TNLI Work for 2010-2011: Education Advocacy

Luke Laurie

TNLI Fellow

Summary of Advocacy Work for 2010-2011 School Year

Einstein Summit and HIV Prevention Education

 

 

STEM Education, The Einstein Fellowship 20th Anniversary Summit, Summer 2010

 

During the Summer of 2010, I concluded my work from the previous year by taking part in the planning, coordinating, and implementing the 20th Anniversary Summit of the Einstein Fellowship. This year-long project  was implemented by a volunteer committee of former Einstein Fellows, and culminated in a Summit that occurred over 3 days in Washington, D.C. in June of 2010. The highlights of the Summit included: approximately 100 attendees; several whole group sessions and break out sessions on timely STEM education topics; a Congressional Reception; guests from several Federal agencies, the White House, and the Legislative Branch; participation by a few current and former Members of Congress; a Published report of proceedings of the Summit, and a list of ten policy recommendations.

 

My personal work on the Summit included working on the Planning Committee, Chairing the Program/Agenda subcommittee that developed the topics for the sessions and drafted the program, facilitating the plenary session on STEM education and the Reauthorization of ESEA, and sitting on the panels of the opening plenary session, STEM Education Policy Panel Discussion. I also was the Facilitator of the Einstein Summit Policy Team, which put together the policy recommendations culled from all of the sessions of the Summit, composed a one-page summary, and distributed the recommendations to dozens of lawmakers in the House and Senate. Digitally, these recommendations were distributed to all Capitol Hill staff.

 

500 copies of the printed report: “From the Classroom to Washington: Einsteins on Education Reform” were printed and distributed by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education.

 

More information on the Summit can be found at the following URL:

http://sites.google.com/site/einstein20summit/

 

The Report from the Summit can be found here:

http://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/E20%20Summit%20Report.pdf

 

The Policy Recommendations can be found here:

https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/policy-recommendations-on-the-20th-anniversary-of-the-einstein-fellowship/

 

Policy Recommendations on the 20th Anniversary of the Einstein Fellowship

 

The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellows, some of the nation’s leading educators, gathered in Washington, DC on June 28-29, 2010, for a 20th Anniversary Summit.  Hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Summit brought together more than 80 current and former Einstein Fellows along with distinguished guest speakers from the White House, Federal agencies, national education organizations, and the U.S. Congress.  The goal of the Summit was to generate recommendations to inform and improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. The Summit covered a variety of educational issues, including national curriculum standards, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and educational equity.

 

Recommendations of the Einstein Fellows:

Support initiatives to enable school systems to implement innovative teaching practices in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Increase funding for Pre-K-12 education, especially programs that impact each child as opposed to competitive grants.  Federal funding is vital to the maintenance and development of STEM programs in states and districts.

Establish national standards for science education and support provisions in the reauthorization of ESEA that give equal treatment to science as to mathematics and language arts. Science knowledge and skills, as part of a comprehensive STEM approach, are vital for all students and provide 21st Century workforce skills, promote national security and global competitiveness.

Include K-12 teachers, such as Einstein Fellows, in the formulation of professional development or curriculum.  The real world experience of classroom teachers is an overlooked asset when new programs are developed.

Base school and student assessment on multiple measures and formative assessments.

Create and fund a program to place science specialists to teach and coach in elementary schools.  Elementary schools can benefit from the presence of competent STEM teachers who also have skills in working with K-12 students.  They can teach STEM and also model effective strategies as instructional coaches.

Support legislation that encourages research-based instruction and teacher training.

Support federal programs to purchase science equipment and provide STEM training to teachers at the K-6 grade levels.  This will enable the delivery of inquiry-based, hands-on science experiences.

Establish guidelines to ensure all administrators are competent and knowledgeable in STEM education.  Student success and instructional quality depends on strong school leadership.

Support initiatives and funding to enable states and districts to lengthen the school day or school year.

