Ed Reform 101 Extra Credit: Marie Corfield

Early in Chris Christie’s tenure, a Hunterdon public school teacher stood up to him at one of his early “Town Hall” meetings carefully stacked with adoring Republicans. To their delight, he used the opportunity to dress her down for the benefit of his cameras (paid for with your tax dollars) in his first “YouTube Moment”. Corfield has since become a lightning rod for national coverage of the governor, and of education privatizers whose first step is denigrating public school teachers. And Corfield is also now a candidate for the NJ Assembly, in the 16th District. She wrote this postscript to our Ed Reform 101 series, at our request. – promoted by Rosi

My favorite hero of fiction is Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. Set in Alabama during the Great Depression, Atticus, an attorney and single father, defends Tom Robinson, a black man, wrongly accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white woman, and in the process teaches his children invaluable lessons about tolerance, compassion and understanding.

During the trial, Atticus asks Mayella’s father, Bob Ewell, why he called for help from everyone except the one person who could really help his daughter-a doctor-because a doctor would have seen right away that Mayella was indeed beaten by her father, and not raped by Tom Robinson. But in the end, prejudice won, and Tom was convicted.

So what does all this have to do with education ‘reform’? Well, let me start by saying that I am in no way trying to relate education reformers to the bigoted, close-mindedness of the early 20th Century South. I’m merely saying that education ‘reformers’ are politicians, hedge fund managers, business people, entrepreneurs, billionaires. They are not teachers. They are not experts in the field. They do not understand the day-to-day workings of a classroom or a school. They have not spent a significant amount of time in a public school. They do not understand the many ways that teachers teach and students learn that have nothing to do with standardized tests and merit pay. And yet, they are the ones who are out there trying to re-shape American public education. And they’re succeeding in ways that, ten, twenty years from now may prove to be even more detrimental than NCLB.

Like Bob Ewell, they are not consulting the experts because the experts aren’t going to give them the answers they want. Instead, teachers will give them the truth: that there is not one shred of evidence that their concepts and ideas will work, and that unless issues like poverty, homelessness, hunger, abuse and parental neglect are added to the equation, more and more students will slip further and further through the cracks.

Well, I wanted to hear from the experts, so I posted this question on Daily Kos: What works in public education? I asked teachers for professional, realistic answers, and I got some great ones, including things that can’t be tested, measured or value-added. They speak about the need to promote a love of learning, ‘improving the human condition’, and ‘becoming a better person’. They report about creating learning communities within schools that are geared to individual students’ needs and interests. They offer ways to get older students to school on time, how parents can better prepare young children for school, and they suggest making schools ‘community centers’ that are not only available for student learning, but for learning by the community at large.

Nowhere in the mix was a mention of increased standardized testing, larger class sizes, merit pay, or any of the other ‘reforms’ currently on the menu.

While the overall responses were positive, this post sums up the frustration felt by teachers from coast to coast:

“I want legislators to stop lumping all public schools together and painting them with a single brush. Each school needs to be looked at individually for its own merits… Any program that rewards the ‘have’ schools with more money for doing well and reduces funding for the ‘have-not’ schools, thereby increasing their chances of failure, is idiotic. Isn’t it common sense that schools that struggle need MORE help, not less, whether it is in funding, materials, or personnel? NCLB promoted this upside-down, inside-out kind of logic.”

The overwhelming majority of New Jersey’s public schools are doing it right. This state is a national leader in public education. But, two hundred out of over 2600 schools are not meeting the needs of their students. We need to help them-not shut them down. As thousands of teachers and millions of students head back to school this week facing larger class sizes, and fewer teachers and supplies, we all must ask ourselves: What really works in public education, and how can we get more of it in our schools that are struggling, and keep it in the ones that aren’t?

And we all must have a place at the table to share our answers.

Comments (2)

  1. William Weber (WjcW)

    in New Jersey though. Our underperfroming districts are funded at the highest levels in the world today. NCLB and subsequent cutting of funding are not contributing the problem in those districts.


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