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2017: 9 Wishes

It is easy when you’re in the pro-public education camp, trying to call out and push back against the many and varied attacks on public education– it’s easy in that place to get wrapped up in No and forget to articulate what you want to see. So as a sort of New Year’s palate cleanser, let me lay out what things I do want to see happen in the world of public education in the year ahead.

I should note that this is an ideal wish list, and I recognize that it’s a really long journey to get from where we are to these goals. But even if we can’t get there, these are the stars we should steer by, the harbor we should navigate toward. I’ll be happy to talk details and specifics another day. This is strictly New Year’s Eve wish-mongering.

1) The end of the Big Standardized Testing.

We are achieving literally nothing by these tests, other than wasting huge amounts of time and money and twisting the entire sense of public education’s purpose. If I could only achieve one wish on this list with a wave of my magic wand, it would be this one. Test-centric education is a poisonous acid, eating education from the inside out.

I’d settle for some sort of initiative to find systems of accountability that would give taxpayers the assurance that their money is being well-spent, to replace the test-centric system that does not actually deliver anything that it promises. Other goals for the test, like comparing students across state boundaries or informing teacher instruction– those are either a waste of time or unachievable through broad standardized testing.

2) Fair and equitable funding

Reformsters are often correct in pointing out that some school districts are failing to educate all their students. They then leap to an incorrect solution for the issue, when in fact we know exactly what we need to do (in fact, charter fans propose to do exactly those things, but only for a handful of students)– make sure that every single school in the country has the resources, support, fiunding, staffing, and leadership necessary for success.

We know how to do that, because we already do it for many schools in this country. We just have to decide that we want to do it for Other Peoples’ Children, too. We do not need to come up with clever ways to provide public education on the cheap for just a few children. We just need to do what it takes as easily as we decide to drop a few trillion on endless wars.

3) Democratic control of school governance.

Every school district should be run by an elected board of local taxpayers. Period. I know this gets tricky in some places– I strongly suspect that several of our largest urban districts need to be broken into smaller districts. But every school in this country should be transparently owned and operated by the local community through board members– elected stewards of local resources.

There is some place for some oversight by state and federal authorities, to make sure that certain lines are not crossed and that funding is handled reasonably fairly (I have limited faith in the federal ability to identify fairness, but perhaps with clear guidelines…).

But local democratic control with total transparency. Period.

4) Teachers installed as authorities in the education field.

Much of the damage done in education has been done by self-appointed amateurs, while the voices of actual experts and practitioners have been ignored. Done with that. You can’t serve as a teacher without proper training (I’ll spend a whole other day on what that means, but it sure doesn’t mean five weeks of summer camp or a weekend training session), and you can’t serve in major positions of oversight without teaching background. You can’t do teacher preparation on the college level without ongoing renewal of your classroom experience, and you can’t set up a college teacher prep program without approval by a board of working teachers (not some bunch of state-level bureaucrats).

Did I notice that in #3 I demanded that local elected amateurs run the local school district? I did. There has to be a place for the voice of the public in education.

5) Any standards that exist are generated and spread from the bottom up.

Yes, I have plenty of friends who disagree with me on this, but I do not see any practical, useful way that national standards can be established– and certainly not enforced. The only useful way to spread pedagogical ideas and standards for learning is for teachers who have developed and tested their craft in the field to share what works. You may find it messy and inconsistent, but I will argue that nothing else works better, and that national uniformity is not a desirable goal anyway.

6) Technology serves teachers and students, not vice versa.
It is still still still the same old refrain. “If you just change the whole way you do your job, this technotool will be really useful for you (and profitable for us).”

Thank you, no. I love my technology. I use it all the time– when it helps me accomplish my job or opens up new opportunities for me to get things done in a new and interesting way. Happy to check around and see what’s out there; heck, we even have a technology coach who does a lot of the looking around for us. But don’t call us– we’ll call you. I want ready and easy access to new tools, new software, new approaches. I can’t do that when you’re trying to shove your sad junk down my throat.

7) No secrets. Total transparency.

I just interrupted writing this post to get in a twitter discussion about the interests of parents, and I’ll get into that in depth in a future post, but the short answer is that the education system should be absolutely transparent so that parents can get whatever information they believe is important, and not what someone else is telling them is important.

Transparency also addresses a world of reform issues. School boards and administrations and teachers, too, should be free to pursue whatever they think will be positive and effective, but they should also feel the need to make a case for what they want to do. There may have to be some practical limits to this; I don’t want to see a superintendent’s six-year-old being stalked at T-ball practice. But in matters of policy and procedure and results, school districts should be fishbowls. Individual humans in the district, however, should enjoy perfect privacy. Yes, I know that’s hard. Stars to steer by, people.

8) Schools are safe places that address the needs of the whole child while protecting and valuing that individual human being. 

I think that explains itself. No child should fear school for any reason. Every child should feel safe and loved and supported at her school. Schools have to have the support, flexibility and breathing room to do it.

9) Schools should be all about learning, and helping all students become their best selves.

Everything else is just the how. This is the what. Students should walk out of graduation, not like toasters rolling off an assembly line or like sneaks who slipped through the system, but as strong, confident men and women who know who they are, know what they want, and feel equipped to at least start the process of achieving their dreams. They should be taught the full depth and breadth of learning across all disciplines; they should get a taste of what it means to be fully human, fully themselves.

Every student in America should get this. Actually get this– not get the “opportunity” for this. Will some students refuse or reject this education? Probably. But we should do everything in our power to make it happen for every single student in America, and if some student walks away without it, that should be their choice, not ours.

Every student. Not the chosen few, the wealthy few, the privileged few, the profitable few. Every student.

That’s my wish list. Granted, it may take more than just a year to get there (probably more than four, given the current political situation), but this the constellation that I want to steer by.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published on the author’s blog, Curmudgucation, on December 31, 2016. It is reprinted here with his permission.

Peter Greene

Peter Greene is a 35-year veteran teacher and writer in Franklin, PA. He blogs about the current state of public education.