This is one op ed you won’t be reading in the Boston Globe. The Globe decided to “pass on it,” as they have on most other dissenting education policy pieces over the past 17 years. What is the sound does an op ed page make without even one hand clapping?
This op ed submission sounds two impermissible notes: that “we have many wonderful public schools in Massachusetts” and that these schools-as much or more so than Charters-could provide a blueprint for non-standardized testing, time-tested, authentic school reform in our public schools.
Now perhaps this piece just doesn’t meet the high writing standards of the Globe. That you can judge for yourself. My suspicion is than any op ed that argues public education is not a total failure will need to find a different venue for publication. Anyone know of any Samizdat possibilities?
I wrote about my former school because I knew it well. Of course there are many other public schools with other lessons to teach and programs to share.
THE PATH NOT TAKEN TO ED REFORM
Through all the talk about education reform, all the cheerleading for charters, merit pay, and standardized testing, and all the frequent denunciations of teachers and public schools, one salient fact has been omitted.
That fact is this: we actually have many wonderful public schools and pilots in Massachusetts. Students and parents will tell you as much. This fact got lost because advocates of testing and charters-media allies included-chose to ignore it. Perhaps painting with a broad brush seemed the best way mobilize public opinion behind their reform program.
The stereotyping of teachers as uncaring union hacks is unjust. These are people with two or three college degrees, earning salaries considered chump change on Wall St. or in business lobbying groups. Worse, those who teach the most challenged students in the poorest districts are blamed for their continuing poverty, while businessmen who favor tax policies that deepen inequality accuse teachers of incompetence. There is no chutzpah shortage among education reformers.
But the injustice done to teachers is not the most damaging consequence of the ongoing attack on public education. The larger loss has been a collective one: we did not think to look to our many successful schools for strategies to help those that are struggling. After all, why look to a failed public system?
Yet that is precisely where we needed to look for an alternative version of education reform based on something more than a parched vision of standardized testing and multiple-choice thinking.
As a retired teacher, I smile ruefully whenever I hear editorial writers and politicians tell us that parents should have the right to choose the more innovative charter approach.
I think to myself: have they ever heard of my old school, Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School? Is it even on their radar? Don’t these experts know that L-S has been an innovative public school for the past forty years? True, it is a suburban school in an affluent area. But many of the things that make L-S a memorable place for its 1800 students have little to do with money. Few of the reformers would be inclined to acknowledge this since it affirms how well public education can work.
What makes L-S innovative? Here are a few examples:
Teachers become invested in their work because they are given the freedom to create their courses and to participate in school decision-making (Yes, even students serve on hiring committees). The union deals with contractual issues, but faculty see themselves as classroom teachers. (And they support rigorous evaluation). No one looks at the clock. All give because all feel that L-S is their school. Extended day? For years, kids have gotten extra help before school begins and after it ends. No, the idea of collaboration and commitment did not begin with charter schools. Nor “innovation.”
Students become invested in their own education by being able to choose interesting electives beyond the core requirements, with 11th and 12th graders enrolled in many of the same classes;
Both teachers and students have “frees” so they can get to know each other outside of class, and give and get extra help. In this way, responsibility and caring have become part of the unwritten curriculum;
Teachers are encouraged to be creative. They enjoy a large measure of classroom autonomy, while students are asked to think critically. This engages them, takes them beyond dull memorization, and actually makes them excited about learning;
The culture of the school is informal. There is no honor roll. Mickey Mouse rules are kept to a minimum.
L-S students feel well-prepared for college. They look back on their high school with respect and affection, and recall being treated with dignity,
Successful public schools like L-S might have inspired an approach to reform more likely to make urban students competitive not only with distant rivals in the global economy, but with their own peers (including METCO students) in the suburbs.
We have been urged to think outside the box in addressing the “Crisis In Education.” Corporate America pushes for-profit charters. Businessmen and bureaucrats call for standardized exams. The testing industry goes into production. But who would have guessed the answer was “None of the Above,” and that the better path to reform was already running through our public schools, the one across the street or in the next town.
What the reformers didn’t care to know is that teachers, parents, administrators, and local school committees had already figured out how to make schools work and how to educate the whole child.
There, the secret is out.
Bill Schechter taught history at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional H.S. for 35-years