In a recent op ed in Truthout , (“Mr. President, Education Is a Human Right, Not a Product”, January 10, 2013 the usually controversial Bill Ayers rightly points out the consequences that using a business model and metric evaluation of education has had on recent education policy. Assigning fault and identifying motivation for the trend, however, is less important and misses the point. The point is that viewing educational policy through these lenses has made the educational community second guess itself – wasting valuable time, and perhaps, billions of dollars on misguided reforms.
If we have learned nothing from the decades of hapless and hopeless reforms, it should be that what Ayers calls the “turning over of public assets to private management, opposing the collective voice of teachers and reducing education to a single metric” hasn’t worked. It is increasingly obvious to those who know, why it hasn’t. For those on the educational frontlines, the flaw in these policies is not inherent in the ideas, but in the implementation.
There certainly is a role for private investment and innovation in education, for a dialogue between the educational establishment and the clients it serves, and for appropriate measurement of both student achievement and the efficient use of public funds. Absent from the promulgation of policy, however, has been the inclusion of meaningful input from those individuals who have the ultimate responsibility for making educational policies work – the teachers in the classrooms and the parents who entrust their children to them.
If we really want to improve education in this country, we have to do it school by school, from the bottom up, from the inside out and with the moral commitment and enthusiasm of the principle players – the teachers, the students, their families and the communities they serve.
The commonality between school improvement and the politics of educational policy is that both are essentially local. Improving education is not a job that can be accomplished by the President, governors, mayors or corporations. School improvement cannot be measured by snapshot metrics, guided by legislative mandates, nor can it be accomplished with competitive grants or the adoption of a program. School improvement is about hard work, involving those closest to the problem and using what we know will work. There are no “silver bullets”.
The important message to Mr. Obama: “Mr. President, education is about hard work, not about more programs and policy.”