In yesterday's post, I cited several instances of short-sighted or self-serving decisions made by school administrators, and I noted that the problem was not just with the individual administrators themselves, but also how the whole system is set up. I'll elaborate for a moment and then suggest a simple solution that I think would work very well.
The problem with the setup of most public school districts is that they've become top-heavy with administrators. Texas Governor Rick Perry made a move in the right direction a few months ago when he issued an executive order mandating that 65% of all school expenditures must go toward classroom instruction. It's by no means perfect, since it doesn't count things like libraries, transportation, food service, or even heating and cooling the schools under the instructional portion, but it's a good start. Perhaps what Governor Perry was getting at--and definitely what I am getting at--is that the top-heaviness must be reduced. Why? Here are two good reasons:
1) The school district has become an inefficient bureaucracy. I've already stated my disdain for bureaucracies; it's mostly because the jobs created by such bureaucracies are often unnecessary, which leads to equally unnecessary actions. A person in such a position will often come up with ridiculous, poorly-thought-out policies just to give the appearance of "doing something." (In my own opinion, zero-tolerance policies, uniform dress codes and standardized exit testing such as TAKS can all be attributed to such thinking.) Bureaucrats often become so entrenched in such a mindset that they lose touch with the real world. As I said in a previous post, it's important for administrators to get out into the world and interact with people who are not other administrators; otherwise, the disasters for which they make plans daily become the bulk of their reality, which has a detrimental effect on their way of thinking. Also, bureaucrats tend to be difficult to terminate, even when they're doing a bad job, and they will often fight vigorously to keep their comfortable, do-little position.
2) Adminstrators are no longer teachers. This, in my opinion, is the root of the problem. Often, the only way to make really good money in the field of education is to go into administration, but doing so may bring one of two negative outcomes: Many good teachers are removed from the classroom, and many bad teachers are placed in a position where they can make rules (often bad ones) that affect multiple schools. I know of several educators who left administration because they couldn't stand to be away from teaching. Meanwhile, the ones who stay get caught up in their "ivory tower" and forget what it's like to be a teacher.
I remember well one of the presidents of UNT when I attended school there. His entry in the directory of faculty in the university catalog did not begin with "President and Chancellor"; instead, he was called "Professor of History" first, and then his presidency was listed. To me, that indicates a man who had his priorities in order, and it was a good starting point for explaining the success he had during his tenure.
So here is my simple solution to this problem. Every school district should formulate a policy that goes something like this:
Every administrator must teach one regular class per academic term.
This would actually have several positive outcomes: It would allow outstanding teachers to have additional administrative responsibilities without completely removing them from the classroom; it would increase the possibility that administrators with no talent for teaching would be removed from academia completely after a semester or two; and it would prevent administrators from totally succumbing to the bureaucratic mindset, because they would never completely stop being teachers.
This solution is so simple, I'm surprised nobody has proposed this before. It's sort of a relative of the idea of the "citizen-legislator" that was discussed extensively during the term-limits debates in Washington of a decade ago (which is still at least a good idea, for some of the same reasons we're discussing here). I originally thought of the idea of term limits for administrators (in the same way that many colleges have rotating department chairs), but the concept of the teacher-administrator would probably be much easier to implement and would likely yield even better results. I'm sure many administrators won't like it, but parents and students should be highly in favor of it...and, after all, education is supposed to be for the benefit of the student, isn't it?
Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.