What’s right for public education is complicated. Opinions on what’s right are as diverse as the variables that affect school performance. My opinion of what’s right for public schools includes a Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, a culture of collaboration, teacher leadership, integration (racially and economically), respect for the teacher’s voice, ongoing professional development, student-centered learning, school-led community partnerships, recognition that learning is beyond measure, differentiated instruction, and, above all, extensive social and academic support for our neediest students. My opinion alone is complicated.
In formulating comprehensive education ideas, I lean on the thoughts of model teachers (like Dwain “Doc” Preston, David Costigan, and others), renowned education researchers (like Robert Sternberg, Linda Darling-Hammond, David Berliner, and others), respected education analysts (like Diane Ravitch, Alfie Kohn, Valerie Strauss, Alan Block, and others), influential activists from the teaching profession (like Paul Thomas, Anthony Cody, Joe Bower, Nancy Flanagan, Katie Osgood, my wife, my colleagues, and others), and my own teaching experiences. Researching what’s right for public schools is complicated.
The thinking is not so complicated for the right busily repressing Wisconsin’s public schools. The GOP, with its stranglehold on Wisconsin’s state government, are implementing policies that are far from what’s right for Wisconsin’s public schools and simply what’s right for the far right.
By their own accord, what’s right for the Wisconsin righties is a free market philosophy to managing Wisconsin’s schools. This plan includes limiting teacher union rights to stifle the teacher’s voice, creating a culture of competition through unproven incentive plans, clinging to fantasy remedies like school choice, diverting precious public school funding dollars to failed voucher plans, and wasting energy and resources on a flawed teacher and school grading system. What’s right for the right is to ignore the complex socioeconomic problems hindering public education and simply let the capitalism fairy descend upon the Wisconsin school system and sprinkle free market healing from her “invisible hand.”
Predictably, the free market model injected into our public school system will get a free pass as its supporters will accept unequal outcomes as simply meritocracy at work. The free marketeers will turn a blind eye to how socioeconomic inequity creates inherently unequal opportunities among Wisconsin’s schools and students. Public school educators and leaders at schools deemed failing will become the scapegoats.
Generally, when formulating reforms, policy makers weigh heavily the opinions of researchers, advisors, and professionals. This reasoned approach applies to almost all professions--except education. Fellow educator David Reber appropriately asks,“In what other profession are the licensed professionals considered the LEAST knowledgeable about the job?”
Conspicuously, the Wisconsin right and its fearless leader, Gov. Walker, shun educational research and the advice of professional educators, while pandering to the voice of the free marketeers. My requests to Gov. Walker’s office for transparency in citing his sources on educational policies have gone unanswered. Regardless, we know Gov. Walker’s strongest supporters--Americans for Prosperity, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, MacIver Institute, Citizens for Responsible Government, among others--are all dedicated to tearing down Wisconsin’s public education and replacing it with a free market education model.
In my own community, my kids’ school district has become a political ping pong ball battered around by the Wisconsin right. Taking full advantage of Gov. Walker’s initiatives, too many school leaders have pushed aside educational research and teacher input to make way for market-world dress codes, unproven pay-for-performance initiatives (partially based on invalid surveys), an employee handbook created without employees, and promises of more teacher duties coupled with less pay. Erraticism builds in Janesville’s schools as talented teachers retire and exit in record numbers. Mid-stream educators (too old to start over, too young to retire) are left to navigate these uneasy waters.
The right’s right is not right for Wisconsin schools.