Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The superintendent and the passive voice

At a recent meeting with parents about cutbacks in the time the kids are allowed for lunch, our superintendent explained that school principals have squeezed lunch and recess because of the pressure they feel to raise standardized test scores. Under No Child Left Behind, principals who fail to meet test-score benchmarks could eventually get fired. The superintendent wasn’t defending this system -- in fact he sympathized with us and agreed that the system was regrettable -- but was just trying to explain the context in which the principals made their decisions.

But people don’t just “get fired.” Somebody fires them. And who is in charge of hiring and firing school principals? The very person who was sympathizing with us and telling us how regrettable the situation is.

Will our superintendent and school board members commit to not firing principals and teachers for failing to meet unrealistic and harmful standardized testing goals?


Unknown said...

Chris- I have never seen a tenured teacher fired for anything (and my daughter's second grade teacher could easily be classified as mentally ill). Most superindendents were once principals and emphathize more with principals than with parents. In accordance with the Peter Principle, most principals who are not achieving get bumped up food chain (say to asst. superindendent) and a new one is found.

Sarah said...

If NCLB stays around much longer, some of the elementary schools could be in the position where they will either have to fire the principal or the entire staff. That's not necessarily just a superintendent decision. Once SINA schools remain on the SINA list long enough, they are forced to make a significant change in curriculum, leadership, staffing or becoming a charter school. Some schools have already changed the curriculum and still remain on the list. What change will they have to make next?

Chris said...

Sarah -- Thanks for the comments! Just to clarify: I realize that the ability of individual districts to "opt out" of NCLB is limited. As I understand it (which is imperfectly), the federal government doesn't dictate anything directly to the district. The federal government conditions its school aid on the states' willingness to adopt laws satisfying NCLB's requirements. It's those state laws that actually impose requirements on the individual districts, and which set up penalties for schools that don't meet testing targets.

Still -- and I'm still figuring all this stuff out, so I can be convinced otherwise -- I think I disagree that the firing of principals and teachers is not a superintendent decision. As I understand it, when we reach that point, the state can impose penalties for not complying with its statutes, but it can't actually step in and fire anyone itself. As I understand it, only the district can fire someone.

I'm still understanding what the penalties are for non-compliance, but they appear to include cutting off funds and "non-accreditation" of the district's schools. What effect non-accreditation can have is entirely unclear to me. (It certainly wouldn't mean anything to me whether the school is accredited, especially if it has to become a worse school to get accredited.)

States themselves can opt out of NCLB. Other states have studied the possible cost. The numbers I have seen have said that the cost to individual districts would be between 3 and 4 per cent of their budget -- not pocket change, but not so earth-shaking as to be beyond the range of consideration, especially when you figure that a lot of the money is being spent to comply with NCLB. A few articles on opt-out proposals and their costs are here, here, here, and here.)

My larger point is: It is wrong for the district to adopt policies just because the federal and state governments are pressuring it to do so, without giving any consideration to whether those policies are actually harmful to the kids and to their education. The superintendent works for us, not for the federal or state government. At some point, our community should be willing to take a stand -- and even risk penalties -- rather than harm the kids, dumb down their education, and teach them authoritarian values.

KD said...

Sarah, what schools have changed curriculums, and how did they change it?