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Mr. Rogers Meets Charles Dickens

Today's blog was written by my ed-buddy, NBCT and CTE Teacher Extraordinaire Dale Rogers, who teaches in Novi, Michigan. It's a beautiful--but challenging--day in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.


"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..."

(With apologies to Charles Dickens.)
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The opening of "A Tale of Two Cities"... Is there a better way to describe what is happening in education today? Let me explain.

I recently read an essay by an Oregon teacher of 34 years, "I Don't Want To Be A Teacher Any More." A number of teachers on Facebook posted the link in their status updates. While I read the essay and could relate to the issues of the author, my gut reaction, and my reply to status updates, was "But now more than ever is the time we have to want to be teachers".

Our students need us now more than ever. Parents need us now more than ever. We know we are right now more than ever. We must work together as educators to fix what is wrong with education and not allow politicians, philanthropists, and corporations to instill their baseless ideals on the America education system.

Yes, it is the worst of times. I am in my 29th year as a teacher and I cannot remember a time when the public attitudes toward teachers, media perceptions of teachers, and the political demands on teachers have been any worse than they are today.

However, it is also the best of times, because as teachers we have the facts on our side. We know those attitudes toward teachers are wrong. We know those perceptions of teachers are wrong. And we know the political demands on teachers are wrong. Research has now demonstrated over and over that these things are just plain wrong.

And yes, it is the age of foolishness. It is mere foolishness that the media gives credibility to Bill Gates and his many wild ideas on education reform without credible research. It is foolishness that the media fawns over big city chancellors such as Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and Catherine Black, none of whom had any documented accomplishments of success as education reformers. There is a reason those three chancellors were not given the title of superintendent... they did not meet the qualifications. It is foolish that Congress overrides the courts and grants "highly qualified" status to uncertified TFA teachers.

But yes, it is also the age of wisdom. The wisdom of proven research that has demonstrated merit pay systems for teachers based primarily around student achievement on standardized test does not work. The experience proving that real merit pay systems such as career ladders and bonus pay for National Board Certification are one of the first things to be cut when budgets are tight. The "wisdom" of Florida passing a merit pay program but providing no funding. It's just plain nonsense.

There's plenty of wisdom in research.The charter school concept that is all the rage with politicians and reformers has been shown to only be better than surrounding public schools 17% of the time. More than a third of charters deliver learning results significantly worse than their students would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.

The concept of school vouchers has recently been scrutinized in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home of the first and largest school voucher program experiment in the country. A recent study of Wisconsin state test results for the first time shows voucher students performing "similar or worse" than other Milwaukee students in poverty, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

While all of the wisdom of the research is being ignored and the foolishness of politicians, philanthropists, and corporations is being praised, teachers feel attacked, disrespected, and undervalued. What can teachers do?

Teachers must seek total solidarity. Teachers must remain vigilant knowing that they have the facts on their side. Teachers must make every effort to push back against the foolishness.

They must counter the attacks rather than retreating. They must realize most of the disrespect only comes from people that don't know them or don't have a clue what they do. They must value themselves and each other.

There is a movie currently showing across the nation called "Limitless". The basic theme of the movie is its main character is given an experimental drug that unleashes his full inner potential and he goes on to do many miraculous things. However, the drug can be deadly and by the end of the movie he has discovered he had this limitless potential within himself without the use of the drug.

I believe as educators, we have a limitless potential within, just waiting to be discovered and now more than ever we need to find it.

When confronted with a difficult situation, I personally try to reflect on some of the most profound lyrics in popular music, written by Jack Tempchin and Bob Strandlund and sung by Glenn Frey of the Eagles:

"So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains... And we never even know we have the key."

So to my fellow educators, before I'm Already Gone let us remember that we have the key. Let us discard these chains, let us take control of our profession and the education system of OUR country!

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