01/27/2011 01:09 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Classroom Teachers Collaborate With Arnie Duncan on Education Policy

On Tuesday President Obama made clear that while there are many challenges facing America's future, improving education is as the top of the list.

I believe we will only truly improve education in America if classroom teachers have a direct voice in influencing education policy. Far too many teachers believe that education policy, all too often, reflects worthy ideas but fails to address the reality of the problems they face within their classrooms. Teachers also know they have been missing from the debate about education policy, primarily because policy makers never ask what they think.

But that changed on December 17, 2010 when eight teachers from The VIVA Project met at the Department of Education with U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan and his staff for one and half hours to discuss about "Voices from the Classroom" the Viva Project's National Task Force Report.

These eight teachers had just met face to face for the first time the night before their meeting with Duncan. Their journey to Washington, D.C. began in September 2010 when they registered online and became members of The VIVA Project's National Idea Mine and offered their thoughts to this question:

Each year, the federal government spends billions to promote teacher quality. If you were President Obama's Secretary of Education, how would you direct these funds to meet the real-world classroom challenges of teachers and improve teacher quality and the effectiveness of professional development programs?

For 30 days, during the first phase of The VIVA Project, hundreds of teachers from 27 states offered ideas on how they would direct federal funds to improve "teacher quality" and then those ideas were voted on by their peers, VIVA Project members.

In the second phase The VIVA Project assembled a small group of these same teachers to serve as a task force to summarize the activity from the first phase and chose the most important ideas to be included in a report to Secretary Duncan. For the next six weeks the Viva Project National Task Force spent hundreds of hours, while continuing their full-time jobs, preparing recommendations to Secretary Duncan. On December 17th they had the opportunity to directly influence education policy and they seized it.

As the debate begins later this year in Congress on changes to No Child Left Behind let us hope more policymakers ask more teachers to be part of the discussion.

Remember Vice President Gore wearing a "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelet.

Here's hoping Secretary Duncan continues to ask a similar question "what would a classroom teacher do?"