My experience as an educator for the past 26 years is different from most of my friends. I spent 10 years as a special education teacher in traditional schools. Then I worked for a national non-profit operating small, publicly funded schools for delinquent teens. After that, I founded and ran a private school that accepts state vouchers for disabled and low income students. Now I work for the largest public school system in the country as a central office administrator charged with improving achievement. Additionally, I spent some time teaching undergrad education students about curriculum and instruction and wrote a parenting book in an effort to assist parents understand more about student motivation and performance. So, I see this education debate from a variety of perspectives.
What I know to be true is that there are amazing, wonderful teachers throughout all of our public school systems whose contributions will never be understood, because what they do cannot be captured on standardized tests. However, I also know that many teachers do the bare minimum and are not held accountable for the failings of their students. I know first-hand the frustrations of dealing with parents who simply won’t do the most basic things like feeding their children and getting them to school on time. However, I also know countless families who have fought mightily for a quality education for their children, and have been chastised and beaten down by administrators who enjoy exerting power. I have seen schools that function beautifully despite having very little resources, and every day I see schools that waste millions of dollars yet still complain there is not enough money.
Now it seems that we are caught in a cycle of blame. Teachers blame parents. The media blames teachers. Schools blame the laws and regs. We are all just pointing at each other. At the center of all this madness sit the children, who just want to go to school and learn. It is time that we all become educated consumers of education. What is good education? Is it just performance on tests, or is it more than that, or something different all together? How do we know our kids are moving in the right direction toward their learning goals? What strategies really work and what is the best use of our education dollars? What makes a good teacher? How should we prepare, evaluate and reward teachers? How much money is enough to operate a quality school? What things that are currently in our system are actually barriers to learning? These are the questions we should be asking. Stop the blaming of teachers and parents. Cease the endless comparisons of charters versus traditional public. Start really thinking, and then perhaps improvement will be possible.