wasting bandwidth since 1999

Tag: superintendent (Page 1 of 2)

A Superintendent’s Plan for Change

Our new superintendent has been on the job about three months and is experiencing her first opening of school here in the overly-large school district. It’s probably not very different from any other large metropolitan suburban area, except that we are such an incredibly high-performing system1, so this must be very unique for her.

But before things get really rolling, our own “veteran Texas educator”2 decided to layout her “plan for significant change“, which is rather odd since many in this community will tell you the district is already very close to perfect. Grades and test scores never lie.

Anyway, what are these “significant” alterations to be made?

… she wants to close achievement gaps, expand gifted education and provide iPads to every student. She said she will push for later high school start times, would consider supporting charter schools and wants to focus on the needs of the county’s poorest students.

She also says we need to “cut costs and explore new revenue opportunities” and “we’ve got to be more competitive in the marketplace”, which sounds like something you’d hear from a CEO brought in to overhaul a company with a failing business model. Certainly no parallels with American education in that.

As to the broad areas on which she wants to focus, closing the achievement gap has been around forever, speaking to the success of previous superintendents in that area, and is really nothing more than code for getting kids in certain high profile ethnic groups to do better at taking tests. Would be nice if instead, she wants to improve their learning.

We’ve also been going round and round about high school start times, which is largely about finding the money to run more mostly empty buses, and charter schools, something that gets very vocal support from a very, very small part of the community.

Then there’s the matter of giving iPads to every student.3

Although it’s not hard to find stories of district one-to-one tablet programs, Los Angeles County being the highest profile one, I have yet to read about meaningful amounts of resources being devoted to teacher training in support of them. Or about how schools plan to fundamentally change curriculums and classroom practice in recognition of the powerful communications tools each student will now have in their hands.

If our local school board agrees to find the money necessary to pay for just the hardware (and that is a big if), I doubt those issues will be addressed around here either. As with most initiatives featuring technology, our leadership will probably approach this primarily as an IT task, rather than instructional and a significant opportunity to change how and what students learn.

In the end, however, none of the statements quoted in the article lead me to believe our new super will be addressing the 800-pound gorilla in the room: hyper reliance on standardized testing. As I said in my welcome message to her, we are very good at playing the testing game, and until she does something to break the data addiction suffered by many of our administrators, everything in her “vision” is just tinkering around the fringes.

1 True statement. Just ask our PR office.

2 Which is a damn scary descriptor by itself.

3 Actually, she said tablet. The reporter (or editor) used iPad in the second paragraph instead, probably to improve the link bait.

An Open Message to Our New Superintendent

Welcome to the overly-large school district. I know you’ve been on the job for more than a month but it’s been a busy summer and I’m just now getting around to this post. Not that you’ll ever read the message but writing it makes me feel better.

By this time, I’m sure lots of people have told you just how wonderful our system is. Someone has probably even used the phrase “lighthouse district” at least once. Never quite sure that that means but it’s been used around here since I started way back when.*

However, if you want a good snapshot of this huge educational community you will get just that during our annual Leadership Conference later this week. And it’s a somewhat schizophrenic picture.

Sitting in the large performing arts center at the local university, we will spend the morning listening to a parade of speakers who will alternate between telling us what a great job we are doing and the educational cliches (“digital learning”, creativity, “21st century skills”) we should be doing. I’m working on my bingo card if you’d like to play along.

The high-priced keynote speaker this time around will be Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons, who, I assume will explain about all the things his country does to educate their children that we fail to do. Of course we’ve heard similar messages in past years from some other big names (Ken Robinson, Tony Wagner, Daniel Pink, etc.) and then pretty much ignored all their advice.

Scattered during the morning we’ll also see several inspirational videos of teachers and kids, all of which are very much exceptions to what is normal in our schools. Plus a couple of performances by student groups, which probably rehearse before or after school. That last part is supposed to give us a warm feeling about their dedication but it says more about our priorities and the lack of status given to the arts.

After all the inspirational pictures and talk in the morning, we’ll spend the afternoon in breakout sessions on a variety of topics. And, although the session titles use the same verbiage as heard in the morning, the content will be more about the reality of modern American education.

Lots of discussion about gathering and analyzing data (euphemism for taking tests) and closing the minority gap (aka improving the test scores of certain sociological groups).

If this coming school year is anything like most in the recent past, following all this inspirational talk, principals will return to their schools and little will change. Most teachers will continue to use the district-provided curriculum and “pacing guides” to prepare their students for the spring round of standardized tests. And video crews will be out in the schools looking for the rare exceptional classroom to record for next year’s Leadership Conference.

Too cynical? Maybe. I’d love to be wrong but that will require you to bring about some drastic alterations to the culture of this district. In the age of NCLB (born in Texas where you’ve spent your whole career) we’ve gotten very good at playing the testing game. Even our lowest schools have better scores than most of the rest of the state.

Anyway, welcome to the east coast branch of Lake Wobegon. Just ask anyone in our echo chamber… we’re all, kids and staff alike, above average.

* “Keeping the main thing the main thing” is another legendary phrase around here. Do me a big favor and please fire the next person who uses it.

« Older posts

© 2023 Assorted Stuff

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