Educators deserve a seat at the big table

Education professionals at all levels must be part of the solution to create a high level of academic excellence
By: | October 7, 2019

Long-time educator Eugene Butler, Jr., is a retired assistant superintendent (Tucson USD).

Too often, in today’s complex educational landscape, decisions pertaining to education in America are made by enthusiastic, but uninformed policymakers. This level of hypocrisy and arrogance has created an environment of paralysis from over-analysis.

When you get sick, you go to the doctor. When you have legal concerns, you retain an attorney. Education is the only field where the perceived experts are on the outside looking in when it comes to ensuring that America’s students are performing at an optimal level.

I am sure that this experience is not unique to my extended family. However, I remember some occasions during major holidays when the adults sat at the big table, and the children sat at the little table. I could not wait until I was perceived as being ready to take my rightful seat at the big table. Educators at all levels must be at the big table in order to create a high level of academic excellence for K-16 learning in the United States.

Partnerships and collaboration

A collaboration between policymakers, educational leaders, teachers, and private and public sector stakeholders will yield higher-performing and more well-rounded students who are able to compete in today’s shrinking global village. Furthermore, refined efforts will better professionalize and reframe what it means to be a highly qualified educator.

School districts must establish partnerships and collaborate with private and community stakeholders to defray the costs for upgrading learning centers to a level where American students can compete on an international scale with their global peers.

Moreover, an intentional and concerted effort to assists educators with becoming masters of their craft may result in outside stakeholders becoming intellectually inquisitive and ultimately effusive about the performance of both the scholars and educational professionals in urban schools.

Cultivating learning environments that ensure that all students are receiving a quality and equitable education will allow American students to compete with pupils from Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, China and Japan in an international marketplace. Excellent teachers are not only the backbone of public schools, but they are also responsible for building the foundation that most other professionals stand on.

On the other hand, poor classroom instruction is sometimes like a cancer that metastasizes throughout the body of public education. Every year, newly researched potential medications or remedies are rolled out, but many are limited in impact and usually fall short of sending the disease into full remission. Unfortunately—in large part—addressing many underachieving students and underperforming schools can be analogous to the ongoing battle against the complexities of the variables in urban public schools. The good news is that there are considerably more good to outstanding teachers, support staff and administrators than there are poor educators.

With that said, it is imperative that the previously referenced coalition attacks education reform in urban communities with the courage, fervor and the sense of urgency of the fictional Lilliputians from the novel Gulliver’s Travels. According to the old adage, people may not remember what you say, but they will always remember what you did.

Therefore, the essential question is how does America simultaneously take best practices to scale for less proficient learners while working to ensure that no regression occurs for those students who are proficient and above in the identified core subject areas? The need for change rings as loudly as a struck tuning fork.

Changing demographics

However, the answer is not to unilaterally discard the institutional knowledge of the internal experts in the building and dismantle the underpinnings of the current successful practices in public schools in general—and specifically on urban campuses. Contrary to popular belief, many educators in urban public schools have established loving, caring and academically challenging learning environments.

The lack of resources and updated infrastructure, limited Tier III support to address mental health and social-emotional learning concerns, and not having their voices legitimately heard in reference to real-time best practice strategies that work; contribute to the overall lack of consistent measurable gains for all learners.

In Tomorrow’s test: America’s schools are majority-minority. Now what? author and researcher Sarah Carr pointed out that for the first time in U.S. history, there are more minority students in America’s public schools than ever before.

Children of color became the new student majority in 2014. If the internal and external stakeholders are truly interested in identifying strategies, key steps and goals which may lead to more positive academic and valuable social-emotional outcomes for all students, then the teachers in the trenches need to be at the big table.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to informally interview Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator and policy advisor. In a nutshell, he advised me that Finland basically followed the framework from the United States but provided much more support for the teachers and decided to engage in a more autonomous approach at the building level.

If schools in America are going achieve their mission of successfully meeting the needs of all learners—a diverse group of individuals must sit at the big table—they must respectfully share and listen to ideas and data sources that may be taken to scale to ensure ongoing measurable gains.

Obviously, there is no one size fits all solution. However, problem-solving begins with identifying the issues and should be combined with a continuous improvement model approach that focuses on the performance of the entire organization.

Longtime educator Eugene Butler Jr., is a retired assistant superintendent of Tucson USD in Arizona.