We have such a reactionary, crisis-driven, fear-motivated public policy and funding mentality in the United States. I personally find this so unsatisfying. The results of this type of failed leadership are so incredibly short term and surrounded by the negative energy of perpetual insufficiency and blame. Then the nation's attention gets focused on the next big crisis and the former one is pushed aside. Then a new crisis has to be created to direct attention back to the other crisis... A vicious "spin" cycle.
Many are now repeating the NCLB educational policy mantra: Sometime next year, 82% of our schools will be failing schools. Back in 2005 I began preparing my school community for the inevitable fact that by 2014, Mabry Middle School, then one of the best schools in the state of Georgia, would be labeled a failing school. Simply absurd. But, in my thinking, that community deserved to know where this policy was inevitably going to take us.
Certainly my profession, as does every national sector*, has its issues. In many places, those issues are very serious.
But 82% of schools are labeled failures while at the same time a significant majority of Americans believe that their local schools are doing a good job. Teachers are being dismissed in record numbers because funding has shrunk because of the failure in the financial sector while at the same time central office budgets and testing budgets are at record highs across the nation. Hundreds of children apply for only a tiny handful of seats in a small number of "high performing" charter schools while at the same time thousands in those same communities could care less, seeing no link between their education and their ability to attain the American Dream. After all, where are all of the jobs going? What do we build in this country?
I hear many explanations: the extreme conservatives want to privatize schooling in the US. The teachers' unions are the problem with New York City alone paying over $100,000,000 annually in teacher salaries for teachers who spend over a year not teaching while their termination cases are being reviewed. The inflexible, reform-resistent system is the problem. Too many bodies govern the classroom: federal, state, local. The country can't afford to fund public education which should become a business enterprise. ...
Waiting for Superman, an interesting perspective to be sure, suggests that it's all about the teacher in the classroom. Unquestionably, the living, breathing, human, proficient, dedicated teacher's face-to-face interactions with students in the classroom is essential to the educational future of our children. (Now, even that is under assault with the emerging energy around "School-as-a-Service" delivered through cost-effective, cloud-based, customized learning buzz being hyped as the next real solution.)
But even if marginal and poor teachers who are protected by unions are the source of all of the problems in our schools, as Davis Guggenheim seems to suggest in his docudrama, let's wave a magic wand and remove every single one of them from our schools in an instant. Then what? Who replaces them? Our current colleges are not preparing enough future teachers because being an educator is not seen as a valued career path in this country.
One thing is clear to me: a policy that labels 82% of the nation's schools as failures is bad policy. I dare say it is a failed policy. As the data comes in, even the charter school movement has clearly demonstrated that it does no better than their public school counterparts. Can "we the people," as informed, hard working, good people who care about our nation, our children, and our collective futures not envision a different perspective for what is going on here?
When will we finally have the courage to stand up and say that the reactionary, crisis-driven, hysteria-centric, failure-riddled, fear-motivated policy and funding mentality that began with "A Nation at Risk," and culminated with NCLB and Race to the Top simply did not and does not work. It completely misses the mark. It neglects what motivates human beings to live a culture of personal best. It has a demonstrated track record of failing to empower meaningful, sustainable, positive change. It effectively erodes public trust and confidence in an institution that is essential for our national interests and democracy.
If we can not motivate our country to support education reform through long term, sustainable funding models that empower local, human teacher leadership focused on the highest levels of individual student achievement in a caring learning community we will continue to be in this spin cycle of failure. I long for leadership that sees a better way to lead, that sees a better way to create policy, that sees a better way to empower sustainable, long term, positive solutions.
Our children deserve it.
*I've often pondered how national governance deregulated the financial sector and then reacted to that sector's sheer greed and incompetence, turning the national coffers upside down to give away unprecedented dollar amounts (no amount could be too much) compared to how those same governing bodies respond to the educational sector. Those were very powerful people, unlike educators, with tremendous financial and political resources.