My heart has been racing for educators over the last month. Even though I no longer take up residence in Florida, I literally experienced palpitations watching debate over Senate Bill 6 take place on the House floor. When considering the potential impact of what could result from passage of said legislation, my thoughts went immediately to my friends and former colleagues teaching in the trenches. Thankfully, regardless of personal motive, Governor Crist vetoed the legislation, which will force senators and representatives to rethink the lack of involvement of educators in the legislative process. But what role will educators take in the future legislative process?
Recently, I listened to “Talk of the Nation” on NPR as Arne Duncan fielded calls and questions from educators, parents and concerned citizens. I was very concerned about what I was about to hear. I feared more talk of accountability, testing, and teacher failure. What I heard instead was far different.
An important point that rioters on both sides of the aisle should heed was that Arne Duncan does not want to continue the status quo. He wants innovation, he wants a critical examination of what works and what doesn’t, and he wants a variety of ideas to improve the strengths of individual programs and address the weaknesses. Specifically, he mentioned a failing public school in the Chicago area where he was superintendent. The school was closed….. wait, wait for it…. and then reopened as three smaller neighborhood oriented schools. Graduation rates soared. Yes, Arne…. this is the kind of innovation we need. Parents and students need to hear words like neighborhood, individualized. They need to know that there will be options for students who don’t learn in the traditional model. It’s something I’ve believed for a long time, but rarely said aloud. Shame on me.
If we are truly advocating for our students, we need to get behind Duncan’s challenge of the status quo. We should question the state’s and district’s role in continuing the status quo through textbook adoption, and curriculum standardization. Teachers recognize that every child does not read on the same grade level, so why are we using the same materials for each child? In Leon County, FL, children who read above grade level used the same reading textbook as those who read below, and some schools did not allow for teachers to deviate from use of this program to meet the individual needs of their students.
Several years ago, short sighted legislation in Florida was passed that required districts to allot 50% of materials monies directly to the replacement of textbooks after 5 years. Some schools had to forego purchasing books for other subjects, or manipulatives for math and science in order to fulfill these regulations. It is unfortunate that law makers do not understand the importance of active participation in the scientific process, believing instead that students will learn more about chemical reactions from reading about one, rather than creating one. But my point is this, where is the teacher outcry? Behind the scenes, I heard complaints, moans, groans, and grumbles, but did not hear about calls to the governor, letters to the local representatives, or emails to the superintendent…until now.
SB 6, and the outcry for protest that took over social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, is finally the kind of teacher unity and commitment that we need to continue to make in order to affect change in education. I implore you to think about your beliefs about how children learn, what have you discovered in your years of experience? Write it down, share it, speak it and continue to examine it every day. If you truly want to advocate for children, you will become active in the process that will shape their tomorrow.