« A Spelling Bee in My Bonnet | Main | Smells Like School Spirit »

A Broader Bolder Vision (Some Assembly Required)


You can’t pick up a newspaper without reading something about education, and when The Washington Post carried a huge ad for A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, it got my attention and piqued my curiosity. So I went to the Broader Bolder website to read the entire report.

“Schools can’t do it alone,” said Co-Chair Helen Ladd. “Accountability is a pillar of our education system, but schools need the support of the community – both before children arrive at school and during their school years – for all children to achieve high standards.”

As a teacher, my first thoughts were: “Thank you for acknowledging that! These people get it!” Most of our schools do the best we can with the circumstances and resources we are given. To simply turn to public education and say “Geez, don’t you people care about kids? You really ought be accountable. The welfare of America’s children is your responsibility. Get with it, or we will deal with you harshly” is not only heartless but naive.

These are the core goals of the “Broader, Bolder Approach” --

• Continued school improvement efforts.

• Developmentally appropriate and high-quality early childhood, pre-school and kindergarten care and education.

• Routine pediatric, dental, hearing and vision care for all infants, toddlers and schoolchildren.

• Improving the quality of students’ out-of-school time.

These seem to be pretty logical and not highly controversial goals that were being endorsed by some people whose names I recognized and respected. But when I started digging into the reactions to this manifesto, things got a little more complicated.

Just about everyone in the virtual education world had something to say, either good or bad, about the Broader Bolder Approach. Think tanks and research groups all seem to have a position on this proclamation, and each group seems to be “interpreting” the “real” agenda of the Broader/Bolder coalition, based on how it fits with its own organizational agenda. Sometimes it seems that the education discussion is more about power and competition between adults than it is about looking for ways to cooperate for the benefit children.

I'm a policy amateur, my knowledge of education politics is shallow, and I don’t pretend to be smart enough to thoroughly deconstruct stakeholders' agendas and motives. I know some of the endorsers by their, in my book, good reputation. I don't really have time or energy to figure out all the backroom alliances or scores that are in the process of being settled.

I have a hard time understanding why anyone would have a problem with the stated goals of Broader and Bolder. At the same time, I acknowledge that there is a great distance between good ideas and practical implementations and between envisioning and implementing. Since questions are echoing in my mind, I'll share them here.

All of these issues effect education, but are they education issues? Too often, policymakers determine that if something is a child issue, then it can just be rolled into education policy, killing two birds with one stone. Some of the additional “birds” are initiatives like child nutrition (breakfast and lunch), physical fitness, financial literacy, family life education (we don’t say sex), character education (but keep it value neutral, please), drug awareness, bullying prevention, internet safety, social equality, environmental awareness, heath screening, and childhood obesity.

While all of these are important issues, is the classroom or school where primary responsibility belongs for addressing them? Does the social activism emanating out of Washington sometimes usurp the role of parents, or does it simply acknowledge that “someone has to do it”?

Are we asking too much or too little of our schools? While acknowledging that “schools can’t do it alone” in the end, if we identify these things as education issues, do we, with the best of intentions, inadvertently demand that public education accept responsibility for fixing all of our societal problems? Does this diminish or enhance our schools' mandate to educate children?

If these become “education issues,” are policymakers going to have the courage and discipline to provide the resources necessary? Will other areas of government give education the authority to take leadership in implementation -- or will other agencies see schools as a method of delivery for their own programs, under their own control?

If childhood health and after-school care become education issues, does that imply absolution for everyone except the education community? If we are still waiting for full funding for IDEA and NCLB, what assurance do we have that the necessary money will ever be made available to address these other pressing (and expensive) issues? And finally, if we constantly hear concerns about the high cost of public education and the ROI on those public dollars, will shifting more social services to us add fuel to the misperception that we are spendthrifts?

As I read the profiles of the Broader and Bolder task force, I am sure that they have the expertise and knowledge to have foreseen and addressed (as best they can) many of my questions. But I couldn’t help but be disappointed, as I scanned the list, that K-12 classroom teachers weren't represented. I wonder if I would have been more or less enthusiastic if I had seen at least one practicing K-12 educator on that list?

"Teachers hold America’s future in their hands", or so they say. But sometimes what seems doable as theory (some assembly required) becomes a lot more complicated in reality once you’ve unpacked the box. I can’t help but wonder why, if teachers are that important to the future of our nation and if teachers are the single most important factor in student learning, we are so rarely invited to the table when the Bold begin envisioning new approaches to our professional work.

Everybody’s talking at me -- but what if teachers were participants in those formative discussions rather than audiences or topics? How bold would that be?


Thanks for the insights, Susan. You know I especially liked your last two paragraphs about teachers being involved in the formative policy discussions. I don't think the omission of teacher voices is always intentional (though sometimes it is), but it especially hurts when the slight comes from people who should know better. But then, it's the pervasive attitude in this country that anyone can teach or run education. Think about it: The Surgeon General is a doctor; the Attorney General is a lawyer; and the Secretary of Education is a.....lobbyist?

Susan, I hear you on your thinking about the "Broader" part of this approach. It seems we are obligated to offer more than the essential vitamins and minerals for students today. Yet, our students seem to be choking on so much medicine. Adding to Renee's thoughts on the missing voice in this process, I'm wondering if our students have more to offer the braintrust than we realize. There's a lot we could learn from the patient, if we took the time to ask.

Everybody’s talking at me -- but what if teachers were participants in those formative discussions rather than audiences or topics? How bold would that be?

Well said Susan. But at least this one gave us a place to sign... I noticed you signed so I did too.
I'm all for logical approaches in education!!!

Whole-hearted agreement, Susan. Especially so in your words regarding more societal areas of need to be covered by schools and your questions about the funding. The financial track record for IDEA and NCLB is not compelling or convincing. I agree that we professionals who practice in the initial tier of education, directly with students and their families, should be invited to participate in the formative stages of bold initiatives.

But looking at the other side of the coin... how can we expect the community to be responsible for raising the child, when the school takes on *too much* responsibility for it? I think it's high time that we (educators) return to the roots of educating and allow parents to parent. I am not interested in teaching children how to eat with a fork (and not their hands) or to cover their mouth when they cough, yet that is exactly what many of the kindergarten teachers are doing.

I think one reason that we are not taken as seriously as we would like is because Educators are forcing themselves to become "jack-of-all-trades, master of none." When was the last time you took someone seriously that changed jobs every month? The more we take on, as educators, the less specialized we become - it is just as if we have changed jobs 50 times, and while we have all kinds of great skills to bring to the table, they are not of the quality that the "professionals," that some so desperately seek to connect with, are looking for.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Wendy B: But looking at the other side of the coin... how read more
  • M. Zarling: Whole-hearted agreement, Susan. Especially so in your words regarding more read more
  • J.M. Holland: Everybody’s talking at me -- but what if teachers were read more
  • Jennifer Barnett: Susan, I hear you on your thinking about the "Broader" read more
  • Renee Moore: Thanks for the insights, Susan. You know I especially liked read more




Technorati search

» Blogs that link here