My New Year’s Resolve

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

I’m supposed to tell you that I want to lose weight. I’m rounder than ever, so that’s a lofty goal.

But that’s no fun, and I’d rather not spend your time talking about dietary supplements and instead tell you about my visit to the US Department of Education, my second trip to Washington D.C. in as many months. This time, I got the chance to speak to Acting Secretary of Education John King, known primarily as former New York Commissioner of Education, his legacy tarnished by the mass opt-out movement across New York State. I had never met him until he got to D.C., so my only impression of him (mainly from articles, blogs, and memes) was that of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s puppet, placating to the hedge fund managers and charter school CEO’s wills and whims.

Since moving to D.C., he’s gotten a chance to hear me speak to him three times, and in two of those times, I got to ask questions that I hope would make him change course. Or at least I got to say that I told him what I felt to his face. I already felt like I won.

This conversation was about recruiting and retaining teachers as part of a nationwide policy. Adults like to sit in tables discussing possibilities, messaging items that might happen for chance if all the right elements are there. Sometimes, you hope the right people are there to deliver the message and make it actionable for the betterment of public education. Other times, you’re just hoping that the person with the most power in the room can differentiate between heartfelt, thoughtful statements and candy-coated trash. Having a seat at that table (along with folks I consider friends) assured that we’d take the conversation deeper, and that we did.

I can’t speak for everyone else in the room, but I can tell you what I said.

I can tell you that I put cultural competence on the table. I can tell you I spoke about the characteristics of a “bad teacher.” I can tell you that our highest need schools need our best, and it has to include strong professional development. I’m pretty sure I also mentioned that we need our teachers in these highest need schools to be looked at as actual professionals with their own set of skills. I specifically said I couldn’t stand the idea that certain teachers got seen as pedagogues and others as disciplinarians and deans, which ultimately determines their career track.

I can tell you Mr. King listened and wrote plenty of notes. I can’t tell you if, in the next 12 months, he’ll have the capacity or the political will to act upon what I mentioned.

There was a time, right before Race To The Top was enacted, that I might have said my feedback on this would create a significant shift in schools. I could have advocated for diversifying the teaching force and integration right when former Secretary Arne Duncan brought the hammer on the country with Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluations tied to test scores. But now, with the ESSA act, I have less confidence that there’s the political will to make that happen. Kicking the accountability game back to the states is the worst form of political ping-pong we’ll see in education.

In any case, I came out of there feeling like I spoke to what teachers go through on a daily basis. Whenever I’m in a position to be invited, as an unbought, unfiltered educator, I continue to push hard on the levers of equity and justice in ways I hope folks at the federal level can comprehend. I take this responsibility of having a voice seriously, which is why, when invited, I don’t half-step. As for Mr. King, who follows me on Twitter, I hope he’s willing to push past the education reforms that haven’t worked and actually ride this third wave, progressive and truly civil-rights focused.

My heart is exactly where it needs to be on these issues. I carry this weight with as much humility as I can. Hopefully, I did you all proud.

photo c/o