It is a fun time to be living in Iowa if you like politics. There are at least 16 Republicans and 5 Democrats running around our state trying to be noticed. Of course I am curious to hear the language that they use when it comes to the politics of education. In some ways I admire these national politicians because many of them are honestly laying out their agendas regarding public schools. Iowa Republican legislators don’t want to talk about their agendas as they relate to public education. They want to spend less money; of course, spending less money does not an agenda make. The national politicians are articulating a clear agenda and using interesting language to do it.
In the last two days Governor Scott Walker and Governor Chris Christie have laid out their education plans in Iowa. Governor Walker uses an example of a young teacher who was let go from her job after her first year. His point seems to be that the rules of teacher tenure were the cause for her release. First of all, the woman who he references in his speeches has no interest in being used as political prop for Governor Walker. She has asked that he stop referring to her in his speeches. Secondly, it doesn’t seem to occur him that the real reason she was let go was because he has been systematically defunding public schools in Wisconsin. She wouldn’t have been let go if he would simply maintain funding for public schools in Wisconsin. Governor Christie came through selling more or less the same plan. Governor Christie made it clear that he is for killing teacher unions and creating more charter schools. In his speech here in Iowa yesterday Governor Christie said something particularly interesting. He said that he wanted to take education “out of the hands of teacher unions and the educational establishment.” His statement led me to ask, who is the “educational establishment”? It dawned on me that he is talk about me. He is talking about those of us who have made a career of teaching young people.
Modern politics is all about branding and labeling. Governor Christie and Governor Walker have found that a niche of voters like it when they “take on the establishment.” By branding teachers as the “educational establishment” there are a core of voters who respond positively to their plans to privatize education in order to make it cheaper to operate. But here is the thing, the single largest factor for student success is having a quality teacher in every classroom. So, the thing that will drive success in American education is the “Educational Establishment” that they are so willing to bash. These two governor’s are also fond of trashing the Common Core while advocating for more student testing in order to hold teachers “accountable” for teaching the standards that they so vocally oppose. Which is it Governors? Is it all hypocritical on your part that the Common Core Standards were initiated by the National Governors Association in 2009? For some reason in 2009 it was important to Republican Governors that we have a common set of standards for schools around the country. Somewhere between 2009 and 2015 tea party conservatives decided that having common standards was bad, so it became politically expedient to oppose the Common Core while at the same time demanding that teachers be held “accountable” by implying that the results of standardized tests over those standards are the best way to determine who the best teachers are.
I am proudly part of the Educational Establishment. When I was 16 or 17 years old my heroes were my teachers. They were the Educational Establishment and I wanted to join them. My colleagues in the Educational Establishment are spending our summer collaborating, studying, and implementing strategies that will directly impact student achievement next year. We are reforming education from the inside. Our schools are changing for the better and each and every one of our conversations continues to come right back to what we can do better for our young people. Those of us in the Educational Establishment spend our time studying what is good for young people and no where in the research does it say that larger class sizes, fewer related arts programs, allowing non-educators to teach in our classrooms, or lower teacher salaries have a positive effect on student achievement.
Governor Walker and Governor Christie will tell you that teacher unions are at the root of our countries education problems by demanding outrageous salaries. First, I have yet to meet anyone who has gone into education for the lucrative salaries. Research will tell you that educator salaries keep many of our best and brightest from going into education. Secondly, states like New Jersey and Wisconsin (and Iowa and Kansas) have less money for education because Republican legislators are creating more and more tax cuts and tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthy. Trickle down economics have never proven to be effective, but that is what legislatures around the country are counting on working now. Does the education establishment believe that teachers should be paid more? Of course. But it isn’t to line our pockets, it is to make sure that the best and brightest will want to become part of this noble profession.
Governor Walker and Governor Christie can make teachers out to be villains all they want, but it doesn’t make it so. Teachers are the ones who will reform education in this country. If you truly care to improve education in this country you have to bring the Educational Establishment to the table. We are the ones who are studying best practices, we are the ones who have made it our lives to create classrooms where young people grow, and we are certainly the ones whose one and only purpose is to engage our students in the best possible learning we can provide them, regardless of those throwing bricks from the outside.