When it comes to our education system, the concept of reform figures prominently into any current dialogue on the subject. The prevailing sense among those discussing education is that that the modern system is in serious need of an overhaul. However, some of the most marked resistance to recent policy reform has sprung from a somewhat surprising source – teachers themselves. While the resistance coming from teachers seems surprising at first, given that they stand to benefit from an education system that is overall improved, it makes sense as you begin to look at the ways in which reform is being implemented. The overall course of modern policy reform identifies teacher inefficacy as a major contributing factor to the diminished quality of education. “Revamping the makeup of the teaching profession through tweaks such as altering tenure and teacher evaluations has become a policy debate-du-jour, one that has riled many a state house in recent years.”
When it comes to these issues, it seems as though the battle lines have been firmly drawn. The education reform lobby advocates a new “brand of education reform [that] is data driven and accountability focused… advocating for stricter teacher evaluations that take student performance on standardized tests into consideration; merit pay for teachers; and the elimination or fundamental reworking of teacher tenure.” The flipside of the argument is summed up in the words of English teacher Cate Dossetti who explains that “student achievement means performing at levels which will prepare (students) for college and for the real world — it doesn’t necessarily mean which band on the standardized test they’re performing at.” However a recently published survey by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in conjunction with Scholastic, shows that the issue isn’t quite as simple as it might appear. This massive and comprehensive survey found that “teachers themselves support that overhaul” of the education system, just not necessarily the way it’s being done. Overall, teachers support measures to make the quality of teaching more effective, just not through the elimination of the tenure system. They also support increased evaluation of teachers, but on more measures than the standardized tests alone. It seems as though teachers feel that overall, these types of changes are necessary, but the specific ways in which policy makers are attempting to implement those changes are unsatisfactory. Teachers are on board with major change but “as soon as you inject actual policy details into the question – specific measures, such as eliminating tenure, merit pay or basing tenure on test scores – teachers’ responses can change substantially.”
So how can policy makers implement reform without stepping on the toes of teachers? Can technology provide a solution to this conundrum? When it comes down to it, the main point of contention between teachers and reformers is the placement of blame on teachers. In assessing the overall efficacy of the ailing education system, reformers have put the majority of blame on the heads of teachers. The most recent survey data shows that if policy reform were to focus on identifying struggling teachers and supporting them, rather than punishing them, teachers would be more on board with reform measures. It is here that edtech could be the saving grace; identifying less effective teachers through learning analytics, streamlining a more dynamic assessment process, and supporting teachers with the trivial, enabling them to delve deeper into their curriculum. This very concept was discussed by educator Bruce Taylor at the 67th Annual ASCD Conference & Exhibit, where 8,000 educators from across the globe met in Philadelphia to hash out the future of education. He explained that intelligent, tech-focused policy “will allow [teachers] to focus on things that make [students] human and not flesh-and-blood hard drives… There will be less dependence on rote answers and more emphasis on the application of content and a greater focus on interpretation and analysis.” Because a turn towards edtech is a turn away from blaming teachers, technology has the potential to significantly ease the tension between teachers and reformers with a relatively minor shift in reform policy focus.