How To Reform Education


There’s one simple concept that we need to remember when we’re seeking to reform education:

When you devalue teachers, you teach kids to devalue education.

Obama devalues teachers. Arne Duncan devalues teachers. Bill Gates devalues teachers. Eli Broad and the Walton Foundation devalue teachers. Teach for America devalues teachers. Common Core devalues teachers. Democrats, Republicans, politicians of every stripe devalue teachers.

Here locally, Wardynski devalues his “feed stock” and his board of education just gave him a glowing evaluation (that he, naturally, designed himself—he doesn’t appreciate being evaluated on things he has no control over).

Often times parents devalue teachers even in front of their children. And worst of all sometimes even teachers get swept up in the pile on and devalue their peers.

The most significant lesson that students learn in all of this is simple: Education is worthless.

They learn this every time they see their teachers, often the most educated people they know, treated like, as Wardynski said during a moment of honesty: feed stock.

If we want to reform education, perhaps we should try something new.

To reform education, improve schools, and lead the world in innovation, invention and insight, the first, the crucial step is valuing those who teach.

Everything else is secondary.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. Thank you so much for this, Russell. I am one of the hundreds of teachers that voluntarily left after teaching in Huntsville for almost two decades. I left to teach in another school system. It is the best decision I’ve ever made.

    In Huntsville, I felt depressed, unappreciated by the administrators in the central office, overwhelmed, and yes, devalued. The two reasons I stayed as long as I did were my students and my co-workers. They were wonderful and I miss them terribly. Eventually, I had to put my mental and emotional health first.

    Thankfully, the situation in Huntsville isn’t the way it is everywhere else in Alabama. I now teach in a system that values teachers. The principal comes by my room regularly to tell me how much he appreciates my hard work. When members of the community find out I teach at the local high school, they smile and are appreciative. The teachers have input in decisions. And most of all, the students also value the teachers and, as a result, disciplines problems are limited.

    It grieves me greatly to see the school system I learned to love in Huntsville being destroyed by the supporters of the “business” model of education. The adults will survive, but my heart breaks for the kids. I watched their frustration, listened to them beg to be allowed to go back to regular textbooks, and felt helpless as they gradually lost the love for learning that they began the school year with.

    Please don’t give up what you are doing! Maybe someone will finally listen and stop the slide before it can’t be reversed.

    1. My children are at stake.

      I won’t give up. 🙂

      Thank you for your service to all our kids. My heroes have always been teachers.

  2. Thank you. It is great to be valued by someone especially someone with insight as to what is really happening in education across the nation and especially here in Huntsville. Respect for our students and each other is what has made education strong and accessible to all students regardless of abilities and disabilities. Everyone needs to be valued by someone. I am delighted that you value teachers and support us. I am proud to know you.

    1. Wow, now there’s a blast from the past. Ms. Hill used to be a fixture at school board meetings, complaining constantly about a war on teachers, even when the evidence was dubious. Now that we actually do have a war on teachers, Hill and Rex Cheatham have been strangely silent, at least compared to a few years ago. Why?

      1. Her evidence wasn’t dubious. It was first hand experience. And it has been validated by what we now know.

        And there comes a point where everyone realizes that speaking to the board is a complete waste of time, and they seek change via other means.

        The board made it crystal clear two years ago that they don’t give a damn what the public thinks.

        Also, you need to remember that by not televising public comments, you have no way of knowing who us speaking without attending the meetings at least once a month. (Which is all the comments they allow anymore. They don’t give a damn what the public says.)

        Rex Cheatham has retired. However, he was publicly silent for most of Wardynski’s tenure.

  3. Thank you for for supporting teachers. I am one of the teachers who resigned this year. In fact I turned in my notice to the secretary since the principal was not at school on the last day. No exit interview, no call asking why I resigned. Do I feel worthless, yes I do. I’m tired of feeling like a stranger in a school where I have been a part of so so many years. Please keep up your good work! Thank you again for speaking out for students and teachers.

