Sunday, Chicago's Pioneer Plaza played home to "Education Nation," a forum on the state of learning in the United States.
The program featured a "Teacher Town Hall," a heated discussion on students, teachers, and the school environment itself, with a goal of trying to come up with ways to make things better.
A big theme for Sunday's event was supporting teachers, to help them help students learn. A key, many said, was professional development.
"All that goes back to how we prepare our teachers, how much we support our teachers," said Jeanetta Miller, assistant principal at Unity Junior High. "We can't just give them that evaluative tool and say you're good, you're bad. We need to teach them."
"It requires that administrators work together with teachers, instead of presenting one-size-fits-all approaches, but to provide professional development that is tailored to the unique needs of the professional teachers that they work with," said Oscar Newman, a 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Chicago Academy Elementary School.
Again and again, educators talked about the need to help teachers continually hone their skills, but also for more adept evaluators to look at how teachers are performing.
Newman called it a "poverty of imagination" to think that the problem with education in America is that there are a lot of bad teachers with tenure who can't lose their jobs. But teachers did acknowledge that performance should come more into play in keeping their jobs.
Sunday's forum used a live-polling technology to pose questions to the audience, and one poll hit that point directly. When asked, "Do you think teacher performance should be more important than seniority for teacher retention?" 75 percent of the educators in the audience said yes.
The second hour of the show started on the topic of whether under-performing schools should be shut down.
Beverly Allenbach, of Chopin Elementary School, bristled at the idea.
"I don't think we should be shutting down schools. I think we should be doing what other countries do, and we should be supporting those schools. We should be bringing in experts to work with the teachers, and we should be addressing the issues of poverty because, I think, it is about poverty," Allenbach said.
Another big topic: getting more parents more involved in their child's education.
"What we can do is bring parents into our buildings in ways that they can contribute to their students' success in ways that they feel comfortable contributing, instead of leaving everything hands-off and pretending there's not a very important third-party at the table," said Jen Thomas, a librarian at the School of the Arts.
When asked how to do that if the parent is missing in action, Thomas said that's less of a problem than you might think.
"The parents that are missing in action to the degree that they simply don't care about their children are parents I've never met," she said. "I have seen parents who are more hands-off than I would like, however it's not because they don't care. In many cases, it's because they're not sure in what ways they can most meaningfully contribute to the school environment, and it's our job to help them learn that."
No surprise, 84 percent of teachers in the room said funding was very important to student achievement. And in Illinois, the funding system was questioned.
"In Illinois, funding is determined by property taxes, 60 percent of the funding comes from property taxes, where in most states it's 30 percent," Allenbach said. "So the affluent areas in our suburbs see up to $24,000 per student per year, whereas our highest poverty areas see $4,000 per student."
Corey Stewart, of Urban Prep Academy, said his take-away from the town hall was class size.
"If we have smaller classroom sizes, then a teacher in the classroom has the ability to build relationships with the student in that classroom," Stewart said.
Sunday's event was the first in a series of teacher town halls to be held in other cities around the country. To share your thoughts and to learn more about how you can contribute to the conversation, go to EducationNation.com