Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 8
Teacher Fellows Tread
Fine Line at Ed. Dept.
By Madeline Will
When Betsy DeVos was confirmed
as U.S. Secretary of Education,
friends and acquaintances asked
Anna Baldwin if she would resign
as a teacher fellow in the department. Most of DeVos' stances go
against Baldwin's principles and
beliefs-but resigning was never
something she considered.
"Why would I give up the opportunity to possibly influence her thinking?" said Baldwin, a high school
teacher in Arlee, Mont. "There's always the possibility that something
I said or something another fellow
said is going to change her mind."
Baldwin was a classroom teacher
ambassador fellow in 2016-17, one
of 10 teacher and principal fellows
who transitioned from Obama's
Education Department to Trump's.
The fellowship is a one-year program, although some educators stay
on for a second year. Fellows are
asked to represent the teacher perspective to department policymakers, including the education secretary.
They have been tapped to take leadership roles in several department
initiatives, including Teach to Lead,
which promotes teacher leadership.
The position can be inherently
contradictory: Teachers often disagree with federal education policy,
and fellows represent the profession
while also being a part of the organization that develops those policies.
Fellows who served under Secretary
Arne Duncan, for example, said
there were many times when they
disagreed with him.
But public school teachers particularly distrust DeVos, a fierce advocate for school choice, making the
role of the fellows especially fraught.
Educators want to know: Will the
DeVos Education Department take
their voices seriously?
Experiences So Far
DeVos has only been in office for
six months, making it a challenge to
draw clear comparisons between her
department and that of the previous
administration, in which educators
say teacher voice was smoothly incorporated into operations.
Fellows who have worked with
DeVos say the secretary listens intently in her conversations with them:
She takes notes, asks questions, and
seems genuinely curious about the
teacher perspective. But they have not
yet seen concrete results from those
"The million-dollar question is,
what is the result of hearing that
feedback?" said Patrick Kelly, a
high school teacher from Columbia,
S.C., who ended a two-year stint in
the department this July. "And I
think that's a book still to be written, because it is a relatively young
In September, a new class of fellows is coming in: one principal, one
school counselor, and four teachers. (This year is the first that all
school-based educators, including
counselors, have been able to apply.)
These educators applied after the
change in administration.
Five fellows are part-time and work
remotely, with one teacher working
full-time at the department. There
are plans to hire a second full-time
fellow as well, department spokeswoman Liz Hill said.
The fellowship-which was
founded in 2008 by Margaret Spellings, who was the second education
secretary under President George W.
Bush-is funded through discretionary dollars, so each secretary has to
decide whether to keep the program.
Soon after DeVos was confirmed,
the 2016-17 fellows met with her
to pitch the program, stressing the
importance of including the teacher
perspective in the department.
"Secretary DeVos was incredibly
receptive to the fellowship from the
word go," Kelly said. "I think she's
demonstrated from the beginning
that she saw value to the program."
DeVos' willingness to listen has
led to cautious optimism among the
fellows who worked with her.
But while "it's great to say nice
things about teachers ... we want
to hear what the policy is that will
support teachers in school and how
you're going to support teacher voice,"
said Sean McComb, a high school
teacher in Baltimore County, Md.,
schools who served as a fellow in
2016-17, leaving in July. "[That] has
yet to be spoken to or made."
Getting Face Time
Secretaries Duncan and John B.
King Jr., both hosted a monthly "tea
with teachers" session, where educators were invited to share their
concerns and discuss innovative
practices happening at their schools
with the secretary. Right now, there
is no similar program in place in the
In July, the previous crop of fellows did organize a roundtable with
former teachers and DeVos to discuss teacher retention challenges.
They presented the issue to DeVos
through the lens of school choice, in
an effort to find common ground.
"We tried to draw that connection-that even if you want to advocate for choice, you have to address
the issue of developing and recruiting and supporting and retaining
great teachers because any kind
of school environment requires exceptional teachers in order to help
students maximize their potential,"
At the roundtable, "the secretary
was very receptive, asked great
questions, and has discussed these
things several times since then, so I
feel like it was beneficial," said Melody Arabo, an elementary teacher
from West Bloomfield, Mich., who is
starting her second year as a fellow.
8 | EDUCATION WEEK | August 30, 2017 | www.edweek.org
Brittany Greeson for Education Week
Will their voices be heard?
Melody Arabo, a teacher at
Keith Elementary School in
West Bloomfield Hills, Mich.,
will be commuting back and
forth this year between her
job as a teacher ambassador
fellow at the U.S. Department
of Education and her home
in Michigan-part of her
commitment to representing
her fellow teachers.
I ... or another
fellow said is
going to change
2016-17 Teacher Fellow
She will be working full-time this
year, and hopes to organize additional roundtables for DeVos to hear
from teachers directly.
'Buffer Between Two Worlds'
One of the key responsibilities of
the fellowship is looking over, with
a teacher's eye, the speeches the secretary will deliver and other messaging from the department.
Fellows who worked under King
and Duncan said their edits were
frequently incorporated into the
final versions of the texts.
