Can’t We All Just Get Along on School Reform?

Conservative rhetoric about education is rarely understated in the United States, to the detriment of real discussion about improving schools. A piece by Joy Pullman of the Heartland Institute offers a typically critical view of education in this piece from the Washington Examiner, a piece that ably demonstrates this failure.

In the course of her piece, she cites a comically misinformed “study” that suggests teachers are overpaid, argues that teachers education is about progressivism rather than preparation, and offers sensitive gems like this:

Such a highly constricted profession offers little to smart people who seek freedom to achieve and rewards for doing so. Instead, it attracts those who want a conveyor belt to an early retirement with pay and benefits that average 50 percent higher than their abilities would earn them elsewhere…

So why bother even responding to the argument? Because I do agree with Pullman on some key points, namely that teacher preparation programs are not nearly rigorous enough, that we need to demand more academically-minded people in the classroom, and that deep content knowledge is crucial for teachers to actually teach effectively—and we’ve undermined that with an emphasis on soft skills.

Despite our areas of agreement, Pullman’s piece demonstrates the failure of reasoned discourse about education reform in the United States. Critics on the right who demonize public school teachers, call them idiots, and attack their professionalism are never going to find allies within the system with whom they can work. Articles like this are certainly enticing red meat for the anti “gubmt schools” crowd, but they don’t offer any ground for real conversation about school improvement.

From the perspective of this teacher who absolutely thinks public education must address “class privilege,” I’m more than willing to work with people who want to ensure higher caliber instruction for those who want to become teachers and rigorous evaluation of teacher efficacy in the classroom, but I’m not willing to work with people whose idea of education reform is trafficking in absurd stereotypes about public unions, claims that teachers are overpaid, or “research” that is far more about ideology than accuracy.

Conservative critics of education, if you are serious about improving schools and educational outcomes for all students, come to the table, but come with rhetoric and ideas that will get us past this war that might raise some money for your issues institute, but doesn’t serve anyone, least of all our students.

You might be surprised to learn that there are a lot of teachers who badly want to reform the system, too. Teachers who are frustrated about “endless craft projects” and who want to see the status and results of their profession elevated are out there. Tone down the rhetoric and some teachers might even start to seek some middle ground from which we can implement real reform.