What Will Education Look Like In Five Minutes?

No Child Left Behind. Race to the Top. Civic Learning. Excellent Educators for All. STEM. Mandatory Retention. Full Inclusion.

This is a small sampling of well-known educational initiatives on a state or national scale that have received scrutiny at some point during their tenure in public education. A number of initiatives are successful, but many are riddled with issues that are affecting all facets of teaching and learning.

Public education oscillates between new and recycled initiatives that demoralize educators, confound administrators, and don’t necessarily consider the best interests of the students. Many of these initiatives can be traced back to the push for standardized testing and teacher evaluations. In the ongoing race for improved test scores and increased accountability, public school districts desperately seize opportunities for new initiatives and implement them, hoping for a quick fix to the unique problems in education.

Too often, however, these initiatives are accompanied by sloppy roll-out plans, lack of training, or a standstill of progress due to bureaucratic constraints. Most of all, improperly introduced initiatives leads to disheartened and frustrated teachers who are required to spend valuable professional development time and instructional time implementing these ideas. Once one has taught for just a few years, it is easy to grow wary of the constant stream of new initiatives introduced year after year, promising to make teaching and learning easier – but easier for who? This dangerous road leads to incredible resistance to change and a feeling of having no autonomy over these initiatives and the impact they have. Teachers are not often called upon to improve upon the career in which they are an expert. Instead, these ideas come from central administration or government – in other words, people far removed from the daily classroom experience.

As Harriet Sargent writes in her 2009 report,

“The education establishment emphasizes what ought to work. It does not investigate or accept the evidence of what actually works. As one science teacher in the East End of London remarked, ‘”I am instructed to put into place educational initiatives for which there is no educational evidence whatsoever.'”

Sargent sums up the issue here by citing a lack of investigation or acceptance of evidence when rolling out new initiatives. Education is a uniquely sensitive subject; everyone has been through school and/or have children in school, and therefore people otherwise completely unconnected to the profession itself may have strong feelings regarding how teaching and learning should happen. In a constantly changing world, the education establishment does not often take the time to test what actually works and it does not seek out teachers’ opinions about what actually works. Instead, these entities make decisions that greatly impact teachers’ careers based on a feeling of what “ought to work.”

In order to make effective progress, teachers need to be involved in the process. Teachers and administrators need to collaborate with local, state, and federal government to solve problems unique to their district or school. Educational initiatives can be successful only when accompanied with collaboration, thorough training, administrative support, and complete roll-out plans. We need to stop accepting the revolving door of educational initiatives as the status quo. The teaching profession is suffering and, most of all, the students are suffering. We need to ask: can we sacrifice student learning and growth for the sake of a new initiative that involves more paperwork and the appearance of increased accountability?

One final thought.