Fake education “reform” disrespects the teacher

You don’t have to be too old – or maybe you do – to remember when a popular shorthand for education consisted of only three Rs – reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic.

Corny? Sure. But the three Rs emphasized that the teacher was the center, the driving force of the classroom, the school and the very educational process itself.

Now, we have a fourth R – reform – which has tried to diminish the role of the teacher in favor of the latest schemes, often ill-informed and not always well-intended, advanced by a series of self-styled education “experts” with voices or political influence loud enough to make themselves heard.

Some of these experts-in-their-own minds haven’t seen the inside of a classroom since their college days, but they claim to know more than teachers about what’s best for school children – and what’s best for the children’s taxpaying parents as well.

There is nothing wrong with reform because true reform is changing something in an effort to improve it or make it better. But the “reformers’ I am talking about have hijacked the use of the word, like they are trying to hijack the public education system.

The charter school alternative, for example, was sold to the Legislature years ago as an innovative idea to give a limited number of schools some flexibility from state regulations to experiment with educational methods that might better help some students learn.

Today’s “reformers” have hijacked the charter movement to milk billions of tax dollars from under-funded neighborhood schools in order to feed the coffers of predatory, corporate-style charter chains with educational records that generally are worse than most traditional public schools. They don’t have to hire certified teachers, and they aren’t bound by state contractual rights for teachers or the salary schedule.

“Reform” also has saddled us with the expensive STAAR albatross, which has robbed teachers of time they could spend on real reading, writing and arithmetic in favor of test prep, test prep and more test prep. It was replaced the three Rs with the four Ts – teaching to the test – has cost Texas taxpayers billions of dollars and has needlessly raised the stress levels of school children.

I suspect it also has destroyed the joy of learning for untold numbers of children, and that is the real tragedy of STARR. My suspicion has been reinforced by writer Mimi Swartz’s recent articles in Texas Monthly, reporting the opinions of real educational experts that many questions on the STAAR reading exams are above grade level.

The STAAR and its predecessors were imposed by elected officials more interested in measuring the so-called “accountability” of teachers and children than they were in fulfilling their own constitutional responsibility to adequately and fairly fund all of Texas’ public schools. It’s time to end STAAR or declare a moratorium. Instead, the Legislature has imposed the A-F grading system on schools and school districts, which will increase the pressure on STAAR scores even more.

Another type of reform, school finance reform, is dominating much of the discussion in this legislative session, and this offers an opportunity to return some of the focus to teachers and the classroom. But real school finance reform begins with a significant increase in state funding for public education and pay raises for all Texas teachers and other school employees.

Those proposals are still being debated, so stay tuned. It is a lot easier to preach “reform” than deliver the real thing.

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