Interests Matter: Why Teachers Shouldn’t Be the Primary Shapers of Education Policy

The recent transformation of education into a prominent nationally policy issue has prompted an  increasingly important question: who should be crafting our country’s education policies? Though teachers and school administrators have largely controlled education policy for decades, in recent years outsiders–including think tanks, charter management organizations, and other advocacy groups–have had impressive success in implementing reform policies. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a backlash from the traditional educational establishment, who insist that teachers are the only people qualified to decide what our education system needs.

I don’t think anyone could seriously say that teachers shouldn’t be involved in shaping education policy. Besides their obvious expertise and importance in student success, as the primary actors in implementing any reform it would be both illogical and impractical to ignore their input. But that doesn’t mean that they should take the lead. Teachers shouldn’t be the primary shapers of education policy because they have material interests in the system independent of its effectiveness. Education policy should be guided by actors that are solely interested in what is best for students.

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that interests of teachers and interests of students or opposed–in other words, that teachers do not want their students to be successful. But it’s indisputable that teacher and student interests are not identical. Last-in first-out layoff policies? Nearly unbreakable tenure guarantees? Blocking of meaningful teacher evaluation systems? While certainly in the interests of teachers, those sorts of policies are at best marginally helpful to students. And that’s a problem. We should be able to point to every facet of our educational system and explain how it is the most efficient and effective way to help kids learn. Teachers primarily shaping policy won’t get us to that point.

Don’t get me wrong. Teachers can and ought to continue to pursue their interests within our education system. But let’s stop the illogical charade that they can simultaneously support what is best for our kids.


3 thoughts on “Interests Matter: Why Teachers Shouldn’t Be the Primary Shapers of Education Policy

  1. Pingback: Voices of the Dropout Nation in Quotes: Why Everyone Must Be Involved in Education Decision-Making | Dropout Nation: Coverage of the Reform of American Public Education Edited by RiShawn Biddle

  2. Omar Lopez

    Joel Klein, in an exit interview with Freakonomics, made a similar point:

    “So I did it because I wanted to mix of skills. I mean, I hired a lot of people from business schools. I mean, it’s 23 billion dollar organization, why would we think that a social studies teacher would be the primary person to do budgets. Why would we think a social studies teacher would be the primary person to do human resources. You need human resource policies, recruitment policies so I wanted people who came from different backgrounds, second of all, I wanted people who really were part of a performance culture, who really thought that excellence and driving themselves and pushing forward and I wanted them to come from whatever background. I’ve got more in my current cabinet now, I’ve got more senior educators than anybody else ever had. I’ve got probably 4 people that have got maybe 150-180 years among them in the system but I’ve also got some people who come from a very different background. That’s the way you assemble the team. But where I could find talent, whether if ti was from the business schools or the law schools or the Kennedy school or even occasionally school of economics, I would go for these people and bring them in.”

    It’s not an irrational observation, but authenticity has always been something that used as ammunition against reformers. In this game, the messenger matters. Having a teacher make education policy makes sense, from a political perspective.

    Let’s look at this logically, though. I taught for two years and am accused of not having enough experience to have a valid opinion on education policy. Very well. What if I had taught 20 years in large urban high school. Does that experience equate to teaching in a small rural elementary school? Teaching kids with disabilities?

    Should people’s opinions be limited to their experiences?

    1. Jacob W Post author

      Very useful words from Mr. Klein. I have been told many times that my opinions are essentially invalid because I don’t have enough teaching experience, which is a dubious claim to say the least. My response is: how many years do you need to teach before you are allowed to talk about ed policy? 5? 10? 20? Unfortunately, what I’ve concluded is that the only way I could have enough experience is if I change my mind 🙂

      Thanks for reading, and great start with TFER–I’m really excited to see where that goes. Let me know if I can help out or be involved in any way.



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