Posts filed under ‘School Leadership’

The Teacher Prep Debate – Of Double Standards and Managerial Dodge Ball

Teacher prep programs cannot be forced to maintain a longitudinal tracking system on the career progress of their alums. Such a system would violate the privacy of the individuals who were monitored, answer only genuinely academic questions – not timely solutions to problems, and crowd out more prudent investments in higher education for teachers. In the meantime, districts would be allowed to dodge accountability for talent management while sitting in the real locus of control. All the while, a revolving door of TFA darlings would bypass scrutiny as they churned through the schools with guaranteed turnover. In the end, the only real change in the picture would be a serious fracture in the long history of collaboration between teacher prep programs and school districts – one of the greatest assets we might have leveraged.

Teacher prep programs are being targeted for accountability in teacher quality. Under consideration is a Federal plan to have schools of education track their graduates for up to ten years after program completion. The goal is to sort the good from the bad and hold the prep programs accountable for any shortcomings in future teacher performance. The hair on the back of my neck is raised as I consider the Bill of Rights, school district responsibility for talent management, and the perennial boot camp teacher prep experiments. School districts and teacher prep programs have a long history of collaboration. Why kill this strength by pitting the two against one another?

Employers are responsible for hiring the best people for every job, supervising and motivating them effectively, and assessing their continuing value to the endeavor. Employees enter an organization honestly and with appropriate preparation. They share responsibility for keeping themselves whole on the job. Continuous growth and professional development must be valued on both sides of the contract. When these conditions are not met, employers and employees have a problem to solve. External parties may be asked to facilitate the process, but nowhere do labor standards call for privacy invasion or deflection of responsibility onto unrelated parties.

Teacher prep programs are supposed to get their students ready as teachers. School districts hire those people, and the locus of control over the situation is transferred. The education schools are essentially off duty with regard to specific students. In fact, just as the districts must have permission from prospective new teachers to seek information from their prep programs, the prep programs have no right to seek and track employment data about anyone except their own employees. They have no right to invade the privacy of their alums. Nor do they have any control over the conditions of employment that exist after students leave their programs.

Employment is always a “buyer beware” situation. If districts suspect they have hired teachers who are inadequately prepared for the job, they are protected by probationary employment contracts. Experienced leaders must assess the situation and, in consultation with the new hire, make a plan to remediate and reassess. A trend in bad hires from particular teacher prep programs is instructive much more rapidly than a gratuitous multi-year tracking system. In addition, prep programs may well have addressed constructive feedback from districts and improved their outcomes before the negative data stream has been aggregated, analyzed and reported.

And what about alternative pathways to credentialing of new teachers? I happen to believe many of these programs bring good teachers into the education field, but they benefit from a double standard in any regulation of quality. Teach for America (TFA) only asks for a two-year commitment, by which time novice teachers are considered barely adequate practitioners. Yet we only hear good news about their contributions and worry about losing them to what is prescribed turnover, not issues of quality.

Schools of education and school districts may continue to leverage their relationships to improve teacher prep as well as sustaining educator vitality on the job. However, their primary roles should not become blended, nor should their respective accountabilities be diffused.


March 5, 2012 at 12:29 PM Leave a comment

Age Discrimination Is Not Just Illegal – It is Wrong

In America, it is illegal to discriminate against employees on the basis of race, gender, religion,… or AGE! However, the last attribute is the one I have found missing most often from explicit lists in anti-discrimination policies of public school districts. And the rhetoric in the field suggests that this omission is not accidental.  

I’ve had it. The excerpt below came from a New York Magazine article about a principal in an elite public school in the Bronx, but it could have arisen just about anywhere in education…

“She devised a two-part strategy: Those new teachers who couldn’t or wouldn’t teach her way would not get tenure; the older, set-in-their-ways teachers would retire sooner or later, making room for young ones she could train herself (Reidy generally hires new, unmolded teachers, not experienced teachers who have earned tenure elsewhere). *

Not only does it espouse a pedagogical one-way street, it also embodies the age bias that has become an accepted part of the landscape.

