Teacher Quality Documentary

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“Mitchell20: Teacher Quality is the Answer”, a new documentary that explores issues of teacher quality, was filmed at Mitchell School in Phoenix’ Isaac Elementary District. Executive Producer Kathy Wiebke, who also serves as Executive Director of the Arizona K12 Center, and Barnett Berry, the Founder and President of the Center for Teaching Quality discuss some of the issues the film brings to light.

Ted Simons: 20 teachers at Mitchell elementary school in Phoenix set out to improve their skills by looking to achieve national board certification. Their story is documented in "Mitchell 20", a film that premiers today in Phoenix. I'll talk with the executive producer and a national expert on teacher quality in a moment, but first here's a clip from "Mitchell 20".

Tina: I think one of the biggest complaints about the personal Development is that it's not meeting full to our classroom, whereas with national board everything you do is meaningful and applicable.

Linda-Darling Hammond: We have a lot of evidence that effective professional development that changes practice is both long in duration, it's connected to work with children, it's connected to work around the subject area, and it involves other colleagues in a reflection and coaching and inquiry process. And that kind of professional development in fact does lead to improvements in student learning.

Nancy Flanagan: It's not prescriptive; it goes beyond surface features of teaching and goes right down into the heart of teaching, which is causing learning. And teachers who can articulate the learning that they've caused, no matter how they did it, are valued.

Reuben: Make the teacher look like a superman, super teacher. Wow, I can accomplish all these standards, and it's something almost -- when I first glanced at them I thought they were impossible. But I started reading them, and going into them, and I thought to myself, I do these things. I just don't do them to the extent. So I want to just fine tune when I'm doing now, and then take to it that next step.

Ted Simons: Joining me now is the film's executive producer, Kathy Wiebke, who also direction NAU's Arizona K-12 center, which helps teachers obtain professional development. And Barnett Berry, president and CEO of the center for teaching quality, a research-based advocacy organization based in North Carolina. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us.

Kathy Wiebke: Thank you.
Barnett Berry: Thank you.
Ted Simons: As far as the film is concerned, what story does it tell?

Kathy Wiebke: I think it tells the story that quality teachers can be found everywhere. And we need them in our -- what Daniela will refer to as - our most deserving schools with our most deserving students.

Ted Simons: Daniela Robles is who you are referring to?
Kathy Wiebke: Yes.
Ted Simons: She was, kind of the ringleader in terms of getting certification?
Kathy Wiebke: Yes. In 2007 Daniela became, -- she achieved national board certification and she was disappointed at the lack of minority educators who were board certified so she recruited 20 teachers at her school. Out of those 20, all but three are minority educators, over half of them have English as their second language, and almost half were born outside of the United States. And grew up in very similar circumstances to the students they teach.

Ted Simons: What do you make of this story?

Barnett Berry: It's a fabulous story Ted. It tells the story of how the national board certification process can identify effective teachers, but also fuel school improvements. It also tells us that we have yet to tap into the incredible potential of many teacher leaders we have already in our schools to help improve our public education system.

Ted Simons: What's involved in getting certification? At least the kind of certification that Daniela got?

Barnett Berry: Well Cathy is an NBCT herself. So I'd like Kathy to answer that question, but it's similar to the certification process, the advanced certification process that engineers, architects, and even doctors go through.

Ted Simons: Take us through the process.

Kathy Wiebke: Teachers need, they summit four portfolio entries and each entry has extensive written commentary, where they have to provide clear consistent convincing evidence of the national board standards and their practice. They submit videotapes, student work samples, and all of it is designed to show student learning over time, and that they are teaching to this level of accomplished teaching standards. And then they sit for an exam afterwards.

Ted Simons: How many teachers aspire to this? Obviously whey an inspirational story here. She inspired others to follow suit. But realistically, what are you seeing?

Kathy Wiebke: It's less than 5% of the teaching population attempts national board certification.

Ted Simons: Why is that?

Barnett Berry: It's expensive, like other advanced certification processes, but more importantly, very few teachers, especially in the schools have the time to go through the process. About three to 400 hours of intense analysis of evidence and data goes into that portfolio process. And many teachers in these schools just do not have the time.

