Education Opinion

Administrators Must Choose

By Peter Greene — August 18, 2015 3 min read
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Classroom teachers are experiencing the effects of reformsterism to widely varying degrees. In some classrooms, data fetishism, aligning to the standards, and chasing test scores create a powerful cacophony that drowns out actual attempts to educate students. In other classrooms, education remains the main focus and the sturm and drang of education reforminess remain a background, like stray dogs playing in the garbage cans out behind the school.

What makes the difference?

Not state or federal policy. Not the Big Standardized Test. Not even the wise arguments of thinky tanks and bloggers.


It’s an administrator who says, “Just do your job well. I’ve got your back.” Or it’s an administrator who says, “If it’s Tuesday, you’d better be on page twelve, paragraph six of the content delivery script.”

The administrator’s role has change over the past fifteen years. Under No Child Left Behind, many administrators just stalled for time. In many schools, the opening staff meeting was built around the phrase, “Let’s just get through this year...” The year-by-year series-of-bandaids approach made sense then. Everyone knew that NCLB could not last, that the requirement that 100% of students be above average would either have to be averted or it would crash the whole system. Either way, something new would happen. “Sooner or later this has to go away,” the reasoning went, “so let’s just hold on and hope that day comes tomorrow.”

But under the Obama-Duncan Common Core banner, the end game has been less clear, even as the choice has become clearer.

Schools can strictly follow the CCSS test-and-punish mandate designed to bring about forced failure of public schools (ploughing the field for the planting of charters and cheap teacher substitutes), or schools could decide to follow their historical mission of educating students.

This is one of the big differences between NCLB and Core-powered Race to the Top; NCLB was always going to bring about its own destruction, but Core-powered Race to the Top style reform will, unchecked, destroy American public education.

But various state-level carrots and sticks aside, it falls to administrators to choose the mission for their schools.

At first a popular choice was, “Just teach our best and let the tests worry about themselves.” But since the BS Tests don’t give us much of a picture of what a school’s doing, that’s not a viable choice. There’s no evidence that aligning your curriculum or collecting data gives your students a better education, and precious little evidence that they even increase test scores. As always, test scores are best increased by extensive test prep-- not by teaching your best and hoping.

Some administrators go rogue, and either fight back vocally (e.g. Troy Lariviere) or start fighting an underground battle for education in their schools. And of course some go Full Reformster and declare that nothing is more important than aligning every worksheet, prepping for every test, and following the reformster handbook every step of the way (local professional teaching experience be damned).

Some try to split the difference by being compliant but making a frowny face while they do it. This is no better that going Full Reformster. When you punch me in the face, whether you act happy about it or not doesn’t change the pain I feel or the teeth I lose. In fact, an administrative stance of, “I know this is a complete waste of our time and probably educational malpractice, but I’m not actually going to do anything about it” is beyond irritating.

I know there are situations where throwing yourself on your sword so that you can be fired today and replaced with a more compliant administrator tomorrow-- well, that isn’t very useful. But be sure you’ve exercised the limits of your power before you start claiming helplessness.

A manager’s job is to get the best work possible out of her people. That means when it’s raining on the bricklaying crew, a good manager is out there with an umbrella. Well, right now there’s a Common Core Test-and-Punish hailstorm monsoon in America’s classrooms, and an administrator who stays safe indoors saying, “Well, I don’t like it, but maybe it will pass soon,” is not helping her people get a damned thing done.

The opinions expressed in View From the Cheap Seats are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.