Thursday, February 16, 2012

NEIFPE Beginnings, by Phyllis Bush

I have been asked numerous times why I went to the SOS March in Washington. I have given this much thought. I have been bothered by the direction of the “Education Reform” movement ever since No Child Left Behind became law. The latest “reform” movement, The Race to the Top, appears to be a punitive extension of the No Child Left Behind. Given the rapid nature that Indiana has passed so called education reforms, I am appalled that those who have never taught and those who have never worked in education seem to be deciding the direction of how reform should be addressed. I am also appalled that those who are on the front lines of working with young people seem to be the target of all of the reform.

I am bothered that no one who is making all of the charges about our "failing schools" seems to address the fact that learning is a collaborative effort which must include students, parents, teachers, and a community that values education. I am also bothered that no one making policy has addressed poverty as an issue. While no one would ever suggest that poor children cannot learn, how important is learning to a child who is hungry, to a child whose school has substandard facilities, to a child who is homeless?

Many imply that teachers only want the status quo, job protection, 3 months of summer vacation, no accountability -- the list of red herrings goes on and on. I do not know any teacher who wants to keep lousy teachers in the classroom because the handful of teachers who are not doing an adequate job give a black eye to all of the teachers who are doing a good job. However, most teachers would like to see their unit head (principal, superintendent) work with ineffective teachers either to help them improve or to help them out the door. Teachers are not looking for special privileges to keep them in lifetime employment. They are looking for due process, so that they cannot be fired unjustly.

Most public school teachers don't feel threatened by charter schools or vouchers. However, they feel threatened by the non-level playing field that school “choice” represents. If there is fair and equitable funding among schools, public schools can easily compete. However, when tax dollars go to private schools which do not have to accept all students, which do not have to provide services to special needs students, and which do not have to have the same accountability, something is wrong.

Accountability is another issue. I cannot imagine that most teachers resist accountability; however, the accountability police seem to think that testing and testing and more testing is the same as learning. To my mind, there are only two good reasons for testing. One is for diagnostic purposes; the other is for evaluation. Accountability should be judged on something over which teachers have some control. If a child has decided that he/she cares not about the test being given, then why should his/her teacher be held accountable for that?

One of the things which I find most bothersome about “education reform” is that I have heard very little from critics talking about the joy of learning, the intrinsic value of an “aha” moment, or the creative process.

After we returned from the SOS March, several of us here in Indiana gathered together to see if we could channel this energy. We decided that we needed to inform our community about what is happening in public schools. When we found out that Diane Ravitch, noted education historian and critic of the current reform movement, would be speaking here in March, we decided to work with the Cinema Center to bring some films about education so that we could begin a community conversation.

First, the Cinema Center will be screening, free of charge, the movie Waiting for Superman on Sunday Feb 26th at 4:15 pm and Monday Feb 27th. 4 pm. The Sunday showing will be followed by a discussion.

The next weekend, Cinema Center will show The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting For Superman at 4 pm, Sunday March 4th and Monday March 5th. Again a discussion will follow Sunday’s movie.

On Tuesday March 13th, the Omnibus Lecture Series at IPFW will be hosting Dr. Diane Ravitch, one of the nation’s most important voices in the education debate. Tickets are required for her lecture and are available free of charge from the box office at 481-6555 beginning Feb 21st.

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