Reform bluster is as ubiquitous as it is shallow—something that frustrates teachers and scholars alike. Below are ten claims teachers should be ready to respond to, along with some questions they might ask in response.
Claim 1: American teachers need more incentive to work hard.
Response: That's a provocative claim. Can you describe what, exactly, you think motivated me to become a teacher? Can you tell me what you imagine gets me out of bed in the morning?
Claim 2: Schools need disruptive innovation. The status quo is unacceptable.
Response: Business gurus love to say this, don't they? But what makes you think that disruptive innovation works? Can you point to any organization that was ever improved by being disrupted? And what, exactly, do you think needs disrupting in our schools?
Claim 3: The public schools are in crisis.
Response: I hear that a lot from non-teachers. But what's your evidence for this claim? What is the last school you spent an hour in? Can you describe it to me? Would you like to come visit my class?
Claim 4: It should be easier to fire bad teachers. Tenure is a problem.
Response: Lots of teachers agree with you. But can you describe your plan for firing bad teachers and not good ones? How will you separate the two groups? How will you make sure that only the bad teachers are impacted by this?
Claim 5: Schools need to teach more technology.
Response: People have been saying this for a long time. In fact, there was once a big push to have kids watch TV in the classroom. But can you tell me what, specifically, schools should be teaching about technology? And can you identify the parts of the curriculum we should displace in order to teach "technology"?
Claim 6: Teachers should be paid for results.
Response: Lots of great teachers agree with you. In fact, I wouldn't mind a nice bonus at the end of the year. But can you tell me how you would measure those "results"? What "results" do you have in mind? And how would you do this for 3.5 million teachers?
Claim 7: We need more charter schools.
Response A: Charters certainly do get a lot of press. But can you tell me how you think a charter differs from a public school? What are the results you think charters produce? And, why do you think charters would be better positioned to get those results?
Response B: Do you think that schools are like cereal—that producers can simply make more "product," and that consumers can easily discover what they like or switch brands at will? Let's brainstorm a list of reasons that schools are not like cereal.
Claim 8: We're falling behind the rest of the world.
Response: I've heard that. But I'm not sure I believe it. What are we falling behind in? What is your evidence? And, more importantly, what country that we're "falling behind" would you rather live in?
Claim 9: Teacher preparation is a sham.
Response: That's a unique opinion. Can you tell me what parts of professional training you would cut? Can you explain why untrained people would be more effective than trained people?
Claim 10: Teachers only work nine months a year.
Response: Can you tell me how many hours you work in a year? Can you guess how many hours I work in a year? Can you guess three things that I might be doing in the summer to get ready for September?