacy. Today, the Reading Academy provides everything from professional development for teachers to summer school to intensive interventions for students in elementary and junior high school.

It took a lot of hard work to get to this point. As the 20th century drew to a close, the Toledo school district—an urban system with more than 50 schools—was in trouble. Ohio had imposed a fourth-grade reading guarantee, meaning that no child could move to the fifth grade without being proficient in reading. For the first time, the state was holding schools accountable for student achievement.

"We doubled the amount of time spent on reading, tried to bring in tutoring programs, but nothing was having any effect," recalls Peter Silverman, who at that time was president of the school board. "We started to look at the curriculum."

Fortunately, TFT President Francine Lawrence knew where to look for the right curriculum and how to start implementing it. "We wanted to identify accomplished teachers who could work well with one another and provide their colleagues with state-of-the-art, scientifically-based research," she says. So she turned to the American Federation of Teachers' Educational Research and Dissemination (ER&D) program, a research-based professional development program that offers courses such as Instructional Strategies That Work, Managing Antisocial Behavior, and—just what Toledo needed—Beginning Reading Instruction and Reading Comprehension Instruction.

TFT and the Toledo school district had a long history of partnering to improve instruction and student achievement. Back in 1981, for example, they forged a groundbreaking labor-management agreement that gave Toledo's teachers (not principals) the primary responsibility for mentoring and evaluating their first-year peers and, in certain circumstances, veteran teachers who were struggling to do their jobs well. So, Lawrence and then-Superintendent Merrill Grant quickly agreed to give AFT's ER&D a try; when Eugene Sanders became superintendent in September 2000, his team continued support of the initiative.

 ER&D's approach to reading instruction is the same as that endorsed by the National Reading Panel (2000). The Panel, formed at the direction of Congress by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in consultation with the Secretary of Education, spent more than two years reviewing research on reading instruction and holding hearings around the country. It found that effective reading instruction focuses on the following five components:

Phonemic awareness. With this foundational skill, children learn to identify, segment, and manipulate phonemes (the smallest speech sounds capable of delineating a distinction in meaning).

Phonics. Students focus on the correspondence between letters and sounds, learning how to blend individual sound-spellings into whole words, and how to decode multisyllabic words.

Fluency. As students become more adept at decoding words, they need to develop automaticity (that is, the ability to recognize words accurately and quickly) so that they can read phrases and sentences with comprehension.

Vocabulary. Explicit vocabulary teaching, along with oral and written exposure to a variety of words, helps students expand their knowledge of the language, which is essential to understanding texts.

Comprehension. That, of course, is the reason for reading. It requires students to learn strategies that keep them focused on understanding the text, but more importantly, it requires building students' vocabulary, proficiency with language, and background knowledge.

ER&D's courses in reading present a synthesis of this research and then explain the most effective strategies for applying it to the classroom.

Shortly before Toledo's cash-strapped board of education faced up to its looming reading crisis, it had invested in instructional materials that short-changed the reading skills that the National Reading Panel defined as essential. Says Craig Cotner, who was at that time Toledo's chief academic officer, "Our reading scores were dropping off a cliff. All you had to do was put the scores on a chalkboard and people would say this isn't a one-year blip; it's a definite downward trend. It became evident to everybody that we needed to do something differently."

He says the district had struggled with how to effectively use its resources. Traditional approaches—such as bringing people in for three-hour professional development sessions on reading—"didn't get us where I wanted to go, which was to increase the capacity within our district to provide quality instruction to our staff in how to teach reading, not to rely on outside presenters who may or may not bring their own agenda to the table."

In July 1999, the district and union started down a new path. Three teachers, selected by their peers, flew to Virginia for the ER&D training that would prepare them to launch the Reading Academy in September 2000; with scientifically based knowledge in hand, their goal was to deliver intensive, ongoing professional development in research-based reading instruction to their colleagues. Over the years, the Reading Academy—not a building, but a professional development program—has grown to include six literacy support teachers who are released full-time from the classroom to work with district teachers.

"ER&D training was the defining moment" for reading instruction in Toledo, says Georgianne Czerniak, one of the Reading Academy's first three literacy support teachers, all of whom have since trained an ever-growing number of teachers in ER&D's approach to reading instruction. "That's when the tide started to turn."

