Sunday, February 10, 2013

Expertise and the Lack Thereof in Education Policy

Yesterday, the Washington Post ran an essay by a now-retired high school social studies teacher.  The teacher specifically focused on the damage that NCLB has done to American public schools by making standardized testing the sine qua non of school success and thereby demoting critical thinking and analytical writing in the process.

The teacher included the following anecdote from a Teacher of the Year winner:

Where do I begin? I spent the last thirty minutes listening to a group of arrogant and condescending noneducators disrespect my colleagues and profession. I listened to a group of disingenuous people whose own self-interests guide their policies rather than the interests of children. I listened to a cabal of people who sit on national education committees that will have a profound impact on classroom teaching practices. And I heard nothing of value. “I’m thinking about the current health-care debate,” I said. “And I am wondering if I will be asked to sit on a national committee charged with the task of creating a core curriculum of medical procedures to be used in hospital emergency rooms.”

The strange little man cocks his head and, suddenly, the fly on the wall has everyone’s attention.

“I realize that most people would think I am unqualified to sit on such a committee because I am not a doctor, I have never worked in an emergency room, and I have never treated a single patient. So what? Today I have listened to people who are not teachers, have never worked in a classroom, and have never taught a single student tell me how to teach.”

This highlights all too well the problem with the nation's education policy: that it is crafted by individuals with no background in education whatsoever.

To see this depressing reality in action, just take a look at the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.  Of the 24 Republicans on the Committee, only 1 has any background in education--Virginia Foxx, who was a professor and college administrator.

The Democratic side is a bit better, but hardly exemplary: 6 out of 17 members have a background in education: Rob Andrews, former law professor; Rush Holt, Jr., former physics professor and Assistant Director of the Princeton Plasma Lab; Raúl Grijalva, former school board member and Assistant Dean of Hispanic Student Affairs; Tim Bishop, former provost and admissions counselor; David Loebsack, former political science professor; and Frederica Wilson, former elementary school principal and school board member.

The legal profession, unsurprisingly, dominates--6 out of 17 Democrats and 7 out of 24 Republicans--as it probably does every Committee.  Attorneys are very knowledgeable about many things, but education policy will not likely be one of them.

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