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Follow-Up: Teacher Voice Matters in Education Policy

Justin Minkel

Here's a troubling riddle: What do NCLB, Obama's Blueprint for Reform, and the Common Core Standards have in common?

Not a single teacher was in the room when they were written.

Last week, I met one of the authors of the common standards. I asked her why teachers weren't involved in writing them.

This is what she said:

1. "Teachers are so busy." Umm...true. "They just wouldn't have the time." Umm...false. Every teacher leader I know is willing to invest time and energy if it will benefit kids. Summers are generally a good time to tap teachers for their expertise. And digital tools make genuine collaboration easy, even if the curriculum writer lives in California and the teacher lives in New York.

2. "Well, teachers know about instruction, but when it comes to content, I would turn to experts at a university level." Really? I know plenty of teachers with unparalleled content expertise, ranging from my high school English teacher who had her Ph.D. in literature to the math coach I mentioned in my last post. More importantly, every good teacher I know is an expert on children, and any educator worth her salt knows you can't separate the content from the learner.

3. "But teachers were involved—they gave feedback once the standards were written." Teachers are called on all the time to give feedback on new standards, policy, and curricula. Sometimes the people who wrote the originals are just looking for a rubber stamp; other times they genuinely want our insights to inform their revisions. But either way, there's a big difference between helping to build something and just giving it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down once it's built.

Teacher voice wouldn't matter if it had no impact on student achievement. But the glaring reality is that policy made without teachers often fails kids, and the same is true of standards and curricula.

The common standards are good. They represent a giant step forward from old state standards like Determine which types of soil best support bean plant growth. But if we're going to fulfill the promise of Common Core, powerful people need to realize that teachers are capable of a lot more than feedback.

Teacher leaders have a long history of adapting flawed systems so they work better for kids. Let's spend our time creating better systems on the front-end instead.

Justin Minkel teaches 2nd and 3rd grade in northwest Arkansas and was the 2007 Arkansas Teacher of the Year.

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