Charter schools. Unions. Pay for performance. Equitable Student Funding. Budget cuts. These are controversial issues that have been circulating the Rochester City School District for months now. As a graduate student at Warner and a school counseling intern in the city, I have heard many positions and opinions on these topics, many of them emotionally charged. However, I know that I don’t have all the sides to the story, and to make a well-informed argument, you must be able to address the counterargument. I fell in love with Rochester when I moved here two years ago, and as a resident of the city, I am concerned for its future and hope to gain a broader perspective on these matters.
The issues surrounding reform in schools are not confined to Rochester alone. Regarding the parting of Cathleen Black from her position as chancellor of the New York City schools, United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew was quoted last week in the New York Times saying, “it was hard not to wonder whether the debate over school reform has reached a point where debate is no longer possible” (Mahler, 2011, p. WK3). It is true that opinions have become so polarized that intelligent and friendly discussion is often difficult. Is performance-based pay the way to increase and promote higher teaching standards, or do unequal classrooms and a defective evaluation system make this option unfeasible? Do unions protect the civil liberties of teachers, or are they an obstacle to reform efforts? These questions often leave people on one side of the argument or the other.
Whether you are a proponent or opponent of school reform, my time at Warner has taught me that before making an informed decision, one must consider the issues on a deeper level. When discussing educational policy reform, there are a few things to keep in mind:
First of all, we must agree on the facts. In her discussion on charter schools and education policy debates, the Warner School’s own Dr. Kara Finnigan highlighted the importance of being an intelligent consumer of research and getting the facts straight. The Associate Professor of Educational Leadership stresses that “it is critical that you do your own homework to understand the complexity of the policy issues at hand – and most importantly, be wary of anyone who says that they are providing you with the ‘overlooked facts’ around any policy debate” (Finnigan, 2011).
Second of all, the issues surrounding education are never as simple as they seem. From the outside, the solution seems simple enough. But once you delve further into the dynamics and circumstances at hand, it becomes clear that our problems with education are deeply rooted. Poverty, politics, committees, and values are just small pieces to this complicated puzzle. There is no one party to blame or one way to fix the issues; the problem is systemic.
Third and last of all, we need to keep the students in mind. They are our future and the ones we serve. It is our duty to provide them with the best education possible and ensure they graduate with the skills needed to succeed in college and the workforce. By staying informed and engaging in intelligent and respectful debate, we may actually take advantage of this “teachable moment” and model for them the appropriate way to overcome conflict and find resolution.
Finnigan, K. (2011, March 21). Charter schools and education policy debates [web blog]. Retrieved from http://warnerperspectives.org/?p=966. (2011, April 11).
Mahler, J. (2011, April 9). The deadlocked debate over education reform. The New York Times, p. WK3.