Hannah Bailenson: Teachers should have a say in policy decisions

Linette Branham, of the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), brought a new and intriguing perspective to the discussion of education reform—the perspective of teachers. Her talk highlighted the disconnect that often occurs between legislation, guidelines, and what is actually implemented in the classroom. Legislators propose bills filled with ideas and stipulations for education reform, but the language in these bills is often so convoluted and vague that they do not accomplish much at all. Rather, they raise more questions, confusion, and disagreement. Branham repeatedly stated, “The devil is in the details,” a phrase that I think captures many of the challenges faced in the debate over education reform. As Branham said, it is important to question everything set forth in laws and subsequent guidelines, because there can be multiple interpretations of the policies set forth—the challenge lies in determining how those laws and guidelines actually look in practice.

2012: The Year For Education Reform—the document issued by the Connecticut Department of Education this year—outlines several promising principles of education reform, including greater access to early childhood education and developing better teachers and principles. While these principles are a step in the right direction, they raise questions about resources and implementation. Where will funding for all of these improvements come from? How will these broad goals and policies be carried out in individual classrooms? I think it is crucial to include more voices from the teachers’ unions (as well as administrators) in creating this legislation and in designing effective guidelines. The people who know what it is like to run a school and how to effectively teach children should have a say in what policies are implemented, since they are presumably the experts. While lawyers and government officials are necessary to sponsor reforms and get such legislation approved, teachers and administrators know more about what works and what doesn’t work in schools. The government should take advantage of the rich base of knowledge that lies in the nation’s successful teachers and work harder to include them in the reform process.

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