One of the most important things we can do as policymakers is stay connected with the people who will be affected by the decisions we make. Our first listening tour stop was a powerful reminder of the value of listening to teachers, parents, and students.
The elementary school teachers and parents reminded us of three things:
- Leadership matters. In both schools, teachers told us that they stayed because their principals allowed them to perfect their craft, removed barriers, effectively brokered resources, and supported them. Parents felt welcomed by the principals and recognized that great principals attract and retain great teachers.
- The use of formative assessments – and the resulting data – can be transformative. In both schools, teachers used formative assessments frequently to gauge student progress, shuffle student groupings, determine who needed extra support (including Response to Intervention) and extra challenge, and to otherwise drive their instruction. They painted an incredibly clear before picture (“we told parents that their children couldn’t read, but that was all”) and after picture (“we can tell parents that their child can’t read because he has a specific challenge decoding a short ‘a’ sound”) and spoke passionately about how their use of data made them better at their jobs. Parents commented on how this specific information was much more helpful to them.
- Preparation matters. Teachers generally agreed that their education had not prepared them to be highly effective in the classroom. Many teachers commented that they felt like they got an education that taught them how to teach 25 years ago, and not one that prepared them for teaching in the 21st century.
We heard an equally important set of themes at the community college event:
- Cost – even at community colleges – makes it difficult for people to go back to school for retraining. It is hard to raise a family and find enough money to take courses.
- We need to continue to work on quality articulation agreements between community college and four-year institutions, so that the courses taken at community colleges can be transferred when students pursue a four-year degree at a college or university.
- People are grateful for community colleges and their ability to serve such diverse constituencies. In many instances cited by people who spoke, the community college was the critical part of the path to enabling them to fulfill their higher education dreams.
As we leverage big opportunities – and work through inevitable challenges – in the coming months and years, I’ll be reminded constantly of the impact of decisions on people in the classroom, both K-12 and higher education. I am grateful to the people of West Virginia for their openness in sharing with us what makes a difference in their lives every day.