    1. To all of you teachers who have chosen to leave….thank you for your service! I have one that graduated and two currently in high school. I am appalled at what has happened and the sheer arrogance of our school board, as well as all of the bobble head school officials that bow down to them. Common core, laptops, disregard for parent inclusion, firing of teachers, etc. we did not move here for THIS!

  4. At least from what I saw, it seemed that many of the complaints during Moore’s tenure were emotive hissy fits over perceived slights and a lack of willingness to give HEA exactly what it wanted. It was akin to the current fixation on many college campuses with perceived “micro-aggressions.” But then Wardynski was hired and the [stuff] got real, and… crickets. Not sure I understand that.

    1. Ben, I completely agree that HEA has been entirely complicit in allowing Wardynski to do whatever he wanted to do for the past three years, and no, I don’t understand it either. It has frankly been so bad that honestly, incompetence doesn’t come close to explaining it. (When W rewrote the Personnel Handbook in 2012, HEA sent a few teachers, but did not attend the meetings and did not respond to requests for legal advice from the teachers who were present. Reportedly J.R. Brooks stated that he could not believe some of the things that the district was able to include in the handbook.)

      And sadly, with AEA hiring Shirley Wellington (who was President of AEA for the past two years) to replace Cheatham, I don’t anticipate it getting any better at all.

      It pains me to say it, but if I were an employee of HCS, I wouldn’t join HEA. They’ve been worse than feckless since Wardynski arrived.

      In Pam Hill’s defense though, I don’t believe that she has held an elected position with HEA during W’s tenure. When she was speaking out, she was doing so entirely on her own.

      HEA hasn’t offered any public opposition to anything that Wardynski has done or wanted to do for three years.

      And I don’t anticipate that changing with the current uniserv director. Honestly, I wouldn’t give them a dime in dues at this point.

      1. Russ,

        I agree with your assessment of HEA. While I wouldn’t expect any fight out of the new UniServ director, we all know there is widespread discontent among HCS workers across the city. There is a rising sentiment within the HEA rank-and-file to organize and push back against the onslaught of corporate education reform. I think we must look at inspiring examples from places like Chicago, where the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators has battled for control of the union. More importantly, they embraced a social justice model and have built a social movement made of parents, students, and members of the community along with teachers and other educators. We have to educate our communities, organize, and fight for democracy and public education against the wealthy, private interests.

        On a state level, I believe AEA is pursuing a failed strategy. The billionaires and bureaucrats will only intensify their attacks on public education at the local, state, and national (and hell, even international) levels. Pumping millions into GOP primaries to back “conservative” and mostly losing candidates that don’t even advertise their education views–will that truly protect our public education system? What has the AEA leadership done or said on the rampant, toxic testing in HCS? Or the Teach for America scabs being brought in to replace veteran educators? Or any of the dozens of other attacks on students and workers in HCS? We have to take back our unions, our schools, and our communities. Thank you for this blog and your insightful commentary.

        1. Your problem is that this kind of rhetoric is not only not going to get you anywhere, it will actually harm the cause. Many conservatives and liberals agree that the current “reforms” are huge mistakes, and we agree on many of the things that need to be eliminated. But where we diverge is on issues like the grandness of teacher unions, fighting for “social justice” (a loaded term if there ever was one), etc. Many of the conservatives, meanwhile, want things like vouchers and charters, which the left despises. If we’re going to get anywhere, we have to all work together to concentrate our fire on the things we agree are bad and save the other arguments for later. Making people in this state think that opposing corporate education reformy stuff is tantamount to “teachers of the world, unite!” is a great strategy for making sure we lose.

  5. I wish I could remember with more specificity, but back in the 80’s I had a subscription to Isaac Asimov, a brillent monthly read, full of great sci if and science. One of the stories changed my view of teaching.

    In this story, a educator was getting ready for his first day at his new promotion. He was nervous, and recounts all his other jobs. Class aide, counselor, assistant Principal, principal, and other various jobs. But that day, he started the job at the Pinnicle of his career. That as teacher.

    I wish that was real.

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