Changing the Conversation
The education reform movement is talking about the wrong things.
Let me clarify that statement a bit further before the string of nasty comments start appearing on my Facebook page. Over the past 15 years, since No Child Left Behind was enacted, and even more so during the Obama presidency, since Race To The Top, the advent of the Common Core State Standards, and the growth and rise in prominence of alternative certification programs like Teach For America (including the ascendancy of TFA alumna, Michelle Rhee, in DC), the education reform community and media outlets have been fixated on two primary issues:
Teacher Preparation (or how to find and train a continuous supply of new, talented teacher
Teacher Evaluation (or how to find and fire the deadbeat, union-protected teachers)
These are important issues. We will always need a steady stream of new teachers entering the profession and we will also always need a fair and valid way of identifying our best and worst teachers. I'm not proposing that we should not be talking about these things. But we should not only be talking about these things. If one of these issues represents the "cradle" and the other (for all intents and purposes) represents the "grave," we are missing an entire teaching lifetime in between.
What about the strong but overworked second-year teacher who is contemplating going back to school to get her MBA because she imagines that life as a consultant will be far more sustainable than life as a teacher? Can we talk about her?
What about the mid-career teacher who wants to stay in the classroom but feels like his professional growth has stagnated ever since he became "good enough" about 10 years ago and now is just offered "leadership opportunities" around the school that really are just things that no administrator wants to do? Can we talk about him?
What about the fourth-year teacher who, by length of tenure alone, has become the grade-level lead and de facto mentor teacher to three other first-year teachers on her grade-level team even though she knows her classroom is by no means a model classroom? Can we talk about her?
What about all of the teachers who don't want to become principals but see no other upward career trajectory for themselves so they cave to the pressure and become administrators or swallow the bitter pill and "just teach" for the remainder of their careers? Can we talk about them?
There are a million other profiles of teachers who we are not talking about who need our attention. If the harrowing statistic that 40-50% of teachers will leave within the first five years of entering the profession isn't a cry for attention, I don't know what is. We cannot hire our way out of this problem. We cannot fire our way out of this problem. We need to confront this problem head on and start talking about the teachers that we have been ignoring. While we've been focusing on finding an endless supply of teacher talent and scapegoating teachers unions for, well, pretty much everything, we've been letting hundreds-of-thousands of incredibly capable and effective teachers slip through the gaping holes we've created, much to the detriment of our kids' learning.
But we can keep them. We can make them even better, even when they are well into their careers. We can develop and retain our way out of this problem and produce a stronger teaching force who is better able to meet the instructional needs of our students in the process.
That's what I hope to do here - nothing short of changing the conversation about how to fix education in our country.
Let's add a new and more prominent bullet to this conversation:
Teacher Development (or how to coach and improve the dedicated professionals in front of our students)