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The Hits Just Keep on Coming in Makeover of Schools

In my first post, I wrote about the exclusion of teachers from the Race to the Top initiative and the danger this practice poses for education. The latest example was a cover story in The New York Times Magazine of Feb. 14.

It focused on the Texas State Board of Education, which is considered the most influential in the country. What the writer Russell Shorto showed is that those with absolutely no expertise in the subject matter under consideration for inclusion in a state's curriculum wield extraordinary power. The case in point was the development of the social studies curriculum, but - by extension - it includes other fields as well.

Although Texas was the focus, the same pattern exists in other states. This is not only disheartening to teachers but harmful to students, for reasons that are poorly understood. It is the equivalent of granting a lay person authority to create guidelines for the practice of dentistry solely because the person has had many cavities filled.

The analogy is not as farfetched as it seems. In Texas, the board is dominated by Don McLeroy, who just so happens to be a dentist. He readily admits that he is not a historian, but sees no contradiction in the mismatch.

Teachers, of course, are not a monolith. They don't always agree on what should be taught (curriculum), nor on how it should be taught (instruction), but they know far more than lay persons. So when teachers are left out of the process of developing curriculum in their subject fields, or in deciding the content of textbooks, it makes a mockery of the educational process.

It also destroys teacher morale at a time when it is already at an historic nadir. This situation has direct implications for students. I'll deal with this subject in my next post.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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