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Teachers in Charge? Keep Dreaming

Matthew Holland

The rationale behind teacher-powered schools seems to be based on the belief that everything starts from within the confines of the school.

The model puts authority and accountability into the hands of teachers and allows everyone in the school to be stakeholders in the education of students. Teachers and staff make decisions on everything from classroom design, to the transportation of students, to the hiring and dismissal of employees. These are big decisions and not for the faint of heart.

Giving teachers this authority and accountability may lead to a better decisionmaking process. Decisions can be analyzed immediately and changes made when needed—changes that would normally take years to implement under the current bureaucratic process. Curriculum could be tweaked to fit the learning needs of students, programs could be added or deleted based on their effectiveness, educational materials could be thoughtfully purchased.  All of the great benefits of teacher-powered schools make sense and would be applauded in the private sector as being cost-saving and efficient.

The sad reality is, this is not the private sector and change does not come quickly or easily within a bureaucracy. 

In order for schools to be teacher powered, all aspects of the educational experience must be determined by the staff in the school. In a true teacher-powered school, staff determine the curriculum and assessments. In Virginia, where I teach, high-stakes, end-of-the-year assessments are created by the state with little-to-no input from district level educators. State assessments often drive the curriculum of local school districts. Control over curriculum and assessment is removed from the hands of local schools and is instead dictated by a state board of education. How is someone teaching within a state where high-stakes testing drives the curriculum truly able to create a teacher-powered school? 

The teacher powered school model also faces challenges from the Common Core State Standards movement. Again, if schools are going to have true autonomy, how would this be a possibility when their curriculum is determined by a governing board located outside the confines of their district?

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about the possibility of change within school systems. We went back and forth about what was possible and what was impossible. My colleague took on a rather gloomy tone, making a statement to the effect that education is big business and things will not change for the better. Before I could offer a retort he very calmly pulled up the PearsonAccess website, part of the standardized testing giant Pearson Education, and pointed to their motto: "Everything starts here." He made his point.

Matthew Holland is a native of Alexandria, Va., and a product of the city's public school system, where he is currently an elementary school teacher. Matt brings 12 years of teaching experience and adventures from a few cross-country bike treks when working with both elementary and high school students.

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