Monday, December 03, 2007

This Headline Almost Makes Too Much Sense

"Hire good teachers and get out of the way." That's the headline to an op-ed column by Leonard Pitts that appeared in this morning's DMN.Touting the virtues of a set of charter schools known as KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), he says some of the same things that I've been saying for over two years now:
Having spent the last year studying educational success stories, I find myself increasingly convinced that much of what ails American schools can be traced to a bureaucracy that: (a) doesn't pay enough; (b) does too little to encourage and reward creativity; (c) doesn't give principals authority over who works in their schools; (d) makes it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.

[...]"Teachers are generally very optimistic," said KIPP co-founder Dave Levin. "Unfortunately what happens is, you don't have a lot of examples in this country of systemic success and success at scale. You might have a good teacher there or a good teacher here, but you don't get enough concentration within a school or a district to have a cycle of success."

Spend enough time pushing boulders uphill, and it wears you out. Enthusiasm becomes indifference, energy burns out like candles, and success is defined down.
The more I hear about the seemingly endless chain of idiotic decisions made by administrators...the more I hear from teachers who are beaten down with paperwork and other mindless drivel..and the more that I realize that so much money is being spent on--and authority is being given to--people who may not have taught in 20 or 30 years, and are thus completely ill-prepared to deal with the problems faced by teachers now, I still believe that my idea from two years ago--that administrators must remain teachers throughout their careers instead of being allowed to morph into out-of-touch, ivory tower-dwelling bureaucrats--is an important part of the solution.

I'll let Pitts have the last few words here:
No one becomes a teacher to get rich. You become a teacher because you want to give back, you want to shape future generations, you want to change the world. But the reality of our educational system and the grimy culture in which it operates is that that prime directive often winds up subordinate to the directives of a creativity-choking bureaucracy that seems less interested in educating disadvantaged kids than in warehousing them.

And then, here comes a program that's educating such kids so effectively a woman moves halfway across the country to be a part. The lesson could not be clearer.

You want to fix American education? Step 1: Empower principals to hire good teachers. Step 2: Require raised expectations.

Step 3? Get out of the way.
This is an idea whose time is come, and I'll continue to shout it from the rooftops until someone has the courage to implement it.

Want an example of a ridiculous administrative decision? Look no farther: I'm not opposed to the use of corporal punishment if it's used properly and sparingly, but I am completely opposed to being used on a kid for a minor dress code violation--especially when the kid in question called his dad for the proper clothes and changed before the school day started. I'm sorry, but this principal needs to be terminated and have his teaching license revoked; he's exactly the kind of person we need to banish from our midst if education is to be improved. Hey, Caddo Mills school board: do the right thing.

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