Saturday, March 30, 2013

Policy Perspective: The Poles

(Heidi's perspective, suburban, private school teacher)

First off, I just have to say how much I admire Meg’s passion, interest, knowledge and experience on the topic of Policy. She has inspired and fueled me to begin this journey into policy-land, although thank goodness I’m not a blogger as it has taken me this long to write a response to her wonderful piece! (Though I’m afraid our March blog bookends are in no way in like lions and out like lambs!) :D

One of the things I love the most about Kinderchat is how it brings together many different voices and experiences. Each one of us brings a unique perspective and set of tools to the table. It’s as if each week we return to the table to unload and share the newest gems stored up in our pockets. Meg’s first hand experience in a Head Start classroom is extremely valuable to the community and to this conversation in particular. And even more so, because my own experience pretty much cannot be more different!

I have taught in an upper class community in a private school my entire teaching career. So not only is it a low/no poverty community, coincidentally with excellent public schools, I teach in maybe the top 10% economic bracket of that already top tier. Private school tuition makes your eyes water if you are a person of average means. The cost per pupil is staggering in comparison to public school cost per pupil, in some cases private school tuition literally doubles or triples what even high spending districts are spending per pupil. And private schools are fundraising pretty much all of the time. It seems it’s never enough.

In contrast to mine and more in line with Meg’s experience, my Mom teaches Special Education in the neighboring high poverty town and is well versed in how policy makes its way into the classroom. She’s had to switch curriculums pretty much every other year for the last 10 years while I’ve had time to craft and perfect my own. Her students might get beat for losing a mitten, my student’s Mom owns a mitten-making boutique. Her students have parents in jail, my students have nannies and housekeepers. Her students get beat up everyday walking home from school until they relent and join the gang, my students are picked up in Range Rovers and driven to horseback riding lessons. She juggles students with severe emotional and learning issues, my students are asked to leave if there’s too severe an issue for the school to handle. She writes multi-page detailed lesson plans all weekend while I just keep a monthly desk calendar. Mom and Meg, I’m not sure I could do it!

There seems to me to be some very dangerous and sad trends in policy making of recent, with labels being thrown out of “failing schools” and “bad teachers”. Everyone is failing it seems, except the folks out there creating the “bad policy”. I always go back to this quote from W Edwards Deming "The problem is not the worker, the problem is at the top." Everyone seems to be racing there, but those actually at the top certainly aren't talking about the Common Core.

These facts of disparity are not secrets and if they are, well, they shouldn’t be. The facts may not be as sexy as big data, but data are just a bunch of numbers when not contextualized by the facts of life for millions of Young Children. I hope through these discussions with Meg we begin open up a more honest and in depth dialogue of the reality and impact of policy and the reality of school experiences for our youngest learners.

Heidi is from New Jersey and can be found on twitter at @hechternacht She blogs for kids here.

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