After 38 years of asking other people questions, I find the the tables (occasionally) being turned. Some people want me to answer questions. Truth is, it’s actually kind of fun, because it forces me to think more deeply than I am perhaps inclined to.
It’s already happened four times this week.
On Wednesday a policy person asked me what I thought about the push for “College and Career Readiness” and the national policies that were developing around that notion.
Followed by a question about ‘digital natives.’
On Monday, I was with Arts educators, always a lively bunch, and one asked me how I felt about teacher training.
Followed by a question about No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and the Common Core.
In the interest of spurring some debate, here’s a shorthand version of how I responded.
I told the questioner that “College and Career Readiness” strikes me as a wrong-headed term. It implies that ‘College’ is a destination, when in fact it’s a way station on one of the roads to (one hopes) a fulfilling life. And putting ‘College’ first and ‘Career’ second implies to some that ‘Career’ is a poor cousin; it’s what you do if you do NOT go to college.
Sloppy language reveals sloppy thinking. And, I gather, a mish-mosh of policies and programs. I’d prefer government investment in, say, two years of education beyond high school and in what are called ‘early college’ programs in high school. (We’re reporting on the latter very soon on the NewsHour).
The question about “digital natives” was a softball pitch down the middle of the plate. To me, many adults say ‘digital natives’ as part of their confession of feelings of inadequacy, as in “The kids are digital natives who just get this technology naturally, and I can’t keep up.” Maybe so, but adults have important responsibilities here, because being a ‘digital native’ is NOT the same thing as being as ‘digital citizen.’ Developing good citizens — digital or otherwise — is an adult responsibility and obligation. ‘Nuff said.
As to teacher training, we need to do better. I found myself reaching for a sound bite on this issue: “We need to make it harder to become a teacher but easier to be one.” Raise the barriers to entry by making training more demanding. Internships and time with master teachers. Visits to classrooms in countries like Finland. But once in the classroom, teachers need to be treated like professionals. We need to get off their backs and involve them in curriculum development and student assessment. From what I hear, Stanford’s STEP program is a pretty good model to follow. STEP, for Stanford Teacher Education Program, pairs would-be teachers with carefully selected mentor teachers. In its own words, STEP is “where theory and practice meet and where, in turn, learning takes place. The links between theory and practice, university and school, experience and standards, are the links of learning.” I’ve been impressed by STEP graduates and hold the program’s leader, Linda Darling Hammond, in the highest regard.
Programs like STEP make it tougher to become a teacher (high admission standards, a demanding curriculum) and equip their graduates with a skill set that will make it easier for them to succeed in the classroom. More has to be done to make it easier for teachers to succeed, of course, including an end to the current ‘gotcha’ game that’s dominating education politics.
The last question thrown at me had to do with NCLB, ‘Race to the Top’ and the Common Core. What, the questioner wanted to know, did they have in common, if anything? I hope you will weigh in with your thoughts on this. As I stood there thinking (while saying “That’s a great question” — which is what you say when you don’t know how to answer!), the notion of ‘power’ popped into my head. Think about it: George W. Bush came to Washington as an avowed ‘states rights’ Governor and immediately proceeded to enact, with Democratic help, the greatest Federal intrusion into public education in our history. Secretary Duncan was a harsh critic of NCLB when he ran the Chicago public schools but has replaced it with a program that is only marginally less intrusive. He’s granting waivers so that states don’t have to follow NCLB’s orders — as long as they follow his. And the Common Core looks as if it’s going to continue the pattern of centralization.
The lesson here may not be that “Power corrupts,” but instead something akin to “Power corrodes.” To me, NCLB has proved conclusively that Washington cannot run public education, but maybe I feel that way only because I am not in Washington and do not have any power.