HERE'S AN IDEA... "While it is true that both the best and worst teachers seek maximum autonomy, it is incumbent upon their supervisors to know the difference between them".

Author:Slater, David Michael

PERHAPS the most obvious and disturbing reason that so many ideas in education turn out to be duds (or worse) is that they so often are conceived by people who have no training in education. Is there any other profession so powerfully influenced by those with no background in it? Is there any other field of endeavor where pretty much everyone thinks they are qualified to weigh in?

Consult the resumes of your local school board--it is very likely that not a single member has a degree, let alone any practical experience, in education. It defies reason that actual educators so seldom are represented when education policies are set.

When people with no training in education set policy, bad ideas will find their way into classrooms. Politics contribute to bad ideas reaching our classrooms in another way. Since the truth often is not politically expedient, lawmakers frequently set education policy that flies in the face of reality. Educators then find themselves forced to pretend that certain falsehoods are true.

For instance, teachers these days must affirm that all students in their classroom can be educated to the highest standards (say to college readiness) no matter what challenges the pupils face. Admitting this does not equal giving up on anyone. No one requires doctors to declare themselves capable of bringing everyone in their care up to a minimum (high) standard of health--that they will "leave no patient behind." Rather, medical professionals take an oath to try their best and to do no harm--and no one accuses them of not caring about the sickest people they treat, even if those patients die. Acknowledging the limitations of public schools would change nothing but our orientation to reality.

Similarly, educators must pretend they are capable of providing equally effective service to sometimes 40 or more students in a single class--forget who is hungry, abused, homeless, or taking drugs--with skill levels ranging from nearly illiterate to several years beyond grade level.

Guess what, though?--politicians know all of this perfectly well. So, why do they regularly set standards they know cannot and will not be met?--because in the U.S., we believe everyone can reach the top, no matter what; we need only hold the right people accountable to make it happen. The inevitable result is failure--and more blame for teachers, after which the standards are changed (or, more likely, renamed), and we do the dance all over again.

Teaching is a...

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