Sending Out an S.O.S.
A few loosely related thoughts as I head out the door…
Members of our network, Accomplished California Teachers, will be active today in the S.O.S. March and Call to Action. Most notable among these people is Anthony Cody, who in addition to writing his blog at Education Week and helping organize multiple grass-roots education groups, helped establish our network and produce our policy report on teacher evaluation reform. As someone who has worked closely with Anthony on a couple of occasions and who has seen his work with other groups and in Oakland Unified School District, I know his dedication to doing what is best for the students, especially those with the greatest needs. Anyone suggesting that he is merely a critic and not someone with solutions to offer simply doesn’t know Anthony or his work. Period. I want to congratulate him for doing his part as one of the organizers and spokespersons for this event which is galvanizing many like-minded teachers, parents, and concerned citizens from around the country.
I’ll be spending just a portion of my day at the S.O.S. March in Washington, D.C., taking in the atmosphere and snapping lots of pictures before returning to site of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards 2011 Conference a couple miles away. Many of us at this conference are operating in two frames of mind right now. Our attendance at the conference focuses us on accomplished teaching, school reform, and the future of our profession, in both practical and philosophical ways. Our presentations and discussions center on the promotion of excellent teaching and excellent schools, and what we as practitioners are doing well and must do better to bring about better teaching and learning.
Nonetheless, there is an emotional component to the work. Dedicated professionals in education, those who have completed the process of National Board Certification and made education their career, are usually emotionally invested in their work, and in the children and communities they serve. Especially at this conference, I find people who already work hard and not complaining at all about the idea of working harder if that means doing more for kids. Unfortunately, the current economy and education climate in this country present a huge obstacle in our path. Certain education reformers would tell us there must be no excuses, that we are trying to evade accountability, because we object to their positions. “Defenders of the status quo!” they shout, to people whose careers (and often, much of their personal lives) are dedicated to bringing about a better future, fighting the status quo by trying to change every student, every day, by trying to improve their schools and their work every day.
Pedro Noguera addressed the conference this morning. He will also be at the March this afternoon. His speech was stirring and powerful, a perfect balance of inspirational examples, revealing anecdotes, and broad views of the educational landscape. Chief among his arguments was that our national education policies have entirely misguided notions of accountability. Accountability works best when its internal and local. Hard-working over-stressed teachers in under-resourced schools don’t turn things around because they’re threatened (but too rarely supported) through state and federal policies. The best accountability comes from a shared sense of mission and purpose and effectiveness, the feeling that you couldn’t possibly let down your students, their families, and your peers. But our state and federal governments have not been held accountable for public education. Taking California as an example, we have neglected facilities, many of them seismically unsafe. Too many schools have shabby, decrepit furnishings and wholly inadequate maintenance and janitorial staff. Too many classrooms are overcrowded, and the school year may be shortened drastically, because as one superintendent told a Senate subcommittee earlier this year, it’s a choice between closing weeks early or offering something that couldn’t honestly be called “school”.
Into the breach comes an education reform movement that would abandon too many of our dedicated teachers and struggling schools, blaming them for their failure to thrive in the awful conditions to which they’ve been condemned. The fact that some lighthouse schools and districts have pulled together the leadership, resources, and commitment to succeed is held out not as a hopeful example for all of us to emulate, but rather entered into evidence for the prosecution. The sentences are severe – firings and closures – and they don’t even lead to any systemic change or improvement. They send new people into the same crises and expect different results. Not only is that providing cover for the status quo of government non-accountability, but it fits the oft-repeated definition of insanity.
President Obama and Secretary Duncan have failed as educational leaders. I’ll offer credit where its due on some initiatives relating to technology, community colleges, and preserving teacher jobs during a difficult economy, but I refuse to lower my expectations for our students and our public education system as a whole.
Gentlemen, we have assessed your education priorities and policies for over two years, and found your efforts are below proficient. There is a higher standard, and the stakes are high. Considering that you have the power in this situation, and the pulpit from which to demand the changes we really need, the buck stops with you, but you refuse to engage in an honest evaluation of your failures and correct your course of action. I understand that; you’re politicians. That is why people are sending out an S.O.S. The improvement of public education depends on applying political pressure against you, because dialogue has proven fruitless.
See you on the Ellipse.
[UPDATE: Here’s a link to some of the pictures I got in the brief time I was there].