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Finding the Good News in a Tough Year


This week a friend said I was a bit of a pessimist, and though I didn't like the sound of that, I have to admit he might have a point. Here I am week after week finding things to bemoan; throwing cold water on the idea of college for all, forecasting disaster for school finances, and declaring No Child Left Behind a failure. In my defense, I would say we have hit a pretty rough time, and there is a need for somebody to call out the troubles we are experiencing. But perhaps now that I am over fifty years old, I need to be careful I do not turn into a crusty old curmudgeon.


So I have been turning things over in my mind, and I am doing my best to come up with some positives – a look on the brighter side.

Here, in no particular order, are some things I am thankful for, or look forward to in the year to come:

1. Obama won the election. I don’t think I need say more on that one.

2. A California court has issued an injunction blocking implementation of a mandate that all 8th graders be placed in Algebra classes, ready or not. Reality has, at long last, been recognized. "We cannot just tell our students and teachers the end goal and expect them to get there on their own," State Superintendent Jack O’Connell said. "Without additional funding, we're simply setting our students up for failure."

3. The worm finally turned on No Child Left Behind, and a consensus began to emerge that the law has failed to serve its noble aspirations. Furthermore, clarity began to emerge around an alternative approach that would recognize that schools alone cannot fix the problems associated with the achievement gap. Dozens of influential leaders, including incoming Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and professor Linda Darling Hammond signed a powerful statement calling for a “Broader, Bolder Approach” to education reform.

4. One of the primary reasons we cannot keep young teachers in my district past a few years is that they cannot afford to buy homes here. In some neighborhoods in Oakland home prices have fallen by as much as 50%. Perhaps this will allow young teachers to sink roots in our community and stay for the long haul.

5. The National Research Council affirmed that National Board certified teachers are more effective than their non-certified counterparts, but pointed out there is a big opportunity being missed as leadership roles for accomplished teachers remain limited. A panel of ten NBCTs issued a report noting the same issue, and called for NBCTs to step up to the challenge before us to provide greater leadership.

6. The number of California high school graduates ready for admission to college has increased by 11%. Now if only we could find room for them to attend!

7. The courts have continued to affirm that creationism does not have a place in the science classroom. Even soon-to-be-former president Bush (who in years past said “the jury is still out” on the theory of evolution,) recently stated that a belief in evolution is not incompatible with faith in God. And President-elect Obama has made it clear that science, not political or economic considerations, will be in the drivers seat in his administration.

8. Fifty-seven year-old high school physics teacher and past union local president Robert Crowley emerged victorious in the latest iteration of Survivor. Bob proved himself capable of adapting scientific knowhow to the challenging environment, repeatedly impressing his fellow survivors with his skills. But it was his honesty and integrity that led to his ultimate victory. Even after winning the million dollars, however, he returned to the classroom, where he said he had papers to grade.

Reflecting back on 2008, looking forward to 2009, what can you find to be happy about?


Anthony -- I'm happy and thankful that you and other accomplished teachers are willing to give some of your scarce time to the Teacher Leaders Network to demonstrate that teachers can make important (indeed, unique) contributions to the the education policy debate. That they can be (and must be) full partners in designing successful schools.

Re: Your point #3, there is no reason for any victory dance. NCLB is nothing more than the most current banner under which LBJ's failed War on Poverty education piece is flying. Question: How many "front line in the classroom teachers" were included on the committee that put NCLB together? Answer: Not a single one. See anything wrong with this picture? So long as teachers, the educated and qualified, allow the cess pool that is career politicians in DC to dictate what, how, and when we are going to teach Children the downward spiral of our educated system will continue. The DC politicos have provided decades of bad governance and lack anything like proper credentials to justify their continuing interference in the public education system. Why do we continue to allow it?

You may be right that my victory dance is premature. And I agree that classroom teachers must be included in the drafting of education policy if it is to have any chance at success. On the campaign trail last spring one of the biggest applause line for Democratic candidates was when they voiced criticism of NCLB, so I believe the message from the grass roots has been heard. But I agree we need to do much more to make sure our voices are heard in the process to replace this failed law.

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