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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Real Reform: What we DO want (?)

Easy way to get a new post – paste your treatise from another blog…

Yesterday (Sat. 6/9) this was posted on BlueJersey:

“There’s a lot written here about what we don’t like about the right wing education “reform” agenda – the attack on unions, privatization, etc.

I’m at an education panel at Netroots Nation, and a Rhode Island blogger asked the question what is the progressive reform agenda. Not what we don’t like, but what actions we should be proactively promoting?

Blue Jersey teachers and readers in general weigh in…

What is the positive progressive education reform agenda?”

This was my comment, in an effort to cover s lot of ground in both number of items and the language therein (and to avoid a lot of jargon so education outsiders can understand it better):

“I’m a co-founder of New Jersey Teacher Activist Group (NJTAG), and the words below are mine, but many of them do reflect many of our principles.

For more on what we and the national TAG network believe and propose, go to

so, in no particular order:

1. fix funding; fund schools in a way that does not rely on property taxes and which increases the state’s obligation to districts

2. public policy that recognizes the link between education and other social realities (poverty, health care, etc.) and, establishes more “wrap-around” services, and positions schools as true community centers

3. true residency models of teacher preparation, resembling the process doctors go through more than the current models do

4. higher pay for teachers, concerted efforts to increase the number and percentage of teachers of color, more funding for teachers to pursue professional development and higher degrees

5. while I think we should do away w/charters altogether, we should at least fix the broken charter law to ensure that community control and proper demographics are ensured, with strict accountability on issues where charters often fail (workers’ issues, discipline, attrition, skimming, etc.)

6. expanded and fully-funded pre-K

7. teacher agency and school-based autonomy in developing standards, curriculum, professional development programs, etc. which are geared toward students’ critical literacies/critical thinking within true social justice, anti-racist learning environments (and it should be easier to go on field trips)

8. more teachers, fewer students/sections per teacher, smaller class sizes; more time for teachers to do PLCs, lesson study, interdisciplinary units, team teaching, etc. (we need teachers committed to the continual improvement of their practices, with the time and energy to do it)

9. performance/portfolio-based assessments

10. make the observation and evaluation of teachers easier for admins to do more frequently (lessen other burdens) and make the conversations about them extensive and productive

11. strengthening school-community relationships in a way that increases community/family involvement in constructive ways not rooted in “squeaky wheels with social capital syndrome”

12. respect for teachers’ unions, the right to organize, and tenure/seniority; unions being more democratic and more politically active with workers’/people’s movements around the world

13. transforming the culture of surveillance and punishment, an end to zero tolerance discipline, breaking the school-to-prison-pipeline, and the use of restorative justice in schools

14. a social and cultural transformation in America toward a more collective and less individualistic ethos, and a view of education as neither merely social uplift nor the preparation for college-and-career-in-global-capitalism

15. more education decisions in the hands of educators and the communities, not wealthy powerful people with no expertise and who serve a corporate agenda

So — thoughts? What did I get wrong? What did I leave out? (e.g. all-day kindergarten, language on technology funding)

(also posted on my personal blog, teache(R)evolution)


9 thoughts on “Real Reform: What we DO want (?)

  1. I consider myself to be a,progressive with respect to education. But I have to say that most of these were on the progressives’ listed five, ten, and likely more than ten years ago. AND I hope you will agree that much has changed in ten, even just five years – some due to the influence of the corporations, venture philanthropists, and their lackeys, the politicians. BUT there also is much in the way of research on education as well as new technology; AND there have been huge shifts in the manner in which the world operates – the job opportunities.

    With the exception of #15 and maybe some of #3 and #10, there is no acknowledgements. Two thoughts: EVERYTHING has to change to reflect the changes and opportunities that happen regularly; AND there are specific problems that have continually raised their ugly heads without resolution (e.g., the presence of totally incompetent teachers with no attempt to help or eliminate – just waiting for retirement; they existed in the 1950’s when I was in school, the 1980’s when our kids were in school, and in the 2000’s and 2010’s while our grandkids are in school).

    If the progressives are going to gain any traction with the public and get some sanity into education, may I strongly suggest each progressive honestly work with motivated people of ALL persuasions to honestly find the BETTER ALTERNATIVES that do exist and can help all students become effectivee Learners. I’m sorry but the premise that progressives generally are AGAINST items for the most part is NOT addressed by restating the progressive position of 10+ years ago!

