Wrapping Up at Edweek, Part 2

This is it. The final post on Capturing the Spark. In my previous post, I looked back at more than a few years of EdWeek contributions, especially this blog and the one that preceded it. This post is about the future.

From a writing standpoint, this post may mark the end of a blog, but not the end of a relationship, as I expect I’ll still have a contribution to offer now and then here at EdWeek. Still, it seems an opportune moment to thank Anthony Rebora for inviting me into the EdWeek blogging lineup years ago, and also to thank Ross Brenneman, Kate Stoltzfus, Madeline Will, and Elizabeth Rich in particular for their valuable support over the years. My blogging outlets in the foreseeable future will be at The Standard, a group blog from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and at my own website. And from a teaching standpoint, my future looks much like my recent past. I’ve been teaching at Palo Alto High School for over 15 years now, and I continue to enjoy the challenges and opportunities I find in working with students and colleagues there.

Looking into the future in a broader sense, I will continue to advocate for our profession and for an equitable, robust public education system. It’s not only a matter of working towards equity, but also towards the dismantling the systemic racism that makes inequity so commonplace and seemingly intractable. I’ll continue speaking and writing about quality teaching and expanded teacher leadership that goes beyond lip service and tokenism to actually put teachers at the fore in developing curriculum, methods, and education policy. I’ll be pushing for unions to engage simultaneously in the work of strengthening teaching, supporting our communities, and protecting the rights and interests of teachers.

There’s much to be done in all of these areas. As a profession, we have been in the right to dig in and resist some of the poorest ideas in education reform, like evaluating teachers based on students’ test scores, or “personalized learning” solutions that privilege technology above relationships. And yet, sometimes we’re slow to change when we should be evaluating the evidence and making changes, for example in practices around homework and grading. Our unions will continue to face challenging times through legal challenges that aim to deligitimize some effective educational labor policies, or hope to weaken us by forcing us to represent “freeloaders.” It’s past time to step up our efforts around organizing, and make sure that we’re offering genuine value to our members and communities.

Public education systems in too many cases continue to provide inadequate funding and resources for students, especially students coping with family poverty, housing insecurity, and inadequate nutrition and health care. Immigrant and refugee students need more from us. Students in the foster care system need better support systems. These populations of students are disproportionately made up of students of color, and so we compound our problems sometimes by discussing the education of students of color as if that were the same thing as educating the poor. The ways that we shortchange and marginalize students and communities of color go beyond issues of socio-economic status. We have a long way to go just to move past the defensiveness and denial that come up in many contexts when anyone mentions white privilege, the decolonization of education, and the need for white teachers and education leaders to decenter ourselves in these conversations. It costs us nothing and we can begin today: practice more listening, less responding, less of a rush to disagree and disprove. Seek first to understand, and take steps to educate yourself.

The privatization of education is another ongoing issue to confront. Whether we’re talking about vouchers or charter schools, there’s a fundamental mistake in the arguments for choice and competition. If we’re going to compare public education to private sector marketplaces (a comparative approach that always requires caveats due to its inherent limitations), the “competitors” are not the employees. In the marketplace, the owners are the ones competing, and we are all collectively the “owners” of public education. When legislators and school boards hand over public funds and facilities to non-public entities, that’s the opposite of competition. That’s giving up, and it also lets leaders off the hook because they can feel like they’ve done something to address concerns relating the need for stronger schools. In reality, that’s like AT&T telling Sprint, “Okay, some of our customers are interested in switching over, so here’s some money to help you serve them, and go ahead and take over one of our retail stores while you’re at it.” If competition is for real, then we the people are supposed to be competing on the side of our schools, and I’d expect to see more R&D investment in our success. If our “customers” want more choices, let’s gather our resources to create more choices, without surrendering to private operators.

I’m not staking out a position against all charter schools: there’s room for some experimentation in partnerships among districts, universities, teachers, parents, and other community members – small-scale, non-profit, truly open to all students at any time (meaning that schools “backfill” when spaces open up). We need to see more rejections when charter petitions come from private companies looking to grow a brand and expand market share, trying to make a profit off of underpaid and less qualified teachers.

The troubles we face in public education are myriad, serious, and may give some of us cause for despair. I choose to believe that we are the right people at the right time to meet the challenges – because, simply, there is no better way to move forward. I hope you’re planning to come along.


Originally published at my (former) EdWeek Teacher blog, Capturing the Spark, 10/2/17.

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