HIV Prevention Education in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District

 

During the 2010-2011 school year, I spent considerable time pursuing local advocacy by continuing my work to improve HIV prevention education for junior high students in my school district. I had been working on this issue for four years through ongoing communication with other teachers, schools, and administrators. My district had not adopted or purchased new materials nor updated curriculum since before California updated its laws and guidelines governing the mandatory HIV prevention education in 2004.  Several discussions and meetings with Science Department chairs and life science teachers in the 2009-2010 school year had revealed that HIV prevention related health content was being taught with outdated materials, or in some cases not taught at all. Through my work and at my request the district began to hold meetings specifically to deal with this issue, during the 2010-2011 school year, to investigate the nature of what we were and were not teaching, to better understand the State’s requirements in this area, to discuss the sensitive nature of the subject matter, and to explore curriculum resources to help us meet our requirements and duty to our students.

 

My work included researching legal statutes, consulting State guidelines, talking with staff at the State Department of Education, reading health and sex education research, attending several meetings with administration and science teachers, building an extensive digital collection of resources for teachers, and making a presentation to the school board.

 

The results of this work allowed our district to create new policies to be in compliance with State law, and to begin the adoption process by piloting the Red Cross Positive Prevention Curriculum. I can happily report that I faced little resistance from the administration and the school board, though numerous discussions with teachers turned to debates over the nitty-gritty aspects of what and how to teach the sex-related content.

 

Below, I have included my comments to my school board upon the first introduction of the curriculum, prior to piloting. The remarks and our presentation of the curriculum was met with unanimous support and positive remarks from the entire board.

 

The curriculum materials were piloted and approved by the science teachers, and will now, during the 2011-2012 school year, go through the process of being cleared by various committees and going back to the school board for a final vote. I will participate in some of the presentations of the materials.

 

Link to the training workshop slideshow:

http://homepage.mac.com/mrlaurie/misc/hivinstruction.pdf

 

Link to the Positive Prevention Red Cross Curriculum:

http://www.positiveprevention.com/

 

Comments to the school Board on HIV Prevention Curriculum Pilot

 

I thank the board for allowing me to speak this evening,

 

In the field of education, we’re always operating within an economy of scarcity. Far from an ideal system for serving the needs of our students, we do not have not enough money, nor enough time, and we have too many students with tremendous needs; academic, social, behavioral, emotional and physical.

 

In the standards-based educational push of the last decade, we were caught up in fervor to enhance academic learning, specifically, of course, Math and Language Arts. Because resources and time are scarce, schools across the country eliminated programs and courses in the fine arts, health education, physical education, and even science. With this unbalanced approach, we were doing less to educate the whole child.

 

In our district, we haven’t done enough in recent years to provide our students with the health information and skills they need to make good choices about their sexual health.

 

The HIV Prevention Education requirement in State law is there to address issues that are vital to our youth. A large fraction of our students are sexually active, and many lack the knowledge and behavioral skills to protect themselves from disease or unintended pregnancy. Santa Barbara County has a teen pregnancy rate for latinas that is the highest rate in the State at 9%. That’s nearly 1 in 10 of our latina population, and three times the average rate for all California teens.

 

We all know that the challenges for teens who become parents are numerous. And challenging too, are the lives of our students who are being raised by young people who became parents too early themselves. We all bear the costs. And while the Red Cross curriculum is not specifically focused in preventing teen pregnancy, the same knowledge and skills they will gain from learning to prevent HIV will also prevent pregnancy and other sexually transmitted diseases.

 

The Red Cross Positive Prevention Curriculum provides a framework that teaches the means of transmission and prevention of HIV, but it also includes lessons on behavior and decision making, as well as identifying and avoiding risky situations, and developing refusal skills. The material in this curriculum is presented in a manner that is useful to teachers, and provides them with tools for handling controversial subjects sensitively.

 

I strongly encourage the board to support this committee’s work and to move forward with the pilot program for the Positive Prevention Curriculum. I also would like to encourage the board to support other improvements in health and sexual health education to provide our students with vital information and skills that will help them live healthy lives.

 

Thank you.

Planning the Program for the E20 Summit

Blog Post at Luke Laurie’s Teacher Blog : https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/

Teacher’s Network Leadership Institute Fellow, Policy Work for 2009-2010

The Einstein Fellowship 20th Anniversary Summit:

Planning the Program

Introduction:

During the 2009-2010 school year I committed myself to engaging in policy work, rather than action research. My initial plan was to advocate for policies to improve STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. Little did I know, I would be swept up by a project that would become a national summit of leading STEM educators.

