Let's Stop the K-12 Bickering

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It has become increasingly difficult to talk without disdain and disappointment about the way America makes education policy. We who work in education often lament today's poisonous politics.

The national education conversation should elevate the importance of students and link their future to academic results. Who should be leading this chorus? That would be us—the people who work in education. And when our actions fall far short of our aspirations, we should not blame someone else.

I would like to admonish those of us caught up in this toxicity rather than leading the way out of it. Instead, we need to offer another path. After more than 30 years in various corners of education, from teaching to writing to leading ASCD, I would like to think that students and schools are in a better place.


Yet, the place they are—we are—in now is not good enough. The urgency is real. And collectively, we are letting America's students down. Too many students are not finishing high school, and too many of those who do finish are ill-prepared for college or work. Far too many are unengaged and uninterested for too many of their years in school.

Our teachers are whipsawed. They are underpaid and undervalued. We talk about their importance, but act as if we do not trust their judgment.

Our education leaders are bombarded with new policies, told to adopt the efficiencies and data systems of corporations, and increasingly sold new technology and materials with top-notch marketing campaigns, but of questionable efficacy.

"If we care about kids—all kids—then we need to actually listen to one another."

Our policymakers—governors, legislators, mayors, and school board members—have largely sorted themselves into partisan camps, with little interest in consensus or compromise. Genuine debate is rare. Conversations are shouted. And thoughtful solutions or respectful governing seem out of reach.

But the students who are back in school this fall aren't waiting for the results of November's elections or contemplating when Congress might actually act on education or immigration. Their lives go on, and far too quickly. Meanwhile, adults bicker and dither and explain how hard it is to make improvements in the current climate.

Learning has never been more critical. Economic success is dependent on deep knowledge and refined skills. And we are better citizens and neighbors if we can understand a range of complex ideas, articulate our own views, and hear those of others.

If we care about kids—all kids—then we need to actually listen to one another and deal with our shared values rather than entrench ourselves in political divides.

More Opinion

As a nation, we need to update our federal education laws. It has been more than a dozen contentious years since the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. We've learned a lot, but NCLB is out of date, and states and schools are spending far too much time working around it or feeling handcuffed by it.

States need to stop fighting over the manufactured common-core conspiracy and focus on real rigor for students. Communities need to support good teachers and effective teaching.

But it starts with us—all of us—being willing to turn political rants into conversations about children, and how to help all of them succeed.

We can complain about what Congress hasn't done or about the Obama administration appearing to be tone-deaf. We can complain about talk-show hosts who blend a noxious mix of pseudo-patriotism with conspiracy theories. We can complain about those who defend the status quo.

Or we can change the conversation and focus squarely on what students need. And we can push those who devolve into political gamesmanship back into the conversation about children every time and with zero tolerance for anything less.

The responsibility is ours.

Vol. 34, Issue 10, Pages 22-23

Published in Print: October 29, 2014, as Let's Stop the Bickering And Change the Conversation
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