School & District Management Letter to the Editor

Seek Out Practicing Educators, Not Scholars, on Policy Issues

February 18, 2014 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

Frederick M. Hess’ “A Snapshot of the 2014 Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings” (Commentary, Jan. 15, 2014) left me bemused.

Hess manufactures public-influence rankings annually using a proprietary (meaning, it works for him) methodology to rank the top 200 “university-based education scholars for their contributions to public understanding and debate.” I suspect the focus of the debate is the mission of university-based experts to “fix” public school education.

I take issue with the phrase “contributions to public understanding.” It assumes that these university-based scholars really do contribute to public understanding. Clearly, many of them, e.g., Diane Ravitch, Richard J. Murnane, and David K. Cohen, have contributed through sound, clearly written, and practical research to public understanding.

On the other hand, I would argue that others publish extensively about what they don’t know, what they haven’t done, and what they little understand.

I maintain that those university experts who have no experience in a public school, and who unashamedly tell us (who do have experience) how to improve, would flounder running a one-room school. Credibility comes from doing, not watching and studying. I will seek a carpenter who has framed houses long before I hire someone who studied wood, tested nails, or passed the years watching trees grow.

Why do university-based scholars have such influence on public policy when they have so little influence on public understanding? One possible reason is that they have more free time than people who actually work in public schools. Another is that they use words with more syllables.

When legislators and well-meaning bureaucrats are considering the next critical policy change—one that will reform education, transform teaching, make leaders out of losers, and end poverty—they would be well advised to consult first a few practicing educators, and to run as far as possible from the professional education voyeurs sitting smugly in their offices contemplating which colleague to cite next.

Mike Schwinden


William Mitchell Elementary School

Needham, Mass.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the February 19, 2014 edition of Education Week as Seek Out Practicing Educators, Not Scholars, on Policy Issues


Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!

Content provided by Panorama
Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion We’re Facing a Looming Crisis of Principal Burnout
Caught in the crosshairs of a pandemic and rancorous partisan battles, many principals have never been more exhausted.
David E. DeMatthews
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration of burnt-out leader.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty
School & District Management What Teachers Value Most in Their Principals
For National Principals Month, we asked teachers what they love most about their principals. Here's what they had to say.
Hayley Hardison
1 min read
Illustration of job candidate and check list.
School & District Management How Staff Shortages Are Crushing Schools
Teachers are sacrificing their planning periods, students are arriving hours late, meals are out of whack, and patience is running thin.
11 min read
Stephanie LeBlanc, instructional strategist at Greeley Middle School in Cumberland Center, Maine.
Stephanie LeBlanc, an instructional strategist at Greely Middle School in Cumberland Center, Maine, has picked up numerous additional duties to help cover for staffing shortages at the school.
Ryan David Brown for Education Week
School & District Management With $102 Million in Grants, These Districts Plan to Train Principals With a Focus on Equity
The new grant program from the Wallace Foundation will help eight school districts work on building principals’ capacity to address equity.
11 min read
Image of puzzle pieces with one hundred dollar bill imagery