It's Our Fault

     To my chagrin, we have an unqualified administration in office that chose to nominate an unqualified cabinet and a majority in the house and senate not willing to make any good decisions. Even more to my chagrin, we have a minority party that hasn't done much to help the situation. 

     As an educator, I am not happy with the choice of Betsy DeVos to be the Secretary of Education. She is unqualified and she basically bought her way in. We have a strain of anti-intellectualism in our society and it's gaining momentum (listen to any nuevo-country station and you can hear it). Betsy DeVos is evidence that the people in Washington don't really care about the people they're representing. Even one of the republican dissenters, Susan Collins of Maine, doesn't care. Collins had a chance to stop DeVos from coming out of committee and she didn't. Then Collins voted no, making herself look good, like a voice of reason. Susan Collins is not a voice of reason. She's a party troll, and I don't mean the fun kind that show up at your party and sits in the corner making everyone a little uncomfortable. 

     I hear many of my educator friends and friends who are education advocates voice their disbelief that someone as unqualified as DeVos could become the overseer of public education in the US. I'm not surprised. You shouldn't be either. This DeVos thing isn't new. Public education has been on a downward spiral for a long time. It isn't because of the teachers, though the media and certain legislators would like you to believe that. It's the fault of many, and the fault of many who didn't stand up for what they know to be right.

     In order to run for Sheriff, one needs to have a backround in law enforcement. In order to run for DA, one needs to pass the bar exam, usually requiring a law degree. In order to be elected to the school board, one doesn't even need to have graduated from high school. I think I've discovered one of the causes of public education's downward spiral. We have school board members throughout this country that make decisions that effect education and they don't know much about the topic. Their decisions usually show that.

     In local school administration, I've discovered that it isn't the cream that's rising to the top. Few of the administrators I've worked with are competent. These administrators don't seem to understand students, don't seem to understand teaching, don't seem to understand how to use statistics. They use their ignorance to influence the local school boards who don't know what's going on and have been duped by the self-serving administrators. Many school boards seem to think that they work for the superintendents rather than the other way around. 

     Teachers themselves are part of the problem, and I don't mean on a competency level. Teachers associations refuse to act like real unions and advocate for themselves. If they were to advocate for themselves, they would inherently be advocating for their students. 

     Let's look at this in a real world situation. A mandate comes from above, either from the federal or state government. The mandate is uninformed, onerous, and takes too much time away from teacher/student interactions. The lawmakers tie the mandate to funding, even if the mandate is unfunded (NCLB is an example). The local administrators automatically say their school has to do it, and convinces the local school board that it is a necessity (the administrator wants to look good so they can get a high level government appointment later on). The teachers look at the mandate, and voice concerns about it. The administration ignores the teachers' concerns and pushes forward, until a few months later when a new mandate comes down the pike and the process repeats. Mandate 2 is 180 degrees from mandate 1 and all the work (time, money, human capital) that went into mandate 1 goes out the window for the next best thing, mandate 2. Shortly afterwards, mandate 2 is given the boot and mandate 3 takes over, which looks a lot like mandate 1 but is all new because mandate 1 was thrown out. 

     In this process, the professionals (teacher) who know what's going on are ignored and they don't do anything to stop it. The school boards are clueless because they just blindly follow what the administrators are telling them to do. The administrators know the mandates are not okay but they do it anyway because they don't want to go against the grain, it could hurt their appointment chances later on. Meanwhile, the students (who are the most important part of a school) are falling behind, getting dumber because the people who supposed to be teaching them are stressing out over a new mandate rather than spending time with them, nurturing relationships that lead to learning and growth.

     How do we stop this slide? It's simple. One of the aforementioned groups needs to say no. The administrators should say no and they shouldn't participate in mandates that take away teacher/student interactions. School boards should be made up of people qualified to be on a school board which means they possess the knowledge and understanding that the mandates are not in the best interest of the students. The teachers should form strong associations that are willing to band together and say no. 

     Let's look at what should have happened in a real world situation. A mandate came from above stating that each school could choose from one of three teacher effectiveness rating programs. Many schools chose one developed by a man named Robert Marzano. The local taxpayers paid Bobby Marzano lots of money to use his program. Bobby Marzano doesn't have the most firm grasp on the English language. Bobby Marzano misuses the term rigor, as well as many others. If anyone dug into Bobby Marzano's research methods, one would discover that Bobby Marzano doesn't have a firm grasp on the proper use of statistics. Bobby Marzano is laughing his way to the bank (I picture him wringing his hands and cackling while swimming through his vault full of gold coin, kind of like a cross between Mr. Burns and Scrooge MacDuck). 

     How could we have stopped this? First of all, the administrator should have dismissed any program that misuses terms and doesn't use statistics properly. Second, the district administrator (superintendent) hired building administrators to do the job and evaluate the teachers in their buildings. It is not necessary to send money to Bobby. If the building administrator is not qualified to give thorough support and evaluations to the teachers they supervise, then they shouldn't be building administrators. 
     Thirdly, the school board should educate themselves on the topic and inform the administrator that sending money to Bobby is not an effective use of scarce local funds and that money would be better spent on teachers, not on Bobby's vault. 
     The fourth part to this puzzle is the teachers. They should band together and say no. Bobby's program is a joke, Bobby doesn't seem to understand basic vocabulary, and Bobby's method takes too much time away from students. If teachers showed solidarity to do what's right, none of it would happen.

     I'll be interested to read any feedback I get from this. If any of you are questioning my assumptions (which is something everyone should do), please comment and let us all question your assumptions. I'm going to leave you with this.

     Everything in education now is supposed to be data driven. Over the years, many studies have been done that show, without question, that there is nothing better than music for a developing brain. What is usually the first thing cut when the educational belts need tightening? Music. 

     That's just one example. If education is supposed to be data driven, then administrators should be using data in their decision making process. This example shows that administrators don't care about the students. It shows that school boards are under-informed. If teachers really care about their students, they would band together (not meant to be a pun but it works) and insist that students have access to music in schools. 

     I've used some broad stereotypes here. I've seen these patterns first hand, but I've also met administrators who genuinely care about their students. I've met school board members who educate themselves and advocate for what's right, and I've worked with teachers who band together and go out of their way to keep music in schools and do what's right. Every one of these groups, across the board and across the country need to band together and resist this slide that's been dragging public education down.

     Also, I blame Pink Floyd. We do need education, just not the thought control bit.