What kind of year can we expect for public education? I’ve been reading some of the predictions, and most focus on Washington, perhaps because the pundits think that’s where the action is. While predictions are almost always wrong and made to be forgotten, the process can remind us of our goals and values, not a bad thing.
Let’s begin with Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s predictions. He made four, according to Alyson Klein of Education Week. They’re non-controversial, and all in the category of ‘more.’ 1) At least 60,000 more kids will attend quality preschool; 2) 600 more colleges, companies and organizations will commit to help thousands more students get ready for college; 3) 10,000,000 more students will get access to high speed internet; and 4) more students will graduate high school as the percentage climbs above 80. These are admirable resolutions, wonderful goals to aim for.
Counting and measuring was the original federal role in public education. We know our schools are resegregating, for example, because of the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, which, under the strong leadership of Catherine Lhamon, is pushing to wake us up to this national embarrassment.
No predictions from the Secretary about quality, just quantity. Wouldn’t you love to know if he thinks that the in-classroom experiences of most of our kids will be significantly improved in 2015 because of the Common Core State Standards? But he wisely stays away from that.
Nor does the Secretary wade into deep or controversial waters. Will more states walk away from the Common Core and the associated tests? Will more parents join the opt-out movement and keep their children home on testing days? Will more teachers refuse to administer standardized tests? Will more politicians, foundation leaders and others back away from what is called ‘test-based accountability, using scores to judge teachers? Will more parents choose to homeschool their children?
All of those predictions are out there, naturally, from pundits on the left, right and center.
Rather than make predictions, I offer a wish/hope list for 2015: Ten wishes in all.
It’s my hope that Lamar Alexander in the Senate and John Kline in the House will make progress on the reauthorization of ESEA, because the current law, No Child Left Behind, expired years ago but remains in force. That bizarre situation has given the Secretary of Education the power to grant waivers to NCLB’s more onerous provisions, which he has granted to states that have been willing to hew to the Administration’s own reform policies.
I hope that Washington has now, finally, learned the fundamental lesson of NCLB, which is, simply put, “Washington cannot run American public education.” Many learned that during the Bush Administration, but not the Obama Administration. Those folks apparently drew a different conclusion: “Maybe Bush can’t run public education, but we can!” Well, they can’t.
I wish the Secretary would back away from his commitment to tying test scores to judgments about teachers, but that’s not likely to happen. In fact, his choices for Under Secretary (Ted Mitchell, who comes from the market-based education sector) and Special Advisor (former New York State Commissioner John King) suggest that Mr. Duncan is doubling down, not seeking common ground.
It is my fervent wish that the good people within the charter school world will police their own, because it’s increasingly clear that the ‘movement’ is being hijacked by profiteers and other ne’er-do-wells who are in it for the money. If the good folks continue to do very little, charter schools will become another failed experiment. It’s disingenuous for education’s leaders and politicians to say they “support good charters and oppose bad ones” and then do nothing about the loopholes that allow for-profit and not-for-profit charter operators to looti the public treasury.
I hope that the educational approach known as ‘social and emotional learning’ attracts more public support, some new champions, and maybe even a name that doesn’t sound so soft and squishy.
I wish that educators who are using technology just to get test scores up would leave the profession. “Drill and kill” deserves to die. Technology allows students to be producers of knowledge, not just consumers and regurgitators. We owe it to our kids to get it right.
Related to that wish, I hope that the idea of giving students more control over their own learning spreads. When students use technology to do original work, they almost always end up collaborating, a key piece of ‘social and emotional learning.’
I wish that no one ever again use the word ‘rigor’ when talking about education. “Challenging” is good; “rigorous” is bad. Let’s agree to leave rigor where it belongs, with “rigor mortis” and other harsh and unyielding stuff.
I wish that the critics of testing and ‘test-based accountability’ would get together with their opponents and agree on some fair, effective and efficient ways of evaluating teachers. Just being against something isn’t enough, in my book, and teachers deserve to be fairly evaluated.
I wish that we would figure out how to make it harder to become a teacher but easier to be one. Right now a lot of our policies and rhetoric are making it downright unpleasant to be a teacher. Let’s raise entry level standards and improve training, but then we need to make sure teachers are free to teach.
How will we remember 2015? Will it be “The Year of the Common Core” or “The Year of Opting Out”? There are other possibilities: “The Year Preschool Took Off,” “The Year College Students and Parents Said ‘No Mas’,” and “The Year of Blended Learning.”
What do you anticipate 2015 will bring for American education? What are your wishes?