Respectful Reform That Makes Sense

By Chris Janotta

reform (noun): amendment of what is defective, vicious, corrupt, or depraved

This definition comes from merriam-webster.com. When I first read it, I was surprised to find such harsh words contained in it. When I read it again, this time out loud, I was taken aback at what types of cruelty, according to this definition, reform should be aimed at. It conjured up images of criminal acts, and I don’t mean just any old criminal acts. I mean the type where reform means twenty-years to life.

Then I thought a little more about this. Had the public school system become so defective, so corrupt, that a vicious system had been created by depraved teachers, administrators, and school boards? And, if so, was the only way to make it any better to institute a series of reforms that would take from twenty years up to an entire lifetime to have a positive effect?

Either way, I thought, we are all doomed. If the former is true then I, without even realizing it, am a part of the system. If the latter was the solution, then entire generations of
students would be receiving a shoddy education. I was beginning to get depressed.

Suddenly, though, I had an idea. What if I checked another site to see if the definition was the same? So, after checking thefreedictionary.com (anything free can’t be bad, right?), I came across a definition that, in turn, made a smile come across my face:
reform n.
1. A change for the better; an improvement.
2. Correction of evils, abuses, or errors.
3. Action to improve social or economic conditions without radical or revolutionary change.

Now this was something I could deal with! Sure, evils, abuses, and errors were still a part of the definition, but none of those words conjured up quite the images that the first set of words had. Besides, I am sure that somewhere within the public school system there are some sort of evils and/or abuses occurring (or maybe some of the evils and abuses are occurring at the upper levels of public education which are beyond the control of teachers, administrators, superintendents, and even school boards), and nobody can argue that any system is completely free of errors.

But it was that third definition that really made me smile. “That,” I said to myself, “sounds like the type of reform I can agree with. In fact, I might even call this type of reform ‘respectful reform.’”

Respectful reform. This had a nice ring to it, but what did it mean? For this, I referred back to the definition. “Action to improve social or economic conditions,” it started out. What more could public education ask for? If every school was fairly funded and every neighborhood had the resources it needed, “a change for the better,” as the first definition states, would surely begin to take place.

Instead of racing for money (and, in most cases, losing the race), schools could be funded based upon need. Instead of using a system where the richest schools get richer based upon where they are located, a disbursement of funds could be based on need.

If community leaders became involved in the schools that so desperately need them to become involved, “a change for the better” could take place. If services and supports were provided in the communities that so desperately need them, “a change for the better” would occur not only for the schools in those communities, but also for the communities themselves. Addressing needs instead of ignoring them; this was starting to sound like the true meaning of respectful reform, but what about the second part of this definition?
“Without radical or revolutionary change.” This was the part that really added meaning for me. Firing teachers to “fix” the system. Instituting evaluation after endless evaluation to the point that teachers have no choice but to teach to a test. Requiring every student, no matter his or her mental capacity, to pass a test at his or her grade level.
Instituting programs that punish teachers, rob students of a well-rounded education, and force schools to close because they aren’t “up to standards” (mostly because meeting these standards is a near impossibility in some schools due to funding issues, lack of resources, or other issues beyond the teachers’ and administrators’ control). Using movies, talk shows, and national publications to spread propaganda against public schools, public school teachers, public school teachers’ unions, and anything else having to do with public These are all radical and revolutionary changes that have come about over the last several years and have come about even more strongly over the last several months. This, by definition is not reform, and, by my definition, is definitely not respectful reform.

However, this is almost to be expected since most of those proposing these reforms are not currently, nor have they ever been, educators. It is for this reason that reform must come from those who are most involved in public education: teachers, parents, and students.

Let the responsibility for change come from within. Allow this triad to make decisions regarding how teachers should be evaluated, how students should be evaluated, and how schools should be evaluated. Allow them to allow time for more teaching instead of more testing. I have yet to meet a teacher, parent, student, or administrator who feels the over-reliance on testing is good for our nation’s students. Nor have I heard that pulling students from social studies, science, physical education, art, or any other class in order to provide even more test preparation is a good idea.

Yet this is exactly what is happening on a daily basis due to the current “reforms.” While I am not suggesting that teachers, parents, and students should make up their own rules and change them as they please, I am suggesting that they play a major role in the “respectful reform” that must take place because those currently taking the lead in this area are suggesting even more of these same practices.

Simply calling something reform doesn’t make it reform, just as calling something respectful reform doesn’t mean it makes any sense to apply it to public education. This is why we must be careful to use respectful reform that makes sense. Anybody with a loud enough voice can stand at the corner of any street in a big city and preach reform, but most of what I’ve heard, whether it be from the mouths of those on street corners or the mouths of those who hold some sort of power through their wealth or position in society, has yet to make much sense.

Even the reform I speak of wouldn’t make sense in a system that doesn’t need it. This is why many of the current reforms won’t work. Every district, every school, every student is different. The type of reform that works one place may produce terrible results in another. If a school is turning out successful students year after year, why must it go through reform? If a student scores at the top of his or her class on every test year after year, why must he or she be subjected to reform? After all, both merriam-webster.com and thefreedictionary.com state that reform is a change or an amendment. Why would one want to amend something that works?

Therefore, I call for respectful reform that makes sense. By having teachers and community members working alongside politicians, parents, and pupils, we can come up with changes that produce positive effects for both public education and American society. There doesn’t seem to be anything defective, vicious, corrupt, or depraved about that.

Taken from Ed Voices: http://www.edvoices.com/blog/2010/11/29/respectful-reform-that-makes-sense/

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