Guestbloggers Sydney Morris and Evan Stone are co-founders of Educators 4 Excellence, a teacher-lead organization of more than 12,000 educators nationwide
Education used to be a place where Democrats and Republicans could reliably come together and collaboratively make important policy decisions. Look at No Child Left Behind, which brought together the likes of Ted Kennedy and John Boehner who both sponsored the bill in their respective houses.
Fast forward twelve years, and the first comprehensive education bill to pass either chamber since 2001 – the so-called Student Success Act – came out of the House without a single Democratic vote—a sign that there was little collaboration to forge a compromise.
We’re seeing this polarization play out at the state level as well, to the detriment of schools, teachers and students.
Just a few years ago, Republican and Democratic governors from 45 states jumped at the chance to sign on to the Common Core standards, a commitment towards providing a more rigorous education for all students. Now, state after state is bailing on the assessments tied to these standards, as a result of a full out assault led by Tea Party activists and liberal democrats in these states.
This education policy yo-yo risks paralyzing the very people these policies are supposed to be helping—teachers and students.
In every state, like Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Common Core is now delayed or dead, teachers have already been training and preparing for months or longer—now with just a few weeks before the start of school, there is a lot of confusion around how to plan for an ever-shifting target.
With the real world consequences of these radical decisions largely being ignored, it’s clear that what public education needs is a return to the middle. This rational voice is not going to come from Washington or from either of the extremes that are currently defining the debate. It needs to come from the classroom. Teachers who are focused on the interests of their students need to stand up, take back the ownership of their profession, and demand policies that will elevate teaching and help improve student outcomes.
Teachers don’t think about these issues and challenges as red v. blue or federal overreach v. local control, but rather how they will help them better instruct their students and grow as professionals.
Not surprisingly, across the country we are seeing teachers raise their hands—and their voices—demanding an opportunity to break through the paralysis with reasonable solutions.
That’s how our organization, Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) was born three years ago. As teachers at a public school in the Bronx, New York, we became increasingly frustrated with the policy directives being placed upon our classrooms – decisions were being made with little input from the very educators who would be charged with implementing them.
Since our inception, E4E has grown into a national movement of more than 12,000 educators who have taken ownership over the fight to bring the conversation back to the center and back to a focus on the interests of our students.
In California, E4E teachers pushed for increased funding, but also called for the additional dollars to be tied to meaningful reform so that it did not get dumped into a school funding formula that limited equity and perpetuated a failing system.
In New York City, our members twice stood up for a fair compromise in the debate around teacher evaluation. First, they called for an appeals system that guaranteed due process through the use of an independent, third party observer, but also expedited the dismissal process for teachers with multiple ineffective ratings. And then, when the district and union were unable to negotiate a deal locally, E4E-NY teachers encouraged decision-makers to help enact an evaluation system that coupled accountability with meaningful support and feedback, and grounded that evaluation in multiple measures, including their students’ academic growth.
In Minnesota, E4E teachers pushed for increased funding for early childhood education and a local version of the Dream Act because these common sense policy stances are good for our students and good for our country.
America used to be a place of compromise, where left and right came together to do big things on behalf of the greater good. As we watch the dysfunction in Washington spread from state house to state house, it is becoming clearer than ever that the answers to our country’s pressing education problems need to come straight from professionals – the ones in the classroom, rather than the ones in politics.