Moving the Education Agenda Forward
By Dan Domenech, Executive Director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA)
America's public educators are frustrated. Teachers, principals, and school superintendents feel besieged by a relentless attack on a system that we love, believe in, and have worked in for most of our professional lives. It is not as if we are complacent and sitting on our laurels. We are proud of what we have accomplished. But for most of our careers we have attempted to reform a system replete with laws, rules, and regulations — a bureaucracy that often stands in the way of true reform, a bureaucracy that is not the work of educators, but of legislators. Of late, these legislators seem to think that they know pedagogy, curriculum, and instruction better than the people who have spent a lifetime in schools working with children.
We are not totally without guilt. We have failed to put forth a vision of what true reform should look like. We spend too much time being reactive and not enough being proactive. The American Association of School Administrators this winter will put forth a vision of what a 21st century American public educational system should look like. Superintendents around the country have been working on this vision for years now, and we have commissioned Richard Rothstein to summarize their work into one document.
The vision will include universal pre-school education and a personalized system of K-12 education that will allow youngsters to proceed at their own pace, taking advantage of today's technology and measuring progress against an agreed upon set of common core standards. It may even embrace a more equitable system of funding education that would do a better job of leveling the playing field between the haves and have-nots. The agrarian school calendar and seat time requirements will become a thing of the past. And so will such expensive add-ons as summer school, remediation programs, and after-school sessions, since all children will be receiving at all times instruction at their current ability level.
However, putting forth our vision for education is not enough. We must also be clear about what current issues we support and what we are opposed to and why.
- Quality teachers are essential to quality education, but solely trying to evaluate our way to quality instructors is not productive. Instead we need to provide the professional development and support our teachers need. That is what the nations that outscore us on international tests do.
- At a time when our communities have undergone the greatest economic recession since the Great Depression, our schools with large populations of economically disadvantaged students need every federal dollar they can get. That was the original intent of Title I, but federal dollars are being diverted from Title I to go for competitive grants that benefit a few students instead of all students.
- The need to revamp ESEA, a law that is long overdue for reauthorization, is critical to true reform efforts and moving our vision of education forward. We wonder whether a divided Congress is up to the task and whether the administration is willing to make changes, given their ability to implement policy via competitive grants and regulatory waivers.
We can put aside for the moment our concern over reports that corporate investors are using non-profit charter schools as a new source of huge revenues — without oversight or any educational accountability — and instead look forward to a collaborative effort with those who truly wish the best for our children and our schools. We do not pretend to be the only ones who have good ideas, but we are the ones that our nation will have to rely on to implement whatever is agreed upon. We need to be at the table.
Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.