A Question of Management

Kevin Drum at Political Animal has another very interesting post on evaluating teachers triggered by an article by former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner advocating for Governator Ahnold’s merit pay proposal in California. While acknowledging that he doesn’t know enough about the subject to have an opinion, Kevin does ask a very good question: who’s going to do the evaluation?

He’s right that a typical elementary school in this country has only one person, the principal, to manage and observe a staff of 20 to 30 teachers – on top of everything else a principal is expected to do. All of the elementary schools in our system also have an assistant principal but most schools also have more than 30 teachers. It’s not much better in our high schools where the principal has four assistants for a teaching staff of 100 – 150, plus the support staff. Very often, the principal is more of a general manager and makes few classroom observations.

Compare this to a private sector company like Gerstner’s IBM which might have two or three mid-level managers reporting to an office manager and whose primary responsibility would be mentoring and evaluating the lower level workers assigned to them. The final assessment, of course, would be a subjective ruling by the boss, based in part on reports from the managers, and rarely, except for sales people, based on "simple numerical tools" (aka tests).

Finally, Kevin ends his observations with another very good question about school organization.

So there’s the paradox: I don’t think teachers are somehow immune from needing supervision, any more than any other white collar worker. But there’s precious little of it available, and it would cost a fortune to provide it. Private sector firms seem to think that reasonable levels of management make them better companies, but public schools don’t. Why?

I’m not sure how to answer that. I suppose it does seem strange that my evalutations were usually based on one or two hour-long observations every third year, usually by an administrator who knew nothing about teaching math. But, despite the lack of supervision, my students almost always were successful (the only true bottom line for a teacher). So, do schools have too little management or do businesses have too much?

2 Comments A Question of Management

  1. chris g

    I wonder if part of the reason is because implementing a full business model is so expensive, requiring extensive change. While it is nice to think that one can pick and choose the benefits other models have, I wonder if actaully getting them to work requires quite a bit of underlying groundwork. For instance, middle management won’t do much unless they have to power to force change.

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