A plethora of important issues regarding public education vie for attention today. This makes it difficult to choose one thing that I, as a veteran teacher, would change to improve education.
However, after combining my own musings with what Katherine Bassett, the Executive Director of the National Network of Teachers of the Year, said at the Kentucky convening of the Hope Street Group Teacher Fellows, I believe there is one significant change that could have far-reaching effects.
This change is the development of guiding principles to inform practice developed by members of the profession—for members of the profession.
Virtually every profession, other than education, is governed this way. State boards of engineers are made up primarily of engineers, state medical boards are made up primarily of doctors, state dentistry boards are mostly made up of dentists, and state bar associations are mainly made up of lawyers.
Having practitioners of a profession develop and oversee the rules and guidelines for that profession makes perfect sense. Education, in most states however, does not follow this common-sense pattern.
Many of the mandates that come down from above make a great deal of sense in theory, but are impractical, ineffective, or impossible in practice with actual students.
The number of people who have classroom teaching experience on state boards of education varies widely. While a few states have board of education members who are primarily current or former teachers, there is little consistency from state to state on the percentage of educators vs. non-educators on these boards.
Florida, for example, currently has only three members who have any prior experience in the field of education: one former interim superintendent, one former speech/language pathologist, and one former classroom teacher/principal who has become the State Commissioner of Education.
The balance of membership on most state boards of education is made up of lawyers, doctors, politicians, and business leaders. Most people who are not doctors, lawyers, engineers, or dentists would not set rules and guidelines for those professions, yet because everyone has been on the “student” side of a classroom setting, the general perception is that one does not need a degree or experience in education to know what's best for kids and their teachers.
This is not to say that non-educators have nothing to add to the conversation about improving education. But, the reality is that many of the mandates that come down from above make a great deal of sense in theory, but are impractical, ineffective, or impossible in practice with actual students.
In my opinion, if state boards of education were made up primarily of educators, the profession would undoubtedly be strengthened and elevated.