George Lucas Educational Foundation

Big Thinkers: Barnett Berry on Education Reform

The president and CEO of the advocacy organization Center for Teaching Quality lays out a roadmap for reforming our education system and improving the school environment for "teacherpreneurs."
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We need more highly adaptive solutions on how to help a variety of children reach these high standards. There can be no more top down one size fits all approach to school reform.

My name is Barnett Berry and I’m the founder and President of the Center for Teaching Quality, a policy research organization that’s dedicated to advancing a twenty first century results oriented profession. Waiting for Superman is a powerful film that elicits some very important emotion in all of us about the urgency for change and to serve children in high need communities. But unfortunately the film is based upon I believe the assumption that most people in our public school system now are not doing what needs to be done because they don’t care or they’re not motivated or they’re just incapable and that I believe is way, way off the mark. If we’re not getting the job done the way it needs to be done and in many places we’re not getting the job done is because we don’t have a system in place to support well meaning educators who really want to make a difference. They need more preparation, they need more opportunities to work with each other and to share their practices in a highly accountable way and they need more time to work with a whole array of other support providers for children, especially in our high need communities.

Barnett: In the year 2030 we have a very hopeful vision that we believe can be realized and it’s built upon four emergent realities and we call them emergent realities because we’re beginning to see bits of them if you will, beginning to emerge and they are what we believe must be in place if we’re going to have this results oriented profession and they include one a new learning ecology for both students and teachers that not only provides a kind of twenty four slash seven just in time learning environment for both, but also allow teachers in particular with new tools and new software and new smart phones that we haven’t even imagined, a way to account for who’s learning, who’s not, why and also help the public understand the kind of ambitious goals that we’re trying to achieve. We also believe that as teachers work more in cyber space there’s going to be a greater need for teachers to work in brick and mortar buildings that have become twenty four slash seven kind of hubs of the community. So we’re calling for emergent reality too that to have teachers working both in and out of cyber space. We also believe as our third emergent reality that more teachers need to work as a team and we oughta strategically recruit and place teachers according to their strengths and the needs of the children they serve. But also build a profession that makes it much more possible for teachers to kind of move in and out of different positions, in and out of different school districts, in and out of different roles at different points in their career. A much more differentiated career pathway built on the needs of kids and then finally to drive it all is our emergent reality number four which is all about teacherpreneurs, teacherpreneurs are those teachers who are out best, best classroom practitioners who teach regularly children, never lose that touch because they are working with children and serving them on a regular basis. But they have time, space, geography and reward to spread their expertise again in and out of cyber space.

The first thing I would say is find other like minded colleagues, it is not easy because I know you’re working very, very hard every day to serve the needs of kids in your community, but there are plenty of other teachers who really want something different and they’re beginning to kind of organize themselves both formally and informally. Find those that actually have the focus that you have, the hopes that you have, the dreams that you have and begin to learn from each other and to organize. I would also ask teachers to go to their unions and tell them it is time to change dramatically. We want you as you union leaders to turn our organizations into much more like professional deals, where the focus is on teaching and learning and where the unions themselves could actually help broker these relationships in and out of cyber space and to demand excellence but also support excellence amongst all of us.

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Video Credits


  • Betty Ray

Director of Video Programming

  • Zachary Fink

Camera / Editor

  • Doug Keely

Video Programming Producers

  • Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Mariko Nobori

The Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) is a non-profit advocacy organization based in North Carolina. They are dedicated to improving education by advancing the teaching profession through targeted research, outreach to policy-makers, and fostering teacher leadership.

More Edutopia Big Thinkers

Edutopia Resources on Education Reform


Discussion Group: Reform Starts Here

Blog: Edutopia's Six Strategies for Reform

Blog: 40,000 Teachers Speak Out on Fixing U.S. Schools in New National Survey

Article: Education Reform at the Heart of New Movies

Blog: Turning the Tide: Taking Competition Out of School Reform

Blog: Dealing with the Reform Bullies

Article: How to Get a Whole Community on Board for School Reform

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Jason Breh's picture
Jason Breh
Principal @ Berlin Middle School, Upstate New York

As a building leader, one of the most difficult, but highly rewarding initiatives that a 'principal' can do is build capacity of their staff. Really, what we're talking about here is building-in avenues for teachers and othe educators to re-invest in their own educational capitol. If he/she is being asked to differentiate teaching for students then the opportunties afforded must also be 'differentiated' so teachers are not just teaching students, but effectively teaching the students they have any given day, week, etc. Education is also providing for the growth of their staff, not just exercising a growth model for students. This is wonderful to see as it systemically builds the whole system based on high expectations of all within. I'm very excited to afford my team of educators unique professional opportunities (even more to come this year!) and my hope is that the community will benefit.

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