Sunday, February 03, 2013

School "reformers" have it wrong

The school reform dialogue is frequently centered upon the executive role of Principals. Advocates such as Michelle Rhee assert that Principals and other leaders should be able to select teachers, dismiss teachers, and design instruction through their control of teachers. The Broad Foundation has particularly advanced this viewpoint through their training of business executives as district superintendents.  These self described reformers have it wrong.  Their view is fundamentally in error. That may be one of the big reasons it is not working. 

The argument for this extraordinary role for principle leadership comes from two sources, ideological assertions that hide a particular view of learning and a model of the role of  principals based upon models of directions and management  from private industry.  This model is inappropriate for public schools and professional teachers.  The reformers have not learned the basic  role and functions of democracy in public education.

In  private industry and commerce a leader is in charge  because the goal of the
Institution is to make profit.   The leader is empowered to make decisions to maximize profit. this is a part of the complete domination of work life in the private sector by authoritarian structures.  Private industry usually  is not a democratic environment.  Workers do not have the right  to decide how to do their work.  They are to follow orders or leave.

In public schools this orientation is  wrong. First there is not a simple measure of success.  Yes, in general the goal is student achievement, but the goals also include learning democracy and civic responsibility- among others.  The measure of success is not nearly as precise as in private commerce.  Even more important, education and learning is not a direct assembly line of materials and actions. 

Among several differences is that the principal can not direct improved learning. Learning is guided and fostered by a series of decisions and actions by the teacher engaging the students.  These professional decisions are not controlled and directed by the principal. Rather the principal is more of a plant manager and environment designer. 

He/she is not the best teacher in the school. Hopefully she can lead teachers, but the authoritarian model of private commerce does not apply.  
Foundations and ideological reformers should be opposed when they seek to impose authoritarian models or when they use authoritarian references in their efforts to change schools.
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