What’s Best for Kids
Ask six different people talking about how to improve schools, and all six will talk about doing what's best for the kids.
I'll give you six right now:
Minnesota teachers' union president Tom Dooher, former D.C. Chancellor and outspoken opponent of teachers' unions Michelle Rhee, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, current Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, former president George W. Bush, and current president Barack Obama. Never mind that these six people may disagree dramatically about everything related to pedagogy, school leadership, and so on; the important thing is doing what's best for the kids.
The problem here should be obvious: each of those six people is right, but incompletely so, and a few are wrong in some significant ways. There are lots of things that are good for students—high expectations, regular performance feedback, effective teachers, encouraging families, safe and clean facilities, strong curricula, invested peers, and many, many others—some of which are easy to adjust through policy and some of which aren't. One is hard pressed to find an opinion on education that isn't driven by a personal interpretation of what's best for students.
I believe that teachers have a huge impact on students' lives and the ability to help students overcome many of the other obstacles that they may face. The teachers I know are committed professionals, caring human beings, and community members deeply invested in the success of their students.
I believe that families—including but not limited to parents—have a similarly huge impact on students' lives. I've seen families educate students above and beyond the highest potential of the school system provided they have the time, knowledge, resources, and motivation to do so.
Thus, I believe that what is good for teachers is good for kids and what is good for families is good for kids. I believe in high standards and quality assessments, in supporting families and encouraging teachers always to improve. I believe that nearly everyone who speaks about school policy cares about what's best for kids, and I don't believe in accusing them of the opposite, even when I disagree with them.
Nor do I believe in hiding behind “what's best for kids” as a rationale for my proposals without backing it up. If anybody ever catches me doing that, I hope they'll point it out to me. I'll try to do the same to them.