Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

What Can You Say When Research and Policy Collide?

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

What Can You Say When Research and Policy Collide?

Article excerpt

Mr. Brulle has been less than happy with the direction U.S. education is taking, especially under NCLB. He's decided to speak out and encourages others to follow his example.

SEVERAL RECENT articles have emphasized that educators must begin to speak out strongly about the direction that the standards movement is taking.1 While many positive outcomes have been realized as education has become more accountable, a series of recent education policy decisions have flown directly in the face of many years of research. My goals here are to highlight several of the areas where policy and research collide and to provide readers with suggestions about becoming more politically active.

I work at Wheaton College, a small (about 2,400 students), private, Christian college about 25 miles west of Chicago. We are soon to celebrate our 150th anniversary. While we have a reputation for being a somewhat conservative institution (even though our students can now dance for the first time in 150 years), our origins were anything but.

Our first president, Jonathan Blanchard, was a real firebrand. He used to hold class on Christmas Day so as not to waste instructional time. He also believed in keeping faculty salaries particularly low so that faculty members would know that they were there to serve God, not Mammon. (This latter practice still appears to be in force.) Even stronger than these beliefs were Blanchard's feelings regarding equality and abolition. Wheaton College was the first college in Illinois to enroll women and the first college in Illinois to graduate an African American. The college also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Indeed, everyone associated with the school worked to improve society, particularly for those who were disadvantaged.

It is in this tradition that the Wheaton College Department of Education developed its conceptual framework. Originally formulated in 1991, this framework first envisioned our graduates as "change agents." But we thought that sounded too much like we were preparing toll collectors, so we modified it to read, "The Teacher as an Agent of Change." We want our candidates to become teachers who make positive changes in their students, in their schools, and in their communities. We have further interpreted this vision to mean that we want our candidates to teach for social justice, to make informed decisions, and to act responsibly. We are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, and, like all good NCATE-accredited institutions, we have all sorts of measurable objectives under each of these categories. And all our efforts are, of course, tied to Illinois standards.

Several months ago, I was reflecting on our conceptual framework and wondering how good a model I was for our teacher candidates. I've worked hard over the years. I've worked with children with special needs and fought hard for their rights. I've been active in the teacher preparation community, and I don't think I'm known as a shrinking violet. Still, I wondered if this was enough. After all, I have failed often enough, and I soon began to doubt that I've done any good. Therefore, reinforced by my still slowly growing but never-sufficient vita, I decided that I wasn't doing enough. So this article represents my first effort to try harder, and my goal is to stimulate your thinking regarding what we all can do.

In wanting to be more of an "agent of change," I thought about the character portrayed by Peter Finch in his Oscar-winning performance in the 1976 movie Network. He played Howard Beale, a washed-up television news anchor with low ratings who threatened to kill himself on live television. Of course, that threat increased the ratings dramatically. He didn't kill himself, but he did ramble on for a long period of time on his telecasts and concluded each one with a famous line. He told his audience to go to their windows, open them, and shout out to the world, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore! …

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