Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Simple Solution for Education: One Year Later (Part 1)

It was a year ago at this time that I offered my simple solution for education, better known as the "Administrators Must Teach" post. While nothing has actually been accomplished in this area (because, among other things, I'm not an influential blogger or a gazillionaire), I'm still convinced that doing this would be a very smart move for school districts everywhere.

In anticipation of this post, I've been saving some examples of both poor administrative decisions of recent vintage and some great quotes that support my position here. First, the decisions:
  • If you're from the Dallas area, you probably know about the cheerleader flap at McKinney North; if not, here it is in a nutshell: The cheerleader sponsor quit (both as sponsor and as a teacher at the school) after she claimed that her efforts to discipline team members were constantly thwarted by school administrators all the way up to the superintendent. Oh, and you should know that one of the cheerleaders in question is the principal's daughter.

    This situation is still under investigation; to the district's credit, they brought in an outsider to lead things, and the principal took a week's leave at that time so that everyone on campus could be questioned without fear of reprisal. But if the principal had really thought this one out, wouldn't she have recused herself from any disciplinary decisions involving her daughter in the first place?

  • A fifth-grade teacher in South Carolina allowed some students to use a trash can as a toilet when the school was conducting an extended lockdown drill. Perhaps that wasn't the greatest judgement on the teacher's part, but he was somewhat stuck--just imagine the complaints from parents if the kids had soiled themselves in class instead.

    But the reaction of an administrator in this district was ridiculous:
    [Associate Superintendent Patricia] Yandle said if the school had been on an actual lockdown and students needed to use the restroom, she would have encouraged them to think about something other than the bathroom.
    Think about something other than the bathroom? What the heck! The story said this drill lasted "less than an hour." I'm pretty sure that the school custodian would have had to be called out to clean up all the "think" off the floor if that situation had really taken place. I'd like to see how well Ms. Yandle would deal with that situation if it happened to her. As I said, there's just too much of a disconnect from the real world with some of these people...

  • Then there's the school district that recently banned tag, apparently so that accidents wouldn't happen that might hold the school liable (getting the schools to stop running in fear of lawyers all the time is another post for another day). A quote from a parent says it all:
    "I think that it's unfortunate that kids' lives are micromanaged and there are social skills they'll never develop on their own," said Debbie Laferriere, who has two children at Willett, about 40 miles south of Boston. "Playing tag is just part of being a kid."
    My sentiments exactly.

  • And we can't forget the Sydney McGee story, concerning the art teacher who was allegedly suspended for taking her students to the Dallas Museum of Art, where some kids saw nude sculptures. (We've talked about this before, so I'll point you to that post if you need my take on the situation.)

  • There's also the thing with the overreaction to the recent school shootings, which I've discussed here.
And now for some quotes that are in line with my position:
  • "In New York City, those who can.... teach.

    Those who can't teach because they can't get a teaching license... become principals.

    It seems as though there are more and more young people who teach for a minimal number of years and then get the hell out of Dodge obtain (often through political patronage) an administrative position that pays more to "start" than a classroom teacher earns with 20 years experience, a Master's degree, and a desk-drawer full of letters from grateful students and parents."--from an August post at a blog called The Education Wonks; read the whole thing. (A commenter to this post also notes that Germany evidently has some sort of administrators-must-teach requirement like the one I'm advocating here.)

  • Finally, let's close with a quote from Dallas Morning News education columnist Scott Parks, from a recent column:
    Most school board members are well meaning but clueless. A lot of school superintendents are smart but paranoid. Principals love children but disdain anyone who questions their authority. Most teachers work long hours for short money and feel like martyrs in hair shirts.

    And one more thing: Despite their human frailties, these people all share a genuine dedication to public education. They are determined to protect it the way a mother bear defends her cubs.

    Public educators – perhaps more than other government employees – allow their passion for the job to give them amnesia. They forget that schools are not their own private enterprise. Veins pop out on their foreheads when an "outsider" reminds them of the word "public" in the phrase public education.
    It should be noted that, in this column, he's giving kudos to the districts who actually have brought in outsiders to investiage recent problems, such as the McKinney North cheerleader issue.
As I said a year ago, I really don't expect my idea to take off anytime soon, but if it keeps getting tossed out there enough, maybe the right person will read it and have the courage to give it a try. Much like the politician who goes to Washington and gets caught up in all the power and perks and ultimately ceases to be a regular citizen, the teacher who gets "promoted" to administrator can often become a bureaucrat or politiican and stop being a teacher in the process (assuming that they ever were one in the first place; the Education Wonks article notes that some new administrators are completely bypassing the teacher track, and to me, that's just flat-out wrong).

Since this post has gone pretty long already, I'll save some final thoughts, as well as a few rudimental ideas I have for actually implementing the administrators-must-teach plan (and believe me, the whole thing is still very much a work in progress) for tomorrow. (Actually, it may be Monday before I finish, because I'm going to Area Marching Contest tonight, so tomorrow's post may well be about marching band.)

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