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Listen to Teachers to Improve Schools

Despite the investment of countless millions of dollars over the past 17 years by philanthropists, top-down strategies have done very little to improve public schools. It's to Bill Gates's credit that he has admitted as much ("What drives K-12 school reform?" The Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 27).  He joins Mark Zuckerberg in learning that lesson after a $100 million donation fell way short of expectations in reforming schools in Newark, N.J.

I'm not at all surprised by the disappointing outcomes.  Public education is the one area where the advice of practitioners is routinely ignored or downplayed.  I've seen this time and again, despite the lip service paid by reformers about the importance of teachers.  Teachers know what they need to do their job effectively.  But despite their pleas over the years, help doesn't trickle down to the classroom.  The Teacher Union Reform Network in its first national report released in October urged revitalizing public education through "the collective wisdom of teachers."

When the heads of teachers union speak up, they are accused of putting the interests of their members over those of students. Only those who have taught in public schools should be appointed secretary of Education.  Otherwise, how can they possibly understand the realities of the classroom?  This is why I remain extremely pessimistic about the future of public education in this country.  No amount of money will do much unless it is directed to areas that public school teachers urge.

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