Restoring Excellence to Education
A Historical Review and a Path Forward
by Amy Edmonds
Foreword by Susan Gore, M.A.
In this paper Amy Edmonds tells how policies such as those found in the Common Core Standards [Common Core] have been promoted historically and here in Wyoming. She reminds us that centralized micromanagement fails to increase scores on achievement tests. Further, she calls to mind the simple truth that letting good teachers do their jobs increases academic growth.
We know kids are learning and growing when students, teachers and parents used words like “love learning,” “respected,” “exciting,” “unforgettable connections” and “rewarding.” Teacher Ellie Rubenstein used these words when she spoke about the years before micromanagement, when she was allowed to be creative in her work:
My first few years of teaching were incredibly exhausting but also extremely exciting and rewarding. Ten-hour workdays felt worth it. I was making a difference in children’s and their families’ lives. I was actively helping students love learning and forming unforgettable connections with students who would come back to visit me year after year to recall their time in my classroom and just chat. Also, at that time teachers were respected and highly regarded as hardworking professionals who dedicated their lives – yes lives – to children. I was proud to say, “I am a teacher.” i – Ellie Rubenstein
Unfortunately, love of learning can be regulated away. These days proponents of Common Core like to use the word “rigor,” as in, from various dictionaries [Miriam Webster, The Free Dictionary, Dictionary.com]:
“Harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment;”
“Strictness or severity, as in temperament, action, or judgment;”
“Strictness, severity, or harshness, as in dealing with people.”
As Edmonds illustrates, rigor is exactly what centralized micromanagement is about. It is not good for students, and it drives capable teachers like Ellie Rubenstein out of their profession. This need not continue.
“I was proud to say I am a teacher, but over the past 15 years I’ve experienced the depressing, gradual downfall and misdirection of education that has slowly eaten away at my love of teaching. Everything I loved about teaching is extinct.” Ellie Rubenstein
Ellie Rubenstein, a teacher in Highland Park, Ill., gained overnight notoriety when she posted a video she entitled, “In Pursuit of Happiness.” In it Rubenstein tenders her resignation to school officials after discussing the decline in education she has seen over the past 15 years.
The details of Rubenstein’s criticisms are telling. She describes “the depressing, gradual downfall and misdirection of education that has slowly eaten away at my love of teaching. The emphasis in education has shifted from fostering academic and personal growth in both students and teachers to demanding uniformity and conformity.”
Describing the rise in bureaucratic commands, Rubenstein continues: “Raising students’ test scores on standardized tests is now the only goal, and in order to achieve it the creativity, flexibility and spontaneity … have been eliminated.”
Rubenstein addresses the central themes that have propelled public education over the past half century – control and loss. The fight for control over the public education system has become a driving political agenda for every local, state and federal administration. But these political agendas have led to real and sustained losses for those closest to education; the loss of more and more parental rights and responsibilities, the long-term loss of “creativity, flexibility and spontaneity” for teachers like Rubenstein and the actual loss of a meaningful, whole and relevant education for the child.
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