Views From the Real Education Insiders

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EDUCATION policy perspectives have little in common with the concerns of students, parents, and teachers, according to a recent report.

"Voices from the Inside" chronicles 18 months of research in four Southern California schools considered representative of public schools nationwide.

The study is based on the premise that "the transformation of America's schools must and can only come from within." Each page of the report includes instructive quotations from students, parents, principals, and teachers who engaged in a frank assessment of their schools.

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Going into the schoolhouse and talking directly to the various constituencies produced some surprising findings. "We ... would have predicted issues such as what to teach, how to measure it, how much a teacher knows, and choice of school would have surfaced; they did not," the report states. Instead, those inside schools are most concerned about relationships, racial and cultural conflicts, the relevance of the curriculum, and safety.

"Most often mentioned were relationships between teachers and students," says the report. A middle-school student remarks that he likes the way his teacher "talks to me like I am human." A high school student offers a warning: "I see that some teachers don't care, which is scary because of their power of influence. Teachers help create society. They should think about this."

For their part, teachers are frustrated by their isolation from both colleagues and students. "Teachers report their best experiences in school are those where they connect with students and are able to help them in some way," the study says. "They also report, however, there is precious little time during the day to seek out individual students."

"If the relationships are wrong between teachers and students, for whatever reason, you can restructure until the cows come home, but transformation won't take place," says John Maguire of the Claremont University Center and Graduate School, which conducted the study.

"Voices from the Inside" gives an outlet for the voices that so often get drowned out by an avalanche of detached reports. When one high school student is asked, "What is the problem of schooling?" he replies: "This place hurts my spirit."

Through the eloquence of the real education insiders - teachers, students, principals, and parents - this report makes a passionate plea for understanding.

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