Federal Opinion

Let’s Stop the K-12 Bickering

By Judy Seltz — October 27, 2014 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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—<i>all kids</i>—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.

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.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the October 29, 2014 edition of Education Week as Let’s Stop the Bickering And Change the Conversation


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.
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
Science K-12 Essentials Forum How To Teach STEM Problem Solving Skills to All K-12 Students
Join experts for a look at how experts are integrating the teaching of problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking into STEM instruction.
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.
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson

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

Federal Lawmakers, Education Secretary Clash Over Charter School Rules
Miguel Cardona says the administration wants to ensure charters show wide community interest before securing federal funding.
5 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the 2022 National and State Teachers of the Year event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 27, 2022.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, is seen during a White House event on April 27. The following day, he defended the Biden administration's budget proposal on Capitol Hill.
Susan Walsh/AP
Federal Opinion What If We Treated Public Education Like the Crisis It Is?
A former governor warns that without an overhaul, education's failures will cost the nation dearly.
Bev Perdue
5 min read
Conceptual Illustration of the sun rising behind a broken down school building
Federal What the Research Says Education Research Has Changed Under COVID. Here's How the Feds Can Catch Up
Adam Gamoran, chairman of a National Academies panel on the future of education research, talks about the shift that's needed.
5 min read
Graphic shows iconic data images all connected.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Federal 7 Takeaways for Educators From Biden's State of the Union
What did President Joe Biden say about education in his first State of the Union address to Congress? Here's a point-by-point summary.
3 min read
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Washington as Vice President Kamala Harris applauds and House speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., looks on.
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in attendance.
Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times via AP