Education Week published the results of a survey sent to 834 education leaders asking who were the most influential people in education policy in America over the last decade. In the study “Influence: A Study of the Factors Shaping Education Policy” there was not one teacher or educational practitioner in the top ten.
Bill Gates led the way. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has invested much money in promoting high school reforms and he has spoken in many venues.
President George W. Bush was second, thanks to his notorious No Child Left Behind program that, like the pink bunny, keeps going and going and going.
Some names you might not recognize: G. Reid Lyon for promoting Reading First, Mike Smith who heads the education program for a major foundation, and Kati Haycock of Education Trust.
But political power carried the day. The late Senator Edward Kennedy promoted Headstart. President Bill Clinton was considered influential. Two governors, James B. Hunt, Jr. and Richard Riley (also an Education Secretary) were included. Our prior Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was number 10.
Not one academic made it into the top ten most influential people in education.
To be honest, Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond made the eleventh position. She is a recognized educator and many folks saw her as a contender for the Secretary of Education cabinet position. But Education School fads are rarely based in classroom reality and usually have a lifetime of a few years. Education has yet to develop a stable body of knowledge that can be built upon.
At the national level, money and power—not classroom experience or expertise—buys you influence in making national policy. If you want to direct the future of education, run for state office or get rich. But don’t bother studying the field or teaching. The current drive to common core standardization is the product of state governors, and there are few of them with any working knowledge of the classroom.
At the local level, this twisted concept of competence continues. Think of what makes for a great hospital and you will correctly give credit to great doctors and great nurses. A hospital administrator’s main role is to provide those doctors and nurses with what they need.
But the current perception is that schools are great either because of great administrators or external pressure to keep the teacher workers in line. Sure we hear that the most important factor in turning out good students is a good teacher. But the policies teachers are working under are all punitive. If teachers had any voice in educational policy, there would be no “No Child Left Behind.”
Compare this education survey with any survey of the influential people in the advancement of medicine. It would yield a completely different set of lasting giants. No rich patrons or politicians, but in-the-trench workers such as: Pasteur and Koch, Halstead, Osler, and the late heart surgeon Michael DeBakey.
Everyone has been a patient but no one considers themselves to be an expert in medical policy. Why should we consider the rich and the powerful to be experts in education because at one time they were students?