Denise Johnson, a literacy support teacher with the Reading Academy, recalls a pivotal presentation that Czerniak gave to the school board's curriculum committee. She took her time explaining the drawbacks of both phonics-only and the district's unsuccessful reading program, which de-emphasized phonics and all the other skills recommended by the National Reading Panel. She then turned to the research and the five principles that the National Reading Panel had endorsed. As Johnson remembers it, then-board President Silverman said, "Now, I finally understand what's missing."

Delivering Support Where It Is Most Needed

"We need all," a first-grade teacher says to her class of 13 students. She is leading her class through a phonics lesson called "Word Building" that is part of the district's new, research-based reading program.

Dressed in the district's uniform of white or blue shirts and tan or black slacks, the children have spread out their reading mats—blue fabric with rows of clear plastic sleeves into which they can place letter cards. Their hands begin moving the three cards that are needed from their storage places on the top row. Their teacher bought the mats with her own money last year and has just enough for this class.

"How come some of the letters are red?" one boy asks.

"We talked about that. Do you remember?" she responds.

"Oh, vowels," the boy recalls.

"Does everyone have the word? Sound it out."

"Aw-ull," the class says in unison.

"Blend it quickly," the teacher says.

"All."

"Then put a B in the front and what do you have? Sound it out."

"Buh-aw-ull. Ball."

The boy observes, "You could put a D and make it dall."

The teacher lets that slide as she asks the class to change the beginning letter to a T, then an H, then an M. She has them leave the M and adds an S in front of it. "SSS-mmm-aw-ull. Small."

These first-graders, most of whom come from low-income homes, are in a Reading Academy school, meaning that 80 percent of the eligible teachers voted to participate in the Reading Academy's intensive professional development, committing themselves to learning and using the ER&D approach. This creates a critical mass of teachers who have chosen to change how they teach reading and to support one another. (Czerniak notes, however, that teachers who vote "no" are not required to participate. "We want to bring people with us who want to change," she says. "It's difficult to work with people who resist change." Sometimes, after the reluctant teachers see the results, they also seek ER&D training.)

After the vote to become a Reading Academy school, the teachers enrolled as a group in the "university cohort" program, in which they worked toward an 18-credit reading endorsement to their Ohio state teaching license. It's offered through a partnership with the University of Findlay, whose professors co-teach the courses with Reading Academy literacy support teachers. A Reading Academy coach also conducts weekly one-hour discussions where cohort members talk about what's going well and figure out solutions to difficulties. In exchange for all this extra work, the school system pays the teachers' tuition, and teachers who earn the reading endorsement as part of, or in addition to, having earned a master's degree, receive an additional $3,010 a year. Along with the Reading Academy, the university cohort program began in the 2000–2001 school year.

Not long ago, there were 10 Reading Academy schools—all with the most disadvantaged students and the most struggling readers. However, three of them have since closed, two because of declining enrollment, the other because of poor physical conditions. Unfortunately, the Academy-trained teachers from the schools that closed were scattered among other buildings in the district; most are no longer part of a team that takes this collegial, research-based approach to reading instruction. Thus far, student achievement in the seven remaining Reading Academy schools has been mixed, demonstrating just how hard it is to turn-around low-performing schools. But the Reading Academy's literacy support teachers remain confident that they are heading down the right path because of the spectacular results they have had using the same research-based approach to reading instruction in summer school.

Launching Summer School

With the university cohort program and the Reading Academy schools, the Reading Academy was off to a strong start, but things really got rolling in 2002.

Lending a hand was Marsha Berger, who had just retired to Ohio after 11 years in the AFT's Educational Issues Department, where she had coordinated the national union's reading initiative; for the prior 28 years, she taught in Rhode Island. Lawrence sought her help while developing the Reading Academy idea, and then, in 2002, Chief Academic Officer Cotner hired her as a literacy consultant at the union's urging. Berger had the expertise to adapt the ER&D program to fit the specific needs of Toledo's students, so she coordinated the effort to develop a targeted intervention for the struggling readers.

When the Reading Academy began in September 2000, one of the main concerns was how to make good on Ohio's reading guarantee—and, more importantly, to make sure that students like Bryonna were ready for the next grade. The union and the district decided to launch a summer school specifically for the fourth-graders who had failed the state reading test in March. By developing an intensive, reading-only program that extended right up until the test was given in the summer, they hoped to enable as many students as possible to go on to fifth grade. For those students who were too far behind to catch up during summer school, the intervention still provided needed remediation, prevented summer learning loss, and gave them a better chance of succeeding when they repeated fourth grade.