As an industry, we have become complacent about laying the blame for problems in education on people who, upon reaching a fairly early middle age, have failed to die…or at least go away quietly. A system of tenure combined with a pension trap may engender stagnation on the job for some; however, the presumption of ineffectiveness based on a demographic attribute is prejudicial and, frankly, ignorant. Further, an incentive system that fails to facilitate frequent self-assessment, goal-setting, and review over the entire course of a career is the real culprit, to the extent that teachers are complicit in disappointing results.

Age bias hurts everyone and should offend everyone, not become a policy initiative. From a legal point of view, the statement cited above offers prima facie evidence of discrimination. In addition, it bolsters a naive approach to leadership that ignores the combined values of diversity and authentic staff development in the vitality of any organization. Preference for young employees overlooks the value added by age and experience. It deprives younger staff of natural mentors. It eliminates institutional memory. And it has no end game for employees. Being young-at-heart has no value – one simply must not get old.

Finally, if age bias is not effectively remedied by the leadership in education, school districts will get exactly what they deserve…an age discrimination case in the courts which forever protects every charlatan who happens to be an older adult along with all those dedicated teachers of a certain age who continue to devote their lives to the education of children despite the insidious prejudice they face every day. And it should, because they all deserve equal protection under the law and the full benefits of the American constitution.


December 29, 2011 at 12:19 PM Leave a comment

Business Leadership in Education

Education leadership is being given an injection of general management training as traditional schools of education are realizing synergies with business school partners at leading institutions. Instructional leadership will not take a back seat, but there should be real gains in resource allocation and staff development. Philanthropy may be more effective as well when sophisticated turnaround experts refocus funding on the primary mission.

Last week, Yale University’s School of Management announced a design competition for its graduate students. The subject is public education, and it will culminate in a school leadership conference next spring. Earlier this fall, Harvard announced a new PhD program in Education Leadership that is a joint venture between the Graduate School of Education and Harvard Business School. The Ed Leadership doctoral program has already added executive coaching in school turnaround to its curriculum. Similarly, the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia has introduced a dual-degree program with the Darden School of Business.

This is not the first time educators have considered input from industry. Local business leaders have sponsored programs to extend the school day or offer tutoring in addition to job placement for students. Many CEOs have explored Principal-for-a-Day gigs. Mid-career transition programs have brought experienced managers into teaching. School leadership programs have included MBAs in their induction programs. However, all have shared the requirement that newcomers see education through the lens of the profession. Folks have to drink the Kool-Aid to get in the door then go to the back of the line for seniority or access to power brokers if they choose to stay.

As a mid-career transition teacher, I entered the field expecting to share contributions from my healthcare management experience but found little interest among my colleagues. Indeed, most members of my cohort of teachers with prior business lives had left the field in dismay within a couple of years. I recall one particularly frustrated co-worker who had managed the electrical systems at a manufacturing plant. Our school had a complex power outage that he had accurately diagnosed…three days before the problem could be corrected. Each day, he would shake his head as 1300 members of the school community would return to the building only to be sent home after spending a few hours in the dark as the latest sure-thing failed. No one would listen to him…they would rather sit in the dark.

Much has been said about MBAs contributing to education management. Large urban school districts publicly welcome MBAs to apply to their customized leadership programs, which combine coursework with principal apprenticeships. While this seems like a great pathway, it requires as much time as a second MBA, and cohorts are small. Each year, traditional ed schools produce thousands of new administrators whose licenses are rubberstamped. In the meantime, a handful of experienced MBAs are vetted individually by high-level committees for participation in small but visible demonstration projects. Their impact on the industry is limited because of their numbers. In addition, the tight cohort model supports a singular vision of the problems and solutions. Holding onto one’s good business judgment can be confused with failure to “get” the education milieu.

Likewise, philanthropic efforts from the business community often seem like no-brainers. School districts are chronically strapped for funds, and good corporate citizens always are welcome to lend a helping hand to sponsor school programs or to offer support during out-of-school time. However, the benefactors tend to assume they shouldn’t try to understand the setting; rather, they should allow the educators to define the problems and possible solutions for them. Unfortunately, keen insight can be lost when a poorly conceived solution gains acceptance under the guise of the esoteric. Educators can spend a lifetime in a single building. Institutional myopia abounds, and access to executive talent may be undervalued simply due to inexperience.

