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Lily Eskelsen's picture

I knew what was coming. I knew from the pre-show questions the producer asked me off camera how “balanced” the Friends would be.

Q. Wouldn’t you say that the key to reform is to fire bad teachers, which is now impossible?
A. Well, I’m so glad you asked the question because a lot of people out there don’t understand that all teachers have is a fair way for a good teacher to defend herself if she is treated unfairly and that process is develo...

Q. Excuse me, but wouldn’t you say that it’s impossible to reform schools because unions protect bad teachers from being fired?
A. Again, there’s a lot of misunderstanding. Our unions reformed teacher pay and dismissal processes years ago to protect good people from being fired because an administrator didn’t like a teacher’s religion or wanted to pay men more than women or lay off black teachers before white teachers. We work to make sure good people are protected from discrim...

Q. Excuse me again, but wouldn’t you say that the problem with schools today comes down to bad teachers and the unions that protect them?
A. Oh fer cryin out loud are you totally out of your mi...

So, I knew what was coming.

I had my few minutes on Fox & Friends to discuss what needed to be done to help the children who live in our country’s most challenged neighborhoods and who come to school with every disadvantage imaginable.

I knew the questions would all be hostile. I knew that the guest on my right would blame our teachers. I knew the guest on my left would blame our unions. I didn’t want to blame anybody. I wanted to talk about Putnam City West High School.

I wanted to talk about how the National Education Association had invited teachers and education support professionals and administrators and parents and community leaders to come together and find new answers where the old ones weren’t working. All over the country, folks stood up and said, “I’m in.”

As part of our Priority Schools campaign, all over the country we have stories of courageous innovators who brought diverse voices together, not to blame, but to find answers. At Putnam City West High School they found ways to make their school more inviting to parents and to help their students see that graduation was a key to college and a different kind future.

It’s working. Graduation rates are up. Attendance rates are up. Parents are coming to school to find out about how to fill out college scholarship applications. English scores, a prerequisite for graduation, are up.

I wanted to talk about Helena, Montana where they changed the way they rewarded teachers on the salary schedule. The old salary schedules solved many old problems of pay discrimination – men used to be paid more than women; white teachers used to be paid more than black teachers. But in Helena, the educators and administrators and school board wanted to move beyond non-discrimination. They wanted to move towards something that would assure their students had the best prepared, most effective teachers in the world. They wanted something that would have the best teachers in neighboring districts fighting to teach in Helena public schools.

It’s working. Teachers develop a specific, defensible and approved career and professional development path that has to be tailor-made to show measurable impact on the students they serve. Each individual is evaluated on successfully meeting the plan, its deadlines and showing clear, objective evidence that students are benefiting from that plan.

What I didn’t realize was that ten minutes on camera is equivalent to approximately one eye blink. The first question was on the Texas Textbook Tension. (No, it’s not a good idea to make things up like ‘All the Founding Fathers had the same religious faith’ and teach it to students as an historic fact.) But that only took 3 minutes to get through. Plenty of time left.

Then a commercial message. Two minutes.

Then reform! But the question was wrapped around the cruel publicity stunt in Rhode Island where the entire faculty was fired over a stalemate in contract negotiations and the shouting began in stereo for the “only” way to “reform”: Fire all the teachers. As I was ready to charge back with “Putnam City West High!” or “Helena, Montana” or “The best things happening in schools today are happening WITH the teachers and support staff and their union!” it was over.

The host was thanking us nicely, saying we were all out of time, and next up...

So the best things happening didn’t get on TV that day. But it’s not too late. Get a camera and a reporter out to those no-drama miracles that can be found all over our great country. And explain to the confused journalists who approach those quiet buildings looking for out-of-control kids or angry parents or picket signs that the noise of reform is often the sound of children laughing and creating and learning. That kind of quiet might not make great TV.

But it does make a great public school. That’s a story that still deserves to be told.

Have you told your story to your members of Congress? Visit Speak Up for Education and Kids and take action.

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