The state of education in our region and across America was front and center in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon as Education Nation kicked off.
TODAY Show anchor Ann Curry began the weeklong event with a Teacher Town Hall at the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall. The two-hour long televised discussion focused on successes and challenges facing students and educators in area school systems.
The goal of the town hall was to brainstorm ideas on how to reinvent education as well as discuss what’s working and what's not working in the classroom.
Correctly measuring the success of students was a major part of the town hall discussion. Most of the educators in attendance felt traditional standardized testing did not go far enough in measuring the entire student.
"It's how do we make the tests themselves a more authentic assessment," panelist and West Philadelphia High School teacher Simon Hauger asked.
Relating the issue to real world experiences, Hauger said: "In shop class, you don't get a C in breaks. We don't want our breaks to work 70 percent of the time. You either get an A or you get an F."
Other educators told of their experiences with motivating students to learn first by identifying their passion in what's considered non-core disciplines like art, sports or music.
Many of those programs are perpetually in fear of being cut as budgets are slashed or funding dries up -- a timely issue for many districts in the area right now.
The Philadelphia School District faces a $629 million deficit and statewide, districts face proposed cuts of more than $1 billion.
"We either want quality education where our children can compete or we don't. We can't have it both ways," said Philadelphia School District Supt. Arlene Ackerman.
Ackerman, who's been under fire for months about the state of the city's education system, says funding cuts are "devastating and unacceptable."
Panelists called for a change in the education funding formula by removing property taxes from the equation. The hope would be not only to solve funding issues, but also disparities between poor and wealthy districts.
"The fact that the funding of your education is determined by the zip code that you're in…I think that's an injustice. I think that's a civil rights issue and I think that needs to be addressed," said Philadelphia charter school teacher and panelist Miki Poy.
The necessity of social services such as health and guidance programs in schools was also brought up.
"If students aren't healthy…then a child cannot learn," noted one former Philadelphia public school teacher. She went on to say, in her experience, some students would only have access to health care if it were provided through the school.
When polled by Curry, the audience said the number one issue impacting student achievement in the classroom was non-academic barriers such as poverty, social issues and family problems.
The profession of teaching was also reviewed during the confab. When asked what was needed to be successful as an educator, those polled said they would like more time to work with colleagues and additional technology.
The need for mentoring programs and autonomy in the teaching profession was also highlighted -- as teachers yearn be creative in the classroom.
"Teachers aren't going to be clamoring to get into the classroom if the teaching profession continues to be thrown under the bus at every single opportunity," said panelist Diana Laufenberg.
Laufenberg, a teacher at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, says the conversation around teachers both in the community and in the media needs to change so that everyone can be successful.
The Teacher Town Hall was just the first in a weeklong series of events surrounding Education Nation Philadelphia. The public is invited to tour the free Education Nation Experience on the lawn of the National Constitution Center. The 200,000-square-foot interactive exhibit showcases the changing face of education in America.