11/16/2010 02:06 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Educating for Democracy: What if Teachers Ran the Schools?

Several weeks ago I wrote a column titled: "If Doctors Were Treated Like Teachers." The reaction was beyond my wildest expectations including about 80 comments, many of which were extremely informative. In the interest of creating more positive discussion on the issue of education, I am using the same format for a similar list: "What If Teachers Ran the Schools?" I am basing this premise -- absurd as it might seem to educational bureaucrats -- on a conversation I remember my father had many years ago with a Soviet teacher when there was a cultural exchange exhibition with the USSR in the mid-1950s. My father, an educator, asked: "How do you appoint your principals?" expecting, I suppose, that they were determined by the Communist party bureaucracy. To his surprise, the teacher told him: "We elect our principals from among ourselves." So here goes:

If teachers ran the schools:
  1. The principal would be elected among themselves since they would choose one of their best teachers to lead them (the bureaucratic details could be handled by a bureaucrat.).
  2. They would be given the opportunity to teach using the methods they knew that worked best for their classes.
  3. The curriculum would be determined by them rather than by state-wide or national "standards" which might not address the specific needs of their own students.
  4. They would be evaluated by each other and a master teacher to hold them to an agreed upon standard for good teaching.
  5. Evidence for their effectiveness would be based on multiple measurements such as portfolios, individual student contributions to group projects, and tests specific to the needs and capabilities of the students being taught, not standardized tests.
  6. In addition to students, parents would receive report cards to alert them -- in a diplomatic way -- of their importance in the education of their own children.
  7. They would determine the curriculum in teachers' colleges based on their practical experience and best practices in dealing with their many different student populations.
  8. A "Teacher Appreciation Day" would be strongly recommended in all public schools as a way of acknowledging their daily contributions to education.Their unions would support and encourage "classroom autonomy" in insisting on reducing the time teachers spend on forms, attendance sheets and innumerable other clerical chores inappropriate for an educator and demanding that in the classroom the teacher has the right to teach as she/he knows best.
  9. Tenure would be determined by a board consisting of master teachers and any disciplinary issues would be within their jurisdiction.

Issues such as salaries, working conditions and other contractual matters are areas that are best determined by unions, provided, of course, the union heads are sensitive to the teachers' needs for "classroom autonomy."

I am aware that there can be many objections to my proposal: politics can raise its ugly head in determining a teachers future when being considered for tenure; parents may have strong objections to being evaluated if they are used to playing the "blame game" when it comes to their children's learning and, of course, educational bureaucrats and educational testing businesses would be outraged. However, in my defense, I would advise my critics to EXAMINE THE WAY TEACHERS ARE TREATED IN FINLAND considered the most successful educational system in the world. You will find many of the same features in their system that I have suggested although admittedly, there are many differences between Finnish culture and our own. I would particularly urge my readers to note, however, that "teacher autonomy" is one of the most important aspects of Finland's "number one" educational system.