Education is a field in need of new leadership and vision. The industry is resistant to change and insists on co-opting interested parties and indoctrinating them into the system themselves. Essentially, one must adopt their world view to be allowed access to the problem. There is a real opportunity for schools of management to challenge this status quo as equal partners in a new school leadership model.

December 12, 2011 at 1:50 PM Leave a comment

Securing the Floor to Raise the Ceiling

Sometimes both sides are right. Standardized tests do not confirm that students are doing their personal best work. Yet an inability to pass a grade level assessment does suggest that students have a deficiency in prerequisite skills for the next level. Can we agree to keep all students challenged and making progress…regardless of whether they are catching up or surging ahead?

When you bump your head on the ceiling, it’s the designer’s fault. When you bump your head on the floor, you may need to look in the mirror. It’s that way with student test scores, too. No one ever said that accountability testing was designed to limit how high achievement could get; rather, it was to ensure that no child was left behind because he or she was unprepared for the next level on the climb to the top.

Early intervention programs seek to catch developmental issues as soon as possible for young children. They pay off for a lifetime. So do basic reading and numeracy skills developed by grade three…and applied math and literacy skills by grade eight…and emerging abstract reasoning by grade ten. These are benchmarks that secure the floor for each age group.

Every child is born with gifts and challenges; it is our job as educators to provide the best possible platform for learning. This means multi-tasking as leaders. We do not receive our missions and instructions from regulators.  We must actively design our agendas for all children. School leaders who simply following a formula of priorities set for the lowest common denominator are missing the point and trying to blame the regulators. The whole reason for benchmarks is not to define an endpoint, it is to quickly measure achievement of a goal and move on.

We continue to try to build education on a shaky foundation for too many children. Let’s fix that and move on.

November 29, 2011 at 7:57 AM 1 comment

Tarnished Seals of Approval

There is gold in the teacher quality debate, just not for the children. Quality assurance programs are lining up for funding in exchange for promises to track teachers from their prep programs through the next several generations of their progeny. However, there seems to be a charlatan factor that has already gotten under the radar.

A year or so ago, I discovered that my principal certification was not transferable to a new state because the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University was not a quality leadership program for educators. Okay, so the echo chamber of education does not recognize the validity of general management training. Looking further, however, the School of Education at Northwestern did not make the list, nor did the Curry School of Education from my undergraduate school, the University of Virginia. In fact, I discovered that my best chance for adequate credentialing would be enrollment in one of a plethora of storefront correspondence schools scattered across Long Island and the Bronx. They had met the requirements for the national seal of approval.

It seems to be the case that only a handful of major university education programs have applied for accreditation in the new teacher quality programs. And the reason may be that they don’t have to…their work stands on its own merit. Why would they undergo yet another tedious review procedure to prove to the narrow field of education that their world-class standing is, indeed, deserved?

School districts know the sources for strong teacher preparation. They are more likely to have trouble hiring and retaining new teachers from high quality programs because of LIFO and seniority issues, the limitations of career advancement, or the pension trap. Further, teachers who offer promise but deliver less success over time may reflect their employment environments more so than their original training.

I believe in continuous quality assurance. I cannot endorse expending serious resources to raise the barriers to entry in a field that lacks commitment thus far to annual goal setting and performance reviews once access to the field has been achieved. 

PS, What are the chances that you are getting some of your best insights from alums of one of the perennial boot camp teacher prep programs that bypassed most tradition quality hurdles?

November 19, 2011 at 11:40 AM Leave a comment

Saying No to Peer Pressure

Professionals benefit from constructive peer review. On the other hand, teachers calling upon one another to use peer pressure to ensure fellow teachers are up to snuff brings flashbacks of old-fashioned bullying. When compounded by passive aggressive leadership that pits teachers against one another, revival of toxic culture is more likely than reform. True leaders seek positive change and actively intend professional collaboration and review.

After a restless summer of teacher-bashing, budget woes, and discouraging reports from the field, educators are preparing to go back to school, each with renewed commitment to be part of the solution. Something has gone awry, however. In the absence of authentic education reform, well-meaning teachers are trying to fill the void. When talk turns to teachers using peer pressure to make sure their colleagues are up to snuff, it is time for the leaders to step in with a little counterintuitive insight.

