I spent most of last week in DC, attending the National Writing Project's Spring Meeting and meeting with each of the four Rhode Island legislators and their staff--Ciccilline, Langevin, Reed, and Whitehouse--on behalf of teacher professional development, SEED grants, and the Rhode Island Writing Project. I've come away from this experience (my third year lobbying Congress) feeling more hopeful about the way in which the tides may be turning.
Information, especially information about legislation in education, is trickled down to us from the top echelons of government like a slow IV morphine drip: enough to dull the pain, but not enough to overdose. Just look at how slowly word about Common Core and PARCC assessments has been rationed to us; I have known for two years what some teachers are only now finding out (that the PARCC assessments are real, and they're coming, and they're going to drive everything until we put an end to it). This past week, I've had the equivalent of a legislative overdose that was intense yet also eye-opening and surprisingly positive. Unlike the past two years, where the voices of the Tea Party drowned out all others, it seemed, I've returned to Rhode Island feeling that the world of education may not be doomed after all. We have allies in the highest places, and I can't wait to tell you about who they are:
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)--Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee (wherein lies all the power) and a fan of education appropriations and SEED (Supporting Effective Educator Development) grants (the lifeline of the NWP these days). Though earmarks have been eliminated completely in the House, many members of the Senate still favor the notion of an "appropriation," or money that is directed to a specific purpose as part of a larger bill. The NWP likes appropriations! Our funding was cut the day that the House of Reps eliminated earmarks. Part of the lobbying work of the NWP is to restore the notion of an earmark--or an appropriation (or, even better, guaranteed funding) to the legislative process.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)--He is passionate about middle level education and any efforts to improve middle school students' engagement in learning both in and out of school. By default, a fan of NWP and RIWP, especially vis a vis digital literacies and connected learning.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA)--Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies and a big fan of the National Writing Project. Harkin wants to rewrite and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which could be a legacy move for him, as he's retiring at the end of his current term. There is a slim chance that part of the reauthorization of ESEA could include guaranteed funding for national PD organizations like the NWP. Stay tuned...
I also found allies in our other RI legislators, who were eager to hear about the work we are doing around teacher leadership with our SEED grant, which we were awarded last year, as well as about our successful Spring Conference, Writing Camps for Youth, and work with novice teachers and adjunct writing instructors at Rhode Island College. Our work at the RIWP has grown richer in these lean days, a paradox of sorts that also points to the resourcefulness of teachers and the strong bonds of our Writing Project network.
So much of my energy as Director of the RIWP has been spent trying to create moments of and spaces for good things to happen for teachers, and so much of that work happens in the equivalent of a dimly lit back room, a private space where no one can hear us. Last week, it was great to bring our work at the RIWP into the light of day, to hold it up against the work of other sites, and to present it to those who represent us in the lawmaking chambers. Much like writing this blog post, making our work public, more and more and more and more, is a necessity to survival, as a community, as a profession, as intellectuals. We can no longer afford to stay put in our dimly lit back rooms.