The Obama administration is hell-bent on extending market incentives to improve the state of US schools. More high-stakes testing, more charter schools, more performance pay, more sanctions to punish teachers and schools.
A group of teachers called Teachers Letters to Obama has presented the President with an alternative vision based on seven principles of education change. It would be a good place to start for the Gillard Government as well.
The seven principles are:
1. Meaningful education reform must embrace a range of assessments. The Race To The Top emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing necessarily reduces the education of our students to “test prep” focused on passing multiple-choice tests of unproven reliability. We oppose the use of so-called “merit pay” based on standardized test scores.
2. Teachers must be held accountable through rigorous in-classroom evaluations by trained evaluators. Schools must hold teachers to high and meaningful standards of performance.
3. Teachers must work collaboratively to improve pedagogy and create thoughtful curriculum. Basing teacher evaluation on standardized tests is a pseudo-accountability strategy that divides teachers as a result of variables beyond their control and misconstrues how best to motivate them. Teachers must share in the process of defining their own work and accountability should never be arbitrary or divisive.
4. Teachers become invested in their work when they are given the opportunity to participate in school-wide decision-making and to be creative and thoughtful in their classrooms. Many public schools work well and are resources to guide us in the improvement of all schools.
5. Our public school systems must be fully funded. Charter schools must be held accountable to the same regulatory oversight and should not be inequitably funded at the expense of our most challenged public schools.
6. Any vision of effective education reform must assume that skills be taught in a way that induces critical thinking, encourages curiosity, inspires the imagination, and emphasizes discussion. Music, art and technology are an essential part of this vision. Students should love learning, feel empowered by their educations, and should not experience schooling as something punitive.
7. Improvement or “turn-around” programs for struggling schools must be flexible and participatory. Teachers, students, and community members need to be involved in discussions and problem-solving. Moreover, we do not believe the current four options are adequate and recommend instead the strategies in the Strengthening Our Schools proposal now before Congress.
To give all of our children the quality education they deserve, we must honestly confront the challenges of the classroom in a society characterized by deep social and economic inequality. The reality of classrooms and schools is complex and requires the knowledge and expertise of teachers who have the experience to know what works. Curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment are integral to our daily classroom experience and qualify us to help formulate education policy.
Teachers who have participated in Teachers Letters to Obama want to join with this Administration to implement a progressive vision for education. We want to engage in constructive debate about the best way to teach students and to organize schools. This national discussion needs to move beyond the panaceas and shortcuts that have characterized it thus far.
For more about Teachers’ Letters to Obama see the Living Dialogue blog at Teacher Magazine.