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Want to Make Education Better? Send Policymakers Back to School

The disconnect between policy and practice is so palpable, one has to wonder if these policies are made for children or in spite of them.

A friend of mine once said public policymakers should have to ride an overcrowded public bus with students going to school. I'd take it one step further.

Let's take policymakers through a full day of a student's life. They can wake up in cruddy conditions set forth by a house foreclosure, walk through the slimmest crime-infested alleyways in the area, attempt getting fresh food from the grocery store for breakfast, get on a crowded bus or subway to get to school, sit though a full academic day, and eat student lunches. Perhaps then they'll have some empathy for why kids bust open the classroom door when the bell rings at the end of the day.

Do this without press, handlers, or lackeys. None.

The reason so many of us want to see public policy creators in the classroom for a day—or in my case, 100 days—is that their policies are often at odds with the realities of the classroom. Anytime we implement a policy, we ought to have enough experience in that policy to put it on the shoulders of the executioners, mainly educators. Yet, the disconnect between policy and practice is so palpable, one has to wonder if these policies were made for children or in spite of children.

For one, the feedback loops make no sense. Our mayors have armies of handlers and protégés. The superintendents and chancellors have too many special schools to visit. Our community boards are asked to behave, or else they don't get access or privilege in certain tables. Social media has opened up the doors for these representatives to get an ear to the street, but they either use interns to write for them or simply ignore dissenting opinions, no matter how well-informed.

Then, instead of directly working with teachers, our policymakers instruct district people and third-party vendors to give teachers "professional development" on their policies. Teachers sit through prolonged PowerPoint presentations that are often bare on actionable information. I can tell you first-hand that besides cramming too much text into one slide, the average presenter pounds us with words for two hours. The irony? They'll be talking about the importance of making our classes more engaging and interactive. They lay out visions that make no sense, wasting precious time that could be spent in the classroom working on lesson plans or classroom aesthetics.

Worst of all, when you finally get a chance to stand within the same square foot of a public policymaker, the first thing you hear is, "Well, that’s not my responsibility." One could argue that the system has inequity built into it, which is why we have amendments. However, if we have amendments, that means the representative is, in fact, a part of the "system." Our system almost seems set up to make our public policy people play along with rules they never created, and add to the chaos.

We must stop now.

The first step policymakers should take is actually putting themselves into the classroom as active participants. They should have to see the things expert educators have to do to implement their policies and the impact of those policies on children.

As a matter of fact, let teachers come up with the practice first, and, if it's an effective practice, we make it into policy. Perhaps reversing the dynamic will do us some good. Until then, Pearson and all the other policymakers will continue popping champagne all over our children.

Want to tell ALEC to stop influencing education policy and cashing in on our kids? Click here to say you'll do it.

Image (cc) via Flickr user John Steven Fernandez

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