Education reform time machine: Talking like it’s 1989

We’re living in an education reform time machine. I  looked up some back issues of the MetLife Foundation’s Survey of the American Teacher. It was fascinating reading— the MetLife Foundation does a brilliant job compiling relevant, actionable data— but it ultimately left me freaked out. We’ve been talking about the same stuff for decades.

The oldest document available on the Survey of the American Teacher website is titled Preparing Schools for the 1990s: An Essay Collection, published in 1989. I read it and wanted to bang my head against the wall.

One essay in particular stuck with me: “Education Reform: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly— A Teacher’s Perspective” by Kim Natale. Mr. Natale was a finalist for National Teacher of the Year, participant in NASA’s Teacher in Space program, and dynamo physics teacher who grew the student enrollment in physics fro 13 to 320 at Pomona High School in Arvada, Colorado. The guy knows his stuff.

The whole essay is worth reading (pages 13-19 in this document) but here are some prescient and unnerving tidbits:

The problem [in the American public school system] is twofold and is getting worse as the “reform” movement continues. There is a severe shortage of quality teachers, and many of the teachers who are good are so restricted by poor administrators and regulations that it is impossible for them to do a good job.

Prediction No. 1: The shortage of quality teachers will continue because educators continue to believe that teaching is a science…

Prediction No. 2: There will be increased standardization, hampering teachers’ ability to control their own environment…

Prediction No. 3: Administrative support of teachers will decline, along with a continuing decline in administrator confidence in teachers…

Prediction No. 4: The overall poor quality of the curriculum and the improper use of that curriculum will continue…

Prediction No. 5: Teachers will maintain about the same [relatively low] level of pride in their profession as they have now.

Mr. Natale’s forecast, made in the early days of the George H.W. Bush administration, more than a decade before No Child Left Behind, has proved true far beyond the 1990s. Is there any chance we won’t be saying the same stuff a generation from now?

I need to hope so. At the very least, I’m going to shout it loud at the Save Our Schools March on Washington on July 30.

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