Naturally, the Education panel started punctually: moderator Suzanne Lee, former teacher, former principal, and current candidate for Boston City Council proclaimed, “Once a teacher, always a teacher. We start on time.” Lee introduced our panel of experts – Lisa Guisbond of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, Diana Lam of Conservatory Lab Charter School, Paul Toner of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and Susan Naimark, author of The Education of a White Parent.
Lisa Guisbond gave a broad overview of real education reform, rejecting what historian Diane Ravitch has called the “corporate approach that does not answer the needs of a diverse, democratic society. In particular, Guisbond attacked high stakes testing which has dominated the debate and showed that, while disparities in test scores between whites and African-Americans have declined, disparities in test scores between poor and affluent students are increasing.
Paul Toner pointed to the role that strong unions play in superior education results, citing Massachusetts as just one example, and made a strong case for involving teachers in forward-looking reforms. Diana Lam shared her perspective as an educational leader (superintendent of the Providence schools), and Susan Naimark provided unique insight as a parent whose activism led to several terms on the Boston School Committee.
As you might expect, there was lively discussion about testing, but also on the need to close the still substantial education achievement gap, with adequate funding and addressing systemic poverty and income inequality.
– David Sloane