“Flawed rhetoric and discord in education reform”

As the first month of the school year draws to a close, my mind is spinning with thoughts of the opportunities, and challenges that lie in the months ahead.  There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding what path our district will take. But I remain optimistic that we can work together to make choices and policies that will best serve our students.

The “us against them” rhetoric has so divided teachers and the public, teachers and politicians, even charter teachers and neighborhood school teachers. This rhetoric is damaging and demonstrates lack of regard for the actual issue at hand: our students.

The fundamental issue is the massive disconnect between those making policy decisions and those implementing and experiencing their effects on a daily basis. Does a policy maker consider the realities of a student who has been in the US for just over a year but is required to take the PSSA literacy in English, with no modifications? Does a policy maker experience the daily effects of crowded classrooms? Or the effects of having one counselor in an entire K-8 school?

When I hear the phrase ‘high quality seats,’ it makes me realize that many of those saying ‘it’s all about the kids,’ may not be in touch with what our kids truly need.  How can we refer to classrooms and school environments and children as performing seats? How can a seat be labeled as proficient, in turn making that school worthy?

I am afraid that policy makers are setting traditional neighborhood schools like mine up for failure, even though it may not be done with ill intent. When policies are created based on test scores that do not truly measure student achievement, the disconnect between children’s needs and educational reform is glaring.

These reform efforts are sweeping the education world. However, faulty logic generated in a top-down manner is creating these new policies. Policies that do not take into account the whole child damage our students.  If we start looking at what is working in our schools, and what beautiful and heartwarming things take place in every school, school, every day, we will be able to foster ground-up, meaningful change. For example, it works in my school that many of our teachers have known our middle school kids since they first entered our school in Pre-K or Kindergarten, and that there is a mutual respect between staff and students. It works that one of our Kindergarten teachers can see kids that she had 7 years ago, and still “get on their level” and get through to them.
It works in my school that we have a building engineer and custodial staff that take such pride in their work that they cleaned 600 light bulbs over the summer.

It works in my school that two teachers worked with family and community organizations to facilitate an outstanding back-to-school supply drive that will help many of our children have what they need to achieve each day.

Are changes needed in our schools? Yes. The current state of ed reform, however, deepens the chasm and makes meaningful change impossible. Should teachers be held accountable for their practice? Yes. Are there ineffective teachers in the United States? Undoubtedly.

But we must stop looking for a panacea to ‘cure’ all that ails public education. There is no magic bullet solution. Trying the same things again and again just furthers this cyclical pattern of reform efforts that are bound to fail. The notion that increasing ‘seats’ in charter schools is a solution is illogical. There is a place in Philadelphia for charter schools. They are a valuable element of our system. However, they are not a replacement for neighborhood schools.  “Turning around” a school by converting it to a charter, or suggesting that vouchers would give parents real “choice” wastes resources and often relocates problems elsewhere.

Policy makers, educators, and parents alike need to mean it when they say ‘it’s all about the students’. Our policy makers must recognize what is happening at individual schools. Real feedback, input, and brainstorming must take place before policies are generated, not as an afterthought. How can we claim that a school needs a new curriculum or new teachers or new students or even a new building without actually looking at the profiles of individuals who live the reality of that school on a daily basis?

– Hillary Linardopoulos

Teacher, Julia De Burgos Elementary School