Despite the highly politicized climate around education, there was little such rhetoric at the first Teachers United conference on Thursday. That may surprise some — like the handful of protesters gathered outside — who view the three-year-old organization as little more than a union-busting wedge.
True, Teachers United has supported charter schools and opposed several aspects of tenure, particularly the “last in, first out” seniority-based hiring policies that are dear to labor. Yet inside the Transformative Teaching Conference at UW’s Alder Hall, educators representing nearly 30 Washington school districts were learning from one another about adolescent brain science and promising trends in education technology.
Keynote speaker Erin Jones, however, may be a politician-in-the-making. In her half-hour talk, Jones, 43, a former English and foreign language teacher, discussed her mission to change the way educators are trained, as well as the eye-opening experience of watching her own African-American children navigate public schools.
“I’m never going to college because college is for white people,” Jones’ 6-year-old daughter said one evening at the dinner table.
Much of Jones’ career — from the classroom to administration — has focused on equity in schools, and she says she is considering a run for Randy Dorn’s seat as Superintendent of Public Instruction. So below, a quick rundown of her position on two hot-button issues:
Common Core: “As a teacher, I don’t think that Common Core necessarily will help or hurt us,” Jones said in an interview. “The content is fine, but really, it’s all about the teaching. People are really panicking about Common Core when I don’t think that Common Core is the right thing to panic about. It’s become a distraction.”
McCleary: “It’s important that we fund education at a higher level. Washington’s being 40th in the nation is, to me, criminal. But money is not our biggest issue. It’s how we spend the money we have, and how we are supporting teachers.”
Despite internal wrangling about whether to jump into the political fray, Jones is no newbie to those waters. She was invited to the White House in 2013 as a Champion of Change on education, served three years as an assistant state superintendent for student achievement in Olympia and testified before state Supreme Court on the McCleary school funding lawsuit.
“We can’t do the same old things because it’s not serving our students well — at all,” she said in an interview. “Teachers are teaching the same way they were taught themselves, 20 and 30 years ago. But kids are not the same.”
Here is a video of Jones speaking at the 2013 Washington State PTA convention:
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