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Needed: A Supe With Grit, Not Glitz

For decades, the challenges of school reform seemed nearly insuperable. City schools struggled under the weight of poverty, broken families, turgid bureaucracies, depressing conditions, and low expectations.

Worse, big-city school chiefs routinely serve only a few years before leaping to a new job or getting pushed out of office. Knowing the drill, they learn to launch a slew of reforms fast, seeking to build momentum and shake up the system. Teachers and principals have learned to wait out those new ideas, knowing that the savior of the hour would soon be gone.

The demands of urban schooling—a lot of students and teachers, big budgets, and looming budget shortfalls—require tough-minded leaders able to navigate around familiar pitfalls. Here are four tips to keep in mind when seeking a supe equal to the challenge.

1. Keep a wary eye on would-be superintendents touting fanciful new fads.

2. Healthy cooperation is obviously a terrific thing, but it has too often served as an excuse for ducking the hard stuff.

3. It is a seductive fiction that massive, troubled school systems can be transformed without revamping infrastructure and organization. High-performing organizations require reliable data, transparent budgeting, and high-quality human resources to get the job done.

4. Managing instruction depends on the right teachers and staff, and that requires complete files and working personnel and technology systems.

Such work is not glamorous, doesn’t garner headlines, and won’t generate hosannas from education professors or advocates. But overhauling the personnel system and information technology, ensuring that the central office is responsive, and squeezing out new efficiencies will signal a no-glitz seriousness and assure educators that their work is being supported and dollars are being spent sensibly —Rick Hess


‘Occupy Wall Street’ Gets Ivory Tower Support

Just what is the Occupy Wall Street thing all about? I found it hard to explain to my kids at the dinner table the other night. It’s about people being angry at the system, I said. The financial system. Big corporations.

Now, I can expand that to include frustration with and from higher education.

The Collective Bargaining Congress and the national council of the American Association of University Professors have issued a statement expressing solidarity for the Occupy Wall Street protesters. The group criticizes the growing gap between the rich and poor, rising tuition, and job uncertainty.

“The dedicated students whom we teach at institutions of higher education are being forced to pay more for tuition and go deeper into debt because of cuts in state funding, only to find themselves unemployed when they graduate,” the statement says.

Regarding its own workforce, the AAUP said: “The majority of college and university faculty positions are now insecure, part-time jobs. In addition, attacks on collective bargaining have been rampant throughout the nation, as our job security, wages, health benefits, and pensions have been either reduced or slated for elimination.”

As the Occupy Wall Street movement expands, it will be interesting to see how other higher education professional groups weigh in. Perhaps it will be the voices of college students that will be the next to join the fray as frustration mounts over college costs, deepening debt, and high unemployment among young people. —Caralee Adams


Our Decisions Are Symbolic

As someone with a background in the visual arts and art education, I know there are so many important reasons for keeping the arts in our schools. Today I came across a list from the National Art Education Association that I think addresses the key “lessons” that the arts teach our students.

I especially like this one: “The arts’ position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.”

As I read that, I realized that statement can be made about anything we do in schools—which courses we add or cut, which courses we require, which courses are electives, how we integrate technology, and so on.

I believe that this serves as a reminder to all educators that every decision we make about our instructional programs sends a message to our students about what we value and what we believe is most important.

We must always be reflective and ask ourselves if what we are doing and saying aligns with what we truly believe is most valuable to the education and experiences of our learners. —Stephanie Sandifer

Vol. 31, Issue 08, Page 13

Published in Print: October 19, 2011, as Blogs of the Week
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