There is no disagreement with Mayor Duffy that the Rochester City Schools can be improved. As a long time proponent of reform, I am dismayed that more hasn’t been done to improve student achievement. Therefore, it would be useful in the current debate to examine and think carefully about how best to improve student learning. In doing so, we would benefit from examining educational practices in other countries that outperform the U.S. on standardized international exams.
For example, high achieving countries are more likely to treat their teachers as professionals and develop support systems so that teachers can make curriculum and assessment decisions. In contrast, in the U.S. we are quick to blame teachers for our school’s failures, and hold teachers in such low regard that teachers are often provided not only with a predetermined curriculum and assessments but also with scripts that tell them what they and the students should say. Rather than supporting teachers to become better, we often denigrate them as incapable. Consequently, some of our best teachers are leaving teaching and those who stay are becoming deskilled.
Furthermore, while the school day may be longer in some other countries, teachers in those countries are typically required to devote less time to teaching and given more time for professional development. Other countries seem to realize that good teaching requires that teachers have time to plan their teaching, often in collaboration with others, and that teachers are provided quality professional development. One does not become a teacher and then do the same thing for the remainder of their career. As an educator with over forty years experience, I am still astonished by how much I learn by observing good teachers, reading descriptions of good practice, and reflecting on my classes.
However, in the debate over mayoral control, teachers seem to be increasingly portrayed as the problem and not the solution to improving schools. This will only make things worse. We cannot, I assert, have great schools without great teachers. We must, therefore, work with teachers on improving our schools, not work against them.
For more specifics on what a good education policy might look like, see the report:
Democracy at Risk: The Need for a New Federal Policy in Education.