The Education Pendulum is Swinging Back and Policy Makers Aren’t Going to Stop It

Public education really shouldn’t be a political issue, but we all know that it is–and it’s a big one. As a political issue, public education is subject to the same pendulum swings as all the other issues. One of the things that holds our nation together and keeps us from straying too far down a singular path is the fact that the pendulum always tends to swing back in the other direction from time to time. When it works well, these pendulum swings act like our government’s system of checks and balances. It becomes a self-correcting situation. Tragically, the pendulum for public education has been on a long swing in one direction for far too long. For the better part of two decades, the pendulum of public education has been like a runaway train. For more than 15 years we have seen ill advised–if not outright sinister–education reform policies bring public education to the brink of ruin. The rampant problems caused by these reforms have led to a potentially disastrous teacher shortage which threatens to cripple the nation. The good news is, this can be stopped. There are signs on the horizon of a massive change. It’s high time for the pendulum to swing back and policy makers are not going to stop it this time.

Teachers–those of us who are left–have had more than enough of this and we are finally taking matters into our own hands. The Red for Ed movement has been on full display all over the nation. This grassroots movement is having a great impact and will continue to do so. Most recently, we’ve seen this in Kentucky, of all places. Kentucky, the home of Mitch McConnell, is just about as dyed-in-the-wool red as you can get. But in a major upset, Andy Beshear toppled incumbent Matt Bevin in the gubernatorial race, running on a solid pro-public education platform. Making good on his campaign promises, Governor Beshear got right to work. On his first official day as governor, Mr. Beshear dissolved the Kentucky Board of Education clearing the path for new blood to take over Kentucky’s public education policy. That was one bold move and it captured the attention of public education insiders all over the country. The pendulum is swinging back in Kentucky and it won’t be long until it spreads.

Here in Indiana, our state policy makers have been busy sending loud signals that they intend to stand in the way of the pendulum swinging back. Even after 20,000 red-clad educators rallied outside the Indiana Statehouse last month, it seems that the governor and supermajority legislature are not getting the message that they have created an awful mess. I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last few days. Let me put it this way…

State policy makers have been putting the pressure on teachers to raise test scores, holding their livelihoods as hostage. They want teachers held accountable for the results of a wildly inequitable standardized testing system. They say when our students don’t perform well on these tests, it’s our fault as teachers. Well, let’s play that game and take it a step further. Teachers are the “middle man” in this school accountability equation. State policy makers are upper management. They are the ones who are pushing for more school choice. They keep promoting more charter schools and spending more and more money for them, even though they traditionally have struggled more than traditional public schools. They are the ones who say that when schools don’t perform up to their standards, they will take over–this policy has been a complete failure. They are the ones who’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to come up with new standardized tests. They are the ones who came up with the new ILEARN test which, in its first run, saw more than half of all Indiana students fail. In a recent study of states early education systems, Indiana ranked dead last in the nation for our pre-K education. Just another in a series of embarrassing rankings that are the result of 15 years of horrendously bad education reform.

Should it not be the people at the top of the “public education food chain” who bear the brunt of the responsibility for the policies they’ve implemented? When a pro sports team has struggles, it’s the man at the top who’s normally in the hot-seat. They don’t fire the players.

Now I ask you, who is going to hold state policy makers responsible for the dismal results of their education reform policies?

The answer is simple. It is you and me.

We have the opportunity to let that pendulum swing freely back in the other direction. If Kentucky can do it, so can Indiana. There is a groundswell of education professionals who are ready to step in and take ownership of our public education policy. Educators need to write and oversee education reform. We need to put a lot of different fannies into the seats of our legislature and we need to put a new family in the governor’s mansion.

It’s way past time to see that pendulum change directions.

It’s up to us.

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