Greatly increasing students' ability to read in such a short period of time would be quite a challenge. The Reading Academy knew that in order to properly support the teachers, they would have to provide small classes, a detailed curriculum, and ongoing professional development.

"Rather than a usual [summer] program, which the district had and is typical in most districts—where teachers are hired for summer school and are given some minimal materials and are left pretty much on their own about what to teach—we saw our summer school as an intervention program," Berger says. The Reading Academy put together "a structured, formal curriculum…. We gave them some very specific materials we had identified for students who needed that intervention." In addition, they limited class size to 15 students—and typically, there are just 10 to 12 students per class.

Before summer school begins each year, the Reading Academy provides teachers with four paid days of professional development. They study the curriculum, materials, instructional strategies such as "Reciprocal Teaching," and methods such as "Word Building" and "Syllasearch," in which students learn to look for parts of words. Then, during the summer school, Reading Academy literacy support teachers conduct demonstration lessons, model how to implement strategies, and coach teachers. They also conduct weekly meetings where teachers can share their experiences and reflect upon their practice.

The Reading Academy team wrote a six-week daily curriculum, complete with materials and directions on how best to teach them. (The program has since been reduced to five weeks because the state pushed back the date of the summer test, but by teaching five days a week instead of four, it still has the same number of instructional hours.)

The Reading Academy's summer lesson plans are detailed, with instructional materials, a framework for what is to be covered each day, and suggested questions that teachers can ask throughout each lesson. These are far from the word-for-word scripts that some programs require teachers to follow verbatim. Literacy support teacher Lynn Taylor, one of the Reading Academy's first three literacy support teachers, made this distinction concerning a program she had taught in: "We were given literal questions. You weren't supposed to deviate one iota from the framework. Our [Reading Academy] questions are more conceptual."

One important difference between the detailed summer school lesson plans and a scripted, published reading program is that the summer school teachers have a great deal of input into developing the lessons. As part of the weekly meetings with Reading Academy literacy support teachers, classroom teachers discuss their concerns and share their ideas for how best to teach the material. In addition, Reading Academy literacy support teachers continually visit classrooms and chat informally with teachers, gathering ideas for making lessons more effective. According to Czerniak, one big change that teachers suggested was redoing the framework to place some key comprehension-building work earlier in the day so it wouldn't get squeezed out.

In 2002, the first year of the summer school, 50 percent of the students passed the state's reading test when they retook it at the end of the summer program. The next year, the passing rate rose to 68 percent. Then, in 2004, Ohio switched to a third-grade reading guarantee. Reading Academy literacy support teachers rewrote the summer curriculum to accommodate younger children; 64 percent passed. In 2005, the passing rate rose to 80 percent. This past summer, 73 percent of students passed, with 31 percent scoring at the basic level, 25 percent rated proficient, and 16 percent scoring accelerated or advanced.

"I've heard principals say they must be cheating when they hear that 73 percent passed," says Ralph Schade, Toledo's acting director of curriculum and, until August, an elementary school principal who coordinated the summer program. "I say, just sit in on the training. It is very intense and targeted. The proof is in the results."

By the summer of 2006, the buzz about summer school had spread. It drew some proficient students whose parents wanted them to keep studying and even attracted students from charter schools, which do not provide anything like this instruction. In addition, the district decided to encourage second-graders who were having difficulty to participate.

Elaine Burton, an elementary school principal, praises the summer school. "I've noticed that my second-graders have a better understanding going into third grade because they were given strategies to help them understand," Burton says. "The Syllasearch helps them learn how to look at vocabulary words. That's a skill they can carry into fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. If I had any say, all classroom teachers would be able to have this training to enhance their reading [instruction] skills."

*  *  * 

So what happened to third-grader Bryonna McAlister, who had broken down in tears when told she had failed the spring reading test? Summer school provided just what she needed. She says proudly that when she took the test in July, "My teacher said I got the second-highest score. The teacher was very nice. She taught us easier ways to read." Her score rose from 351, at the limited level, to 408, proficient.

