Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Don't blame the teachers

      I heard on the radio this morning, as I drove to work, that the former superintendent of the Washington, DC, school district spoke in Philadelphia last night.  According to the radio report, she made national news by ignoring seniority and driving up standardized test scores int he DC district.  Later, reports of test cheating tarnished her record.  Nonetheless, she apparently is peddling her brand of "school reform" on the national market now.

      People such us she would have us believe that tenure and seniority should be jettisoned so that principals can pick and retain the best teachers.  In my experience, the real problem isn't with the teachers, it's with the administrators. In my substantial experience, there are very few good principals, or good college deans for that matter.  Most are examples of the Peter Principle: teachers and profs who took the admin jobs for the prestige and the money, but who have little interest in or ability to manage other people.

     The appropriate way to manage senior, tenured teachers, who are underperforming, is to apply strategies aimed as revitalizing them, reinvigorating them., and retooling them.  This is hard work.  It takes patience.  It takes guts, because it can be confrontational.  It takes talent.  It take dedication to the task. Few administrators in my experience have any of these attributes.

     Only the tiny minority of senior faculty, who are either incapable or absolutely unwilling, to improve should then be jettisoned.

     Administrators are much like most business executives in this respect. They want to be unfettered so that they can behave arbitrarily and capriciously.  And this is exactly how they will behave in the absence of tenure and seniority rules.  In other words they will be human, allowing favoritism to impact their judgments.

      The place to start with school reform is at the top: school superintendents and principals.  Fill those top slots with leaders who aren't afraid to get grieved by their teacher unions, who aren't afraid to be unpopular, who are willing to work patiently with under-performers, and who get out of their offices and into the classrooms to actually see and impact what's going on... and you will find that the faculty will improve dramatically without the draconian methods espoused by the so-called "reformers" who want to destroy the hard-won rights of the teaching profession.

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