No voice for teachers

Steven Weinberg, a retired Oakland middle school teacher, critiques the lack of teacher participation and other problems in the crafting of “standards,” the content that is taught and tested in schools.

steve weinbergThere are a number of problems with the standards that are now being used to guide K-12 education throughout the United States. As I wrote in November, the standards are too long and detailed, and they make it difficult for teachers to cover material in enough depth to give students the best possible education.

This problem is a natural result of the process used to develop these standards. State (and now federal) standards are designed by large committees drawn from a sizable geographic area. Teachers, whose jobs do not allow them to travel frequently to attend such meetings, are poorly represented on these committees.

According to a letter in the October 28, 2009 issue of Education Week, only one teacher sits on the panel of 80 producing the national standards for high school graduation. The other positions are held by college professors, business leaders, and — most unfortunately — the companies that stand to profit by writing tests for the standards.

Committees, by their nature, have to accommodate a variety of viewpoints. When you have many people involved, with their own ideas about what should be included, one of easiest ways to reach agreement is to keep making the standards longer so that everyone’s interest is satisfied. Without the input of teachers who will need to implement the standards, the list can quickly get too long.

Anthony Mullen, a special education teacher from Connecticut and the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, has written a very telling description of what it is like for a teacher to be present at a high level meeting discussing educational policy. Mullen’s very funny article also reveals a chilling truth about the current flawed process of determining what a “standard” education should include.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2009/02/one_urban_district_with_a_bad_1.html Anthony Cody

    Thanks for sharing this perspective. There is a project under way to give teachers a chance to exercise our lungs a bit, and put forth our perspective on education policy. It is called Teachers’ Letters to Obama, and we have a Facebook group where more than 100 letters have been collected and sent to Obama and Duncan. More than 600 teachers have joined the group, and we are now moving on to contact and try to influence members of Congress, who may be asked to reauthorize NCLB this year. You can find the project here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/group.php?gid=166176941518&ref=ts