If They Were President

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Creating equity among schools should be the top priority of the next president, according to the people who know best—teachers.

That’s the conclusion of a recent survey of teachers by TeachersFirst, a nonprofit that provides teaching materials like lesson and unit plans. The group asked its several-thousand members to choose the top three priorities for American education reform from a list of twelve options. More than 250 teachers responded to the survey, nearly half of whom have been teaching for more than 20 years.

Equity among schools was the most popular recommendation, with 57 percent of respondents selecting it. According to a TeachersFirst press release, equity was defined in the survey as, “ensuring that all schools have equal access to adequate facilities, equipment, and materials.”

“Schools should not be penalized financially when they are having a difficult time achieving high test scores,” one respondent commented. “These schools need even more financial support because they are usually from poverty-stricken areas. The current system is totally unfair. I have to buy about $1000 worth of art supplies yearly.”

The next most urgent priorities for the teachers surveyed were finding alternatives to standardized testing and encouraging greater parent involvement. These items were selected by 55 and 44 percent of respondents, respectively. The rest of the nine choices were ranked as follows:

  • Strengthening teacher preparation (30 percent)
  • Improving physical safety (29 percent)
  • Emphasizing math, science, and information literacy (29 percent)
  • Strengthening early learning and pre-K programs (26 percent)
  • Improving access to technology (25 percent)
  • Finding ways to reward good teaching (15 percent)
  • Funding universal after-school programs (13 percent)
  • Involving the business community (10 percent)
  • Extending the school day and year (9 percent)

In addition to ranking the twelve options provided, the teachers were encouraged to provide suggestions and ideas for reform that weren’t on the list. Their write-in suggestions ranged from increased teacher pay to more student accountability to a revival of the “magic” in schools. That respondent explained, “We need to put the magic back in education and give our young people a reason to be in school. By magic, I mean the arts: visual art, music, drama, dance, etc.”

One particularly snarky commentator voiced frustration with government mandates on schools: “I am really tired of politicians telling educators how to do their job when they can't do their own.”

The National Education Association, which has endorsed Senator Barack Obama, has also chimed in with priorities for the next president. The nation’s largest teachers union created a chart comparing Senator Obama and Senator John McCain’s positions with the its own positions on 14 important education issues, including teacher pay, to No Child Left Behind, to reducing class size. Senator Obama matched the NEA’s positions on all 14 of the stated issues, according the union. Senator McCain’s stances ranged from partial matches with the NEA’s stances to opposite stances on all 14 of the issues.

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