Two Questions Every Presidential Candidate Needs to Answer about Education

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In an article released by Truthout, author Paul Thomas recently released an article titled “Five Questions Every Presidential Candidate Needs to Answer About Education.” You can read all five questions framed by Thomas here, but I want to highlight for you all the two (of the five) questions that most closely relate to the issues with which we deal via this blog.

Here are the two questions about education reform in this particular arena that every candidate should have to answer, and a few of Thomas’s words about why these questions matter.

1. While state and national leaders in education have repeatedly noted the importance of teacher quality – while also misrepresenting that importance [emphasis added] – increasing standards-based teaching, high-stakes testing and value-added methods of teacher evaluation, along with the dismantling unions, have de-professionalized teaching and discouraged young people from entering the field. How will you work to return professionalism and autonomy to teachers?

The teacher quality debate is the latest phase of accountability linked to test scores that started with school and student accountability in the 1980s and ’90s. While everyone can agree that teacher quality is important, the real issues are how we measure that impact and how we separate teacher and even school quality effects from the much larger and more powerful impact of out-of-school factors – that account for about 60% to 86% of measurable student learning.

The misguided focus on teacher quality – linking evaluations significantly to test scores – has begun to have a negative impact on teacher quality, precisely because such measures de-professionalize educators. Teachers typically want autonomy, administrative and parental support, and conditions (such as appropriate materials and smaller class sizes) that increase their professionalism and effectiveness – not raises [although I think given sweeping cuts to teacher salaries that have accompanied all of this craziness, raises would also certainly help situations, at least to bring many teachers back to what they were making before such reforms were worked to justify salary cuts].

2. Since the era of high-stakes accountability initiated in the early 1980s has not, in fact, closed the achievement gap, can you commit to ending accountability-based education reform, including a significant reduction in high-stakes testing, and then detail reform based on equity of opportunities for all students?

Andre Perry, former founding dean of urban education at Davenport University, has noted that accountability has failed educational equity because “having the ability to compare performances among groups hasn’t brought educational justice to black and brown students.”

More useful models do exist. The National Education Policy Center has called for identifying and recognizing school reform that addresses equity for all students through their Schools of Opportunity project. This model shifts the focus on reform away from narrow measures, test data and punitive policies and toward creating the opportunities that affluent students tend to have but poor and racial minorities are denied, including access to experienced and certified teachers, rich and diverse courses, small class sizes, and well-funded safe schools. [I too would certainly support a paradigm shift away from focusing on accountability to opportunities, no doubt!]

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Citation: Thomas, P. (2015). Five questions every presidential candidate needs to answer about education. Truthout. Retrieved from http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32472-five-questions-every-presidential-candidate-needs-to-answer-about-education

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