Note: This blog is the first in a series on In Praise of American Educators (And How They Can Get Even Better).
American educators are under siege on every front. Due to an increasingly competitive global economy, business leaders are calling upon our nation’s schools to ensure every student leaves the K-12 system with the skills needed to be college and career ready. Politicians have addressed this need to leave no child behind by passing legislation that has become increasingly focused on high-stakes testing, mandated programs, punitive sanctions for failure, financial rewards for success, and competitive pressure through student vouchers and charter schools.
The news media paints a picture that America’s public schools are bad and getting worse, focusing their reporting almost exclusively on all that is negative and sensational, while giving little attention to the thousands of student success stories happening every day. Political pundits regularly place the blame for student failure squarely on the shoulders of educators, claiming that too many teachers are unmotivated, incompetent, and protected by tenure laws and teacher unions. Bristling at this criticism, teacher unions frequently thwart school reform efforts, making it difficult for site educators to make significant changes at their schools. Bombarded from all sides, it is understandable why teacher morale and job satisfaction are at record lows, with many educators leaving the profession within five years of entry. Such feelings would be understandable if the narrative—that today’s educators are getting historically terrible results—was accurate. But an impartial review of the facts tell a very different story!
In his new book, In Praise of American Educators (And How They Can Get Even Better), Dr. Richard DuFour offers a passionate defense of America’s educators. Rick challenges the assumption that America’s public schools are bad and getting worse, and instead provides a compelling case that our schools are achieving unprecedented results. Referring to today’s teachers as the “greatest generation” of educators, he proves that virtually every longitudinal measures of school success (such as graduation rates, standardized assessments, international comparisons, and parental satisfaction surveys) are at historic highs.
Equally important, Dr. DuFour demonstrates that these results are being achieved in spite of the mandated federal and state reform efforts, not because of them. He digs deeply into the research and evidence behind the most prevalent school reform initiatives—including high-stakes testing, value-added assessments, more rigorous teacher evaluation process, merit pay, charter schools, and vouchers—and proves that it is hard to find a single example across the world where these practices have led to significant increases in student achievement. Rick also reviews what the highest achieving countries are doing, such as Finland and Singapore, and identifies the practices that are replicable in the United States, and which are impossible due to demographic and cultural differences. His goal is not to condemn lawmakers and union leaders for advocating ineffective reforms, but instead to challenge policy makers to refocus their efforts on educational practices most proven to work.
But while his book defends America’s educators, it also challenges them to do better. As he states in his introduction, “our profession will not benefit from either unloving critics or uncritical lovers.” Regardless of the policies enacted by our nation’s leaders, there are proven practices that can be implemented in virtually every school right now…practices that educators are not forbidden to enact on behalf of their students. In the second half of his book, Rick challenges America’s schools to fully commit to becoming Professional Learning Communities. With great specificity, he describes the essential practices that every school must embrace to achieve high levels of learning for every student, while confronting the common excuses and tempting short-cuts that derail far too many schools.
My wife and I are both veteran site educators. After reading In Praise of American Educators, we felt both validated and challenged, inspired and reflective. Rick’s words represent both a labor of love to a profession for which he has dedicated his life’s work, and a call to arms for us to do even better for the sake of our students and our nation’s future. This book is truly a masterpiece… a seminal work that should be read by every stakeholder in public education.
Over the next few weeks, Solution Tree will be posting additional reflections on Rick’s book, including posts by Tim Kanold, Bill Ferriter, Casey Reason, Anthony Muhammad, Sharon Kramer, Josh Curnett, Tom Hierck, and Jasmine Kullar. I look forward to reading their thoughts and insights.
Wishing everyone a successful close to your school year!