It is with great disappointment that I read the “manifesto” by public school chancellors and educators for our nation’s schools in the Washington Post Outlook section today on “How to fix our schools.”
I do acknowledge that the educators who signed off on this manifesto believe that “the task of reforming the country’s public schools begins with us.” And that’s the problem. Real change doesn’t happen because we threaten professionals who are dismissed if their students don’t score high enough on tests. The educators note, “There isn’t a business in America that would survive if it couldn’t make personal decision based on performance.” And that’s another problem. Education is not a business. It’s an experience. The “clients” are students, their families, and society and the intricate web of interconnections and demands among them. As a teacher, I am insulted by the current reform movement. There is no easy “fix” or one set of tools to measure children’s learning. We are professionals, not technocrats. We are problem-solvers and innovators.
To complicate matters, how do we “fix” anything by getting rid of teachers who are willing to teach in the most challenging schools where raising students’ test scores is complicated and complex? How do we attract the “top students” to be “top teachers” by simply increasing the pay as noted in another Post article? How do we support teachers’ ongoing professional development in “quality” programs that do make a difference in their professional development?
And how do we make all charter schools attractive for families or how do families make charter school attractive? Simply saying “charter school” does not mean a charter school is better. As Gail Collins with the NY Times reports...only about a fifth of American charter schools “produce amazing results.” In fact, a study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that only 17 percent did a better job than the comparable local public school, while more than a third did “significantly worse.”
It’s the village.
It’s families, it’s community, and yes, it’s teachers – but teachers who feel they are respected – not because they make lots of money – but because they are motivated to change the one thing they can change, themselves and for their students’ learning.
Yes, even those who have given up and deserve to be booted are candidates for change. To “fix” the nation’s broader economic problems as augured by the educators, begins by not punishing or rewarding teachers like they are animals who earn the treat of continuing bashing and disrespect. But by bringing teachers into the conversation to discuss solutions by studying their practice with colleagues because they choose to “fix” their own classrooms. Chancellors cannot “fix” anything without teachers. Complex structures are built with a firm foundation from the bottom up. We better get started.