By Cheryl Scott Williams
Public K-12 schooling is a popular subject in all forms of media these days, with the majority of coverage highly critical of both the professionals who work within the system and the performance of the students with whom they work. Prominent national leaders from government, corporations, and philanthropic organizations, having positioned themselves as "reformers," hold the bully pulpit in not only proclaiming education professionals as inadequate in ability and practice, but also in controlling access to significant resources to define and support reform efforts.
Those of us who have spent our careers in public education have always welcomed interest and enthusiasm from those outside the profession when that involvement focuses on unique perspectives and skill sets they can bring to the learning environment, including financial support, assistance with new technologies, participation in career days, and internship opportunities for students. We also welcome open discussion and the sharing of experience that can contribute to new ways of thinking about the challenges we face in our daily work with students.
But the tone, language, and proposals for change currently articulated by the most prominent "reformers" at the national level reveal both a lack of knowledge and experience of the daily realities of even the most successful public schools and a total lack of respect for the professionals now working in public education. A New York Times article by Michael Winerip last year provided insight into the genesis of the worldview of these "reformers." It was chilling in its revelation of our country's movement toward endowing decisionmaking by only a privileged ruling class of leaders whose experience in no way reflects the background or upbringing of the majority of Americans.