20 September 2010

Fix the problem and avoid the blame

There have been lots of discussions around school reform.  Recently, NBC announced that it was starting a focus on education through Education Nation.  It is an interesting approach and one for which NBC News should be commended.  However, a major ingredient seems to be missing – the educators. That series starts tonight; there have also been discussion about the lack of educator involvement in this series and questions raised about the focus on business leaders solving education’s problems.
            I am not sure I have the answer as to the root cause of the problems in education, but I have seen many possible solutions offered in the years that I have been in the profession.  As I think back to my induction into teaching, I can see why we had some of the problems.  Nowhere in my educational experience did anyone tell me about the importance of teacher involvement in education – professional memberships, committee work, etc.  Perhaps I should have known, but I did not; some of my colleagues reported similar experiences.  We often complain that we have too much to do, that we are tired, etc – that is probably true – however, does this excuse us from those responsibilities?
            I remember when the movement first started to reform education; business leaders were complaining about the poor quality of the “product”.  Politicians were bemoaning lower performance and low standards.  When these, among other groups, called for reform, what was the response of many of us in education?  We defended the status quo – we did not face up to the reality that we were not doing as well as we should be doing.  Yes, the society has changed – more diversity, less parent involvement and all of these other things that we bemoan.  Yet – that is a fact of life – we cannot change it – we need to think about how to best deal with it.  And we did not do that. With our reluctance to make changes, the politicians and businesses really got into the act and made the changes without our input – or with very little. 
            I have always found it interesting that while the opponents of education or decrying the poor performance of schools, their solution was to extend the school day, extend the school year, and require more course work for graduation. I never could quite understand why the solution was to address the problem by doing more of the same.
            We have done some tinkering in education – but much, has, unfortunately, been just that.  We have exposed to teachers to new initiatives through staff development, but then provided little, if  any follow up, encouraged teachers to use these new approaches without being fully versed in them, and then wondered why these new “ideas” did not work!
            We seem to think that more money is the solution to everything.  While money certainly helps, it does not solve all of the problems. One of the issues with which we struggle is how to get the really good teachers into the classroom and then get them to stay – a decent salary helps but it is not the panacea that it is sometimes claimed.
            I hope that this series will truly look at education and try to solve the problem rather than lay blame!

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