School Decision Makers

Iain Coggins is an educator who has signed on, like me, to the start up of a group called “Educating for Human Greatness”, an effort to advocate for redefining schools and the profession of teaching focused on a more holistic and humanistic vision of how kids really learn. In his comment to my previous post Iain said, “I think a key to our efforts at Human Greatness is creating an unbreakable link between educators and parents. As both an educator and a parent I feel confident in saying that a true paradigm shift in education will be impossible without educator-parent unity.”

I agree with Iain on this idea of “educator-parent unity”. It certainly is general wisdom that kids are served if their parents are actively involved with their kid’s teacher. From my point of view, relationships are a good thing. Better to find a path forward through relationships with key players in your life or those of your family rather than relying on rules and other elements of bureaucracy as a substitute.

But context as always is critical here. How much is the teacher a real decision maker in the student’s education process? Who picks what they learn… your kid, their teacher, the school principal, or the school district or state education bureaucracy? Who decides when they will be in school and what the learning environment will be like?

It seems to me that most public school teachers today (and probably most private school teachers too) do not have much say in answering those questions. They can only share with you their marching orders and, based on that, your kid’s marching orders as well. From my experience with my kids, there is one group of teachers who are completely comfortable with executing this command and control from above, and then there are others who commiserate and apologize that there is nothing they can do. The real decision makers are many levels above them, at the school district or the state level.

The real decision makers, particularly in regards to public schools, are people who, as a parent with kids in those schools, you will never meet. They in turn will never meet you, or ever hear or respond to your specific requests or concerns. Now a large bureaucracy (if it is well run) will have some sort of mechanism to get feedback from its clients and probably summarize that feedback into broad statistical data characterizing what most clients want. But that is certainly not the same as sitting down and having a chat with an actual person who could change something to address a unique need of your kid.

So back to Iain’s “educator-parent” unity. To make it work as Iain envisions, it seems to me that public school decision making needs to be seriously decentralized from how it is now, empowering teacher and student to play a much greater role in owning the fundamental educational process. If you buy that like I do, the big question is how do you make that happen.

2 replies on “School Decision Makers”

  1. I totally agree, Cooper. Teachers have their hands tied. It’s all about API (Academic Performance Index) numbers and I have heard this from LAUSD teachers themselves. Some teachers are really gifted in turning the material they are given into interesting learning exercises – my son had brilliant 1st and 3rd grade teachers who engaged him both years because they knew how to make it interesting. However, the rest of the time in elementary school was spent with two teachers getting ready for retirement and one who used her students as her mini-therapists; they were the most unproductive and understimulating years for my son.

    It is the failure of NCLB and our state education system that is failing our kids in public schools. It is also the trust (or lack of care) that parents have in our schools to take care of our kids and make sure their needs are being met as students, but it doesn’t usually work out that way. We, as parents, need to be involved, but we can’t be there holding our children’s hands making sure their t’s are crossed and their i’s are dotted. It’s so very frustrating when we, meaning my husband and me, feel like we’re doing everything we can and, yet, it isn’t good enough. We don’t take this feeling of failure very lightly and are ready to give something else a try.

    As soon as the holidays are over (not that I want them to pass us quickly since we enjoy them thoroughly), I plan on looking at the various resources regarding homeschooling and unschooling. We plan on having a conference with teachers, the magnet coordinator and my son’s counselor regarding the best course of action, but I doubt that their opinions will matter much in what I already know what is best for my son anyway.

  2. Oh, one more thing, I am feeling the bureaucracy pressure to conform at the community college level as an instructor. Every instructor’s syllabus has to conform to the same format (there is leeway only for attendance policies and how many papers and tests we give) and we all have to conform to the same course outline, meaning we have to teach the same amount of hours per topic on the outline.

    The SLO (Student Learning Outcome) is the big acronym hitting campuses right now. Although I agree with the premise, how is it that we’re best serving our students, it’s just done in such a way that it’s all about accreditation. The K-12 system has their API scores and performance funding, we have our SLOs and accreditation. They really are just two slices of the same bureaucracy pie, unfortunately.

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