Rosenthal: The politics of education reform

Published 10:07 am Thursday, March 2, 2017

Once again, education becomes a target of a new administration and legislature.

I read that education was a top priority for the legislative session. Why? According to Education Week Quality Counts 2015 Report, Kentucky public schools have moved from the bottom of the worst (47/50) states to the middle (29/50) for several reasons.

First, teachers now have a content map by grade that is aligned to standards. This is in contrast to previously teaching from a document that was K-3, 4-5, etc.

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Second, this curriculum allows teachers to put any resource they choose to help students meet the standard.

Third, teachers have had several years to fine tune and work with this content so they can start school teaching not learning what to teach.

I have been in this area for many years and I know every time we changed the curriculum content, the teachers asked “why?” as they had countless hours of professional development and felt confident in what they were doing so why change it?

Sometimes the changes are needed if there is a lack of understanding or confusion on a particular part of the content. However, when the reason is politically motivated, then teachers are not asked but told there is a new curriculum.

The Common Core has been thrashed and trashed by the political spectrum so much that you wonder why it was not jerked from schools years ago.

It got entangled in one party against the other not because they knew what the curriculum was, but everything now needs to go that was put in by another party.

So, who gets pulled into this controversy? The teachers of course.

After all, these teachers are public school teachers who are paid from public funds.

What about the private school teachers? They are not privy to these changes. However, they should be, if the students who leave the public schools to go to charter schools bring public funds.

The charter schools should be required to take on the public requirements as they will be taking public funds. Will this happen? Probably not.

School choice is the buzzword for public schools losing students and enrolling in private/charter schools. Students receive vouchers and take their per-pupil amount with them to a non-public school.

Finally, the most intriguing change is coming from the very top of the educational ladder. The new head of the U.S. Department of Education is someone with no background in education and did not attend public schools and neither did any of her children or grandchildren. In her response to questions during her interview, she did not know what “proficiency” is, nor did she know the difference in proficiency and goals.

She ultimately got the job after the vice-president, for the first time in American history, had to break a tie in order to get her confirmed.

All I can ask is, why does education get the major blow when politics change and why do the teachers and administrators who work everyday with the children in their buildings have to spend their time in learning what is new instead of helping students?

All in all, there are changes coming, but there is not more compensation for all this new work and the pension fund is in frightening shape.

Why would students want to become teachers at this point of time? Because they think they can make a difference in students’ lives. They know they will have to spend some of their own money to add to the classrooms and work a ten-hour day five days a week.

The teachers should be applauded for their commitment to serving students as their job is very difficult and especially during this political upheaval.