04/15/2013 09:33 am ET | Updated Jun 15, 2013

Education Reform: Starting at the Beginning


I heard a report today on NPR about the school officials in Atlanta who have been accused of racketeering for cheating on tests in order to gain bonus pay and status for their schools. This sad situation is indicative of many problems with education today, but two glaring examples are the demands of education reform that started with No Child Left Behind and the high demands, increasingly low pay and decreases in pay in the field of education.

The No Child Left Behind Act increased student and teacher accountability, tests and led to the development of the Common Core Standards. All of these are noble changes, well-intentioned changes and no one is arguing that change was needed, but the implementation of the changes in all grade levels meant that the students in grade 1-12 were held to standards for which they were not prepared. I teach Transitional Kindergarten and am able to meet the standards most of the time because the students enter my class and I start from the very beginning. If you were a 5th grade teacher, students would enter your class and suddenly be expected to jump up to the much higher demands of the new standards.

The teachers are held accountable through the evaluation of their students' test scores. The students are also evaluated based on these test scores. The demands imposed and the resulting stress teachers and administrators feel are understandable. An analogy would be if a doctor was now held accountable for his patient's health based on what we now know and accept to be healthy lifestyle habits, such as not smoking, limited drinking, daily exercise, a plant-based diet, and daily meditation but the patients had only incorporated the new lifestyle habits for a short time. The new habits do not erase the years of old habits, just as the new Standards do not provide the educational opportunities for the past year's teaching.

The other problem, that of the decrease in educators' salaries over the past five years, puts educators under the stress of looking for ways to increase their income and the awarding of bonuses and pay could be a temptation. Most teachers I know imply take a second, or third, job and continue to curtail their lifestyle.

What is the answer? One answer might be to phase in Standards, as some districts are doing with the Common Core Standards, providing support to all students, but looking at accountability for Kindergarten and First grade. Building a stable educational foundation beginning with the youngest students is the logical implementation plan for an educational program that sets the bar higher and aims to raise student achievement. Additionally, providing a respectful, living wage to educators, allowing them to concentrate on professional development, further education and training instead of forcing educators to spend their hours after the teaching workday, working a second job to make financial ends meet, would create a climate of professionalism that teacher's deserve.

Reform is the act of changing an institution to improve it, actually to reform it and create something better. True education reform needs to create a system that supports students with high standards, financial commitment and well-paid, respected, dedicated professionals guiding students.