Last week on Thursday, Merryl Tisch, the chancellor of the state Board of Regents, and I had a chance to tour some the schools most affected by superstorm Sandy.
We went to East Rockaway, Island Park and Long Beach, and met with teachers, principals and superintendents. We heard how teachers -- many of whom had lost their own homes -- had gone door to door to determine where their students were living. In each district, they tried to ensure that these children's one constant, their school, would continue as best it could.
Then on Friday, we were all witnesses to the horror of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn. As the story unfolded, we learned of the selfless devotion of the teachers and administrators, who put themselves in danger while trying to protect their students, their children.
Nationwide as well as here in New York, the focus of educational-policy reform has been on more and more high-stakes testing and its use to evaluate teachers, principals and schools. But the continued attention to and care of students across the country who have been affected by this terrible event is not something that can be assessed in any meaningful way.
I tried to put these events in the context that we, as policymakers, must now attempt. I asked myself:
1. What kind of algorithm measures the devotion that we saw -- and that I am sure we would see in any other crisis, in all of our schools?
2. How do you establish a pretest and post-test for the kind of personal responsibility that these professionals demonstrated?
3. How do we measure the trust these children and their parents have placed in these educators, who serve in loco parentis for our kids every day?
4. What kind of virtual teacher would be able to foster the communication needed to create a trusting atmosphere where life lessons can take place?
As a Regent, I've met thousands of teachers and school administrators. It's clear to me that when people choose to be educators they implicitly pledge an oath not only to teach content to students but also to care for and nurture children, so that they will be able to move ahead with lives of meaning and understanding. Doctors take the Hippocratic Oath in similar fashion, promising care to those who need it. This unspoken educator oath isn't found on any certificate, but is, nevertheless, fundamental in the practice of the profession.
As we see educators acting so valiantly in both difficult and ordinary times alike, it's imperative that we treat them as professionals. We, as individuals and as policy-makers who can affect the performance of teachers, have a responsibility to assist them in whatever ways we can.
The implementation of Common Core standards, along with the professional development and time to get it right; a rigorous evaluation of education professionals in a way to develop their strengths and minimize their weaknesses; a program of realistic clinical teacher and principal training to help make sure they are qualified before entering a classroom; a system of assessments that are diagnostic in nature and can lead to differentiated, data-driven instruction -- these are ways we can and are promoting effective education.
It is the reaching out of our arms to help and not pointing our fingers at these dedicated individuals that can make for a secure future for all who are taught by them.
Let's remember these questions as we're asked to develop policies that ensure the future of our children and our country.