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Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

School & District Management Opinion

Personality Quiz: Am I a Wannabe Edu-Bureaucrat?

By Rick Hess — May 28, 2015 3 min read
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Once, would-be reformers mostly agreed that century-old practices weren’t working anymore but admitted we were unsure as to just what should come next. We agreed on the importance of accountability for results but wanted room for new approaches to policy and practice—and hoped a variety of smart solutions would emerge. In the last five years or so, however, some reformers have evinced a growing faith in bureaucratic fixes. Abandoning the humble notion that it takes time to figure things out, such reformers have instead decided that regulation and top-down oversight can fix everything, everywhere, in a hurry (so long as it’s all overseen by really smart people, like them and their friends). How can you tell if you’re one of these aspiring bureaucrats, and whether you should dress accordingly? As a public service, I’ve tapped my old Ph.D. in government skills to provide this quick, easy-to-take quiz. Just answer the following true/false questions and tally up your answers to see how you score.

1] I routinely describe teachers and schools as “good” or “effective” based on limited, simplistic, standardized metrics like reading and math scores.

2] Parents who opt out of state tests are irresponsible and need to get with the program so that we can get the scores we need to hold teachers and schools accountable.

3] Charter schools are good so long as they’re part of a “managed portfolio,” use a uniform application and expulsion code, backfill, are nonprofit, have an authorizer-approved plan for what to do if a student forgets his lunch, and don’t do anything to offend me.

4] It’s important for the federal government tell states how to identify “failing” schools and what to do about them.

5] I get a warm feeling when talk turns to “P-20 alignment.”

6] It’s good that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights regulates the availability of single-sex classrooms and programs by making clear that “A specific, individual justification (demonstrating the recipient’s objective and the substantial relationship between the objective and the single-sex nature of the class or activity) is necessary for each single-sex class or activity. A recipient may not offer single-sex classes in multiple grades or subjects without separately justifying each class. At the elementary school level, where a class typically covers many subjects, the recipient must separately justify the use of single-sex classes for each subject.”

7] State legislators should adopt a uniform statewide teacher evaluation policy for every teacher in every grade in every school.

8] If public officials just had the courage to make our schools do more of what schools do in Finland, Singapore, or Shanghai, our education worries would be behind us.

9] After more than a century and a half of messy confusion, we’ve finally discovered the right way to train all new teachers—and we need to make sure that everyone gets trained that way.

10] The federal government should require all states to grade teacher preparation programs, and grades should be based largely on graduates’ value-added scores on state reading and math tests.

11] We should to settle on the smartest, best way to pay teachers and then encourage state legislators to mandate that model for every school in every district in their state.

12] People who disagree with me on Common Core, ESEA, teacher evaluation, and the rest are mostly just playing politics. I really wish they’d simmer down and shut up.

13] I’ve never been reminded of the USSR’s “five-year plans” when the U.S. Department of Ed orders waiver states to devise . . . five-year plans, with ambitious (if arbitrary) race-based performance targets.

14] We need more state and federal laws regulating peer mentoring, anti-bullying programs, and school discipline because these things are too important to be left to provincial, small-minded local educators, parents, and school boards.

15] “Good” research usually agrees with my views on reform (though I’m not trained to conduct or evaluate research and rarely read beyond an abstract).

16] I find it easiest to communicate in acronyms and buzzwords. When laypeople can’t follow me, I chalk it up to their lack of expertise.

17] Researchers can tell us the right way to govern, organize, and deliver schooling, and responsible policymakers try to act accordingly.

If you answered “true” to 12 or more, congrats! You’re an aspiring bureaucrat! There’s even a cheery, ready-made mantra for your brand of “reform.” It’s: “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss . . . except this time you’re going to be lucky to have a really, really smart boss. Not like all those others who have come before.”

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The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up 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.