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Shaun Johnson

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Why I'm Marching to Save our Schools

Posted: 07/24/11 07:53 PM ET

The Conference and March to Save Our Schools begins this Thursday in sweltering Washington, DC. I'll be there, joining the various like-minded K-12 and university educators I've met over the last couple of years through my participation in the so-called 'education blogosphere.'

When I first became a professor of education, I was under the naïve delusion that anyone would care about what I have to say. I spent years in graduate school attending and speaking at education conferences mainly to small audiences of my peers, largely leaving unsatisfied each time with the conversations. Out of graduate school and gainfully employed, I expected this to be the big show.

It isn't, not yet at least. I became motivated, however, to force my way into the conversation via my own education blog and podcast At the Chalk Face, in addition to expanding my reach through websites such as this. So far, I've been happy with the results and the contacts I've made.

Ultimately, I feel that certain voices within the new focus on education are still being excluded to make room for figures that loom much larger, be it through money, power, personality, or all of the above. But few of these prominent "reformers" are actual educators, or possess much in terms of meaningful experiences in the actual work of education.

Persons like myself who disagree with current education reform trends are often accused of stubbornly embracing the status quo. What is more, we apparently have no new ideas to offer other than the inferior policies that have been "failing" our schools for decades. The Save Our Schools March is one valiant attempt to advocate for alternative perspectives that don't fit the central education reform narrative.

We need to let the public know that there is only one side of the story playing out in mainstream publications. For a time, truly progressive education reform options have been imprisoned in academic journals, which is one of the reasons why prominent reformers and operators have been so successful in connecting with the public.

In this post, I want to both clarify why I'm participating in the SOS March and demonstrate that we definitely do possess new ideas about education as viable alternatives to the largely test-driven and corporatized reforms we tend to see as front and center in the debate. So, here's a sampler of my thoughts:

Provide options for faculty members in education to return to the classroom on a short-term basis to improve teacher education;
End immediately state-by-state standardized testing regimes in favor of a lower-stakes model similar to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP);
Limit the reach of alternative certification and preparation programs for teachers, establishing clear professional distinctions between career educators and short-term contractors;
Give teachers more curricular control to purchase and even design instructional materials, thereby increasing instruction in science, social studies, and the arts;
End immediately evaluations of teachers based on annual standardized test scores;
• Repeal and replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB), particularly the punitive measures and the ridiculous metric called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP);
• Increase the status of the teaching profession via incentives such as loan forgiveness programs, higher GPA requirements for entrance into teacher training, stipends or subsidies to purchase instructional materials, limited performance-based evaluations, and across-the-board salary increases, particularly immediate pay scale increases for those who teach in low-income areas;
• Adjust top-down models of school system governance in favor of classroom teachers and other professionals wielding more power and influence in decision-making;
• Increase specialization and promotion opportunities for educators so that the options are not limited to staying in the classroom, going into administration, or leaving the profession; and
• Finally, if some moves are not made to diminish the stranglehold of corporate education reform, educators and parents will strengthen their resolve in the coming months to opt their children and students out of the mandated standardized tests.

 

Follow Shaun Johnson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thechalkface