Her mother, Yvonne McAlister, said that after this summer, "She's reading a lot better. She always did her homework, but from second to third grade is a big step. They go from 10 spelling words to 20; the books go from small paperbacks to one-inch books, and it scares the kids." She said Bryonna was very emotional last spring when she found out she hadn't passed the reading test. "It was sad. I don't like to see my baby cry. But the first day of summer [school] this year she was happy."

Now, in fourth grade, Bryonna is getting As and Bs. Her mother said, "She had a big smile on her face when she brought me her progress report. She is more confident. She didn't miss a day [last summer]. She just wanted to come to school."

Ten-year-old Julio Sifuentes, another fourth-grader, soared from 382, limited, to 417, beyond proficient to accelerated, as a result of summer school. "I was having trouble reading. There were a lot of hard words I had to sound out, but in summer school they helped me," he says. "Now my reading is good. I got an A on it. I read any kind of books—Goosebumps books, I like them, and one of my favorite books is Charlotte's Web."

Julio comes from a family with three older brothers, two of whom are married. His parents, immigrants from Mexico, have difficulty with English and he often acts as translator both at home and in school for his principal.

When he's there, Julio's brother Hector helps him with reading. "I have two little sons of my own, and a lot of times on our visits to my mother's home I'd see he wasn't comprehending well," Hector Sifuentes says. "He would get really annoyed because he felt he wasn't smart enough. I saw his report card and he was struggling, but after summer school it's like day and night in reading and English."

Reading Academy Ideas Go Districtwide

Improving instructional strategies only goes so far. Teachers need books and other materials in order to effectively teach their classes, but, as the Reading Academy got under way, Toledo was still stuck with its ineffective reading program. It was time for the district to adopt a reading program that was rooted in scientific research.

A teacher-majority committee that included all of the Reading Academy literacy support teachers searched for new research-based textbooks and unanimously chose the Harcourt Trophies series. "They sold us on a complete package," then-board President Silverman says. "We were persuaded and voted millions of dollars to make it the centerpiece of our curriculum reform. It's probably the smartest thing we did as a board. We concluded that to really change a public education system, the first thing you needed to commit to was reading. And you needed to commit to it 100 percent. If you compromise on reading, trying to change other things doesn't make sense."

Racing a budget deadline in the spring of 2003, Silverman pushed through an amendment to adopt the new textbooks. For financial reasons, the district started with kindergarten and grades 1 and 2 and committed to adding one grade a year up to grade 6 (they're now up to grade 5). The exception was in the schools identified for improvement, which got the entire K–6 set of books right away.

The board made the expensive decision to buy every component of the textbook package. Cotner likened it to buying a car. "You don't say I want an engine but not the tires because I have another set of tires in the garage. The more at-risk the student population, the more necessity there is to give the teachers all the tools. Our populations are very heterogeneous from a developmental standpoint, so making sure teachers have all the materials and ongoing professional development on how to use them is critical," he says.

"The advantage of having one series for everyone is that we have a very transient student body," Czerniak says. "Now, everybody in every school is using the same materials and has access to the components that are most effective in getting children to read." (Actually, the faculty in one elementary school chose to stick with its Direct Instruction program, and two others decided to keep Success for All in the early grades and then use the new district program as soon as children are able to read at the second-grade level. Having schools use different programs is not ideal given the high level of student mobility, but unlike the other programs that schools abandoned, these two are in line with the National Reading Panel's findings.)

The Reading Academy's Lynn Taylor mentions another plus: Previously, dedicated teachers used to supplement reading series out of their own pockets, which not only routinely shifted educational costs to them, but also created inequalities among classrooms. "Now every teacher is given the same things and it is so much that they don't have to add anything," she says. Of course, some teachers still purchase extras with their own money—but these really are extras, not essential instructional materials.

Speaking of the new program, Czerniak says, "We finally have a reading program that meets the needs of all of our students. Gone are the days when teachers have to go scrounging for supplemental materials." In addition, with one program for the whole district, the Reading Academy teachers are able to expand upon the professional development offered by the program's publisher.

To reach out to more students across the district, the Reading Academy decided to seize the opportunity provided by the supplemental educational services provision of the No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB requires that tutoring (which in the law's jargon is called supplemental educational services, or SES) be offered to students at Title I schools that are in their second year or later of "school improvement" status, as long as the youngsters qualify for a free or reduced-priced lunch.

