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What Do Teachers Know About Education?

According to a guest blogger at The Answer Sheet, the best way to be taken seriously as an education reformer is to have no experience whatsoever with education.

In the current upside-down world of education policy, there’s one foolproof strategy for being taken seriously as a reformer: Make sure you’re not an educator.

Urban districts nationwide, with Chicago leading the way, have hired those with business or legal backgrounds to head their school systems. Major voices in the reform conversation such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and philanthropist Eli Broad have never been teachers. And when Oprah wants to talk about schools, she invites Bill Gates or Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — all the while reminding her audience how much she loves teachers.

Why would you ever want to ask a teacher how to improve education?

Almost every expert on the subject, not to mention the big media assessments, says we’re all either incompetent or greedy.


  1. Mark

    In fairness, we do the same thing to them. If we really think veteran teachers are the best people to be experts in running our education system, then wouldn’t veteran politicians be the best people to have as experts in running our political system? Yet we have term limit laws that force veteran politicians out of office.

    Perhaps our thinking about education, politics, and being an expert in general could stand some revision…

  2. Brett

    Education reform is a big task and it is going to require discussion with all stakeholders… this includes educators and non-educators. I have no issue with non-educators being involved. I think that they will provide bring a potentially helpful perspective to the table. That being said, providing no seats for teachers at that same table is a shame and is a big part of the problem. Imagine if Army generals never talked to the people on the front lines to find out what is going on before they made decisions… of course, that might be happening too.

  3. Tim

    Mark: I don’t think veteran teachers are the “best” people to be running our education system. However, shutting them out of the process doesn’t make sense either. If we’re ever going to get the schools we need for the future, planning must include all parts of the community. Especially including the people most affected by all our decisions (and most often ignored): students.

  4. David H. Wilkins

    IMHO, it all comes down to what are the most effective (not most efficient) ways of engaging kids in the learning process. Teachers have this knowledge. Many times, though, they don’t have the tools, opportunities to and venues to publish it.

    Techniques that work at one school may be useful in other schools, but it’s hard (and time consuming) to gather and distribute the information.

    As far as greed is concerned, I don’t think any college student currently enrolled in an education program thinks they’ll become a millionaire.

    I’m reminded of “The Mythical Man Month” by Fred Brooks (treatise on software development practices). He suggests a “Chief Surgeon” model, where infrastructure is built up to support a single developer, since good developers are 10 times as productive as mediocre developers. The same model might be applicable to teaching. Again, effectiveness, not efficiency is the primary concern.

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