Background:

This year, 2010, marks the 20th Anniversary of the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship, also known as the Einstein Fellowship. This unique program brings teachers of science and mathematics to Washington, D.C. to work in the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and various federal government agencies, such as the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, NASA, and NOAA. Recipients of the fellowship are known as Einstein Fellows. They serve one-year terms living and working in Washington, D.C. With their extensive classroom knowledge, experience, and credentials, Einstein Fellows provide practical insights and “real world” perspectives to policy makers and program managers.

From 2006-2007, I served as an Einstein Fellow in the office of Congressman Mike Honda. During my fellowship, I had many opportunities to learn about policy, legislation, and government. I also had the opportunity to contribute to policy by advising the Congressman on education, appropriations, and environmental issues, and by participating in briefings and roundtable discussions on those issues. My work focused on education equity, enhancing science education, and improving the understanding of global warming. Following my fellowship year, I returned to the classroom, to continue my career teaching junior high science and robotics in Santa Maria, CA.

Summary of Work:

In Fall of 2009, I joined a group of former Einstein Fellows in conversations about the possibility of holding an event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Einstein Fellowship, by bringing Fellows from the last 20 years together for an event in Washington D.C.. We formed a Planning Committee of fellows who were committed to spending a significant amount of time making all the decisions and preparations that would be necessary. Through numerous conference calls and thousands of emails, this grassroots event evolved to become the Einstein Fellowship 20th Anniversary Summit (called the E20 Summit by the Planning Committee), which will be held in Washington, D.C. from June 27 through June 30, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. This summary was written after the planning process was complete, but prior to the actual Summit.

The Planning Committee conceptualized the event to be less of a celebration, and more of an opportunity to have a meeting of minds, to share ideas and build upon the vast and varied experiences of Einstein Fellows. We divided the work into three subcommittees: Fundraising; Logistics and Budget; and Program. The Fundraising Subcommittee successfully harnessed the support of government agencies, science and education organizations, and industry partners to provide funding to carry out the objectives of the E20 Summit. The Logistics and Budget Subcommittee coordinated the venues, vendors, and bookkeeping. I took leadership of the Program Subcommittee and became the Chair to coordinate the development of the substantive components of the Summit.

The goals of the E20 Summit, as stated in our proposal, were as follows:

  • Publish and disseminate a formal report of the E20 Summit proceedings with key recommendations to inform ESEA (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind) and improve STEM education;
  • Recognize the accomplishments of Einstein Fellows and their collective contributions to policy, programs and the advancement of K-12 STEM education;
  • Promote the professional capabilities of Einstein Fellows, and other nationally recognized teachers, to national, state and local STEM education stakeholders;
  • Illustrate the efficacy of the Einstein Fellowship program as a best practice of STEM policy inclusion for teachers and professional development model;
  • Formalize and strengthen the Einstein Fellowship network.

It was a joy to work with the other members of the Planning Committee and the Program Subcommittee. On many aspects we shared common goals. Where we disagreed, we discussed our differences in a constructive manner and found compromises that everyone could accept. All participants had served as Einstein Fellows within the last twenty years in various offices and agencies, and were from many different parts of the United States. Most were science teachers of various disciplines, and some taught mathematics. The wealth of knowledge and experience in the group was incredible. Each Fellow had many valuable connections that we were able to draw from as valuable resources to implement the goals of the Summit.

The Program Subcommittee formulated the content of the Summit. Through a lengthy brainstorming process and a series of collaborative discussions, the Subcommittee created a list of possible topics around which workshops, panel discussions, or roundtable discussions could be created. The group solicited input from active members of the Planning Committee, as well as other Fellows who might attend the Summit. From this input, we created a schedule covering topics pertinent to Einstein Fellows, and relevant to the current national dialog on STEM education. We assigned facilitators to manage the sessions and worked with them to connect with experienced speakers and panelists in positions of authority within the appropriate fields. Throughout this development process, all relevant information was compiled into a document that would become the final Program for the Einstein 20th Anniversary Summit.

