“As a policy wonk, I push for high academic expectations for all students,” writes Scott Joftus in Education Next. “As a father, however, I find that what matters most to me is that my daughters are happy in school.”
“Over more than 20 years in the field of education—including two with Teach For America—I have helped promote state standards, the Common Core, the hiring of teachers with strong content knowledge, longer class periods for math and reading, and extra support for struggling students, to name a few. I have recently discovered, however, that what I believe as an education policy wonk is not always what I believe as a father.”
Joftus’s wonk side believes “student learning flourishes in classrooms that include students with a wide range of abilities and backgrounds.” However, as a Dad, he admits to getting angry when a troubled kindergartener disrupts his daughter’s class and forces the “talented, but inexperienced” teacher to spend more than half of her time trying to keep this boy on task.
“I feel for children like him; my company works with schools and districts to improve outcomes for these kids. But I was angry. The other children were clearly uncomfortable. His disruptions reduced learning time for my daughter, and seemed to steal some of her innocence and excitement about school.”
Commenters on the Ed Next blog offer both praise and criticism for Joftus. “Teachers have been fighting policy wonks who have been destroying the happy learning environment for decades,” writes one. “But you don’t listen, it is only when it becomes personal that you reconsider your opinions and admit the possibility that teachers have been right all along.” “Had you guys listened twenty years ago, and respected our wisdom on safe and orderly schools, this educational civil war would not have had to happen,” observes veteran teacher and ed blogger John Thompson.
Rocketship schools CEO John Danner admits to similar cognitive dissonance when sending his kids to school. “However, I would challenge you as your kids grow to think more about how those skills jibe with rigor,” he writes. “Rigor is actually a form of compassion. A teacher who expects a lot of their students prevents them from feeling the frustration your children feel now, but much later in their school career. The real problem you are seeing is that your child’s teacher has high expectations but doesn’t understand how to differentiate.
Loftus’ tale serves to illustrate how regrettably wide the gulf can be between policy ideals and classroom realities. The policies Loftus has worked to support–standards, improved teacher quality, enhanced learning time for strugglers, et al. – are laudable, but risk melting into insignificance in the face of teachers overwhelmed with a critical mass of disruptive children in her room. I don’t have any data on this, but I suspect that far fewer parents than wonks tend to lay the problem of learning time lost to disruption at the feet of teachers. It is easy to say, as Danner does “differentiate.” It is difficult, and always will be, to expect every teacher in every classroom to have the training, expertise and experience to handle every challenge offered up by 25 free agents in their classrooms every day.
The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.