Bruno: Should You Have To Teach Before You Wonk?
I'm a teacher who likes to write about education politics and policy. Oftentimes my classroom experience directly informs my thinking on those subjects. As the Education Realist points out, however, most of the major names in education punditry from across the spectrum seem to have conspicuously little in the way of actual teaching experience. He thinks we need a "concentrated effort to get teacher expertise into the debate," and I agree (with a caveat).
Obviously teaching experience isn't absolutely necessary to make a meaningful contribution to the discourse. Virtually all of those individuals on the limited-teaching-experience list have done at least some work that I respect and that I believe has contributed to the greater educational good.
You can also probably make the case that teachers shouldn't have an outsized role in policy discussions. For one thing, there could be conflict-of-interest issues, so we don't want teachers dominating education policy anymore than we want doctors or other health service providers dominating health policy.
It's also entirely possible for teaching experience to provide only the illusion of expertise. How many teachers, for instance, "know from experience" that students have different "learning styles"? Moreover, a lot of policy issues - like vouchers and school choice - are only indirectly related to classroom practice anyway.
That said, and as the Realist illustrates, it's probably nevertheless safe to say that experienced teachers should be better represented among the leading edu-pundits. If nothing else, this would help widen the education reform conversation's often-myopic focus on human resource management to include things like curricular content, pedagogy, training, and - yes - "out-of-school" factors.
My aforementioned caveat is this: in my experience when prominent individuals or groups attempt to "increase teacher voice" in the debate, they are usually referring specifically to teachers who agree with them. Diane Ravitch, Teach for America, and StudentsFirst all have web presences where you can go to get plenty of "teacher voice". Those places also have a distinct echo-chamber quality that certainly doesn't promote productive dialogue and may be counterproductive from a policy standpoint.