The Education Party of No

These days a lot of teacher groups (not just unions though they get the attention) are a lot like the Republican party. What am I seriously comparing the teacher unions to Republicans? Well, yes, in a way. They way they are the same is that they are all about saying “no” without offering real competing solutions to real problems. The Republicans are all over the news for obstructing anything the Democrats  and Obama try to do. There is no offering of alternative solutions just a list of why the solutions being offered are wrong/bad/miss the point or what ever. This is of course not helpful but it is working for them because people are angry that Democratic solutions are not working or at least not fast enough. The situation in education is similar and different.

I think there is pretty universal agreement that we have some problems with education in the US. There are groups (Bill Gates and his foundations, the charter school movement, DC school’s chief Michelle Rhee, and others) who are offering their own ideas about fixing things. On the other side are educators who feel that these groups are picking on them, blaming them, and trying to ruin them. So they say “no” to the suggested “solutions.” And they are right in many ways. Standardized tests are a lousy way to judge learning and teacher performance. There really are other problems outside teacher control like poverty, unsupportive parents, kids who are not motivated and more. These problems do have to be addressed for education to be improved. The problem is that they are not offering much in the way of solutions. Just “don’t do what you are suggesting.”

Part of this may be a feeling of powerlessness in the area of they themselves being able to accomplish these changes outside the school building. But teachers could, and I would argue should, be making suggestions as to how to improve the things they can control such as determining who the good and not so good teachers are. Teachers should be working to improve teacher assessment in real and authentic ways. They should be making positive suggests and not just reject other suggestions from outsiders.

And teachers need to make more suggestions about how to asses students. I hear over and over again that teachers do assess students and that they do a good job. The problem is that the end results of our educational system, in some ways, call into question the accuracy of many assessments. We see “honor students” who reach college and can not handle the work there. We see high school graduates who lack basic skills in things like math and English when  they get their first jobs. While we see many graduates with good education we see far too many who seem to have gotten their diplomas without actually learning much. The reason outsiders press for standardized testing is a lack of trust in the assessment job that too many teachers are doing. Fixing that credibility problem is the key to holding back on standardized testing. It has to come by improving assessment, improving teaching and teachers, and helping to clean house of the worst teachers.

There are many huge problems that good teachers can not completely overcome. No doubt about that. But we have to remember that there are few educational problems that a bad teacher can’t make worse.

[Note that these are my opinions and may not be shared by anyone else I know.]

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