Today is my birthday. For the past few years, I have told my students that I am 29, with surprising success—not because I look 29, but because teenagers are sometimes easy to fool.
This year, I am going for 30, and I’ll probably spend the next few years at that age.
However, my birthday wishes aren’t what I would have wished for when I was really 30. This year, I have a huge wish list, and all of them are centered on education issues. My own life, my personal life, is pretty close to what I could have ever wanted. I am peaceful and happy (and, perhaps more importantly, my sons and family are healthy and happy, which makes me happy).
Here’s what I wish for my professional life, though. In fact, here’s what I wish for education across the country. I am keeping this really basic—basic enough that my non-education friends can totally understand it.
1. I wish that education reformers (deformers?) could take a step back and remember that our country is supposed to educate everyone: immigrants who can’t speak English, children with physical needs, kids with emotional and cognitive disabilities…we get them all, and we educate them all to the best of our ability. Education is not a business and it really can’t be run like one. Most private schools (and even charter schools) do not have to take everyone. They can turn kids away and kick kids out. Then guess where those kids end up?…in the public school. Don’t get me wrong: I am not complaining about this; I am merely stating a fact. I’ve written about the faulty comparison between businesses and schools in the past, so I am not spending much time on that issue here. Suffice it to say that businesses can turn away products that aren’t ideal. The caterer who gets some chicken that’s just about to turn bad?…he can send it back. A bad batch of peanut butter?…that goes into a landfill (which is what Costco just did: they dumped god-knows-how-much peanut butter into a landfill). In education, we take everything. There is no sending anyone back. And that’s the way it should be.
2. I wish that the millionaires who have never spend a day in front of the classroom would get out of the way and let real teachers make the decisions. Being richer than god does not make one understand the inner workings of the education system.
3. I wish that people would see that they have been sold a false bill of goods. Our public school system is not broken (although there are certainly some broken schools). Diane Ravitch says it best: “NAEP data show beyond question that test scores in reading and math have improved for almost every group of students over the past two decades; slowly and steadily in the case of reading, dramatically in the case of mathematics. Students know more and can do more in these two basic skills subjects now than they could twenty or forty years ago… So the next time you hear someone say that the system is “broken,” that American students aren’t as well educated as they used to be, that our schools are failing, tell that person the facts.”
4. I wish that people would realize that the constant testing of our students does not make them any smarter or more educated. High stakes, standardized testing may be one of the most destructive forces to hit our children in recent decades. Students spend weeks on standardized tests, which is instructional time that is simply gone.
5. I wish that people truly understood all of the nuances of common core state standards and Race to the Top, both of which are destructive to our nation’s students and probably won’t last, but who knows how much damage will have occurred before people realize that they are flawed “reforms” (indeed, they are deforms).
6. I wish that there were a way of getting rid of ineffective teachers. It sounds easier to do than it is. I have thought long and hard about it, and I honestly can’t think of a way to do it that won’t penalize good/effective teachers. Private message me if you have any ideas. Really.
7. I wish that I could just teach. That’s it. Just let me teach.