What (the best) teachers think

Last week, 50 “highly effective” teachers — as defined by a number of measures, including value-added test scores in some cases — descended on New York City to show off their skills to tourists and other passersby in Rockefeller Center.* NBC flew them in as a part of its Education Nation series, and along with stints of teaching in public, they met with various movers and shakers in the education world, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp.

Teacher Jaime Escalante (featured in the movie "Stand and Deliver")

All of the teachers are back in their classrooms now, but it looks like we’ll hear from them again in the near future. Jon Schnur, CEO and co-founder of New Leaders for New Schools, was behind the plan to bring the teachers to Education Nation and says it was originally conceived of as a one-time thing. The teachers, however, were thrilled to be asked their opinions about the important policy questions of the day, and liked the idea of becoming a more formal group.

Now, Schnur says, he’s working on getting them together again this winter. “A lot of them said they’d never had such an opportunity to engage in macro-policy,” he says. “They had a lot of energy to figure out how to build on this, and find more ways to be involved and share practices.”

The teachers were picked using a variety of methods, from word-of-mouth to value-added test scores. They also come from across the ideological spectrum – some are active in their unions, while others were quite critical of unions during the Education Nation events.

Schnur sees the potential for these teachers to help connect macro-policy to educational practices happening on the ground in classrooms, and the other way around: “Too often policymakers and classroom educators work in silos. People are making policy in a way that is not grounded directly in what’s been learned out of the most effective classrooms.”

Some might wonder if that isn’t the role teachers’ unions play, or should play. Schnur says his group of teachers can act as a “supplement to a lot of other bridges that are already out there.” He added: “We’re looking to have rich dialogue among teachers. We’re not looking to speak with one voice.”

(*Disclosure: Among the teachers invited to participate in Education Nation is my sister-in-law.)