Has ‘Reform’ Become a Bad Word?

In talking with my friends who are teachers, and in some of my education policy classes, ‘reform’ in the context of education policy has become somewhat of a bad word. During my research, I wrote a 35-page paper discussing implementation of policy and its affects on the attitudes and everyday practices of those who influence policy, i.e. congresspersons, legislators, state politicians, superintendents, administrators in education, educational associations/advocacy groups, “policymakers,” and those who implement the policy i.e. teachers and principles, “educators.” Below, I have included some of my research regarding how these parties react to change in general, therefore shaping their opinion of reformation.

Taken from paper presented June 22, 2010:

Tyack & Cuban (1998) state, “One reason people are cynical about national and state leaders is that they suspect that the goals these leaders have set are unrealistic, the sort of hyperbole they have come to expect from politicians” (p. 33). For the most part, the implementation of policy in schools come and go quite frequently. It is hard for educators to take policymakers seriously when there is a constant churning of policy initiatives and development of reformations. “The feeling of déjà vu in school reform is so common-and so annoying to many school veterans… “ (Tyack & Cuban, 1998 p. 58).

With the development of the Elementary Secondary Education Act, now known as No Child Left Behind, policymakers have the responsibility to create accountability-driven reforms to achieve the demanding pressures imposed by the national government. Atkinson (2002) argues that policymakers have to constantly align the conflicting assessments to national standards, while also adhering to problematic accountability agendas. “It is perceived as the duty of policymakers and public officials to hold schools accountable to these standards” (Atkinson, 2002, p. 292). Essentially, policymakers have taken the beating when it comes to the development of policy and education reformation. Educators and the public have been trained to think that policymakers have a reputation of setting unrealistic and unrealized goals, which adds to their bias.

Research also indicates that, educators can see their end of their specific ‘continuum’ very well, but it is argued that they are not very familiar with what work is like at other points along the overall reformation ‘continuum.’ In this regard, it is suggested that educator’s think that district superintendents and state policymakers have easy jobs, “’They are given cars, and all they do is mandate things for teachers to do; they have no idea what life is like in the classroom.’ Policymakers at the other end of the continuum have similarly limited vie. They feel harried and pressured, and do not see themselves as being able to influence much of anything. They see the complexity of their work and believe that no one understands their approach to education. Many of them view [educators] as having the easy job. (Hall & Hord, 2001, pp. 11-12).

On the other hand, research and literature around the roles of educators in policy reformation suggests that some policymakers fervently complain that the “rank-and-file” educators sabotage the implementation reformation (Tyack & Cuban, 1998). Educators have first-hand experience as to what works for students in the classroom and what doesn’t work in the classroom. Cuban (1988) defines educators as having multiple roles including bureaucrat/technocrat, craftsman/artist and sustaining instructional, managerial and political dimensions of the educator role. In this respect, educators feel bombarded by meeting everyday demands and meeting requirements set forth by state and national standards. There are also additional pressures in regards to keeping p their job performance.

In most cases, educator’s perceptions about policy reformation and certain implementation call for direct and immediate change. It is then the educator’s responsibility to improve teaching tactics through professional development, and teach the needed curriculum, while also adhering to the vast changes driven by policy reformation. In this respect most teachers are expected to graft new ideas into traditional methods. History has shown that educators often complied to reformations and outside demands, but then relegated it to the “periphery of the school.” In other words, while teachers have the responsibility to implement certain policies in their classroom, they have to do what is necessary to maintain their multiple roles in the classroom. This contributes to a bias felt by policymakers that educators are unwilling to comply with what policymakers have outlined is necessary for progression.

I observed two of my friends who seemed to disagree about the role of educators and policymakers in certain classroom interventions. For some background, this discourse was between a policy analyst who plays an influential role in policy creation, and an educator who has experience teaching junior high-level students, as well as college-level students. The background of this discussion was based on research the policy analyst was gathering in order to successfully implement an educational intervention at the beginning 2011.

Conversation from the Policymaker: The policymaker expressed frustration that he had given very specific instructions to teachers to fill out a survey that would enable him to use the data to support moving forward with this specific intervention. While defending his timetable and circumstance, the point of the argument was that his job was put on hold because teachers included in this survey did not recognize the importance of his research, even though he felt he clearly communicated his intentions and exploration behind this intervention.

In other conversations with other policymakers, I observed that many have experiences with educators that leave them with the negative impressions. Several expressed that educators have no idea what administrators grapple with everyday. Policymakers feel that not only do they have to adhere to what federal and state governments have mandated for educators, but they also have to deal with school district needs, what resources are available (budget), realistic expectations for implementation of programs, putting out fires between other administrators and teachers and coming up with new and innovative ways to motivate not only teachers, but students, parents and communities.

Conversation from the Educator: The educator expressed frustration that when things come across her desk during the class period that she most often shoves it aside in order to concentrate on what is happening at the time. She argued that educators can’t realistically stop what they are doing (which is teaching) in order to fill out these surveys. Even when class is over, educators normally spend time working on what needs to happen for the next class, or they are obligated to participate in other school-related activities. She also said that when she has been required to fill out surveys, that it has never been explained to her why these surveys were important, nor has she seen anything come from the research. Therefore, when surveys pass her desk now, it is easy for her to pass them up. “I haven’t seen anything happen with the research, so why should I take the time to fill this out,” she said.

In other conversations with educators, most expressed that policymakers have no idea what is needed in the classroom in order to make certain things work. The overall argument from educators is, “How many of these policymakers have actually taught in a classroom? Because it seems to me that they have no idea what we need or what it takes to even control classroom situations….and they expect us to use their intervention successfully?”

End paper

According to a news article written today (Jan 19), MEA: New Agenda For Education Could Save Millions, The Michigan Education Association (MEA) announced this morning that they have a new plan that will enable them to increase the quality of K-12 education in the state by raising the bar for student achievement, increasing graduation rates, streamlining the tenure process, and improving training and evaluation for education employees. The MEA also explained that part of their plan would require businesses in the area to allow parents the necessary time to be with their children to bolster their education.

While these goals seem like a monstrous undertaking, I also read that teachers, parents and administrators put this plan together, and are excited to get working on these changes.

The questions I have are:

  1. When does reformation become a good word?
  2. When teachers participate in changing policy and contribute to reformation, is the reformation more successful?
  3. If this is the case, should policymakers consider including educators, not just administrators, in their education reformation planning sessions? What should their (educators) expected involvement be?