There are many parts of President Barack Obama’s March 10 speech on education to applaud, though some of it will make education leaders uncomfortable.
Obama’s call to the nation’s youth to enter teaching is certainly laudable. The president’s remark that “the most important factor (to a student’s) success… (is) the person standing in front of the classroom” echoes the sentiments Golden Apple has proclaimed for decades, and we hail those that heed his call.
But the truest measure of educational improvement is not who enters the profession, but who stays and deepens their understanding of and commitment to teaching and inspiring children. A brief teaching stint to buttress one’s resume, before leaving for another field, does not improve a classroom, a school or a community.
An even more difficult pill to swallow is Obama’s position that all teachers not improving the educational experiences of children should leave, either on their own or through skillful counseling. As hard as that fact is to accept and as loudly as teachers’ unions will rail against the notion, Golden Apple applauds the President for saying what so many others have been afraid to say in the past. It is the role of unions to zealously guard the due-process rights that protect teachers from capricious and ham-handed administrative whims. But their protectionism has led to a system that makes it extremely difficult to excuse poor-performing teachers who do not improve.
Teeth-clenching educators will also object to some of the president’s remarks about rewarding teachers. Golden Apple has recognized superior teachers in Illinois for more than two decades, giving us first-hand knowledge of the elements of outstanding teaching, which we provide for all teachers to emulate. National Board Certification has given even more teachers an opportunity to demonstrate their talent based on nationally recognized attributes. But the powers that be will continue to resist Obama’s stated belief that “the time has come to start rewarding good teachers.”
What was missing from Obama’s remarks, in our opinion, is the recognition that children need to be evaluated by more than their ability to achieve on timed, multiple-choice standardized tests. This mania has harmed our classrooms, dumbed-down curricula and virtually ignored problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity. These are attributes that will create the world-class education system we all desire for our children.
Golden Apple feels strongly that there needs to be a significant focus on finding ways to include those attributes in all levels of education, to raise our standards and give our children the best chance to succeed in the world.
President and CEO
Golden Apple Foundation