By Paul White March 7, 2012 2:28 pm
No education reform article I’ve ever read accurately identified the two real stumbling blocks to improving our K-12 school system. The reason is because almost all of them are written by school administrators and not teachers.
Our schools are melting down – academically and morally- for two simple reasons that (contrary to what you’re told) have almost nothing to do with teacher quality or a lack of funding
What is the two-fold problem?
1) Ineffective leadership at all levels
2) Refusal to hold parents accountable for their children’s behavior
These two areas are the source of every single thing that’s wrong with our nation’s schools.
School leaders would have you believe that public education’s failure is totally due to ineffective teaching. But their endless attempts to lay full blame on inadequate teachers, teacher training programs, tenure, non-specific curriculum, etc. are nothing but camouflage blather, used to distract the public from the real causes of this problem.
Ineffective Leadership at All Levels
This problem starts at the top, with the U.S Secretary of Education. The Education Secretary is the symbolic head of all K-12 schools in the United States. Current Secretary Arne Duncan, like 80% of his predecessors in the 33 year history of this position, has never taught a single contract day of K-12 education in his life.
Re-read that last sentence and think about it for a moment.
The Bar Association is always headed by an attorney.
The American Medical Association is always headed by physicians.
The FAA is run by pilots.
But our schools? Our nation’s most critical training ground for our country’s future?
They are nationally lead by individuals who arrogantly believe that no firsthand teaching experience is necessary to lead our country’s education system. And we wonder why federal school reform ideas don’t work?
The school leadership crisis and hypocrisy worsens at the local level. Superintendents and principals profess how much they “value the contribution” and want to “upgrade the professionalism” of teaching as a career. They repeatedly (and rightfully) claim that “teaching is the most difficult and most valuable job in education.” And then they turn around and pay their teachers two, to three-and-one half times less than they pay themselves.
Contrary to what you’re told, most teachers do have new, creative ideas for how to improve schools in general and student learning in particular, and they want to implement them. But when they suggest these ideas to their principals, they’re usually turned down because of the principals’ and superintendents’ fear of the second cause of school failure:
Refusal to hold parents accountable for their children’s behavior
Well-parented, respectful children who come to school each day motivated to learn are the minority and are rapidly disappearing. And as they do, teachers are daily crammed into a 900 square foot box with 35-40 students who are increasingly: behaviorally incorrigible, under the influence of drugs/alcohol, texting incessantly and/or sleeping, and for whom working to get a world-class education is the lowest priority in their lives.
Yet amazingly – against all odds, there are STILL countless teachers who want to tackle this challenge and make our schools work again.
Teachers want to create good learning environments and are willing to stand up to chronic troublemakers and remove them from class. But principals and superintendents make teachers keep these students (and continue to be abused) because administrators won’t confront ineffective parents and tell them that the behaviors they’ve allowed in their children are not acceptable in school. Emboldened by administrative cowardice, poor parents continue to avoid responsibility for their children’s behavior, by bullying school leaders with claims of “unfairness” or “discrimination” and threats of irresponsible lawsuits.
Teachers want to create high-interest, relevant lessons that would engage their students. But principals rarely allow them, because again, they fear standing up to parents who believe that anything that offends their extremist views should not be taught to anyone.
So where does this current situation leave the future of our education system? School exits are jammed with early-retiring, effective teachers who still love their profession and want to keep practicing it. But the combination of huge classes, unruly children, irresponsible parents, and weak, non-supportive administrators are making the job impossible.
And who are the teachers of tomorrow currently getting hired? Only those who are willing to accept no support and outrageous amounts of abuse from students, parents, and administrators. Only those who are wiling to accept annual pay-cuts to already minimal salaries, and the ultimate loss of tenure. And when tenure is eliminated, teachers will NEVER be able to speak out against these injustices, without risking immediate termination and being un-hirable in any other district.
Understandably, this kind of job environment is not attracting the major talent we need in our future classrooms. If the situation is not corrected, things will only get worse.
How can we fix this problem? What is the best, quickest way to reform our schools?
Since we’re talking about education, let’s make it a multiple choice test:
A) We can continue to blame the problem on America’s 7.2 million teachers.
B) We can start terminating the 20,000 principals and superintendents whose leadership, theories, and practices brought us to this crisis. We can replace them with leaders who will recruit, support, and not be intimidated by strong, creative teachers. If we’ll try this (and what do we have to lose?) it’s not too late to turn our nation’s classrooms into the life-transforming learning centers we need.
Paul White is a career teacher who co-founded the West Valley Leadership Academy in Canoga Park. He’s also the author of White’s Rules: Saving Our Youth, One Kid At A Time and The Eureka Learning Academy Student Handbook.