Publication Date: 2015-03-23
This is from Illinois School News Service, March 23, 2015.
Three decades of accusing educators of being the cause of everything that's wrong with the national economy cannot be salved with higher pay or smaller classes.
What will undo the damage? An apology would be a good start.
The 1983 Reagan Administration attack on public education in the form of the hyperbolic rant called A Nation At Risk started the ball rolling.
Rather than simply say it would be good to improve the learning of our students, ANAR authors felt obliged to accuse the nation's public school educators of having acquired a sudden "rising tide of mediocrity" that put at risk "our very future as a Nation and a people." Read it. It's right there in the first paragraph.
Distrust of teachers grew to a frenzy -- not among parents, mind you, just in the business and political sectors. High-stakes testing followed as an "accountability" mechanism. No Child Left Behind was an inevitable consequence. The IRS will not audit every taxpayers, but federal policy forces an audit of every student's "achievements."
Here's an excellent source for the longer explanation. The short version is this: Federal education policy was taken over by political ambitions at the federal level and the magic in the teacher-student relationship was severely damaged, along with respect for the profession of teaching - and young people's motivation to enter it.
So now the policymakers are wondering why they are seeing such dramatic reductions in enrollments in teacher preparation programs (as we predicted regularly in recent years). Most of the media missed the obvious effects of attacks on teachers, but not all. NPR even wondered why so many teachers persevere.
What NPR learned, of course, is that it's not about money. It's about the moment a student "gets it" after working so hard to figure out it. It's that magic moment that motivates teachers, a moment increasingly lost in the fog of test-prep and in the shifting standards and the high-stake tests (audits) to which they are aligned.
Money won't avert the coming national teacher shortage. (It's already contributed to a shortage of substitute teachers around the nation and also in Illinois.) Three decades of accusing educators of being the cause of everything that's wrong with the national economy cannot be salved with higher pay or smaller classes.
What will undo the damage? An apology would be a good start. The return of teachers' ability to have a say in what goes on in their classrooms might help. Recognition of the vital roles teachers and school leaders play in human development might be appropriate. Holding the profession in high esteem will be required.
Even all this would take decades to undo the damage begun in 2001