Why are the best players sitting on the bench?

As my eyes cruised down my Twitter feed the other day, I saw a headline that grabbed my attention.

“Want Better Education Policy?”

Yes!

“There’s a checklist for that.”

Yes, please!

I eagerly click on the link to an article by Rich Crandell (a former AZ legislator) and Danielle Gonzalez (of the Aspen Institute). I’ll also admit that education policy is my current passion-I’m researching educator perceptions in state education policy, vacuuming up everything I can find on the topic, and working to create units of study that will be better prepare teachers for meaningful involvement. So an education policy checklist? This was like finding an unopened package the day after Christmas, accidentally shoved under a couch and causing a delayed reason for celebration after the holiday hullabaloo had quieted.

So I began to read the article…

“Education policy can advance student learning, but as education becomes much more politicized and specialized, policymakers may benefit from taking a step back and thinking about the root causes of the problems and the theory of change behind every policy solution.” 

Bravo!!!

“Expertise, experience and coalition-building are still the key to making good policy.”

Now I’m vigorously shaking my head in agreement!

“The State Education Policy Checklist is a simple way to ensure that every education policy proposal is properly thought out before being pursued, and that both the policy and the implementation can make a difference for students.”

Okay, now I’m salivating. So I open the checklist.

And though I found it helpful, useful, and a great start, I see a glaring piece missing. An important and huge piece to the checklist. Probably step number one. Teacher expertise.

Why? Here are a few reasons from the researchers on why teacher expertise in education policy (development, implementation, reflection, etc.) is important:

  • Reform can be problematic if teachers do not have a voice in education policy changes and the policy agenda (Wells, 2012; Bangs & Frost, 2012).
  • Teacher voice and teacher leadership is vital for the success of reform movements (Little, 1988; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2011; Wells, 2012; York-Barr & Duke, 2004).
  • There is a chasm between current education policy and what teachers know and experience as practitioners (Bangs & Frost, 2012).
  • There is a huge gap between policy and practice in education (Berry et al., 2013).
  • We have a history of failed education reforms and policies with very little teacher input, and if there is teacher input, it may not be in meaningful ways. Think “rubber stamp” (Goldstein, 2014; Ravitch, 2011; anyone who looks at the history of education).

I’m thinking about a few of my favorite social media/newsy pieces as well:

  • Rebecca Klein (2013), the Huffington Post Education editor, wrote a super-smart Huffington Post piece complete with photographs. She highlighted 11 education leaders that have major influence in education in the United States but have no education experience with names such as Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Wendy Kopp, Rupert Murdoch and Cory Booker. The remarks below this piece included hundreds of constituents and readers from California to New York commenting on the need for teacher expertise in national education issues.
  • Scott Goldstein (2013) wrote a piece in which he examined the archival, public data of large, education non-profits that were involved in influencing and advocating for education policy. He looked at 58 national staffers and found that only 22 had ever worked in a classroom, and of those 22, 19 had taught for less than three years (most for a certain nonprofit that seems to have temporary teachers in classrooms for 2 years or less).

Back to the State Education Policy Checklist. I love so many things about it…it’s thoughtfulness. It’s deliberate nature. It’s intent. And it does suggest that stakeholder input and feedback is sought out, but I don’t know if that goes far enough. I’m talking about more than just buy in. Here is what I am going to suggest to make it stronger.

Right from the beginning, I’d advocate to have teacher involvement in development a part of step one. In order for education policy to work, we must turn to the experts in its creation. Those who know the way learning lives and breathes in a classroom. Experts who know the structures of our schools in a way that they can predict any consequences—intended and unintended—of a policy when it hits the ground of the classroom, how it will impact students.

Teachers are the experts who will help identify the problem, the root cause of the problem, and the possible policy solution(s).

So the checklist? It’s a great start. But I have a to ask a question that could make it even stronger.

In the words of Goldstein (2013), “Why are the best players in the game of education reform sitting on the bench?” 

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