    Posted by John Bennett | June 10, 2012, 1:58 pm
    • I’m not sure I followed your full train if thought…so let me offer just a couple responses…I would say that the ideas on teacher prep and teacher eval I had would solve some of the issues of incompetent admins allowing “bad teachers” to continue woeking, but your point is taken that some specific language on that might help…but remember that’s also a framing issue – “let’s fire bad teachers” frames the debate in a specific way that overemphasizes the problem of bad teachers and makes ussues seem falsely narrow and too classroom-based; no one’s going to lose an argument saying bad teachets need to go – who’s gonna disagree….but if I frame it as “all kids deserve a well-compensated, well-trained educator who sees them as a whole human being,” it’s an entirely different (and better) conversation….also, if my positions are indeed those of a few years ago, it’s because we haven’t won yet and are fighting a generation of global neoliberalism — but that’s no reason to abandon them….the question asked what is our agenda and i posed one, not what an agenda might be if i had to be overly pragmatic with the negarious forces in the NJ state legislature — the provlem is that the institutional power tasked w/advocating for the agenda, our state abd national unions, don’t even start from this point — they start meeting opponents half-way and finish having met them 2/3 or 3/4 of the way….

      Sent from my iPhone

      Posted by iteach4change | June 10, 2012, 4:16 pm
  2. Here’s what I would add:

    1.) End forced schooling. It’s amazing how many of the “problems” are made possible by–in fact, caused by–the fact that young people are required to participate in a system with rules over which they have no control. Yes, of course I realize that schooling is, first and foremost, a $500 billion dollar business that would be sent into total upheaval if it didn’t have a captive (sic) audience. Yes, I realize that the test makers, curriculum writers, administrators, building contractors, desk-and-blackboard-and other overpriced school crap-makers, and ineffective teachers would all have to find other work to do. So what? Look how long we propped up tobacco growers in the name of job/income security? Would we worry about putting the mob out of business by legalizing certain drugs? We didn’t when we introduced state lotteries (not that they are such a good thing to promote). Young people are natural learners, yet we treat them as guilty of being incapable of becoming productive (forget happy!) members of society without being forced to endure 12 or more years of incarceration. “Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift; look out, kid, they keep it all hid…”, as Dylan said. This is not to say that some people don’t get some value out of being in school some of the time, but as William Blake wrote, “If a blighted tree bears fruit, let it not be said that it was the blight that produced the fruit.”

    2.) Use taxpayer money–both locally-raised and that raised by the feds and re-distributed to communities that really need it due to poverty, etc.–to provide resources and options for families. Use libraries and community centers as examples, where there is a public service that benefits individuals without compelling their use. Create “institutions” (if they must be called such) that provide many of the same services as schools–instruction, for example–but on a voluntary participation basis, where the providers (“teachers”) and recipients (youth as well as adults) form an equal partnership in determining what they do. (“Okay, you want to learn about how to write a play, calculate the area under a curve, understand how our laws were made, etc. etc.? This is what I, your teacher, want in return–meaning both compensation for my services and type/degree of participation from you. If it’s not worth it to you to pay me a living wage, or to do the kind of work that I think is nec’y to master what you say you want to know, then perhaps you and I should find other partners to help us reach our goals. (This is the way commerce works, isn’t it? If I don’t like the quality of your goods or the price you are asking for them, I shop somewhere else.) Other models include adult education centers (what a treat to be able to learn Russian history without having to worry about grades or even going to class if you have something better to do that night!); homeschoolers’/unschoolers’ resource centers such as North Star for Teens in western Massachusetts, Open Connections in eastern Pennsylvania; and truly democratic schools such as Sudbury Valley in eastern Mass, (I know there are many more options around the country and the world.) Why not create public places that replicate these obviously successful options?

    In short, let’s finally follow John Holt’s plea and start trusting young people to learn, and let’s stop corrupting their natural process in the name of job creation for an enormous number of people whose work is ineffective, irrelevant or, worst of all, punishing to the very people they are supposed to be serving. Even having the best of intentions does not make up for generations of compulsory mis-education.

    Posted by Peter A. Bergson | June 10, 2012, 4:50 pm
    • I can get hip to some of that – especially since the hegemonic models of schools are factory models, but i think choice/free market can be a dangerous step if not handled well…and i’m very critical of total hone schooling/unschooling in most cases (another topic for another day)…and let’s remember that a lot of sudbury type schools are in white, affluent areas….and if you characterize public ed as sticking with something in the name of jobs for teachers and others, many of who are bad, then you and mr. holt are delusional — there is no need to toss public ed aside – we simply need to change/update it….not to mention, i’m responding to a question about public ed reforn – if you want to advocate for your models, write a post – this post is w/the assumption we keep much of the structure, just reform/revutionize/chane/transform/fix/update it…. the almost libertarian vision you suggest is beyond the parameters of this conversation

      Sent from my iPhone

      Posted by iteach4change | June 10, 2012, 5:11 pm
  3. I’d just add that unequal communities need extra resources. Most affluent kids don’t need nearly as much support as poor kids. We ought to be looking at ways to spend 2-3x per pupil for disadvantaged kids.

    Posted by Eli | June 10, 2012, 5:11 pm
  4. Great list, and I’m with Eli above. Income inequality is a very significant piece and needs to be part of the discourse.



    Posted by Kirsten Olson | June 11, 2012, 7:29 am
  5. Student-directed learning; democratic education 🙂

    Best regards,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 14, 2012, 12:17 pm

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