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Organization and Administration

At present we have a public education model built on a lot of obsolete 19th Century assumptions about organization and pedagogy. In a sense, we’re trying to pound the square peg of student needs into the round hole of bureaucratic entitlement and the agrarian and industrial impulses that shaped it. This stops the day I take office. Instead, we will re-envision the very structure and purpose of education, teaching, administration, compensation and reward.

A critical element of the EdF1rst restructuration will involve shifting of administrative functions (and their resource expenditures) from central offices to the schools and an attendant transfer of autonomy from bureaucratic centers to teachers. Central administrations will be much smaller under the EdF1rst plan, and one manifestation will be fewer administrative managers at the central office and more para-teaching personnel serving the daily needs of teachers in the schools.

This reorganization is essential if we’re to truly address the diseases afflicting public education in America. At present, critics on “both” sides of the debate point to various symptoms (which are certainly real) and offer solutions that amount to sticking a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. A variety of factors – ideological investment and self-serving financial interests being the two worst – prevent them from seeing through to the underlying root causes giving rise to the symptoms they’re troubled by (or are pretending to be troubled by).

For instance, some critics of my plan, when they hear the words “teacher salaries,” reflexively leap to the argument that we already spend a huge sum of money per student. This is correct (sort of) so far as it goes. But they then leap to the precise wrong conclusion – “you can’t fix education by throwing money at it.” The irony in these discussions is that these critics will often, in the next breath, explain that bureaucratic bloat is undermining public education. Which seems to suggest that they can’t distinguish between spending too much and spending unwisely. While the two often go hand-in-hand, they’re hardly the same thing.

So let’s be clear – success is a function of a) investing sufficient resources and b) investing those resources in the right places. At present, public education wastes ridiculous amounts of money on administrativa. Yes, education systems need good administrators, but centralized organizational structures tend to suck money out of the classroom and into the bureaucracy.

As noted above, the EducationF1rst initiative will transfer significant administrative authority to education faculty. Especially with respect to curricular issues, autonomy will be shifted from central offices to the teachers responsible for the day-to-day life of their schools. Additionally, teachers currently waste tremendous amounts of time on clerical work when their skills should be more directly focused on the students. The addition of para-educators, who manage clerical functions and perform research and preparation work for teachers, will provide a far more effective and cost-efficient model for the conduct of daily operations in our schools.

EdF1rst will realign educational appropriation, shifting significant funding from administration into direct teaching programs. Obviously how much gets shifted and in what way will vary. At present we can find significant variations from state to state and district to district, and EdF1rst explicitly rejects the idea that one size fits all. However, as standards and best practices evolve and as our classrooms are populated with increasingly qualified teaching professionals, we will insist on locally sensitive policies that fund the classroom first.

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Comments»

1. New plank - organization and administration « Dr. Slammy in ‘08 - January 3, 2007

[…] review the organization plank, click here. It can also be accessed off the Platform page in the sub-page menu to the […]

2. Jennie - January 5, 2007

One of the reasons the US education system has not changed much since the “scientizing” and professionalizing of the whole process (the new levels of middle management, folks who have never taught sliding into the grand poobah positions that popped up like mushrooms in the early 20th century) is the whole “body in motion” problem. Education is an institution, and folks who could actually do some good get all misty about ye olde red schoolhouse, or get all militant about the need for it to Stay the Same. This is an impulse born of fear of the unknown, the future, change, children, et al, and it is rampant in every institution that still stands, church, school, marriage, home, transportation.

Also, there is the spectre of capitalism: most normal folks both hold teachers in some vague esteem, and also think of them as suckers: the first George Bush said some outrageous stuff about teachers: basically that we shouldn’t pay teachers anymore than we did, because it would not be a noble, sacred calling if folks got into it for the money. I’ll see if I can find that in archival stuff tomorrow. Basically, the teacher has a noble calling above reproach, and if the teacher had any sense, she’s tamp down the calling and get her MBA. Holy teacher, stupid teacher.

Tread lightly and look at the history of school reform, particularly in large school districts; this local control piece has been co-opted by all takers, but how you define who has control and over what is the key to this actually representing a change, rather than a fancy way to replicate a centralized organization in a local setting. I wouldn’t typically cite Wikipedia, as this page might just be a big Paris Hilton cartoon tomorrow, but check here for information on the local school councils.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_School_Council

How do we combat the tendency to seek the status quo (Joining a commune, and then electing a commune president), what role should parents play in this (don’t get me started on this)? And what specific tasks are you including in the clerical column, and which in the “tasks of teachers” column?

3. drslammy - January 9, 2007

Jennie,

Let me begin by stating that I am making ZERO effort to begin ticking specific tasks into one column or another at this point. You raise lots of good issues, and being (among other things) an organizational consultant, I not only agree with you about the trickiness of overhauling administrative structures like school systems, but understand how time and space have forced you to understate the case, even.

There comes a time in the process when we start hammering out specific tactical actions. Those are critical to the task of executing the plan. For the moment, though, I’m still trying to get my head around the big picture so we can produce a coherent strategic blueprint. And it’s clear that my drafts are going to change – probably dramatically.

The parts of your post that I think are so incredibly relevant at this stage go to our larger cultural biases. Why we don’t value teachers. The role of parents (and extended families and naighborhoods and communities). Etc. The attitudes are critical here, and as I say in a plank I haven’t posted yet, this is where we’ll live or die. There’s a real chicken and egg problem. Parents and students need to be more engaged in order to make progress, but they see no hope in getting engaged. So you have to show results to get them engaged so you can show results.

And hey, if we didn’t have these deep, anti-intellectual cultural strains, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.

So I think the way to victory begins with a plan that looks promising. It has to be a plan that embodies new thinking, because we already know what the old thinking gets us. Then that strategic plan has to start taking stronger tactical shape (and here we’re back to some of the detail issues you raise, as well as a zillion more).

We won’t get it hacked out today or this week or this month. But stay with us, because a year from now I think we’ll be in place we all feel good about.


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