Thursday, December 23, 2010

Education Reform

My letter to my local representatives concerning education reform. 

It has come to my attention that a special committee on education reform has been created to hold hearings on education reform. 

There has also been some mention of Geoffrey Canada and his new education reform movement called Stand for Children. 

In my years as a teacher, student, education specialist, and education blogger I have done much research and writing on the topic of education reform. You are welcome to read my blog. I suggest searching for key terms such as firing teachers, quality education, and reform. 

There is no doubt that education is changing along with just about everything else in the world. However, making changes quickly and expecting fast reform is a sure recipe for failure. 

I know that Mr. Canada has had some success with the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ). Though not as stellar as we are sometimes lead to believe. However, what is less publicized is the true cost of his private reforms. I believe that cost of running HCZ has been very much more than that of the public schools in the area. ($16,000 per student)

What also seems to be lost in the general clamor for school reform is that notion that charter schools are not meant to be replacements for our public education system. They are meant to be laboratories. Charter schools develop new and innovative charters or ways of running a school, test them out then if they work scale up (sometimes they are not even meant to be scaled up) and if they don't work close or change. Even chartered schools that work are not always meant to replace schools, but rather create opportunities or alternatives. 

With all that said I do agree with the basic principal of the HCZ. That is, schools alone are not a solution for the education crisis in America.To truly improve education there must be changes in nutrition, home life, and health care also. 

The idea that education can be reformed by judging teachers on the basis of one or more tests, by reducing their job security, or incentivizing pay is ludicrous. 

Value added measurements done on a classroom level are just not that reliable. At the minimum they should include several years of testing. They should also be a minimal measure of a teacher. They should be backed up by physical observations of the teacher by several parties as often as possible. I know there is a push for watching video, but as someone who has observed in the classroom a video is just too limiting, especially for a formal evaluation.

As a business person yourself I'm sure you know that the worst way to motivate an employee for the long term is to make them fear for their job. 

We also know that merit pay doesn't work. We have known if for a long time if you are unsure of why please watch this excellent video by Dan Pink, or this article from Time Magazine

National, state, and local conversations on education must happen and I look forward to participating. Let's make sure I and everyone else has the opportunity to participate. 

Brendan Murphy

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