The final Program is a 21-page document, and includes the following elements:

  • A welcome statement
  • A description of the three locations for events, The Wilson Center, The Rayburn House Office Building, and The J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C.
  • A brief agenda summary
  • A detailed program of all sessions and events
  • The text of H.Res. 1322, a Congressional Resolution Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Einstein Fellowship, which passed the House on June 15, 2010.
  • A list of the Planning Committee and Subcommittee members.
  • Brief biographic information about all of the facilitators, panelists, and featured guests
  • A full list of approximately 200 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellows from the first 20 years.
  • A list of sponsors and supporters

Looking Ahead:

Following the Summit, a report of the findings will be published by the Wilson Center and distributed nationally. In addition, we will be forming an Einstein Policy Team, which will work to promote and advocate for ways to improve STEM education using the findings of the Summit. The Einstein Policy Team will be involved in advocacy at the local, State, and National level. It is our hope that through this advocacy, we will be able to make notable contributions and give teachers a stronger voice.

More info on the Summit can be found at the official website:

http://sites.google.com/site/einstein20summit/

The Einstein Fellowship 20th Anniversary Summit

Blog Post: https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com

Einstein Fellows in the Library of Congress

The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship is a special opportunity for math and science teachers to work in Washington D.C. in various government agencies or in the U.S. Congress, in order to contribute to federal policy. Participating teachers are expected to take their experience back to the classroom or education community in order to become teacher leaders, however, some many have stayed in positions working on education or science policy. During my fellowship, I had the opportunity to work in the U.S. House of Representatives with Congressman Mike Honda of Silicon Valley, working on issues related to education and the environment.

2010 marks the 20th Anniversary of the Einstein Fellowship. Consequently, several fellows are working together to plan the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship 20th Anniversary Summit, also known by the planners as the E20 Summit.

The 20th Anniversary Summit is destined to be an event for the ages. The Summit will bring together current and former fellows, some of whom returned to the classroom to be leading science and math teachers, and others who became policy experts, legislative aides, or took positions in the administration. The Summit will be a meeting of the minds of people with experience in the classroom as well as public policy, to address the pivotal issues of the day, in Education, in Policy, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

The Summit will produce a written product, possibly the “Einstein Report” collecting the wealth of knowledge of Einstein Fellows, and offering policy recommendations to improve education.

I’m looking forward to this amazing experience.

The Einstein Fellowship 20th Anniversary Summit will be held in Washington D.C., June 27-30, 2010.

For more information on the Summit, or to become involved see the official website:

http://sites.google.com/site/einstein20summit/

The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship: Perspectives of a Science Teacher Working in the U.S. House of Representatives

I spent a year working in the U.S. House of Representatives on education and environmental policy in 2006 to 2007. In the Summer of 2009, I returned for a brief while to reprise my role. The following paper describes my experiences.

Download or view the .pdf of this paper

famouspeople

Al Gore, Luke Laurie, Mike Honda-in photo on the wall of the official Capitol "Shaft"

Overview
The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship is a federal program that awards outstanding teachers of mathematics and science with the opportunity to work on federal policy in Washington D.C. for one year. The author was a recipient of the Einstein Fellowship in 2006, after working for nine years as a junior high science teacher specializing in robotics and engineering outreach. This paper summarizes the process of receiving the fellowship, the work completed during the fellowship year, and the perspectives of a classroom teacher working directly on education policy. The author returned to the classroom at the culmination of his fellowship year. On the eve of the 20th year of the Einstein Fellowship, readers may discover the significance of this program, and, if willing, pursue the fellowship and policy work themselves.

Speech- Uncertainty and Opportunity in Education

I gave the following speech at the BTSA End of the Year Seminar.
Thank you. I am honored to speak to you today.

Introduction

I started teaching 12 years ago, before BTSA, I think. If there was BTSA back then, I didn’t go. Was there BTSA? Am I in trouble now?

I was trained and credentialed to be an elementary school teacher, but somehow found myself becoming a junior high science teacher running a robotics engineering program, and working in the U.S. Congress.

One’s life and career path can be difficult to determine. We face obstacles, we have opportunities. We make choices, and the paths of our lives are made. From where I began, I could have in no way predicted that I would be where I am now, in my career. I was sure I’d be teaching upper elementary.

