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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Are You Taking the Path of Least Resistance?

By Peter DeWitt — March 02, 2014 4 min read
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In my life, I never felt like much of a rabble rouser. I was quiet, kept to myself, and never shared much of an opinion. As an elementary school teacher I was more of a rule follower than risk taker. I did what my principal asked, and toed the line. After all, my parents taught me to be respectful, and be polite.

Over the years, I have always felt thankful for having a job. Too many people wake up without one, and too many others wake up not working the one that they want. Changes came with the job, so I fell in line, always to be thankful for spending the day with kids, and bringing home a paycheck that would pay the bills. Working a second job helped ensure that the bills would be paid.

When accountability and testing entered into our worlds back in the late 90’s, I just chalked it up to testing like we always did. I mean, I took the California Achievement Test when I was in grade school, so state testing couldn’t be different from that. Right? In the position of Monday Morning Quarterback, we know that test-based accountability is profoundly different from anything we experienced in our grade school years.

As a school leader, I have been told that it is my duty to make sure that teachers fall in line with these changes. They should accept the Common Core, and Common Core modules in New York State. After all, they are just not performing the way they should, and the modules will help. Fall in line, be a good little soldier, and stop questioning so much.

Why do we have to question so much?

Somehow, as good little soldiers we accepted the rhetoric others were giving. They manipulated, then force fed us their rhetoric. We read books about our flat world, or what the smartest kids in the world would do. We dissected what we do, added data, and compared ourselves to other countries...at the same time our state leaders did the opposite. Those leaders decided modules and more testing were the best direction. And sadly, as educators we sat back, and let everyone else tell us that we weren’t good enough. We accepted what they were selling, and took the path of least resistance. But are these changes really better?

When you kick back in the comfort of your own home, reflecting on your day with students, are these changes around testing and test-based accountability really better than what you were doing when you had more freedom? Do you care?

Network for Public Education

Recently, I sat on a panel with Tuscon School Superintendent H.T. Sanchez and Texas Superintendent John Kuhn at the Network for Public Education Conference (NPE) in Austin, Texas. John is a guy I very much admire, and he is an outstanding speaker. In the room, Bob Peterson from Rethinking Schools sat to my right, Chris Thinnes, a friend from California sat in the back corner, and Joe Bower from Canada sat in front of me. It was like a Who’s Who in public education...real public education. The kind that cannot be bought.

To be honest, Bob Peterson is someone I have long admired. How can you not admire a guy who publishes Rethinking Schools? The controversial publication has been pushing the envelope for over 25 years, and changed the way I thought about the subjects I could cover in school. They focus on ethnicity, diversity, acceptance of all populations, and fought for the LGBT community long before anyone else in public education. Bob and Rethinking Schools have been a source of inspiration for so many.

Before sitting on the panel, I did a radio interview with Tim Slekar and Shuan Johnson from the Chalkface. I was paired up with David Green from Long Island, who taught for decades, is heavily involved in Save Our Schools (SOS), and teaches teachers. We discussed education reform and testing. We talked about how hard it is to fight, and the implications of fighting. It was worth the trip to Austin for those few hours.

If reformers believe that educators will sit back and let more changes happen to them, they certainly missed this crowd. In fact, they were smart to stay way away from this crowd. These were educators who were not protecting their jobs, but protecting the education of children. And these educators came from almost every state across the U.S.

In the End

As I walked across the campus at the University of Texas at Austin, and saw the likes of Diane Ravitch, John Kuhn, Anthony Cody, Bob Peterson and others, I realized that the very people I respect, were the ones in the room. They were educators with real educational experience. They spent years crafting their expertise, and many of those years teaching students to respect themselves. They dried tears, taught subjects, helped families through hardships, and bought supplies out of their own pockets.

In my career, I have learned from leadership experts like Todd Whitaker, John Hattie and Michael Fullan, a handful of connected educators through my Professional Learning Network (PLN), anti-corporate reform advocates, and the very teachers I worked with side by side everyday. These are the people I respect and none of them, from the experts in books to those in the classroom, believe we should have more scripted lessons, increased accountability measures, and high stakes testing that provides no effective feedback.

I don’t respect psuedo-education leaders who try to lead public education, and don’t believe their own children should be enrolled in public schools. I don’t respect people who try to lead public education with corporate reform from their multi-million dollar view in Manhattan. I don’t respect people that want to label kids by test scores, but believe their own children deserve something different.

The next time you question what you should do next as an educator, think to yourself what the people you respect would do. Are you supportive of the reforms or just taking the path of least resistance?

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.