Kathy Wiebke: One of the things that especially in our schools in a district like Isaac that's incorrect of action, according to NCLB, is most of their professional development is very, very prescriptive and what these teachers will say is when they made the choice to do national board certification it was the first time they were given the power or choice, whatever we want to call it, to do something outside of what has been prescribed.

Ted Simons: Talk about districts, administration, are they helping along these lines? Could they help a whole lot more? What are seeing?

Barnett Berry: They could help a whole lot more, and there's some great places that are doing great things, and superintendents and principals who really enable teachers to go through this process, help them find the time, help use the data to fuel school improvement. And quite frankly other places, Ted, superintendents and principals are threatened by teacher leadership.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Kathy Wiebke: I think for this particular case one of the reasons why the Arizona K-12 center got involved early on, it was the first time in Arizona where we had 20 teachers at one school, and what this national board certification, people often see it as something in our more affluent communities. To have 20 teachers at an inner city school and we had significant administrative support in the principal, she set aside a significant amount of money to support these teachers, she looked at every barrier that might be in the way and really worked to solve that. That is very unique, so we wanted to learn from them as well.

Ted Simons: Again, we're talking about this particular school and this particular teacher, who really inspired everyone. The film obviously focuses on her and the school; we have another clip here that focuses on Daniela Robles. Let's take a look.

Daniela Robles: I think right now, there is a move to eradicate public education. And I think that move has momentum because it's so easy to point the finger and to say, not there. They're not doing it there, because their kids can't do it. Their kids speak another language. There's an assumption that all Hispanics are less capable. There is an assumption that the majority of Hispanics are illegal. There is an assumption the majority of our students are illegal. That's what the world thinks. That assumption, there's an underlying feeling that because we're going to assume they're illegal, because we're going to assume they are less than, that it's OK if we know the schools they attend aren't the same as the schools that other children attend.

Ted Simons: You watch this, and you see these kids, and you hear these assumptions, but then you wonder, why has there only been, in this particular district, only one certified teacher, and we just saw her in that film clip? How can that change?

Kathy Wiebke: I think it's by giving teachers a voice. And giving them the time and resources and support to pursue national board certification. To observe other teachers in classrooms, to observe practice, to talk about it. We just don't provide that time and we don't provide those resources.

Barnett Berry: I think if parents saw more of Danielle and other teachers like her, they would demand their superintendents and principals for more teachers to go through this process. Of course we think "Mitchell 20" can tell that story.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, as far as the film is concerned, what do you want this film to do? What do you want this film to say and who do you want it to say it to?

Barnett Berry: I think what it is saying is we have extraordinary numbers of great teachers in this country, we -- more teachers in schools to come from the communities in which they're teaching, and we need to find more Daniela's and help teachers like her spread her expertise to her colleagues across the country.

Ted Simons: The message from this, you want to get out from this film? We're talking about an inner city school in Phoenix, the median family income is below poverty level, a third of the kids aren't speaking English at home. The whole nine yards. We're familiar with these schools around town, and yet this is happening there. What do you want the film to say?

Kathy Wiebke: I want it to change the conversation in America. I really -- we've been doing a lot of finger pointing at teachers, making them the blame, and really these are bigger societal issues. And so for me it's that great teachers are everywhere. And that we need support these teachers and we as a community, as parents, as community leaders, as teachers, as principals, we need to get together and help our kids.

Barnett Berry: Teachers are the solution, not the problem. That's the main message of this film.

Ted Simons: Are you seeing anyone following? Has inspiration from the film started to make some waves?

Kathy Wiebke: Absolutely. We've had over 12 cohorts throughout Arizona, very rural areas, to very urban areas to very suburban areas doing exactly what they've done at Mitchell.

Ted Simons: This documentary will be shown around town?

Kathy Wiebke: At the AMC Arizona center AMC Theater, October 14th through 20th. We hope people will see it.

Ted Simons: It's good to have you both here. Thank you so much for joining us.
Barnett Berry: Thank you so much, Ted.

Kathy Wiebke : Executive Producer and Executive Director of the Arizona K12 Center,Barnett Berry :The Founder and President of the Center for Teaching Quality

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