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An Interview with Yolie Flores

The education firebrand follows her reforms at LAUSD with community-based drive to reform tough districts.

Haven't heard of Yolie Flores? You will soon. And if you've been fighting for teacher quality but need more allies, she might be your new best friend. The educator who helped revolutionize Los Angeles's sprawling school system has just launched a national organization to ratchet up the conversation around teacher quality by, among other things, getting parents seriously involved in school reform efforts.

Called Communities for Teaching Excellence (C4TE), Flores's new organization is a Gates Foundation-funded advocacy group whose initial focus will be the four "deep dive" Gates districts-Memphis, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Hillsborough County (Florida)-which were awarded $335 million to overhaul teacher evaluation and support. If Flores's past accomplishments are any indication, C4TE won't be content to put out reports and hold polite press conferences: Flores's four-year stint on the LAUSD board included pushing through a controversial process that gives teachers and outside nonprofits a chance to help fix the district's most challenged schools each year.

Q What exactly is C4TE hoping to accomplish in the coming years?
A We want to ensure that when districts and unions agree to teacher effectiveness reforms, these efforts go to scale and are sustained over time. And in sites where there are not yet agreements in place, we want to help empower communities to push for these reforms. We want to lift up best practices so that other districts and school systems across the country can see that this work can be done.

Q Where and when will C4TE's efforts first start being felt on the ground?
A In September, we facilitated, in partnership with the Hillsborough County PTA, the first gathering of parents to talk about teacher effectiveness reforms taking place in their district. In Pittsburgh, our partnership with A+ Schools has engaged over 100 parents to interview teachers about the reforms taking place.

Q Some educators say they feel like reformers have been conducting a "war on teachers" over the past few years. How is this different?
A We start with a core value that all students deserve effective teaching, and follow this with a core value which emphasizes that teachers must be supported early and often. Communities for Teaching Excellence is committed to finding ways to build a bridge, not conduct a war. The only war we will fight is the war on the achievement gap for poor kids and kids of color.

Q What is "fair evaluation," and how is it different from the current system or what reformers have proposed in recent years?
A We believe that a "fair evaluation" is one that gives teachers constructive feedback on a regular basis, backed up with needed support, so that they can improve their practice. These evaluations must be used as diagnostic tools. Teachers want and deserve better and more frequent feedback.

Does C4TE take positions on hot-button issues like ending LIFO ("last in/first out"), lengthening the tenure process, publishing teachers' value-added ratings, or limiting teacher strike rights?
A We have an opinion about evaluations being developed with multiple measures that include student assessments. However, we do not take a position on the weights for each of these measures. We have also taken a position on equity, meaning that we need to prioritize putting the most effective teachers in classrooms with students who need them most. On the more controversial issues, like LIFO or publishing teachers' value-added ratings, we have not yet taken a formal position.

Q What are you doing to help inform and encourage parents to get active?
A Communities for Teaching Excellence is developing parent-friendly materials to help them understand the system, what great teaching looks like, and how to advocate at a school and district level on teacher quality reforms. We will join them in honoring the teaching profession but help them challenge a system that has not invested in that profession, developed the adequate human resource systems, or put in place policies to promote good teaching.

Q Are the No Child Left Behind waivers good or bad if schools are no longer required to send out letters when a child's teacher isn't "highly qualified"?
A Parental notification about teacher qualifications is one of a number of issues around the waivers. We believe parents have a right to be informed so that they can be active partners in their child's education and can make sound decisions about what is best for their child. But we also know the current "highly qualified teacher" requirement should be viewed as a requirement to enter the profession and not what keeps you in the classroom.

Q Do you support or oppose the overall NCLB waiver proposal as it's been presented?
A Assuming that Secretary Duncan is very thoughtful and deliberative in determining which states receive a waiver-and maintains a laser-like focus on those committed to closing the achievement gap and preparing all students for success in college and career-we believe the waivers could be beneficial. Providing districts with temporary relief from the aggressive AYP targets, in exchange for focusing on areas such as developing and implementing improved teacher evaluation systems, will do much more to increase student achievement than simply setting arbitrary math and reading proficiency targets.

Q Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Geoffrey Canada, or Diane Ravitch-which reformer (or critic of reform) do you relate to most, and why?
A I probably relate most to Geoffrey Canada because of his work directly in the community, his fearlessness, and his tenacity. Now if I could only raise as much money as he has!

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