A plethora of pundits continue to pontificate about performance of students and too often are too quick to call for financial penalties aimed at classroom teachers. It is a hasty, callous and delusional attempt to cover up the administrative failures to inculcate an academic environment to help improve student performance in public schools.
The near-absolute lack of penchant for erudition, scholastic rigor and inspirational qualities of most public school administrators rarely surface in the discussion of public school student performance. Measurement and metrics are essential but the litany of testing that has erupted in the classroom through the glib, skillful and cryptic collusion between administration and educational consultants serve to pad their mutual wallets at the expense of the classroom teachers and the future of students. Some school districts invest public funds for personnel and services for marketing, messaging and branding while insisting that teachers accept pay freeze, increase contributions to healthcare and retirement fund or work far more than contracted hours without pay.
The good intentions in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) appears to have been used as an excuse to peddle mediocrity or legally turn a blind eye to all that is shoddy and second grade as long as it can masquerade as good enough. The astute observer may note the language of A Nation At Risk spilling over. We remain a nation at risk by continuing to sacrifice, crucify and vilify the K-12 classroom teachers who are the architects of our future and the dominant force which shapes the future of global economic growth.
When the dead weight of bureaucracy outweighs the function it is supposed to support it leads to diminished returns and the outcome is inversely proportional to increasing investment. It is this unfortunate quagmire in which the public school districts are immersed. Superintendents and some managers should be the visionaries we need or at least pay heed to the vision outlined by luminaries.
One does not need a MBA to create a great business. Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg are examples. University administrators do not need degrees from schools of education to lead institutions. It is necessary that they are academic scholars. Susan Hockfield, Drew Faust, Amy Gutmann and Carol Christ are examples. We do not need government degrees or administrative credential to lead large organizations. Glenn Seaborg, Steven Chu and Harold Varmus are Nobel Laureates and shining example of scientists in governance. Bruce Alberts, Subra Suresh and John Holdren did not apply for any licenses to qualify for the national offices related to education and science which they shaped, guided and improved.
You cannot view the future if your imagination is out of focus. These giants who have shaped business, institutions, organizations and government were chosen by natural selection for their vision to lead. Are we choosing to ignore these lessons which are equally applicable to public education? Superintendents and administrators as well as classroom teachers must be academics, scholars and content experts, not process peddlers, entertainers or jail wardens.
The poverty of purpose and dedication, ideals and idealism, vision and values in school leaders and administrators fuels the poverty of ambition and aspiration in our children which percolates down to society. The next generation suffers even more from this vicious cycle that breeds discontent, despair, and hopelessness.
The K-12 system cannot provide inspiration not only because its leadership lacks scholastic erudition but the strenuous attempts by those embedded in the system to keep scholarship out of its walls using purpose-built legal veneers. The rubble from the instructional morbidity based on vacant processes, content-deprived pedagogy and pernicious zeal to asphyxiate aspirational classroom teachers with paperwork creates an insurmountable barrier for an inspired idealist, scientist or mathematician eager to provide the K-12 leadership.
Changing the political tapestry of Superintendent search criteria, contract offer and re-appointment is certainly not a panacea which can eliminate all the ills of K-12 public education. It is a start, in the same manner that a faltering economy sends chills through any political incumbent. We need change, starting at the top, to provide academic vision and leadership in K-12 education, but change must be accompanied by and supplied with the instruments we can believe in. Suspending an inspired academician in a den of vipers without the ammunition to catalyze change or without resources to execute any plan may be akin to telling a hair-raising story to a bald headed man.
Having pointed a finger at the top, ie, Superintendent of Schools, I must also include the Latin principle of exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis, proposed by Cicero. There are exceptions and exceptionally visionary Superintendents even if the number is so few that it may suffice to be counted on one’s thumb rather than the finger.
Before we begin to contemplate seeding yet another social reform or use the hackneyed excuses from the existing dysfunctional social elements, we must hasten to improve K-12 student performance by finding leaders with sufficient moral fiber to earn respect and champion classroom teachers. In addition, the leader must inspire students to grasp beyond their reach, stimulate them to believe in pursuing ideals and lead by example as to why one must fight all odds in order to strive to find a reason to aspire.