Saturday, November 20, 2010

How did education reform ever get so anti-teacher?

I'm amazed at how most education reform efforts seem to neglect the importance of harnessing the ideas of teachers in turning many of our troubled schools around. The generic education reform argument seems to go that teachers and the school system they work in, have gotten so bureaucratic that we have to start over. We should provide state funding for the creation of new charter schools where stripped of union contracts and complex rules, we can start to gets things moving.

To me this is terribly ironic. After all, one of the first proponents of charter schools was Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers in 1988. Shanker's idea was that groups of teachers would be able to run their own school within regular schools and pursue innovative ways of educating disaffected students. Released from contradictory legislative dictates and complicated school district rules, teachers would be able to innovate and solve tough problems.

Shanker's idea was that a group of six or more teachers should be able to submit a proposal to start a new school. They would be able to try out different ways of teaching to reach students who weren't responding to what schools are currently doing. Proposals would be reviewed by a joint teacher and school district panel. The approved schools would be given 5 or 10 years to try out their ideas and progress in the programs would be shared with others. If a method was particularly successfull, districts could bring the new ideas to scale.

We need to turn this education reform equation around. Instead of measuring performance to reward and punish teachers, we need to harness the power of teachers to innovate and teach in new ways and bring what we learn to scale.

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