To improve education, invest in teachers
Those who fail to understand that humans, including all children and adolescents, possess a deep-seated and fervent drive to move beyond the mere indexing of information to the appraisal, integration, and reflection of which to, ultimately, the construction of meanings and worths can, despite this, still be an addition to education in our society—but they cannot lead it. Whether it’s the idiosyncrasies of the individual’s passions or the edifices of the whole of society’s vibrancies and democracy, humans suffer to create. Education policy should be of this human fabric.
Society must, therefore, demand a pro-individual kind of ‘efficiency’ and education policy that is front-loaded in emphasizing the selection and preparation of teachers to have the knowledge, skills, and intellectual stature to direct the growth of the individual child and adolescent for the sake of his possibilities.
A back-ended kind of ‘efficiency’ and policy inversely seeks to engineer a population through mechanisms like “standardization” and “accountability” tracked through rigid and narrow testing to ends that are, at best, reactive to societal dynamics. At their worst, they are entirely passive to such which leads individuals and society to alien dissonances and inauspicious bearings.
A back-ended efficiency shrinks the individual. He becomes too small to dare to criticize and reject, compare and place worth, and construct with purpose. It views human nature and the mind as inanimate and socially inert. It implies that any void in our inborn aspirations doesn’t yield profound social consequence. Such an approach takes the liberty to presume persons are not bold, but instead meek and inaudible whose audacity will not eventually manifest itself through one outlet or another, quite possibly without the wisdom from caring elders.
Through a front-loaded efficiency approach, teachers and educators increase in importance. They advance past incurious measurement and discern holistically what an individual does well and what he needs to move forward. The thoughtful teacher knows to leverage a given three-year-old’s amiable social-emotional dispositions for long-term success. The mindful athletics coach notices the manner in which one of her players lets information come to her and attests to her that she’s not as poor as her math test score purports.
A front-loaded efficiency policy leads to a kind of ‘excellence’ that is a far cry from the historical, contemporary, and political suppositions of “accountability” and “standardization.” Quite to the contrary: it relies on the whole of the teacher’s intelligence as authority.
In my series of essays (from which this is adapted), I draw on a dialogic writing technique in utilizing a main reference, The Political Dynamics of Education by Michael Kirst and Frederick Wirt (2009). I proceed to submit a path for reconstruction for American schooling. I argue that through executive educator’s control at the city level (a mayoral appointee and education expert) we find ourselves best positioned to facilitate the critical layers of education down through the classroom.
I call on two examples of centralized city-level education control in Boston and Chicago in the mid 1990s to mid 2000s as points of contrasting language and postures related to facets of pro-individual versus back-ended notions of ‘efficiency':
In Boston Public Schools there was “a clear theory of instructional improvement and educator capacity building (Kirst & Wirt, 2009, p. 171) that led to sustained improvements as noted by an Aspen Institute study in 2006: “[m]iddle and high school teachers … [believe] that their students were more prepared than previous students. … Teachers talk knowledgeably about their students’ learning; principals talk capably about in- struction; and central office administrators … are framing more of their decisions in terms of the likely effects on schools’ ability to deliver quality instruction to all children.” (Aspen Institute study in March 2006, pp. 8-10)
[Chicago oppositely] appointed a “corporate-style board” (Kirst & Wirt, 2009, p. 165) … and blocked educational leadership from control (p. 167). Chicago’s “top-down change model” defined sanctions against schools (p. 168) that failed to meet accountability measures and minimum standards which ultimately lent itself to “focused … outcomes of the worst-faring students and those … at the upper end of the performance spectrum” (p. 169).
I continue in making my own propositions for centralized education leadership with the following outline:
If we designate decision-making educators, academics, and teachers as the functioning blocks of an eduction system, then it is executive leadership that can bind such parties together. He or she can do so through elevating the stature of the teacher.
The executive can require masters-level teachers to study education in conjunction with ethnography and anthropology, psychology, or philosophy and history. The teacher would then have the skills to conduct interviews and observations across the school, home, and community contexts, thus gaining qualitative data]. [She would] understand the child’s temperamental responses and dispositions. [Finally, she] will have formulated an opinion about “for whom is schooling?”, conceived across time and context. … Teachers would publish alongside an academic before they begin their teacherships (the intention to teach long-term and grow into a leadership role as a teacher) and continue to do so in an ongoing, purposeful manner.
Secondly, after an agreed upon amount of teaching experience during which teachers are subjected to observers coming into their teaching space to ensure quality while the teacher is establishing his own teaching constructs and assessment tools and strategies, teachers obtain tenure and begin to autonomously gather apposite evidence of learning for each child as a qualitative report. [She then would] share such with the next grade level teacher and submit it to the school without contest. When a teacher has reached this stage of his teachership, he would then be considered to be in the discourse of education with full discretional status and tenure protection.
In the last of my essays, I move away from the local context to the wider American setting and drive a reconceptualization agenda for nation-wide education. I lay out a supportive role of the federal government that would operate in concert with entities below:
… US states … have [disparate] value and belief-sets relative to their cultural and political makeup as a function of their geopolitical roles which calls for varying combinations of liberal (as in open or learner-centered) and qualitative versus hierarchical and quantitative ways of schooling its citizenry for flexible outcomes. … Southern California is likely more contiguous with Mexico, and, Silicon Valley with other tech centers abroad than they are with mono-economic agricultural Plains states. … Thus, national leadership should set the tone for a great deal of flexibility for a fluid heterogeneity and circumstantial change.
… From the highest perch, Washington can complement the concepts of Common [emphasis added] Core with more liberal, qualitatively assessed teaching and learning and help universities and states fund and administrate this kind of teacher preparation, particularly when the era [beginning with] No Child Left Behind (President W. Bush’s education policy) has emphasized and demanded the opposite, and indeed from everyone, everywhere. With such a balance the nation is in a better position for a more innovative, dynamic, diverse, and internationally engaged economy. It is also in a better position to allow all students to benefit educationally from it, and actively create it.