I didn’t even get an interview in the districts I thought I wanted to work in. I went from a long term sub position in a bilingual K-1 combo, and two weeks later, I was a Junior High Teacher, and I have been ever since. I’m happy where I am, but along the way, there have been many factors outside my control.

When I started, I entered a teaching world that was a maelstrom of chaos. My school was busting at the seams. A junior high with over 800 kids. We were on four track year-round. We had 6 periods a day. I taught 2 periods of math, 2 of science, and one of PE. Everything I had was on wheels. I changed classrooms every month for two years. I belonged to three departments. My colleagues were full of great, innovative ideas, and long held traditions about how things should be done. But I had little time for any solid mentoring. I was treading water. And just when I got to know someone, they went off-track.

My BTSA was something of a trial by fire. We didn’t have the Williams Act back then. I got to use whatever math books I could find, whatever everyone else wasn’t using. Same with the science books. My support provider was Rogelio, the night custodian, who would talk to me when I was still at school at 6:00 PM. I had a degree of autonomy that I probably shouldn’t have had. I had the liberty and the obligation to design my own program. I didn’t have much direct guidance, but at the same time, my instruction wasn’t genius-proofed either.

On my first day on the job, the principal came up to me and said “You’d be a great MESA advisor.” “What’s MESA?” I said. It’s an engineering program. You’ll get paid 500 dollars for doing it! 500 dollars, “Wow!” – I thought. Little did I realize that the stipend was equivalent to minimum wage at the time. But I’m still doing MESA to this day. Teaching engineering and working in extracurricular programs became an important part of my career. I said yes to a lot of “opportunities” and I still do, probably more than I should. But each of these activities, workshops, conferences, mentoring and other programs I have done taught me something. Most importantly, by interacting professionally with colleagues outside of my classroom, I have been able to interact with fantastic teachers from throughout the region.

There’s more order to things now. More order in teacher preparation and mentoring. More order in our school district with a conventional calendar and smaller schools. No Child Left Behind has certainly put things in focus; perhaps an extremely narrow, myopic focus. I still teach three different classes, but they’re all science now, and they’re not all on the same day. But there are still many factors outside the control of classroom teachers. California’s budget crunch may undo the progress we’ve made. I may have 38 students in my classes next year, 38 adolescents crammed into a room and expected to learn science- a situation I have never had to face.

The greatest struggles, in our lives, and in our careers, are rarely the ones we expect. But the opportunities can be equally unknown.

Innovative Teaching

From the time I began my career as a teacher, I wanted to be an innovator. I saw education as a broken machine that needed to be fixed. I wanted to do things differently. I wanted to do them better. But, I also assumed that no matter what experiments I tried, or new methods I developed, I would face conflict and resistance from my colleagues and administration at every step of the way.
As is the way of youth, I was wrong, about many things.

My initial forays into innovative education included teaching kindergartners about astronomy, turning a junior high math class into a stock market, and having my science class spend weeks building insect collections. I was never quite sure of the kind of reaction I would get for my different approaches, so I didn’t always advertise what I was doing.
I was shocked at times by the degree of autonomy I was given, and the latitude I had for experimenting with pedagogy and content. I was strongly supported and encouraged by my colleagues and my administration. I was surprised that people had faith in me.

One day, while my students and I were on an unscheduled field trip to the park across the street, swinging around insect nets, my principal came walking across the street. I was sure I was in trouble. Thoughts ran through my head — Was it the homemade insect nets made with sharp bent metal coat hangers? Was it the poisonous acetone we were using to kill insects? Was it the fact that we were off campus without permission? But then she took out her camera and started taking pictures. She was so excited to see the kids outside, exploring their world. She said this was the kind of thing our students needed more of.

I took this to heart, and continued to develop my teaching skills and acquire resources that would help my students learn things they might not learn anywhere else. Working with technology. Building robots. Learning to program. Camping. Visiting colleges. Making movies. All of these things became a regular part of my work.

I’m not very good at some of the ordinary things about teaching. I can’t stand grading papers. I’m not so good at teaching writing skills. I don’t make very good use of the materials that come with the textbooks. I have a very hard time using anybody else’s lesson plan or science lab. So, I build on my strengths. I’m good at building LEGO’s. I like technology. I have a knack for motivation and discipline. It took me a long time to reconcile the fact that I will not be good at all aspects of teaching. As my 8 year old son says to me, “Get used to the facts, Dad.” But there are many ways of being a great teacher. So, I have taken my strengths, and avoided my shortcomings, and built a teaching style that I am comfortable with, but one that has also earned me accolades.

