Duncan Stops at NYSUT on Back-to-School Bus Tour

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In a stop at New York State United Teachers headquarters on the third day of his back-to-school bus tour, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan thanked NYSUT president Richard Iannuzzi, vice president Maria Neira, and assembled teachers, administrators and other partners for their "tremendous courage, tremendous leadership and a real commitment to changing the status quo" in their efforts to do what's best for students. Iannuzzi and Neira are both AFT vice presidents.

The stop included an Aug. 30 roundtable with two dozen representatives of six labor-management teams from Albany, Hempstead, Marlboro, Plattsburgh, North Syracuse and Newburgh. Duncan heard firsthand about the educators' efforts to transform traditional teacher evaluation, and to develop a system of ongoing professional support and collaboration to raise standards and improve curriculum. This is work, Neira pointed out, that started before New York received a Race to the Top grant recently and is essential to the union's mission.

Iannuzzi, who joined Duncan on the "Courage in the Classroom" bus, said the education secretary's commitment to educators "is validation that it is essential to have practitioners at the center of our collaborative efforts to advance public education." Among the topics they discussed, Iannuzzi noted, was the importance "of broadening these conversations with practitioners to include higher education faculty on how best to strengthen the preparation of teachers entering the profession."

Neira emphasized that NYSUT's Innovation Initiative is led by labor-management teams of educators "who do the work on the ground every day and are not afraid to take risks." She said that, together, they are piloting a model professional-growth system that is built from the ground up.

"The lack of working models has challenged us to think innovatively," said Plattsburgh teacher Karen Rock, who is participating in the Innovation Initiative. "We are confident that our groundbreaking initiative will help fill the research void on what makes some teachers more effective than others, a critical step on the path to providing children with a strong academic foundation and a promising future."

Duncan took notes as Rock explained that the Innovation Initiative group will be creating an online resource of rigorous and comparable classroom assessments to determine student growth, as well as collecting survey data on teaching and learning conditions to promote student learning and foster school improvement. He listened carefully as teachers and administrators from the other districts talked passionately about a variety of issues.

"The national spotlight is on you," Duncan said, noting New York's efforts to create a comprehensive teacher evaluation and support system could have national implications. "These lessons aren't just for the states. They are for the country."

The stop at NYSUT was part of an 800-mile bus tour that will span eight states to honor and listen to teachers, meet with parents and students, and highlight success. Iannuzzi said Duncan's visit to NYSUT recognizes the work practitioners are doing every day and underscores the continuing need to work together. "We can do it because we have partners in Washington, in Albany and in the classroom," Iannuzzi said.

Complete coverage of Duncan's visit, including video, photos and media coverage, is available on the NYSUT website. [New York State United Teachers]

August 31, 2010