It is interesting that almost any time I read an article by someone who wants to “reform” education that the author is almost never an educator. I also read a lot of articles by educators. The articles by active teachers tend to be about teaching strategies, learning styles and our thoughts on a variety of professional development topics. There is a group of people out there who have taken the word “reform” and turned into a political cause. By labeling yourself a “school reformer” you identify yourself as someone who won’t settle for the “status quo.” The “reformers” like to use that phrase, “status quo,” a lot. If I understand the “reformers” correctly they believe that experienced teachers who belong to an education association are fans of the “status quo.” The “reformers” would say that there are lots of “bad teachers” in our schools and that those of us who believe in the “status quo” spend most of our time trying to protect the “bad teachers.” I guess that’s one way to look at it.
I have a bold idea. Those of us who are actually in the business of education should claim the word “reform” for ourselves. When we talk about strategies of how to close the achievement gaps in our schools, instead we talk about reforming those strategies. When we, as teachers, talk about improving formative assessment in our classroom we instead discuss reforming those assessments. I think it is time for those of us who actually teach to claim the idea of what reformation really is. Our classrooms are constantly in a state of reformation. We are reforming our classrooms through technology, through differentiation, through increased use of teacher leadership and we are reforming our classrooms by setting high standards that are rigorous and relevant to our students.
Those of us in a classroom every day are the reformers. Let’s then change those who call themselves “Education Reformers” to something a little more accurate, let’s call them “Education Talkers.” There is nothing wrong with being an “Education Talker,” but let’s not confuse these people with those who are actually reforming education every day. I also encourage the “Education Talkers” to start naming the names of these “bad teachers” that they claim are clogging up our schools. I have looked for them and I’m not really seeing them. I’d also like to know where the pool of much better teachers that aren’t in the classroom are. If there are thousands of better teachers just looking for work somewhere let’s hire them. The “Education Talkers” must believe that when we get rid of all of these ineffective teachers that there will be pool of more qualified people ready to jump in to replace them. Lastly, the “Education Talkers” seem very eager to see standardized test scores improve. The “Education Talkers” are big believers that standardized testing really shows which teachers are the good ones. It is interesting how I have never met a teacher (or a student) who believes that the teacher with the best standardized test results is the best teacher. If the “Education Talkers” want better standardized test results I promise schools can do that. It’s a bad idea, but we could do it. We can teach to those tests and we can turn out a generation of kids who fill in bubbles really well. That’s actually the easy thing to do and yet those of us fighting for the “status quo” don’t want to do it. We want to inspire students to think, we want to make our classrooms places to be creative and we want our students to grow each and every day. Would our time be better spent preparing them for standardized testing over a fairly narrow range of information? It seems unlikely.
I encourage you to read up on what Michelle Rhee and Campbell Brown are up to and form your own opinions. Ms. Brown’s organization refuses to release the names of those who are funding her operation. Anyone care to bet that there are some very wealthy donors whose primary purpose is something other than better public schools? Is it possible that some of her donors are big-money non-educators who want to break up unions and privatize education? Is that possible? It is interesting that teachers aren’t hiding. We aren’t hiding our agenda. We want better schools for all of our kids. Our schools are going to be reformed by teachers, students, school boards, administrators and communities who demand the best for our kids. It is much easier to throw rocks at a building than to actually build one. Those of us who are really interested in reform are going to do the work from inside.