Educational leaders need followers

Tom Whitby has a passionate plea today for educational leaders willing to speak out for more than “supporting the status quo of additional standardized testing or increasing its influence in education.” He writes:

More testing does not equate to more learning. Why is this not being articulated with passion to the public?

Whitby’s opinions deserve consideration. He’s been in the trenches: 34 years as secondary English teacher in public schools. And he has an impressive list of unpaid service to education as well, from work with the teachers union to blogs, tweets and the Educator’s PLN.

Whitby says that, aside from Diane Ravitch, the people who are chosen by the national media and politicans to speak about education are businesses that benefit directly from the testing and “the man in the street.”

While those spokesperson choices may be unfortunate and unbalanced, they are not unreasonable. If there’s no one in education who is succeeding by educational standards, it makes a kind of sense to call on someone who is succeeding in education as measured by a different standard. And it is, after all, the “man in the street” who pays the tab for schools, so he surely deserves to be heard.

Implicit in Whitby’s phrase “the failure of standardized testing to make positive changes” is a point the anti-testing educators tend to overlook: the need for positive changes in education. The No Child Left Behind act and all the testing nonsense it generated had its basis in genuine concern over whether American schools were actually educating American children. The “man in the street” may not have known much about running a school, but he knew whether the kid running the cash register at the grocery store could make change.

The novice teachers in our schools today are seen as the cohort that didn’t have to undergo rigorous testing in K-12. If they aren’t able to teach so their students can pass tests, that reinforces for the public the reason why tests are needed. People will always believe their eyes rather than a research report.

Leaders, no matter how passionate, have to do more than participate on panels and tweet on Twitter with other educators if they are to have real impact.  Educators have to emerge who are able—and willing—to speak to and listen to the man in the street in their community.  True education reform has to be a grassroots movement. Education reform leaders have to have more than just educators behind them.

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