Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spinning our Wheels

Most Northerners can tell you some story about getting your car caught in a snow drift. Your first instinct is to hit the accelerator and power your way out. Only thing is, it doesn’t work. The car just spins its tires and digs its way deeper into the snow. That’s what it feels in the world of public education these days. The more we use the same broken reforms, the deeper our problems become.

I’ve only taught for 13 years, and I’ve already experienced one reform after another. From inquiry cycles to walk-throughs, from focus groups to focal students, studying data charts and viewing Pollyanna videos about how it might work if we had 20 kids in a classroom who each had their own laptop. Our school has gone from under-achieving to exemplary to under-achieving again to exemplary again and back to underachieving in my tenure. I used to like roller coasters, but now I get a little nauseous.

I’m not saying that there aren’t problems in the schools. It’s clear that our problems are significant. But it’s also clear that there are a lot of quality educational professionals who are dramatically underpaid, underresourced and under the gun who are going above and beyond the call. I am honored to work with a team of brilliant educators who are dedicated to public service. And it pisses me off when those dedicated professionals get blamed for the problems in our schools. Worse yet, I am deeply saddened when they start to blame themselves. We can’t keep asking our educators to do more with fewer resources. And yet, that’s the poisonous recipe that the media and the politicians are brewing up. The impossible results demanded by No Child Left Behind, the rip-it-all-apart mentality of Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top, and the increased class sizes and reduced calendar mandated by the Draconian state budgets which hurt our poorest, most diverse communities the most all combine for that destructive poison.

When it comes down to it, the two biggest problems that our schools face is a lack of money and a glut of blame-the-teacher politics. No amount of consultant speeches and beat-‘em-over-the-head-with-test-prep school reform will fix those problems.

The only way to get out of the snow drift is to stop spinning the wheels. Invest in a shovel and move the snow out of the way. Then you can get the car rolling. Start putting our resources into the kids who need it most and get the wedge-issue politics out of education, and we’ll get the schools moving again. But we better hurry, because there’s a pretty bad blizzard coming.