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Long Stretch of Reform

Thursday, October 15, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Professional Educators of Tennessee
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In our corner of our world, especially within public education, there has been a constant struggle to improve the quality of public education. As long as there have been schools there are those who think they can do it better. “Reform” is not a new concept; in fact, it is standard practice for continuous improvement. We only seem like we have been in a long stretch of reform because it has been branded as such by policymakers.


There are those who engage in the education battle, and those who watch from the sidelines and condemn. Those who engage, whether I agree with their positions or not, are people I respect. Those who are on the sidelines and offer nothing more than criticism are more often than not people that should have probably remained silent.


In my early years in education I worked with, or networked with, many of the movers and shakers of education. People like William Bennett, Diane Ravitch, Nina Shokraii Rees, Gerald Bracey, Chester Finn, Virginia (Fowler) Walden Ford, Lisa Graham Keegan, Anthony Trujillo, Don McAdams, Maxine Smith, Steve Rollin, Sister Sandra Smithson, David Kirkpatrick, John Stone, Lew Solmon, Sandra Stotsky, Herb Walberg, Rod Paige, Denis Doyle, Reid Lyon, Bill Evers and E. D. Hirsch. They, along with many others, helped shape some of my views on how to improve public education. However, nothing was as instructive or instrumental as spending over a decade as a classroom teacher myself in public education.


In my thirty plus years in the education world, I have literally seen a stunning array of ideas. And I have learned that if I am patient the theories come back, with new advocates. I constantly remind myself there is nothing new under the sun, and that the “one size fits all” crowd never gets the issue. For example, what may work in Chicago may not work in Texas. And just because they have been tried in Chicago or Texas, doesn’t mean they should be adopted by your state or school district. And let’s be honest, for the last 15 years our national education policy has been directed by people who had their worldview shaped by those two very distinct parts of our country. That is part of the problem with the federal role in education.  


It seems fairly obvious that the objective of any education reform effort must be to improve public schools. And any public policy that does not embrace that key tenet of improving public education will not succeed in creating a better system for all students. It seems that too many policies are being driven by those with barely any understanding of how children learn. Subsequently, our education policies have become top-down, test-driven version of school reform that are hurting the quality of education. We are also seeing many quality educators quit the profession out of frustration.


Those who do not care about quality public schools should not drive the debate about public education. However, that doesn’t mean those who challenge the system should not be listened to, or that those within the system cannot advocate for meaningful change. In a recent open-ended survey to our members, Tennessee teachers repeatedly made the point that the state is too test-driven. The issue of excessive testing, as well as lack of instruction time, was cited by teachers over and over again. One of the issues that will instantly bridge the ideological divide will be a fight over limited resources that continue to be spent on more testing and more data collection.


Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote in 1830: “On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?” When those who surround us state their cynical expectations about public education, just ask them to explain our constant and relentless march of progress. Our nation is described as a beacon on a hill, a light that shines for all. Public education is essential to our country’s virtue and must remain a shining example for the benefit of our future generations. Educators are capable of meeting the challenges of our time, but they cannot do it alone.


I am very optimistic about public education in my state. On the horizon there are some great young educators within Tennessee that will positively influence the dialogue about public education. They are incredible advocates for children and collaborate with their colleagues by sharing ideas, thoughts, and providing support. Leaders such as Ryan Jackson, Nathan Lang, Alisha Hayes, Tim Drinkwine, Jon Alfuth, Brian Moffitt, Julie Daniel Davis, Tim Carey, Anibal Pacheco, Kecia Ray, Allison Fuller-Malloy, Greg Bagby, Sara Heyburn, Samantha Bates, Thomas Fuhrman, Adrienne Chancey, Andy Spears, Wanda Terral, and about 65,000 other educators that I may have missed, provide a rising tide of confidence in the future of public education in Tennessee. And they won’t fail to meet the demands of our rapidly changing society.





JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores, Director of Communications, at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

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