Renewing Public Education . . . Before It's Too Late
Principles for Public Education
Free, universal, high-quality public education is a fundamental right of all children and adolescents in the United States—from early childhood through college. Recent policies and practices have eroded this fundamental right by resegregating public schools and widening achievement gaps.
“Universal” and “high quality” mean that ethnic, racial, and economic diversity is a primary goal and characteristic of public education.
All educational policies, organizational structures, operations, and professional practices must reflect this fundamental goal.
Public education must remain an institution for the public good that ensures the betterment of all citizens. It is not a collection of investment opportunities and competitive markets. Teaching is a human profession, not a factory turning out workers and consumers.
Public schools should be humane environments. Schools have value when they develop diverse talents in all students, and when they encourage sense of purpose, responsibility, and well-being that equip students for complex and unpredictable futures.
Americans must have confidence in their public education system for it to succeed
Public education must have visionary leadership. Leaders—students, teachers, parents, administrators, and public officials—must proceed from a vision and purpose that are well understood and embraced by all participants in the system to which they are responsible.
Leaders must understand that excessive testing and regulations at the classroom level extinguish the creativity and innovation that both teachers and students need to realize the promise of education.
Teachers should be recognized as leaders in a system that balances top-down vision and management with bottom-up creativity, innovation, and decision-making aligned to the system’s vision and purpose.
School, district, state, and national leaders must recognize that experimentation, creativity, and innovation at the classroom level for both teachers and students is the key to public school systems that flourish and meet educational needs of the future.
Educational leaders at the school, district, state, and national levels should be skilled in spotting promising innovations and developing them into widespread practices.
Educational leaders must hold themselves and their organizations accountable by continually reflecting upon their progress toward achieving their shared vision and purpose.
Equity and sufficiency of state and federal funding for public education must be addressed in order to meet the imperative to provide high-quality education for all.
The source of funding for insuring free, universal, and accessible high-quality education must be equitable and sufficient and, therefore, cannot rely on local/state property taxes.
Public moneys must be used to fund only schools that operate under publicly elected school boards transparent and accountable to taxpayers. Neither individuals nor private companies or organizations should profit from charter school operations.
Responsible school and program choices must be offered within public education. Parents and students must have free and open access to options and alternatives that do not, however, disadvantage other students or programs within the system.
To the extent that charter schools exist at all, they must be public schools regulated as part of public school districts, subject to financial reporting, accountability measures, teacher qualifications, and basic laws and regulations required of all public schools.
Twenty-First Century learning environments must be designed to grow potential in every student. Everyone with whom students interact in a public school setting must help students develop their identities as positive and productive citizens, constantly open to new learning. Intelligence is not set at birth but grows and develops over time. Helping students develop into resilient, intelligent, resourceful, ethical, and compassionate human beings is a more important goal than raising test scores or standardizing curriculum content.
Providing programs and services to students when needed, not waiting until they are in crisis or labeled failures, is an essential responsibility of public education. Early childhood learning opportunities and high-quality, timely interventions by qualified individuals are essential in helping all learners succeed.
Student learning experiences should promote and encourage persistence, curiosity, creativity, exploration, and intellectual risk taking through hands-on, real world applications.
Educational psychology research has established the concept of “zone of proximal development” where a student can be both challenged and moved forward by what is to be learned. This is a powerful process that should be used to accelerate learning for all students. Personalized learning should target this “zone,” connect with students’ current level of understanding, and help them work through the challenge of acquiring and consolidating the next level of understanding. Well-designed instruction incorporates direct teaching, exploratory activities, and peer interactions into this process.
Teachers must capitalize on the human brain’s own reward systems and make learning compelling by addressing each student’s strengths and interests.
Time, an invaluable resource in the teaching/learning process, should be used equitably to ensure that all students learn successfully.
Alternatives to grouping by chronological age and ability must be incorporated into the organizational structure of schools at all levels.
Curriculum in public schools must prepare students for a future of complexity and accelerating change. School curriculum should be infused with the kind of creativity, engagement, and experimentation that preserves the human spirit and teaches students how to anticipate and meet future challenges. Public education must also help students grow their intelligence by developing habits of deep thinking, analytical skills, decision-making skills, and enduring understandings. Curriculum content should reflect agreed-upon learning outcomes that include the following:
human cultures, the natural and physical world, the sciences, mathematics, social and behavioral sciences, the humanities, history, world languages, and the arts;
intellectual and practical skills for applying knowledge, thinking skills, and responses to new settings and questions; and
development of individual and social responsibility with respect to social justice and human rights.
