While I am grateful that Secretary Duncan and his officers engaged with #blog4reform yesterday, I’d like to take a moment to challenge his characterization of what it was really all about.
On the ED.gov blog, Secretary Duncan said:
Today’s conversation has focused on many issues that I think we can all agree on:
- We need to raise expectations for America’s students and challenge them with standards that will prepare them for success in colleges and careers.
- We need to elevate the teaching profession so teachers get the respect they deserve and the tools and time to do their jobs well and continually improve.
- For education reform to be “real,” we need to focus on what works. We need consensus on the right way to measure students’ progress. And then we all need to hold ourselves accountable—and recognize those educators who are especially effective.
- We need to involve parents as active partners in their children’s education so they can support the hard work that teachers do in the classroom.
Here’s what I heard yesterday:
- We need to expect ourselves to teach right by America’s students and challenge them with opportunities to feel, make, and perform authentic, humane work that will help them uphold our responsibilities to one another as American and global citizens.
- We need to elevate the purpose of public education so students get the opportunities they deserve and the tools and time to help themselves and their communities continuously improve.
- For education reform to be “real” we need to acknowledge that many kinds of education work for many kinds of students, and that a national program driven by standardized testing and materials from third party vendors is the worst-fit for most students. We need consensus that there are several right ways to teach, learn, and demonstrate both. And then we all need to hold ourselves accountable for letting go of limiting and harmful past practices.
- We need to open schools to parents so they can support their children and themselves where our shared work takes place, so teachers AND parents AND students can support one another’s hard work and learning.
I didn’t hear anything about doing things one way yesterday, and that was the whole point. We teachers, students, and parents have ideas, not a single idea. What works is bigger than any single program, and, frankly, what works for a closed system kind of program doesn’t change America or its democracy for the better. It borders on the fraudulent to claim that we’re developing any kind of robust or effective school choice movement in America when schools are united by mandate to serve the single measure of standardized testing and the kind of low-level teaching and learning it engenders in those of us who, by necessity, play it safe.
When the best a teacher can do is compromise his or her students’ learning and inquiry for test prep, that is not okay.
So, let’s have standards in literacy and numeracy and core competencies aligned to professional habits of mind – which are generally curious, determined, and iterative. Let’s standardize opportunities for early-childhood pre-school and reading. Let’s think about what we can do with school buildings instead of tearing them down. But let’s not go on pretending that raising test scores is a true or worthy measure of our culture’s achievements and dedication to its members. The tests change; the scales shift; still we cling to them. I say, “No more.” Our schools should stand on a foundation of equity and dedication to discovery, not on the pixie dust of vendors’ promises and the rust of last century’s factories.
While it may seem frightening to take risks with our children’s education by allowing true innovation in public schools, we need to take that risk and re-open debate about why and how best to school all children. We need to allow for differences of opinion and the implementation of diverse, juried proposals reviewed by expert practitioners.
I assure you, it’s a larger risk to our fraying democracy to continue schooling for compliance and industry.
Secretary Duncan, thank you for listening. Now it’s time to hear what we’re saying.
Let’s collaborate on a system worthy of our progress as a people, rather than on schools and measures that continue to exacerbate our worst tendencies in labeling one another. I know you have answers I need, and I know others have answers for us both.