The Reading Academy crew put together a 12-week-long tutoring program called ACE (Achieving Content Excellence) that the Toledo Public Schools offers each term. Tutoring sessions last 90 minutes, two days a week, and they deliver the same type of intensive intervention that is offered in the summer school. ACE is now the largest of the 50-plus providers of supplemental educational services, last year drawing 264 of the 757 students participating citywide.

If you ask elementary school principal Romulus Durant, there's no comparison between ACE and the other providers. "ACE is by far the best. It's the most effective and it's research-based." About 160 of his students are in ACE.

Durant is a principal who wants results and tracks the progress of individual students on a large marker board in his office. His 680 students fall into every category that must be followed for determining adequate yearly progress under NCLB, and 98 percent live in poverty.

He runs through the sales pitch he gives parents: ACE tutors are all Toledo public school teachers who are specially trained for this job. The Reading Academy provides them with ongoing lesson plans. It's impressive to see the time the teachers put in and the student-to-student dialogue they encourage. Besides, he adds, the students don't have to travel because they are already in school, where the instruction takes place.

Durant laughs when he talks about the providers that offer gimmicks like free computers to draw in students. "I get calls saying, ‘Mr. Durant, my computer isn't working,' and I say, ‘I tried to tell you.' These are outdated computers that can't handle modern software. So I tell them, ‘For next year, you may want to change to ACE.'"

Spinning a Comprehensive Web of Supports

The Reading Academy reaches out to teachers and students in many different ways—but it also seeks out ways to coordinate its efforts for maximum impact. For example, many of the teachers who participated in the university cohort are now ACE tutors and summer school teachers. That leads to powerful instruction for the district's neediest students.

In a Reading Academy school classroom, a second-grade teacher is doing an "echo read" of a poem with her 14 students, an exercise designed to increase fluency. She reads a line aloud, modeling intonation and pacing, then the students echo her in unison. They add two poems a week to a looseleaf notebook she has provided; they will take it home over the summer to be sure they have something to read to practice their skills.

The students break into pairs and read a story aloud to one another, again building fluency. Then they turn to a "word ladder," a phonics exercise that is used with the most proficient second-graders. They start at the bottom of a page with a word and, making changes to it on each rung, climb a ladder to the top in a process that makes them think about the way words are put together.

This exercise, called "In the Doghouse," starts with a dog and a clue for the first word: a small round spot. "We are going to make a new word that has three letters by changing a letter in dog," the teacher says.

The class asks, "Hog?"

"No."

"Dig?"

"No. Change a G to a T. What does that make?"

"Dot," the class says in unison.

"Very good." She moves up the ladder, asking the children to change one letter to make a word that is short for Donald, being sure that they capitalize it on their sheets. Then she stumps them by asking them to change one letter in Don to make a kind of fish.

"A dod?"

"A tod?"

"A nod?"

"A sod?"

"No," she says. "It starts with a C."

"Catfish?"

"No. I'll give it away," she says. "Cod. That was a tricky one. The next clue is to form a four-letter word meaning a secret way of writing."

"Code."

"Oh my goodness. Who can spell that for us?"

Moving up the ladder, code becomes Coke, which becomes cone and, in the last clue, mutates into what a dog likes to chew on. "Bone," all the students yell.

Meanwhile in another classroom, a special education teacher is working with a combined class of 16 students who are in grades 4, 5, and 6, but who read at kindergarten through second-grade levels. She's focusing on an instructional strategy called "Syllasearch," used to help students learn to hear the sounds of and break apart multisyllabic words—although to these students it appears to be more of a game.

She uses cards that break up the syllables of the words bottle, bottom, cattle, order, student, stupid, and indent. She calls upon students to come to the front of the room and place specific syllables into columns to indicate whether they are the first or second syllable. She asks a student which letters make the tul sound in bottle. She asks whether the letters are already on the board to make the bot sound. They are, because another student has already formed bottom.

By combining the classes, she also is accomplishing something beyond teaching the students: She's spreading her knowledge of instructional techniques to the two other special education teachers who are in the classroom—one, whose students read at kindergarten or first-grade level, and another, whose students read at second-grade level. "These teachers aren't familiar with the strategies I am using, and I'm trying to demonstrate them," she says.

Looking Ahead

The Toledo school system is under stress, and although there are signs of resurgence, it's anyone's guess what the future holds.