I didn’t teach to the test. I threw out traditional methods in some cases. I didn’t do things by the book. I invented my own units, my own class even. In 2000, I received a Crystal Apple Award. In 2005, I received the Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence.

Faith-Based Education

There’s a Sidney Harris cartoon, where two scientists are facing a blackboard, on which there are two sets of equations. There is a tangled web of mathematics on the left, and another on the right, and in the middle, bridging the two sets of irreconcilable formulae are the words “Then a miracle occurs.”

This is an apt analogy for our system of education. The mess of mathematical expressions on the left side of the board can be imagined to be public education: the courses, curriculum, and structure of schools. The right side of the board and its formulae can represent one’s life and career – the output of our educational system. But the path by which we arrive at the solution to this equation cannot be expressed scientifically. I call this “Faith-Based Education.”

We provide a certain finite set of inputs through the structure in schools, often insufficient resources, funds, staffing, and offerings —and then a miracle occurs, —and then our students are ready for college, their careers, and their lives.

But what is that miracle?

It’s you. It’s us.

Teachers are the Key

In the mess of standards, lesson planning, curriculum materials, and benchmarks, sometimes we lose sight of the simple fact that the the fundamental unit of education is the interaction between the teacher and the student. Teachers and the things they do make everything else possible. Teaching is a human interaction, a social interaction, a personal interaction.  It is magical. It is unique. It is unquantifiable. I used to go to an Indian restaurant where the waiter and I talked often. He told me “Teaching is the Path of God.” I didn’t argue. Culture continues, and evolves through us, and Youtube, and FOX news. There’s a teacher in a public school classroom who has knowledge, skills, and wisdom; and there is a student, who is in dire need of that knowledge, those skills, and that wisdom. In a classroom, we work to impart those things to that child, or 38. Everything else is peripheral.

You are that pivotal piece. You are needed. You are vital. You are the key.

We face impossible odds, all the time. We do the impossible.

But there are some fundamental flaws in a system that relies so heavily on the self-sacrifice of individuals, the altruism of a few. The faith that we will do much more than we are payed to do. The faith that we will make something from nothing. The faith that we can do without some of things and some of the people that budget cuts have taken away.
When we rely solely on faith, that all these wonderful things will continue to happen in schools, sometimes they don’t. In schools where morale is low, where salaries are insufficient, where staff have been cut, where class sizes are unmanageably large, sometimes the miracle doesn’t happen. Volunteerism thrives only in a stable environment. Our faith is not misplaced, there are just limits to what it can do.

NCLB HQT

In 2003, I faced total uncertainty about my future as a teacher, along with many teachers across the country. It was at this time, that we began to implement the No Child Left Behind Highly Qualified Teacher Requirement Nicklby-Cutie. Anxiety spread when the initial information we received implied that most Junior High Teachers in Santa Maria would lose their positions or even their jobs, if they couldn’t quickly acquire new credentials.

I wasn’t satisfied with the information I was receiving at the time. I couldn’t believe that the new regulations would be so draconian. So I began my first experience in researching education policy. I contacted the State Department of Education, began reading documents issued by the Federal Government, and wrote a policy analysis that I presented to district administrators and others. I discovered several alternative routes for teachers to become highly qualified that were not being made available.

In the process, I faced backlash from my superiors. I was disciplined. Ultimately, the information I discovered became, more or less, statewide policy. In our district’s haste to be compliant, we didn’t give the powers-that-be the opportunity to get the policy right. Some teachers did end up changing positions, some unnecessarily because of confusion and misinformation, others jumped through the required hoops. I hit the books, and picked up an Earth Science Credential.

I didn’t exactly change policy, but I did do everything I could to understand policy, and use the information to protect my colleagues. This experience helped pave the way for a new opportunity that I could not have dreamed.

Einstein Fellow

In 2006, I was selected as a finalist to become an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow. An Einstein Fellow.

