The first day of school this year was like none I remember. The school climate has been changed by the “reform” movement- guided by sound surface principles but playing out more like an assault because of hidden agendas and bureaucracy. It’s normal for day one stress to include anticipation, with just a dash of worry over the students and the year to come, but it’s a positive, excited kind of energy. The stress this year is more a result of frustration regarding unrelenting attacks on a profession and process coming from a small, insulated group unfamiliar with what it really means to stand in front of a room full of children and lead. Their focus is on evaluation and elimination of teachers and schools first with a suggestion that it will lead to more effective instruction. Along with those concerns is concern for the impact that impersonal, data oriented schooling will have on the neediest children from already challenged families-starved for personal connections and social education, not even more measurement and judgment.
As always, teachers will work harder, work longer and work together to meet demands for increased student achievement. Their job, after all, is to teach and support students toward this goal. Districts, administrators and educators are in the same boat and in the best situations they are joining to face new challenges cooperatively. These are the people who know their communities, schools, the kids, know the families, and often band together to help each other in a time of need. They’re not just educators; they are a support system that provides more than a test score can measure. Often, a student’s change in attitude toward school as a result of that support system is more significant than an impersonal data point. In the end, though, there needs to be more efficient ways to align and pace curriculum, then assess student progress and react to the information assessments give. This reform is the type we should be focused on, and who better to help make this happen than the people most familiar with the students, the schedule, and the challenges of guiding modern-day students through a school day?
Given the chance, teachers and administrators could surely give significant and useful input towards coming up with a better system-one that is easier to execute and gives more useful information. Reformers have instead taken an approach that portrays teaching professionals as the problem, instead of an important part of the solution. The major players in the reform movement are outspoken personalities funded by private interests involved in publishing, testing technology, and charter school organizations. The business model has not served the whole of society well, because the focus on competition for profit weakens our obligation to each other and country. Before we buy in to all of the reform rhetoric and plans, we have to think seriously about what we want for our students, and what we want for our future.