Teaching is political.

Federal-level reforms have repeatedly failed to promote equality and/or equity in the American system of public education; No Child Left Behind is no exception. While this law set up federal mandates for state standards and tests, the vast majority of American public schools still fail to meet the adequate yearly progress standards. As teachers, we must be well versed in the political policies and processes that affect our schools, classrooms, careers, and, most importantly, our students; we must also be active in efforts for education reform (or revolution). Should we advocate for a localization of responsibility, providing more power and flexibility to develop school- and classroom-level decisions and analyses accustomed to particular contexts? At what levels should powers be allocated? Rather than solely focus on student achievement and progress, should we develop teacher- and principal-evaluation systems, or rewards for outstanding teaching to motivate high-quality performance? This would be considered school-level analysis and reform; student achievement could then be better situated within the context of their school and classroom leadership.

Schools are dependent on federal, state, and local resources; they are also dependent on local political processes for making resource-allocation decisions. These local politics are incredibly vulnerable to local stratification; one’s ability to seek board positions, voice opinions, or mobilize action may be limited by their social status in the community. Therefore, resource-allocation decisions are more likely to disadvantage the poor and underprivileged, as these populations may have less representation during the decision-making processes. Furthermore, there is potential for great bias in the allocation of district discretionary funds, which are often granted to local schools through annual proposal processes. School boards may be less inclined to accept proposals from poorer schools in their districts due to the fact that they are already given extra federal support through Title 1 funds; this negates the purpose of Title 1, which is to provide additional support to “high-needs” schools beyond what they would receive otherwise. Due to the various pathways for unequal spending within school districts, any analysis at the district-level or greater runs the risk of cloaking the localized and particularized contexts of the spending-achievement relationship; would micro-scale school-level analysis be a more promising and comprehensive way to collect accurate, relevant, and critical data on resource distributions and local attributes?

Like any complex system, the American public education system is dynamic, non-linear, adaptive, and evolving. Therefore, individual schools and classrooms must be examined as whole, interconnected complex systems in order to understand the networks of factors and structures that facilitate and hinder student achievement. This approach to evaluation requires deep micro-scale, school-level investigation alongside broader scales of performance measures. In order to radically contextualize student learning, evaluation systems would have to go well beyond the walls of the classroom, incorporating family and community influences in student learning.

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