Would we think it strange, if plumbers and electricians decided to form a task force to reform the medical profession and hold physicians accountable? Why then, do we not cringe when lawyers and business executives decide to reform public education and hold teachers accountable?
The newly formed Education Task Force created by the Utah Legislature is a replica of President George W. Bush's national summit on education that was composed of governors and CEOs — no teachers. These politicians and business executives launched No Child Left Behind. It was followed by Race to the Top, an extension of NCLB. These were high pressure efforts to improve the traditional practice of trying to standardize students.
Neither of these government reforms resulted in better student achievement. They resulted in low morale, less parental involvement, more students dropping out and many outstanding teachers leaving because they disagreed with the standardization and the irrelevant, excessive testing that was imposed on them.
The Education Task Force members who got A's and B's in the conventional system may not feel the need, or see any way, to educate other than the one they experienced. What they see is a need to improve the conventional system — a need to have better standards for developing student uniformity. This attitude prevents them from seeing or acknowledging that students have a fierce, built-in drive to express themselves as unique, contributing individuals. It is a mind-set that may block the creation of a new system of public education.
Utah policymakers, the Legislature and the state board of education, may be caught in a curriculum trap. They want a tougher, more rigorous curriculum and higher standards for making students uniform in the knowledge and the skills that they think are easy to measure. Great teachers have always placed more value on things that are harder to measure, like intrinsic motivation to learn, curiosity, leadership and creative imagination. They value each student as an individual with unlimited potential. Adopting "high standards" for positive human differences would reverse the course we have been headed for many years and allow a new vision to emerge.
What would happen if the new task force were to form a sub-group, composed of some of the veteran, outstanding teachers who left the system? If we want a system of education in which every student and teacher can excel and contribute in their own unique ways, one in which morale is high and parents are meaningfully involved, we could look to the good, veteran teachers who resigned early. Many of them, who were doing an outstanding job, resigned because government mandated testing and the standardization of students kept them from doing what they entered the teaching profession to do.
Do we want to continue repairing and shoring up an obsolete system of public education? On the other hand, if we want a new system created to meet the needs of a great variety of students, we should ask outstanding teachers for their ideas. Put seven of them in a room for a few days and invite them to freely brainstorm what is needed. The legislative task force could then arrange the financing and other changes that would be needed to activate their ideas. Do we have anything to lose by finding and listening to outstanding educators? If this makes sense to you, why not get in touch with your legislator and state school board member and ask for it?
Lynn Stoddard, a retired educator, has written four books and numerous articles on the need to create a new system of public education. He lives in Farmington and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org