Taking Responsibility for School Reform

We all know that our schools do not operate in vacuums.  They are a part of our local community.  They serve as meeting places and as learning places.  They feed our students, house after-school programs, and often host adult education efforts.  They serve as a focal point for all in the community, whether they be teacher, student, parent, or none of the above.  As such, we all play a role in their success … or their failure.

That is why Eduflack has advocated for a big tent when it comes to school reform.  It is unfair that teachers take most of the blame for the failure of our schools.  Likewise, it is unreasonable to expect teachers to take sole responsibility for improving our schools and boosting student achievement.  We all benefit from stronger schools.  We all have a responsibility to get there.  Teachers and school administrators.  Parents and students.  Business and community leaders.  Colleges, universities, and trade schools.  Federal, state, and local policymakers.  Coaches and the clergy.  School reform is hard work.  We aren’t in a position to turn anyone away from participating in the improvement.

Over the weekend, though, Eduflack engaged in an electronic give-and-take with a reader who saw things differently.  The reader suggested that the only stakeholder who should be involved in K-12 reform is the teacher, with the intent being only those who have taught (and taught for more than a year or two) are knowledgeable and qualified enough to opine and decide on what is taught, how it is taught, and how it is measured.

I would like to believe that we all can agree that our K-12 institutions are in need of improvement.  We can agree that we all are affected when our schools fail.  We all can play a role in improving them.  And the current state of public education in the United States doesn’t allow us to turn away those who want to help or should help.  So how do we rectify this with the beliefs of some that only those who have taught should talk about teaching (or more importantly, improving teaching)?

If we buy into the status quo logic, we have a lot of people in education who need to get out.  By the reader’s logic, Ted Kennedy has no business overseeing education policy in the Senate.  Wendy Kopp had no right to start Teach for America after graduating Princeton.  Most school boards, populated by business and community leaders, should cease meeting immediately.  And Bill Gates clearly has no business telling school districts how to redesign their high schools.  After all, he is a college dropout!

We can even say that many teacher educators, those who train our classroom teachers, need to stay out of the discussion, as they moved from their doctoral programs to the faculty senate at the local teacher’s college, without putting in the prerequisite years of K-12 classroom instruction.  All, of course, absurd suggestions.

Ultimately, improving our schools means reforming our educational system.  And reform only comes from change and overcoming the status quo.  That comes from multiple audiences, with multiple perspectives and interests, all calling for similar reform.  Policymakers and the business community pushing top down.  Teachers and parents and community leaders pushing bottom up.  All ultimately squeezing out real, meaningful reform.

Don’t get me wrong.  Experienced, effective practitioners are an essential voice in the reform process.  They can help other stakeholders understand what is possible and what is not.  They have walked the walk, and know what we need to get us to our intended destination.  But they can’t do it alone, and we shouldn’t expect them to.  They need policy and financial support from their school district and elected officials.  They need the investment and interest of the business community.  They need the involvement of parents and families.  It takes a village to raise a child, and it surely takes a community to educate one.

If we don’t see this, then the failure is not an instructional one, it is a communications one.  If we cannot see the value and necessity of a broad coalition of stakeholders when it comes to education reform, then we have not communicated the urgency successfully enough.  Whether you are watching from the home, the community center, the state capitol, or the ivory tower, it should be clear that our schools need help.  The status quo isn’t cutting it.  And none of us should be saddling our teachers with the sole responsibility of fixing it all.

Let’s empower our good teachers to teach.  It’s up to the rest of us to provide them the policies, the funding, and the support they need to teach effectively and boost student achievement and enthusiasm for learning.

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