“Throw the ball! Would you throw the ball already? You coaches don’t know what you’re doing!”
And so goes the cacophony of criticism from the crowd at this week’s high school football game. I hear it all the time — especially during this current season in which wins are harder to come by than a politician allergic to lobbyists.
I have been an assistant football coach at the school where I teach for nine years, and I’ve heard my share of criticism from disgruntled fans who obviously know more about the game of football than the coaches. These avid football enthusiasts, after all, have been watching the game on TV for most of their lives — some even played high school football 25 years ago — so they know a thing or two about the game. This fact practically obligates them to share animated commentary from the bleachers on game day.
It reminds me of the current state of public education.
Virtually every current “reform” involving curriculum, standards, and teacher evaluations has been proposed, developed, and implemented from the sidelines, by people who have never taught a lesson in a public-school classroom. These “educational pioneers” know what ails education because, I guess, they once attended school.
The list is impressive. On the national level, look no further than the U.S. Department of Education. Secretary Arne Duncan was the CEO of Chicago Public Schools before taking his federal position, but nowhere on his résumé will you find experience as a classroom teacher — because he never was one.
Bill Gates is another educational leader in America, having donated millions to the push for Common Core State Standards. In fact, the foundation he formed with his wife has made education a priority, funding programs like charter schools. Whatever expertise Gates possesses in public education, however, did not come from his experience as a classroom teacher — because he never was one.
The list of national educational leaders is filled with additional movers and shakers, including Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Like the others on this list, they never taught in a public classroom.
As for those Common Core State Standards, public schools nationwide have been scrambling to rewrite curricula and modify teaching methods to “align” with them. Good thing this reform invited the participation of classroom teachers.
Or did it?
“As I reported in 2009, the two ‘Working Groups’ that actually wrote the first drafts of the standards do NOT include a single classroom teacher,” writes educational blogger Anthony Cody. “You can see for yourself on this list provided by the National Governors Association. The two ‘Feedback Groups’ include only one classroom teacher.”
But does that matter? Real reform takes place on the local level. So who’s behind the reform efforts in Connecticut, and where did these people get their educational expertise?
Stefan Pryor has been Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education since 2011. As such, he oversees the state’s latest education reform effort. Pryor came into the job as something of an “outsider,” a fact Gov. Dannel P. Malloy highlighted by posting Rick Green’s Hartford Courant article on his official website.
“Pryor,” writes Green, “began his public life as a co-founder of the state’s leading charter school, the Amistad Academy. Since then, Pryor, whose parents were teachers, has forged a distinctive career in public administration from New Haven to New York to Newark — but he’s never run a classroom, let alone a school district.”
Experience as a classroom teacher, in fact, seems to hold little weight as Commissioner Pryor has built his staff with non-educators and his advisory committee with corporate leaders.
Clearly, education reform does not require the input or expertise of classroom teachers. Thus, as I attempt to implement all of education’s new initiatives in my classroom, I’ll no doubt hear grumbles from the experts in the bleachers.
“Teach to the standards, gather data, prove your effectiveness! Why can’t you gather the right data? You teachers don’t know what you’re doing!”
It’s enough to make me want to punt the educational football.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School. .