Education Reform: Designing The Classroom In The Boardroom

Education Reform: Designing The Classroom In The Boardroom

There's no question that schools need changes, but is layers of bureaucracy really the change we need?

The modern classroom is experiencing a crisis of perception. On one hand, state agencies, politicians, and others under the flag of the school reform crusade see schools in terms of spreadsheets; standards, assessment scores, and graduation rates. On the other hand, teachers and education professionals within the individual schools are attempting to meet the needs of each child by tailoring instruction, curriculum, and assessment to them. The problem occurs as those education professionals see their own judgement and intuition over-ridden by the first one's stifling bureaucracy; with nauseatingly depressive effects on students’ real education. Sure, turn the school year into round after round of test prep, and kids will bubble in the correct circle more often. What they won’t be able to do is lead, serve, think for themselves, or learn for the sake of enriching their lives.

As Philip K. Howard writes in The Atlantic, a school’s, “effectiveness depends upon engaging the interest and focus of each student,” a far more indicative aspect of a student’s academic success than a single standardized test and the preceding month of “skill and drill”. All research points to one common factor, and that is the personality of the teacher and the teacher’s ability to engage the student. In this way the teacher is more an actor, a motivational speaker attempting to reach and invest each student in their own education (a daunting task at some levels, given the ennui that is so in fashion in teenagers).

“Good Teachers are typically found in schools with good cultures,” Howard writes, a quality one can discern, “within five minutes of walking in [to a school].” Many states are implementing performance standards (expectations) for teachers, having largely completed the work of integrating performance standards with aligned tests for students. This may not sound particularly unfair, given the fact that people in other jobs have performance standards; those levels of acceptable performance. However, teachers have always been evaluated by their administrators who are working within the same building, invested in the same students, and living within the same workplace culture. In addition, a middle manager or a web developer's livelihood isn't usually dependent on the ability of a child to fill in bubbles on a 45 minute test. Performance standards, on the other hand, are developed at a state agency, (usually based on the Common Core Standards, which were developed at the Department of Education in Washington), and  often reflect a very broad and rigid view of a successful teacher that doesn't account at all for differences in demographics or culture.

Those in education are seeing these standards replace their own professional intuition. They're seeing a mandate replace their own professional engagement, a battery of tests replace their ability to influence the classroom (and thus, their students), and a culture that’s closer to a corporate office space replace that of a vibrant of engaged school.  The result is that half of all teachers that have only recently entered the profession will likely leave before they’ve taught for five years. Those have been in the profession for years are retiring on the job, having had the importance of their abilities made obsolete by state mandates. Thanks to Arne Duncan, the Department of Education, and organizations like the Gates Foundation, the boardroom is now designing the classroom, and American education is being made a shadow of what it could be. Reform is needed, of that there is no doubt, but do we really want it to come at the cost of the values and generations that public education is built upon?