I was flown to D.C., and interviewed at length for several possible positions. About 15 Einstein Fellows work each year in several government agencies and in the Legislative Branch, selected from Math and Science teachers from across the country. Ultimately, I was chosen to become a fellow on Capitol Hill. Ironically, the conflict I had with my district about NCLB was considered a strong feather in my cap by the interviewers, who believed I had the knack for legislative work.

After many interviews, I was fortunate to find a spot working in the office of Congressman Mike Honda, Congressman from Silicon Valley, who was once a science teacher in a school very much like the ones in Santa Maria. I also interviewed for two hours in the Office of Senator Barack Obama, amongst others, and they never turned me down, but I didn’t wait for their reply. I wanted to work in the House. Congressman Honda’s office was a great place to be, and I had the experience of a lifetime.

I moved my family all the way across the County into a little place in Alexandria, Virginia. We changed everything about our lives. I was immersed in a world of policy and politics for an entire year.

During my year in D.C., I was the principal staff member for Congressman Honda handling Education, Environment, and Homeland Security, as well as Appropriations or funding bills in those areas. I felt like I was a teacher undercover.

I got to see education from a very different angle. I also experienced a very different work environment.

(I Shared a few stories from my time in D.C. experience. Including one some reflections on class size. My visits to the cold hearted Bush-era Department of Education. Congressman Honda’s Questioning of Margaret Spellings. “What makes you highly qualified to be Secretary of Education?” And discussion of the difference in fatigue; teaching vs. legislative work.)

Conclusion

Education is in a precarious position that not everyone is aware of. While the housing market soared, and the stock market was riding high, schools saw little or no economic benefit. Teachers weren’t collecting massive bonuses or redecorating their offices (we don’t have offices). In fact, many schools throughout this period were dealing with overwhelming class sizes, crumbling infrastructure, and ongoing struggles to provide basic services. Teachers were lucky to get cost of living adjustments, and were even luckier if they managed to keep some health care. Many of us saw real wages fall.

At the policy level, we had to fight tooth and nail to prevent proposed cuts at the State and federal level every year. Unlike the housing market, the stock market, and government revenues, education didn’t benefit from the economic gluttony of the last few years, but when everything came crashing down, the funding for schools went with it.

The current cuts to education are having devastating impacts in schools across the State and in our region.

The Obama administration and the new congress have already begun a massive reinvestment in education at the Federal level, but California’s self imposed cuts may erase any potential benefit from these federal funds. I don’t want to point any fingers, but this is all California’s fault. I don’t want to be partisan, but it’s the Republicans who are forcing the tightening of the budget on education. The 2/3 vote requirement in the State Legislature effectively grants the minority party double voting power on issues of spending and taxation. As teachers we often look at the State and say what are they doing? When I worked in the U.S. Congress, we would say the same thing.

If California cannot find a way to markedly increase investment in education, we may look back on these times and laugh that we were actually trying to improve schools. We might be more likely to reflect on this time as the golden age of education, where every school was labeled as “failing”, but they were all better than what followed. Remember when we only had 35 students in each class? Do you remember art class?

It is worth noting that the administration and board of directors of the Santa Maria-Bonita school district and some other districts have worked very hard to minimize the impacts of these cuts. Santa Maria-Bonita has managed to find ways to save millions of dollars, largely by the administrators altruistically taking on multiple jobs themselves, and by delaying filling vacant positions. They insulated classrooms and students from many of the cuts, and significantly reduced the layoffs of teachers.

We should not have to rely on faith that good instruction and a comprehensive curriculum is being taught in all public schools. We should not have to take it on faith that a student will learn in a class that is twice the size it should be. We should not take it on faith that one person can do the job that two should be payed to do. We need to invest adequate resources, distribute those resources in an equitable manner, and be careful not to impose draconian policies that will inhibit innovative instruction.

These are tough times. There is uncertainty. But there is also hope. The infusion of Federal Stimulus Funds is yet to arrive, and Federal Government is likely to continue to increase funding for Title 1 and Special Education. We need to continue to fight, and continue to seek creative solutions for the sake of our children. Some are worried about the debt we will leave them. I would argue that there are far worse things we could leave our children than debt, and the worst of them is an inadequate education.