The genesis of this blog comes from many conversations that I have been having with friends and colleagues about education reform. Some of these have been difficult conversations and I often find folks with very similar passions and desires for our schools feeling like they are on different “sides.” For me, I have tried to stay away from absolutes like I have heard both from education pundits and politicians on both sides of the political aisle. I don’t look at Race to the Top (RTT) and other similar reform efforts and jump to them being an attack on teachers or a push to privatization or other absolutes. I see them as an entrée to opening a discussion about making our public schools better – especially for kids who are being lost through the cracks (and actually putting some federal $$ towards it).
There is a huge amount of rhetoric around how we might “fix” our schools. There are many things that I don’t know – these are some things I think I know:
- Our system is failing many of our kids – that has to change;
- Our system is adult-centered rather than kid-centered – that has to change;
- It seems that many or most of our political and education leaders do not have the will to have the difficult conversations and then take meaningful action to make a difference for our kids. Rhetoric is old and cheap and isn’t doing a damned thing for us – in fact we’re losing many of our kids before our eyes;
- Our teachers are wonderful guides for our kids and I respect and admire them greatly. I also think that it is absurd to think that we would not tie the very charge of their profession, to educate and inspire our kids, to their performance evaluations and pay. When I read the actual guidance of RTT, it does not state that this alone will be tied to standardized tests. Among other things It states: “ – Determine an approach to measuring student growth; – Employ rigorous, transparent, and equitable processes for differentiating the effectiveness of teachers and principals using multiple rating categories that take into account data on student growth as a significant factor”;
- We have a big problem when we cannot question how a teachers’ union or school district is approaching these problems without being labeled as anti-teacher;
- We also have a problem when the governing documents of our schools are tomes that are more about when work can’t happen and who can and can’t be in which meeting, than on the most effective way to teach our kids;
- RTT does call for more access to “high quality charter schools.” There is some significant evidence that charter schools have not been the most effective tool for middle-class, mostly white students, but that same research shows some real success with kids who are more disadvantaged. I do not want to see us privatize our schools – I do want to see us find ways to work with ALL kids. My guess is that will include some charters – my hope is that they will be public charters with strong accountability;
- I think we have to find real and meaningful ways to ensure that parents are an integral part of this process. We all know intuitively that this is a critical factor for our kids’ success, and now there is very good research (Annenberg, Harvard School of Education, et al) showing that this is indeed true. It is harder, and it is absolutely critical. This means parental involvement in all aspects of our schools and districts and it also means ensuring that our school districts are inclusive, transparent, diverse, and are not patronizing;
- We quickly tire of debate about spending on wars to the tune of tens or hundreds of billions of dollars, but are at each other’s throats over spending $4B on RTT. Let’s figure out how, in Oregon and nationally for that matter, to fund education like our kids’ lives depend on it;
We must do this together. We must collaborate and have meaningful discussions and action around these issues. They are hard, and we are bound to disagree, but this is what we should be working on.