When I first became a teacher, a veteran teacher advised me that good teachers borrow from others and great teachers steal. Then he gave me his entire social studies curriculum. Teaching and learning can be isolating, both at the classroom and school levels. It's easy to stay in our own room, your own building, your own district, and not venture into someone else's space. And it's humbling to learn from others' successes, even if you're in the business of teaching and learning.
In the name of discovering the panacea that will close the achievement gap, we Americans have created charter, district, screened, unscreened, pilot, magnet, in-district charter, and empowerment schools. The labels we give our public schools seem to be never ending. We're trying to be innovative. Education Secretary Arne Duncan played a large role in this by creating the Race to the Top grant program that motivated states to compete for jumbo federal education grants in return for passing large reforms in state legislatures. For those Americans who were lucky enough to receive a high quality education and don't work in the education sector, the alphabet soup of school choice may be foreign to you. And for those Americans who are simply trying to get the best education for their children, so many options can be overwhelming.
With all of these new types of schools we are willing to try, we're forgetting how important it is to learn from each other's successes. In some cities, notably New York, charter and district schools have acrimonious relationships with each other, which is, in part, a product of schools competing over scarce space.
When the late Dr. Ray Budde, a former education professor at University of Michigan first coined the term "charter school" in the 1970s, he envisioned spaces where teachers would be able to innovative with their pedagogy and share their findings with colleagues in traditional public schools. Last week, the American Federation of Teachers took a step towards inspiring collaboration by launching sharemylesson.com, a website modeled off of the Times Education Supplement, a British teacher collaboration website.
The concept of sharemylesson.com is far from revolutionary. Teach for America created TFANet, a website that its teachers use to share anything from lesson plans to job leads. The International Baccalaureate, a college-preparatory program that schools around the world use as an alternative to Advanced Placement Exams, heavily relies on its Online Curriculum Centre, allowing teachers to collaborate around the world. At the school level, schools build internal servers that their teachers use to collaborate with their lesson planning. A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly praised Finland's schools for outperforming the rest of the developed world, and also for being consistently high quality. Why? Because they collaborate.
So as a nation that is so committed to innovating, why are our schools so hesitant to collaborate and share best practices? Americans are raised from infancy to be competitive. We rank our teachers, our schools, and our students. In our quest to become and remain the best, we're forgetting the importance of teamwork. As we build new types of schools for our children and reform those that already exist, we must share what works and remember that while an excellent education can take many different forms, it is the right of every American child.