The DeVos communications team
has tapped fellows for this task, McComb said. But so far, he added, the
practice hasn't been used as consistently as the prior administration.
"There have been some times
when suggestions have been made
about language that would become
problematic were not heeded, and
again, maybe that is [the administration still] learning how to
use teacher voice more effectively,
or maybe what they want to say
doesn't align with the feedback the
fellows give to them," McComb said.
For example, Baldwin looked over
the advance copy of a speech DeVos
would deliver to the 2017 state
teachers of the year. She suggested
DeVos include personal anecdotes
of teachers who inspired her, which
the secretary did-but Baldwin
also suggested that speech writers
cut the line, "I see my job as getting
Washington out of the way, so that
you can do yours."
"I was like, 'no, first of all, that's
too political for this event,'" Baldwin
said. "Second of all, we need some of
the protections of Washington in our
public schools to ensure equity and
other rights that I think are important. I said she needs to take that
out, and of course, she left it in."
When DeVos did deliver that line
to the teachers, the room that had
cheered at her references to inspiring educators fell quiet.
Still, fellows in both administrations said they have been encouraged to give honest feedback, even
if it's critical.
"Everybody has been open to our
thoughts, even if it's different from
what they expected, because that's
what we're there for," Arabo said.
"I kind of like to think that we're a
buffer between those two worlds."
"If you're not willing to say the
things that might be unpopular
with the current administration,"
Kelly added, "then you have to sit
back and assess whether the fellowship has value in the first place."
Several of the past fellows said they
did not agree with the scope of DeVos'
plans to increase school choice. And
the proposed elimination of Title II
funding for teacher professional development and class-size reduction
was a hard blow to many of the fellows, who had advocated to use the
money more effectively.
A Hard Role to Balance
Maddie Fennell, the executive
director of the Nebraska State Education Association served as a fellow from 2013-15 and as a Teacher
Leader in Residence from 2015-16.
She said teachers who work at the
department must balance their role
as a fellow with advocating for students and the teaching profession.
"I think that's a difficult role for
[teacher ambassador fellows] to
have to play," she said. "I know that
there's some discussion internal to
the entire [fellowship] class right now
about ... how do we handle things
with the DeVos administration?
"There's a lot of discussion around,
how do you appropriately use the
voice so you advocate for kids and
for teachers, but you don't close off
avenues for advocacy?"
Fellows have to learn how to
speak hard truths in a way that's
productive, Kelly said.
"That's the hardest line: How do
you speak truth in an environment
where you may not agree with everything, but do so in a way that maintains lines of communication so that
hopefully, ultimately, policies will
shift?" he said.
But, Kelly said, fellows have to remember that they represent educators nationwide, and they shouldn't
"destroy the platform" of the fellowship. Instead, fellows said they tried
to meet DeVos and her team on common ground and keep the teacher
perspective at the forefront.
"To me, the opportunity to be an
influence from the inside for teachers, for students, for what I believe
is best for all children and for equity, was an important opportunity
to take," McComb said. "I think this
administration, from what we saw,
the door's open. It's just been yet
to be determined for me how much
listening is going to influence what
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - August 30, 2017
Education Week - August 30, 2017
Delayed Start to School Tough Call for Parents
More Americans Give Top Grades To Schools in Latest PDK Poll
An Unlikely ESSA Provision: Warning on Copyright Piracy
Grad. Rate Rule Creates Quandary for States
State Chiefs’ Pay Squeezed Between Duties, Politics
News in Brief
For Most Students, Closing Failing Schools Doesn’t Help
Obama-Era School Snack Rules Slow to Change Students’ Habits
The District Where Principals Run Their Schools—and Teach
Teacher Fellows Tread Fine Line At Ed. Dept
Federal Judge Finds ‘Racial Animus’ In Ariz. Ethnic-Studies Ban
How States Will Slice ESSA Block-Grant Pie
Hiring Deals Include More Than Base Pay
Monique Darrisaw-Akil: We Can Fix Credit Recovery
Bernard Gassaway: Public School Officials Are Artificially Inflating Graduation Rates. I’ve Seen It Myself
John Kline: ESSA Co-Author: Enforce the Law
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Miriam Kurtzig Freedman: Is the SAT Still Valid?
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - State Chiefs’ Pay Squeezed Between Duties, Politics
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 2
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 3
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - News in Brief
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 5
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - Obama-Era School Snack Rules Slow to Change Students’ Habits
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - The District Where Principals Run Their Schools—and Teach
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - Teacher Fellows Tread Fine Line At Ed. Dept
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 9
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 10
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 11
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 12
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 13
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - How States Will Slice ESSA Block-Grant Pie
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 15
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 16
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - Hiring Deals Include More Than Base Pay
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - Bernard Gassaway: Public School Officials Are Artificially Inflating Graduation Rates. I’ve Seen It Myself
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - John Kline: ESSA Co-Author: Enforce the Law
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - Letters
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 21
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - 23
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - Miriam Kurtzig Freedman: Is the SAT Still Valid?
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - CW1
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - CW2
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - CW3
Education Week - August 30, 2017 - CW4