Many people have asked what they can do to try to change the conditions and misguided policies that I describe in my book. Wherever I go, the same question comes up: What can we do? How do we stop these bad policies and programs? Whether they are parents, teachers, administrators, school board members or citizens concerned about the future of our children and our society, they want ideas about how to persuade our elected officials to change course.
Education used to be a state and local function. Unfortunately, since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001–02, the levers of power now are in the hands of federal officials. With Republicans and Democrats both advocating policies that endanger the future of public education, the situation seems dire indeed. Unfortunately, many of our nation’s wealthiest philanthropies and individuals embrace the misuse of testing and accountability and the advance of privatization.
The odds against us seem overwhelming, but we cannot afford to do nothing. We must take action. At present, the Obama administration is embarked on a course of action that many find repugnant. The Race to the Top is built on the foundation of No Child Left Behind. It emphasizes high-stakes testing, judging teachers by their students’ test scores, closing low-performing schools instead of helping them improve, and promoting a huge increase in private management of public schools. These approaches will narrow the curriculum and promote teaching to the test, which will rob children of the opportunity for a good education. Furthermore, none of these strategies has a solid research base, none has been proven effective in practice, all have the potential to disrupt students’ education, demoralize teachers, and shatter communities. The burden of these policies will fall heavily on low-income, minority communities, but many other communities will be affected as well.
What we need to improve education in this country is a strong, highly respected education profession; a rich curriculum in the arts and sciences, available in every school for every child; assessments that gauge what students know and can do, instead of mindless test prepping for bubble tests. And a government that is prepared to change the economic and social conditions that interfere with children’s readiness to learn. We need high-quality early childhood education. We need parent education programs. We need social workers and guidance counselors in the school. Children need physical education every day. And schools should have classes small enough for students to get the attention they need when they need it.
We cannot improve education by quick fixes. We will not fix education by turning public schools over to entrepreneurs. We will not improve it by driving out experienced professionals and replacing them with enthusiastic amateurs. We will not make our schools better by closing them and firing teachers and entire staffs. No high-performing nation in the world follows such strategies. We cannot be satisfied with the status quo, which is not good enough for our children, nor can we satisfied with the Bush-Obama-Duncan “reforms” that have never been proven to work anywhere.
This is what I suggest:
- Join Parents Across America. Their website is www.parentsacrossamerica.org. This is a group of parents who want to work together to strengthen public education and restore common sense reforms.
- Write your elected officials. Find out whether any Congressmen or Senators from your state are on the education committee in their House of Congress. Write the members of the education committees even if you don’t live in their state. Ask your colleagues to write letters to them. Write letters to the editor. Comment on education blogs. Call in to talk shows. Speak up at school and community meetings. Speak up, speak out.
- Gather a group of teachers, principals, and parents and schedule a meeting with your local legislator, your member of Congress, your state and local representatives. Prepare a list of issues and explain to them how federal and state regulations are harming their schools and what must be done to remove these burdens. Explain that what the media calls “reform“ has no evidence and is actually the opposite of real improvement. Remind them why public education is important and how it matters as a cornerstone of our democracy.
- Run for your school board. Run for elected office in your town, your city, your community, your state.
- Vote for candidates who pledge to support public education and to fund the needs of children and schools.
- Invite local civic and business leaders to spend a day in your classroom and school. Invite them to teach for a day.
- Build alliances between teachers, principals, parents, and the local community to support children and the school.
As the great Southern writer Flannery O’Connor wrote in a letter to a friend, “You have to push as hard as the age that pushes against you.”
This age is pushing mighty hard against children, against educators, and against the very concept of good education.
Let’s all push back as hard as we can.