On the plus side, thanks to Reading Academy initiatives and other efforts, the district as a whole moved up two notches in August 2004 from "academic emergency," the lowest category in Ohio's five-tier district rating system, to "continuous improvement"—the first urban district in Ohio to do so. Toledo remained in the continuous improvement category in 2005 and 2006.*

"We are at or above the statewide average with our summer school scores, including the wealthiest districts," union President Lawrence says. "It's a tribute to the research-based professional development and the commitment of our accomplished teachers to share what they have learned with their colleagues. All this stems from our vision of teachers as professionals. In Toledo, teachers are instructional leaders. That's the driving force for me. If teachers do not view themselves as the instructional experts, there isn't much hope for public education."

On the minus side are administrative instability and financial crisis. Superintendent Sanders left last spring to head Cleveland's system. Twelve top administrators then left as well, most of them for Cleveland, including the chief academic, curriculum, financial, and business officers. Toledo's Interim Superintendent John Foley, who has a 13-month term, is trying to fill the leadership vacuum, but most of his appointees lack experience in running an urban school district and had no opportunity to shadow the people whose positions they were assuming.

Meanwhile, the board made drastic choices to meet a seemingly never-ending deficit, which a newspaper account predicts will rise to $109.8 million five years from now. The deficit is fueled primarily by rising costs and enrollment decline. Rust-Belt Toledo has lost tens of thousands of residents in recent times, many to the suburbs and their schools, as well as to a host of aggressively marketed charter schools. To help save $12 million, the district shuttered five schools in June and laid off staff. Among them were 97 teachers who almost immediately had to be summoned back for service—a demoralizing approach to labor relations.

Parents who are considering withdrawing their children from the public school system doubtlessly worry about the impact that the district's sketchy finances will have on education. To increase revenue and bring stability, three members of the fiercely divided board proposed a substantial new tax levy, but failed to get the fourth vote needed to place it on the November ballot. Much of the money that would have been raised in the first year would have funded $11.7 million in retroactive pay for teachers and other unionized school employees, which has been due since December 2002.

Nevertheless, in January, the Reading Academy is expanding its supplemental educational services operations into junior high schools that have been placed in school improvement status. Czerniak says that discussions are underway about whether or not to offer other support to adolescent students as well. Over time, the number of junior high school students who need support should diminish, as students who've been through the Reading Academy program in elementary school get older, but there will always be a need to help some students, including those who move into the district. The district could further reduce the need for junior high remediation if it expanded the number of elementary Reading Academy schools. (Since many of those ER&D-trained teachers remain in the system, the district would not have to bear the full cost of starting an Academy school from scratch.)

Marsha Berger, the district consultant who used to work for the AFT, is optimistic about the strength being built through the university cohort program. "If you have a critical mass in a school going through this university program and getting coaching in how to implement strategies, this will spread through the school. The Reading Academy has managed to keep each new cohort of 25 to 30 teachers going, and it's as if they've been spreading apple seeds around the district. This is the most powerful joint activity in an urban school district that I have seen in all my years of unionism."

The Toledo Federation of Teachers' Lawrence concurs. "I hope the new leadership recognizes the significance of collaboration," she says. "We are the leading urban district in Ohio and we want that to continue. But only time will tell."

Meanwhile, Lawrence finds that professional development has been a valuable union-building tool. "The vibrancy of this union stems from the traditional role we play in advocating for good working conditions for our teachers, but we also have individuals in leadership positions who have come through professional initiatives. We engage and empower our membership and each becomes part of the fabric of the union."

Silverman, who did not seek re-election to the board when his last term ended in 2005, no longer has to worry about school politics, but agrees that professional development and cooperation with the union are crucial to the future of Toledo's schools. He says, "Our teachers are excited. It's been an incredible success in a model of everybody working together."


Neill S. Rosenfeld is a freelance writer. For 18 years, he was deputy director and later director of the United Federation of Teachers' Communications Department.

*Here's a related indication of change: As of August 2006, the number of Toledo schools in the lowest category fell from 16 to 10, and three schools are now on the list of "excellent" performers; 11 schools are rated effective, the second highest category. The precise number of schools in the district varies because of closing due to construction and consolidation, but according to the system's Web site as of November 2006, Toledo has 41 elementary schools, seven junior high schools, eight senior high schools, and various specialized learning centers. (back to article)