Assessment practices must support optimal progress for all students by collecting and studying evidence of learning in its many forms and using that evidence to make decisions about future learning needs. That is the very purpose of assessment. Student assessment based upon the results of standardized, high-stakes tests should never be used to make decisions about promotion or graduation, or to evaluate teachers, administrators, programs, schools, or districts. Moreover, assessments must be designed in ways to assist students in their pursuit of divergent interests.
The assessment process must focus on understanding what and how students are learning, diagnosing learning needs, making decisions about curriculum and instruction, designing appropriate professional development, using evidence to illustrate trends in learning, and directing resource allocation.
Teachers should engage in frequent conversations about student work and evidence of student understanding.
High-stakes testing should be eliminated in favor of authentic assessment for which students cannot be submitted to mindless memorization of trivial information, i.e., test prep.
Assessment practice is subject to Campbell’s Law: The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor. That is, when a measure (i.e., a particular item or test) becomes the focus or target of instruction, it loses validity as a measure.
The public’s right to understand and guide the education system must be reflected in equitable, reasonable, and accurate accountability methods. These methods should address the responsibilities and impact of all components and participants in the public education system, including students, parents, teachers, administrators, schools, school boards, districts, communities, state education agencies, and state and federal legislatures.
Accountability systems should be created around the vision, purpose, and identity of the organization. State report cards based upon standardized achievement tests do not constitute an equitable or accurate accountability system.
Results of high-stakes standardized assessment must never be a part of any system of teacher evaluation.
Both outcomes and supports must be addressed in the accountability systems.
Teachers must be thoughtfully educated, highly regarded, valued, and respected members of a professional community and compensated commensurate with their responsibilities, preparation, experience, and accomplishments.
Teachers must have the authority and flexibility to address individual needs as well as practice in accordance with professional standards in order to ensure that all students succeed at the highest levels possible.
Professional educators must have the authority and responsibility to develop in-depth learning experiences that avoid superficial coverage.
Professional educators, especially teachers, should be responsible for selecting a wide range of engaging, student-centered materials.
Teachers must be provided with adequate time and organizational support to plan, prepare, collaborate, confer, and develop professionally.
Teacher preparation programs must be designed as clinically based models of collaboration between teacher education and public preK-12 institutions.
Teacher preparation programs must include strong research and development agendas that feature systematic gathering and use of data to support continuous improvement.
Dispositions and values of teacher candidates must be important considerations in acceptance to and retention in teacher preparation programs.
Vision and purpose should inform the kind of learning in which education professionals engage. The shared vision, purpose, and identity of each school, district, or learning organization must guide its professional development efforts.
Professional development should support educators in their efforts to ensure that all students succeed in school and are prepared for the future.
Teachers must be supported in becoming part of a community of practice that values professional research as well as experience.
Professional development should be planned and led by educators as they engage in on-going conversations, meetings, and exchanges embedded in their daily work.
Teacher retention is stronger in districts that provide an apprenticeship model where beginning teachers have opportunities to collaborate with experienced educators.
Public education must identify and nurture innovation and creativity that occur naturally within any complex organization in order to meet the evolving needs of students and families in a rapidly changing world.
Networks of practitioners that share successful innovations should drive the evolution of public education. These networks should include individuals and groups at every level of the system so that they can respond to current and ongoing needs of society.
Policymakers should look to professional networks and communities of practice for direction, data, and expertise.
Educators should embrace new technologies that support the teaching profession, lead to improved student learning, and are properly implemented by qualified teachers to enhance the learning process. For-profit corporations that seek to replace educators with technology minimize teacher-student connections and thereby negatively impact socio-emotional learning that results in lower achievement overall. Any use of technology should enhance trusting relationships among students, parents, educators, and support staff. Technology affects public schooling, not just for K-12 teachers, but also for early childhood educators, higher education faculty, paraprofessionals, plus continuing education and training practitioners.
Adequate high-speed Internet connectivity and devices must be affordable and available to ALL students in order to combat the digital divide and to ensure equity and adequacy.
Technology must be used only as another way to enhance teaching, never to reduce faculty numbers or increase class size.
Public education should not be viewed as a lucrative business opportunity for technology companies to exploit.
Artificial intelligence cannot replace the many important one-on-one relationships students need to advance in school and in life, nor can AI teach many life lessons that help students grow, succeed, and become active citizens.
Technology that is used to replace qualified educators does not increase student achievement nor advance the social-emotional wellbeing of students.
Educators—not for-profit corporations—must take the lead in policy, design, and training for technological educational innovation.
Integrate relevant, reliable, and proven technologies in classrooms only when the technologies help students’ learning.
We must oppose government officials, for-profit corporations, and policymakers who allow runaway enthusiasm for new technology to overwhelm intelligent, research-based pedagogy.
Effective measures and continued support regarding technology must be provided to ensure equitable and adequate instruction for all students, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, income, location, age, or special needs.