In the past several years, I am often asked how I would pursue education reform and what needs to change. And, as anyone who relates to media realizes, there are many strong opinions out there. It is easy to say we need student centered classrooms with teachers as facilitators. We need accountability but how that is done needs to look different, IMHO. We need a guaranteed and viable curriculum that aligns to state and core content standards. We need to value all core content, INCLUDING THE ARTS, and give opportunity for communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. We need to have teachers prepared, appropriately trained and credentialed and supported by administration and professional development to be effective in the classroom. We need to be sure that we meet the needs of all learners and have differentiated instruction available. Is that all? Did I forget anything?
Maybe summed up to a few sentences it sounds easy, but take into consideration that you are dealing with a huge and diverse population, and that there is more than one theory about what is important. I might suggest that we all get together for the sake of the children and compromise and create a plan that will work. The states need support from the federal government to implement the common core standards, STEM education and assure with some certainty that students will have a plan and be workforce, career and/or college ready. We can’t hate those who want to test or sell materials that they believe are the miracle answer for student achievement. We can’t hate the creators of the CCSS. It was a necessity and now it is a starting point. As a teacher in your classroom, you can implement these standards how you believe is best. We still need to work on the high stakes testing, IMHO, but one thing at a time. If the rules change and the standards change, please, I hope the tests will change. I know there needs to be some state or national norm, but can’t most of this accountability be formative and in the hands of those dispensing the knowledge? The ones who work with those kids every day?
OK, back to the subject… as I see it there are two basic roads to education reform. One can continue to change/revise standards and expect teachers to change and be able to implement them regardless of their training. Or, we could revise teacher training and college programs so that the result of those who teach will be different. Teachers could be ready to address the needs of 21st century learners. We need to attract more and different types to the profession, and yes we need for people to realize it is a profession. It is not what you do because you can’t do anything else or you don’t know enough about anything to get a job in the private sector.
It is a tremendous undertaking and maybe not realistic to think the education degree programs could be revised. Think of how many exist. But if we had one panel to study, review and recommend and then everyone took that advice, would that work? This panel could come from a diverse background including both teaching and industry. I know you can’t make anyone change, but if you are going to charge a lot of money for a college degree, wouldn’t you have to show that it is money well-spent and useful? All these teachers would filter into the system, eventually making the change. In the meanwhile, through continuing education, current teachers can learn and attend professional development to update their repertoire.
We can’t imitate the education systems in countries such as Finland, Singapore, South Korea and Canada. We are too large and too diverse to copy what they do and we do have a different population with multiple models . At the same time, we can copy and learn from them. They value teachers. They hold them in high esteem. As a result, students encounter good teaching all the time from year to year and class to class. The training is rigorous and responsible. There is accountability for teacher quality, not just for teaching outcomes.
Perhaps the credentialing of teachers here in the United States is a topic for further discussion. I know we have Highly Qualified status and tests such as PLACE or PRAXIS to decide this status. Do you really think 24 college credits in a subject qualifies you to teach it? Calculus? Chemistry? Even music? Really? Do you think a course in mathematics or science methods will enable a teacher to present elementary STEM concepts to elementary children? Does anyone think that is why it isn’t happening?
I want to stay positive as we must effect change. We need to focus on the intrinsic value of teachers and creating that value. They can no longer be a commodity bought young and inexperienced and thrown away before they have a chance to become seasoned and valued veterans. Yes, we have some excellent teachers, but one star player does not make a winning team. Teachers cannot be just young people full of enthusiasm and energy to change the world. Those traits are important without doubt. But so is the expertise that comes from a seasoned player. The total makes a workable teaching community.
We need to invest in our education system. We need more teachers. We need good teachers. However reform comes about, there is no doubt that the answer is not fewer teachers. Train teachers and give them the tools. Value teachers and ignite their passion for kids. If that happens, it can’t go wrong.
I found this article intriguing and thoughtful on the subject of teachers and teaching and raising professional capital to make better teachers.