Teachers Need a Place at the Decision Table

For many years I have been advocating for better policy that is partially driven by teachers and what they know. This respect for teacher knowledge was cultivated when I started teaching, and admired how the master teachers in my school knew how to teach, run a school, and take care of a widely diverse student population. Sadly, I also witnessed how much lip service decision-makers gave to this idea and how little actually happened in the way those wise teachers had suggested.

“Teachers deserve better access to education decisionmaking. I do not mean that in the trite way people often say that “educators should be in charge of education.” I am not calling for more tokenism with a teacher or two appointed to a committee. I am not calling for a footbridge linking classroom and policy but rather an entire highway system that facilitates the connection between the actual work of teaching and education policies” (EdWeek, Jan 19, 2023).

Time and Space

This disconnect between teaching and policy is partially historical, as one-room school administration moved away from local control by teachers and principals, to multi-room and multi-building administration overseen by school boards, state education policymakers, and federal departments of education. As we built larger scale, comprehensive, high schools, the bridge between teachers and decisionmakers was compromised. Teachers became more siloed in their classrooms.

Nothing about the conditions of my work as a classroom teacher allowed me the time or space to engage with education policy. This needs to change. Nothing in my teacher-preparation program was geared toward engaging with policy. This, too, needs to change. Teachers should not have to leave the classroom to feel like they can interact with policy. It should be part and parcel of the work of teaching” (EdWeek, Jan 19, 2023).

Restructuring vs. Reform

Schools and researchers noticed this all along the way from the 1950s to now and have sought to remedy this by restructuring schools and decisions. But school administration has also changed and become much more about standards, accountability, high-stakes testing and other things that teachers were not necessarily interested in or even in agreement about.

I think our K-12 school system is ready for a complete reform and overhaul. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of children who are disadvantaged. Let’s reconnect teaching to policy because we need new reform models—new ideas for completely overhauling our schools that re-establish the fairness of access to education that was always intended when these schools were first set up. The current teachers can help us do this overhaul. We need new schools that represent our community, that teach to the whole child from cradle-to-career, and we need teachers who can execute personalized systems of support and opportunity for all children. We need to do this reform now.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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