The most striking thing about my day at the CELL conference (pdf) in Indianapolis earlier this week was sitting in on a conversation among three Indiana superintendents (with many more in the audience) talking about how they are being affected by reform efforts in the state. It was enlightening, fascinating, and frustrating all at once. And I’ve been wondering how much what they discussed mirrors that feelings in other parts of the country as well.
Here were some of the highlights that I managed to snag:
All of the quotes merit some discussion, but the underlying sense I got is this: these folks all agreed that education policies as currently written are harming our kids and schools, but they are scared to push back with any real effort. (At one point, the moderator even felt inclined to remind us that there was a reporter from the Indianapolis Post in the room.) One superintendent summed it up pretty clearly by saying something to the effect of “Look, we know that passing the test is a horrible measure of what kids are learning, and we’re trying to do what we can in our schools to emphasize different things, but at the end of the day, I can’t go changing what we do too much because the 10,000 kids we serve have to get the education the policy makers want. And if I speak out against it too loudly, I put my job at risk.” (My synthesis here…I’m hoping one of those superintendents might read this and chime in.)
I get that. It’s hard right now to do both of those things because the tenor of the conversation is all about narrowing the curriculum even more to discrete, testable parts that we teach to and evaluate our teachers on. (That was a whole ‘nother conversation, btw.) But then I asked the room, “So what are you all doing to connect with one another to advocate for change as a group, not as individuals? How are you going to keep this conversation going?"
I found it heartening last week that a group of 400 Long Island principals decided to band together and tell the NY Board of Regents that the evaluating teachers based on test scores thing was, in a word, ignorant at best. Maybe they felt safety in numbers. Whatever the reason, perhaps they could be a model for Indiana. I know there are plenty of leaders in our networks who for whatever reason feel the ability to be outspoken about these things. But there’s no doubt many, many more are running scared.
We have to change that. This is no time to be silent.