California Governor Jerry Brown put his finger on the syndrome in 2012: “Everybody went to school, so everybody thinks they know how to teach, or they think they know something about education.”
Especially politicians. So, every couple of years, a new education reform takes hold in politics. And the politicians dictate a new set of hoops for teachers, principals and educators to jump through.
This all started with the 1983 report of President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence on Education, which seized headlines with its voice of doom: “The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”
That launched a series of reform fads – some good, some bad – but all based on the premise that America’s schools were going to hell in a handbasket, taking our economy, our competitiveness and our very future with them. We got standards, assessments, teacher evaluations, ending tenure, charter schools, vouchers – 30 years of successive waves of reform.
Now we get Common Core, the latest silver bullet to solve the Great Education Crisis.
Teachers I talk to praise the goals and intentions of Common Care. But they say that, like every reform, it’s being pushed through on the excitement plan, with little thought for how hard it is to implement sweeping changes overnight. As Stephen Colbert said, Common Care “prepares students for what they’ll face as adults – pointless stress and confusion.”
But is there even a crisis? Education analyst Diane Ravitch ravaged that argument when she spoke to NCSU’s Emerging Issues Forum in February. Her criticism of Republican education “reforms” in North Carolina got the headlines, but she made a deeper and more biting point: If the public schools have been failing us for 30 years, why does the United States remain the most innovative, productive and powerful economic engine in the world.?
Is it just possible that, beyond all the scare headlines and political posturing and do-good reforms, teachers are somehow managing to teach students what they need to know?
To finish Jerry Brown’s thought: “I’m putting my faith in the teachers.”