Came back from a glorious two-week vacation, to find TLN-mate, Nancy Flanagan—that Teacher in a Strange Land—had thrown out this challenge: What five things would we like policymakers to know? (Also, thanks to Richele for her invitation.)

Only five? Hmmm….

Five Things I Want Policymakers To Know

  1. Put the “public” back in public education. Educators have always had a higher calling than simply to generate a workforce; we were to produce thinking, responsible citizens. However, we were never expected to do it entirely on our own. Well-developed education policy will require the combined wisdom of parents, teachers, students, researchers, business leaders, and political representatives.
  2. “Basic” skills aren’t always simple (to learn or teach).  Don’t be bullied by scoffers who are SURE they know what “basic skills” are and how they should be taught. Many of these people are also suffering from extreme forms of nostalgic fantasy (“Back when I was in school, we all learned…”) Before we start labeling today’s teachers or students lazy or incompetent, consider how many more facts and skills there are to be learned.
  3. Learning is not [necessarily] linear. In fact, students are quite capable of thinking and learning at what we would consider the “highest levels” (think: Bloom’s or other taxonomies), while having significant gaps in what is traditionally considered “lower level” skills. Even more common, students with a solid grasp of lower level facts and skills often falter when faced with higher level cognitive demands or situations.
  4. If you’re really serious about addressing the achievement gap, don’t just focus on urban schools. The Rural Matters blog shared these facts from an NCES report (The Status of Education in Rural America): “…more than three-quarters of African American students and nearly half of American Indian/Native Alaskan students attend remote rural schools where more than 75% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.”
  5. When crafting educational policy, seek [real] professional help. Look and listen closely to what highly effective teachers are already doing, particularly those who have proven ourselves successful with high-needs, underserved students. Effective teachers aren’t just energetic missionaries. We are accomplished, reflective, masterful practitioners who (to borrow from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards) know our subjects, know our students, and know how to teach those subjects to our students.

Whether it’s NCLB or IDEA, improving education in the United States will be an on-going, multi-faceted process; not a single act of legislative magic. At the very least, policymakers should observe John Wesley’s maxim: Do all the good you can; do no harm.

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