Vigilante justice on behalf of students could set education reform back a few decades. A leader with a posse of do-gooders (who, by the way, often got a pass on their own quality review by association) was a hallmark of old-school toxic culture. We have been trying to move forward to a world of objective evaluations and collaboration. Good intentions need to be recognized and commended, of course. But efforts to bypass official channels of supervision should be redirected toward support for the whole team. New forms of evaluation and quality improvement are stressful enough without the distraction of self-appointed standard bearers.

To short circuit this phenomenon, teacher quality programs should formalize a process for peer review as well as professional development to support its implementation. Orientation should address the shared values among staff members, an understanding of roles for each team member, and simulated exercises to explore the process in advance. Constructive peer review can empower professional collaboration while taking the “gotcha” of peer pressure out of the mix.

August 19, 2011 at 4:42 PM Leave a comment

Billionaires Take the Bait

When did Bill and Melinda Gates forget who they were? Billionaire philanthropists have joined the great rescue mission that is public education today. They bring seemingly unlimited resources to drive the solution to one of the greatest challenges in the nation, educating our children. Yet they have undermined their own efforts by getting co-opted into the colossal group think tank of an insular industry. Myopic vision and managerial inexperience are being funded by giants who should know better.

To be successful, educators must invest the right amount of money in sustainable and scalable models driven by the mission of educating children in every demographic. All human capital as well as tangible and intangible assets must be redeployed efficiently and effectively, evolving from a turnaround mode to a growth model. While funded and regulated as a public good, education must be administered as an entrepreneurial business that is responsive to the needs of those it serves. Who should be better at helping us achieve these objectives than billionaire philanthropists who accumulated their wealth by solving problems just like these?

The trouble is…our billionaires fell for the notion that the same leadership that has flailed for the last fifty years in education still offers the best insight into its own needs.  Yes, we have the arrogance to invite the greatest entrepreneurs of our nation into our industry and assume they cannot function without being indoctrinated into our way of doing things. They are the money; we are the brains in this very flawed operation.

As funding agents, our business experts have taken the bait. They have skipped the diagnostic phase of the turnaround assignment. Partners with deep pockets have funded school leaders who deflect their own accountability onto teachers and ask for help firing the culprits and building better replacements. Little attention has been paid to an organizational model that systematically misallocates resources, operates bureaucracies that impede progress in favor of meeting regulations, and manages human resources divisively.

The potential exists to fund schools that serve as incubators for new ideas, to build databases for informed decision-making, and to motivate professionals to achieve better outcomes. Instead, smart managers are helping us to build slick new ways to perform the usual dumb tricks. How can we create entrepreneurial small schools in a district where diminished funding trickles down to the school level? We offer fewer choices to diverse learners and hope that the special relationships we build will suffice to engage them. How can we give teachers the knowledge they need to improve their practices collaboratively? We threaten them with rankings that will ultimately determine who stays or goes. How can we manage our human capital to achieve better results? We invest in elite newcomers, target the lowest common denominator for elimination, and ignore the majority in between. This is not managerial excellence.

 Looking at the generic issues in education, we should welcome guidance on such issues as…

  • Understanding our core mission
  • Implementing continuous quality improvement
  • Incubating ideas through small business start-ups
  • Managing and motivating adults
  • Fostering entrepreneurship in a regulated industry
  • Building a better pension plan for the future
  • Understanding asset-based management

Thus far, our work with mission statements has overlooked the primary goal of educating children, focusing instead on dozens of unique concepts that differentiate small schools. We need to start at the top and organize our districts around the children first. Spend the first dollar on that mission, not the nickels and dimes that trickle down to deconstructed schools. On the other hand, there are ways that education cannot be viewed through the lens of capitalism. Entrepreneurs, for example, know self-sacrifice and investments in sweat equity; the analogous martyrdom model for turnaround schools is not sustainable. Perhaps when our billionaires come to their senses they will help us find a better way.

July 6, 2011 at 9:32 PM Leave a comment

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