01 August 2008

Five Things I Wish Ed Policymakers Understood

Nancy, the always delightful Teacher in a Strange Land, has offered up a meme concerning the five things educators wish policymakers understood about the public school system. I feel honoured to be tagged by the first group she named for the meme: Stories from School: Practice Meets Policy. Besides, we Washington edubloggers have to stick together.

And with that, here we go...
  • Change is slow. Perhaps we all wish that it weren't, but the reality is that just because legislation is passed one day doesn't mean schools can implement it the next day. There are always discussions of who will do the work, how resources will be made available (and which will be taken away in order to make time for the new), responsibilities for accountability measures, and more. Meanwhile, we're not working in a vacuum. When we change one variable, it impacts everything else in a school community---and not always for the best.
  • Along these lines, don't pass any legislation that doesn't have specific funding sources attached. If you want to require that schools fulfill certain obligations, then you need to provide the dollars to do so. Most districts are already at the breaking point trying to fulfill all of the various mandates. They should not be forced to choose between providing a school band program and buying books for classrooms.
  • It may be that policymakers don't realize the totality of the financial strain they place on schools. I think this is because they don't take time to look at the big picture. What are all of the pieces of legislation schools are trying to manage? What new ones are you trying to pile on top this time around? Take a step back and look at all that schools are supposed to do. Consider SPED, transportation issues, technology needs, standards and assessments, fine arts, nurses, and so forth. If you are going to add something to the plate, think about what you might take away. The various committees and groups need to talk to one another. Don't try to push through a change in the law based on one letter from a constituent or news event. Be holistic in your approach.
  • If you really want to change what happens in the classroom, you have to change the instruction. Changing graduation requirements for kids isn't going to get you there. Invest in high quality professional development, such as instructional coaches or other job-embedded support. We might not be able to get a superstar teacher in every classroom, but we can do more to make teachers effective.
  • It is time to do away with closed shops/forced unionism. While these laws may have originally been written as a protection for teachers and working conditions, they have resulted in creating places for poor teachers to hide. Unions protect the lowest common denominator in our schools. Our children deserve better than that.
I believe in standards-based education. I believe that all children deserve access to a rigorous curriculum---whatever that may mean for the individual student. And I believe that we can make social change happen. In order to do that, however, policymakers are going to have to engage in some learning of their own about what day-to-day operations in schools are really like.

This is a meme where anyone can play. So, please do join in if you would like. I am going to specifically reach out beyond my state's borders to
  • Clix at Epic Adventures Are Often Uncomfortable. Her east coast perspective can balance out us westerners.
  • Athena from Texas. She can chime in from the south (and from a small town).
  • Mr. McNamar from The Daily Grind. He's a former Washingtonian, but is now ensconced elsewhere. As he spent the last year dealing in contrasts, I'll bet he has a worldly view to share.
  • I would love to hear from someone who works with the pre-school or primary crowd as their experiences serve as forecasts for the rest of us. Mrs. Sommerville, are you interested? Elbows, Knees, and Dreams? Organized Chaos? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
  • Finally, I'd like to see some administrative input. Perhaps one or more at LeaderTalk would be willing to chime in? Stories from School did some nice modeling on group blogging in this area.
What do you think? What should our policymakers understand about education before constructing legislation?


Lightly Seasoned said...

I thought this was something interesting to think about (while I still have time to think before school starts!):


The Science Goddess said...

Wonderful! I'm so glad you joined in.

Anonymous said...

I like your five things! Very insightful and well written.

Mrs. V

Nancy Flanagan said...

Hey, Ms. Goddess.

Thanks for playing! We've had some fabulously good responses and it's been a meme that I wasn't embarrassed to pass on to Big Names in Blog World (the echo - echo - echo folks you mentioned in an earlier post).

Good luck in the new job. You'll be great--smart and thoughtful-- wherever you go. But. Every time we lose a good teacher, there's a hole. I say this as a person who taught for 26 years, then moved to a national educational non-profit. When the nonprofit closed its doors, I returned to the classroom, cashing in on my contract-granted ability to take a two year "alternate career" leave.

Of all the things I've ever done in education, returning to the classroom after two years in the wide world of policy, research and advocacy was the most revealing. The kids and parents were happy, happy to see my return (one mom told me she'd dreamed that I would return to teach her younger son to play an instrument like his older brother). The teachers were cautiously friendly (although they never wanted to hear about the bigger policy picture, thinking that they had to pay attention ONLY to their kids, their classroom). But the administrators were suspicious and punitive. To them, I had stepped out line, and didn't know my place any more.

There's a huge divide between the classroom and All Other Things. I believe your observations about education issues will continue to be sharp and insightful--and look forward to remaining one of your most faithful and appreciative


The Science Goddess said...

Thank you, Nancy. Your comments really do mean a lot to me, and I will definitely be thinking about them as I try out this new opportunity.

That's a very interesting observation about administrator reaction when you returned to the classroom. I saw something similar after being out for a district position. It's very awkward. They don't seem to realize that I don't want their jobs. If I did, I'd get an admin cert. Heaven forbid. :)