Improving education: Why not ask teachers for their ideas?
Very interesting post by Kenneth Bernstein from Daily Kos:
We were sitting in a Starbucks in Arlington, Va. It was our first meeting. Previously, Iowa governor Tom Vilsack and I had talked by phone and exchanged blog posts on education. His campaign staff had reached out to a number of educational bloggers, as he was seriously considering running for president and thought education was a good issue for him. Since he was going to be in my neighborhood, we agreed to get together.
At one point I mentioned that the governors had just had a meeting on education, and he nodded. I remarked that each had brought a business leader to the meeting. The governor nodded again. And then I asked, “Why didn’t you bring a teacher?”
The governor was surprised, and acknowledged he had never thought of it.
That was in 2005. The nation’s governors had a meeting to talk about education and the voices of teachers had not been included.
That was not unusual, and would not be unusual today. For too long, for too many discussions when people converse about our schools and our students, somehow the voices of those who are most intimately familiar with the issues of teaching and education are not part of the process. As a result, one might argue that our plans to improve public education are flawed, perhaps even damaging.
I come to this subject from an unusual perspective. Unlike many teachers, I have been able to get my voice heard and my perspective included at levels ranging from policies in my individual school to conversations with members of the House and Senators who do not represent me.
But mine is only one voice.
There are many other voices, some of which have been included but far too many excluded in the making of the decisions driving our educational policy, nationally, within the states and in local districts. There are examples where it has been included. This includes teacher evaluation and compensation in Denver. It includes those teachers who have served as Teacher Ambassadors in the U. S. Department of Education. It includes state and local Teachers of the Year to whom the relevant departments have turned as resources.
But being included at the table may not matter if the voice is not listened to. Former National Teacher of the Year Anthony Mullen has addressed this during his tenure as the voice of the nation’s teachers. In this blog post  he wrote:
Teachers are being left out of the process of designing national standards and this is a recipe for disaster. Committees comprised of government officials, academics, and policy makers form an incomplete framework without the support of teachers. Teachers, after all, will be expected to implement the standards once adopted. The malformed thought that teachers should not play an integral role in helping develop national standards is just that: a malformed thought. I can feel a palpable anger when standing next to teachers who feel ignored and marginalized by the committees designing national standards. It’s time to let teachers help right a wobbly table.
But perhaps more pertinent is what he experienced, and about which he wrote, in the event where he begins his blog post:
I am a fly on the wall sitting at a table. Seated at a round table are three state governors, one state senator, a Harvard professor and author, and a strange little man who assumes the role of group moderator.
After he listens to them discuss for some time what needs to be done about education, he is finally asked what he thinks. Please note his words, which I quote extensively:
Where do I begin? I spent the last thirty minutes listening to a group of arrogant and condescending non-educators disrespect my colleagues and profession. I listened to a group of disingenuous people whose own self-interests guide their policies rather than the interests of children. I listened to a cabal of people who sit on national education committees that will have a profound impact on classroom teaching practices. And I heard nothing of value.“I’m thinking about the current health care debate,” I said. “And I am wondering if I will be asked to sit on a national committee charged with the task of creating a core curriculum of medical procedures to be used in hospital emergency rooms.”
The strange little man cocks his head and, suddenly, the fly on the wall has everyone’s attention.
“I realize that most people would think I am unqualified to sit on such a committee because I am not a doctor, I have never worked in an emergency room, and I have never treated a single patient. So what? Today I have listened to people who are not teachers, have never worked in a classroom, and have never taught a single student tell me how to teach.”
An uneasy silence cloaks the table. The governor from the South looks at his watch, the governor from the North bows his head, the governor from the Midwest stirs his coffee, the diminutive senator stares at me, and the strange little man grabs another strawberry. One by one the lunch guests leave the table.
I return to being a fly on a wall at a table.
I wonder how many other teachers have been treated in such a manner.
It is not that teachers cannot express, verbally or in writing, their understanding of what needs to be changed in their profession. I am far from alone in being a notable education blogger who approaches things from the perspective of the classroom.
What I – and many other teachers – would like to see happen is that the voices of teachers would become more audible, to demonstrate the difference that it makes when teachers voice is included.
It might help were there a systematic study of how teachers are included and excluded in the shaping of educational policy. Such a study would almost certainly be more qualitative than quantitative, but there are enough examples of teachers who have been allowed to participate in the policy process. Perhaps we might then better understand why the inclusion of teacher voice tends to lead to more effective policies. It would be a start if teachers who have been allowed such participation were given the opportunity to share their experiences, including the difficulties encountered.
Not all teachers want to take the responsibility for the making of policy. Some prefer to keep their heads down and simply do what they can to improve the lives of their students.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that increasingly teachers feel disrespected, as Anthony Mullen noted. As a result, they are not offering the insight and experience that might be the difference between successful educational policy reforms and simply doing more damage to our schools and especially our students.
It is not that teachers have not tried. I point to . . .