To the Editor:
Much attention has been given in recent weeks to education "reform."
While a focus on these important issues is welcome, the voices of educators -- those of us working daily in classrooms across the nation -- have been inexplicably ignored in the debate.
Educators were working to improve our public schools before it became trendy, and we are eager to collaborate with parents, community leaders and anyone else who shares our vision. We offer no "manifesto" and no easy answers, only the promise of hard work and a chance to make a difference.
The status quo is not acceptable, but improving public education is a complex challenge. Ideology and simple solutions are no substitute for hard work and proven practices.
We cannot move forward without acknowledging the real challenges facing our public schools. One out of every five children in our nation today lives in poverty. Poor nutrition and health care and illiteracy in the home, among other things, have a real impact on learning. Helping all students succeed requires addressing this whole spectrum of needs -- a fact ignored by many "reformers."
Too much of the debate has focused on blaming teachers. Yet, teachers are not the problem in education today, and neither are our unions. Nobody wants unqualified teachers in classrooms. We need to focus on nurturing great teachers, by strengthening preparation before they enter the profession and ensuring ongoing opportunities for experienced teachers to build their skills.
We must move away from the current systems for evaluating students and teachers. Standardized tests are clearly not the solution, either for measuring student achievement or judging their teachers. We need to focus on measuring the skills our children will need for the 21st Century -- critical thinking, reading comprehension and writing, and the ability to ask pertinent questions. And, we need to allow teachers and management to collaborate on new methods of evaluation that will give a better picture of what students are learning, and help teachers improve their practice.
There is no silver bullet to improving education and movies and manifestos that claim to provide simple solutions do a great disservice to students and teachers. The only way to provide a viable choice to every family is by improving our neighborhood schools.
As an educator, I truly hope that this national debate will allow for real dialogue about the challenges facing our education system and the hard work and collaboration necessary to address them.
Let's put aside the rhetoric and stop the blame and start working together to give all of our students the world-class education they deserve.
Dianne M. Burpo,