July | August 2017

“If You Could Tell Colleagues One Thing about the Realities of Education that Could Make Them Better Legislators on Education, What Would it Be?”


Beware of Quick Fixes

Maryland Sen. Paul Pinsky
Former high school history teacher
Former staff at local teachers association
Chair of Education Subcommittee in the Maryland Senate
“Beware of quick fixes. I’ve seen too many in recent years. For the last five or six years, the popular refrain was, let’s get rid of bad teachers, that’s where you need to focus. The Gates Foundation and its (Measures of Effective Teaching) project, is now saying the focus should be on improving the decent teachers. They sort of recalculated and said that teachers below standard are … not where you should be spending time and money. The other thing I would recommend to legislators dealing with education policy is to spend some time in a classroom. … Teachers who have committed to it and are doing a good job … Talk to them and ask them what’s working and what’s not? What are solutions that are faddish and which ones will improve their ability to teach and for students to learn?”

Understand Effectiveness of Preschool

Connecticut Sen. Beth Bye
Senate Chair of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee
Helped to develop five model preschool facilities
2009 and 2011 Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance Legislator of the Year
“Having talked with legislators from other states and both parties, I am always taken by the strong, bipartisan support for the idea that early childhood education is a vital component of meaningful education reform. The return on investment is much higher on preschool than other educational stages. Yet, no state has broken out of the entrenched current system—non-system, really. It is almost unheard of for towns or states to make the investments necessary to have high quality, early childhood education available to all children. An example of this is that Federal Title I dollars are available for preschool, yet the vast majority of districts continue to spend it on elementary remediation vs. preschool—despite the proven effectiveness of preschool.”

Take Time to Listen

New Mexico Rep. Tim Lewis
High school teacher in Albuquerque Public Schools
“I just think the best thing you can do is to listen to all sides, particularly educators and parents and superintendents. You have to listen and, at that point, weigh and come down to your own personal belief system, philosophy, but you certainly have to listen and not rush into anything. I think you have to investigate. Some of these educational issues are very complex. Being a teacher, I clearly see both sides to many issues when it comes to education. … Being a conservative republican is a little unique in the teaching profession. I find myself on the middle on a lot of these issues and I have to look at that them carefully and listen to all sides involved.”

Avoid The Test Score Debate

Vermont Rep. Kate Webb
Speech pathologist and special education teacher
Clinical professor of communication science, University of Vermont
“I think the connection between good teaching and testing outcomes distracts legislators. Certainly, we need these measures, but I believe there are better and more accurate measures as to what constitutes excellent, long-term, quality teaching and student achievement. … We know that teachers who score high in these measures tend to produce the best outcomes for students. These measures also give teachers a map for improvement, and help administrators identify areas of continuing need. When teachers and legislators remained locked in the test score debate, we increase defensiveness and are distracted away from the larger discussion of what teachers can do to improve outcomes for students by improving their professional practice.”

Keep Parents Involved

Georgia Rep. David Casas
High school teacher of American government and economics
“As legislators it is essential for us to remember that the foundation of education in this country is in the home. Parents are a child’s first teacher. Rather than removing parents from the equation of education, parents need to be viewed as the key factor in the development of their children. As we propose education legislation, we must strive to remember the value of empowering parents in the education of their children. Whether they choose public, private, virtual or home school, the parents are the ones who best know their child’s needs. Everything we do should be to empower the parent.”

Schools are Different Now

North Dakota Rep. Lois Delmore
Retired English teacher
“As a recently retired English teacher of almost 40 years and a legislator of 18, I would highlight for my legislative colleagues the fact that our schools are no longer the same schools with the same materials, resources, methods and demands that we remember from our personal experiences. We live in a vast technological age, and schools today must offer students a world-class education. We need to carefully weigh state legislation and its impact on education. … Legislative mandates on curriculum, bullying policies, attendance, number of school days, Internet safety, career education, number of credits (to name just a few) place additional demands on our schools. Unless well thought out, legislative policies can have unintended consequences which do little to make better schools or better policies in education.”