Last night I suggested you get informed about Politics in American education. Here is the conclusion to that piece.
I read with great diligence the text for this course and learned a lot about the various political contexts of education in America. I also learned what many of the hot-topics in the USA are currently. These topics include my learning that there is often a disconnect between teacher knowledge (and classroom experience) and state and federal rules, trends and mandates. Moreover, I have discovered that teachers in traditionally equity-oriented America are dissatisfied by continued unequal treatment of students based on federal mandates. However, there voices are seldom heard. They are often afraid to be labeled as trouble makers. In some ways, the American school system has become similar to what I knew when I taught in Japan (from 1992 to 1994), where I was told often that a common phrase in Japan concerning children (and teachers) in school has been “If the nail sticks up, hammer it down!”
Recently, I read a vignette by a psychiatrist named Leo Randall, who had analyzed the relationship between former President Nixon and his closest aids or confidants. In one of his writings, Randall focuses on what he refers to as “the compromise of integrity.” In it, he discusses the interview of Senator Howard Baker with the Nixon aide Herbert Porter. Baker asks the aide, who had been involved in the Watergate scandal, “Did you ever have qualms about what you were doing?” Porter had replied like a typical organization-man. He said, “Group pressure. I was afraid of not being considered a team player.”
The message from that vignette is that integrity must be promoted and treasured more because teachers and leaders need to speak up when things are wrong. This is change in the images of teachers and school administrators will be difficult to actualize, but the educational system in America finds itself slipping backwards, and educators know all-too-well that high recognition in Americans communities is not all that common (as it should be). This is why I suggest that integrity promotion efforts be used to spin our stories better in Washington, D.C., in Jefferson City, in Topeka, and across the continent. Let me explain why increasing our projected image of integrity (and related improvements in conflict resolution skills) have to be promoted at all levels of governance and politics by adults in the U.S. educational system.
Many in the intergovernmental fields of education are caught up in a large variety of pressures as each new decade enfolds. On the one hand, educators (especially those seen as leaders) are asked to strive for integrity. On the other hand, longitivity in any politicized position often requires that one strive must strive for a niche of popularity. Likewise, there is a survival mechanism in play, too. If we fight too often for what we value to be right all of the time, we will burn out.
Likewise, if we always try to be the mediator-type, we will be called wishy-washy and suspected more often of being dishonest or lacking in priorities. As well, the superintendent or principal who tries to be popular may burn out, too, especially because of his losing his own faith in his own values or his ability t lead or persuade. On the other hand, integrity is almost automatically questioned these days putting principals and superintendents under defensive pressures from all directions (pressures from staff, students or parents and pressures from outside the school district, as from state or federal officials).
On the one hand, in the wake of NCLB, school districts around the country have been criticized for fudging data reports on high stakes exams. Others are called incompetent and liars if they try and explain what is wrong with either the top-down approaches in the political education environment they are working in and when they try to explain why information is not bubbling up from teachers and students to head offices and State Boards of Education. Still other district leaders and teachers have been criticized for not speaking up when something is wrong.
For example, here is a quote from a Georgetown-led evaluation team on reform through the expansion of charter schools in Washington, D.C. The report, entitled The Muzzled Dog that Didn’t Bark: Charter Schools and the Behavioral Response of D.C. Public Schools, and was written by Sullivan, Campbell and Kisida (2008). The team wrote, “While most people realize that something is not working in the public school system in D.C., the response from all parties appears to be muted. One might liken this situation to a watchdog that neglects to bark upon witnessing a disturbance in its home. Playing on this analogy, our research suggests that the bureaucracy endemic to the D.C. public school system serves as a muzzle to prevent the dog from barking. Before the dog can bark, the District must find a way to remove the muzzle.”
In this example (above) of criticism of school bureaucrats and authorities in Washington, D.C., Sullivan, Campbell and Kisida describe often how administrators tend to blame unions and others for the problems they face in calls from all sides for implementation school reforms. Nonetheless, one of the biggest problems in schools, school districts, and in education across America is that vertical and horizontal communication is much poorer than it should be. If teachers don’t understand the concerns of principals and if principals cannot make their concerns understood by the district’s board of education, then progress will be minimal nationwide—no matter how much money is thrown around and how many new general or specific education programs are created in the U.S.A. Most importantly, the federal government- and the state-levels’ approaches of layering new programs on top of old ones, may simply cover up problems–and as a whole damages the integrity of most people involved in decision making or leadership roles in the school district. In short, integrity matters.
Sullivan, et al. note, concerning charter school growth, that “[w]hile the District’s leadership has not done an optimal job of motivating many stakeholders, feedback from the principals we spoke with indicates a strong degree of attention to the competitive model. Principals are aware of enrollment declines and the potential for school closures as a result. Thus they are cognizant of the impact that such declines have on their job security. Given the efforts that some principals make to attract students, it appears that principals are responding to competition for pupils. If anyone is held accountable for maintaining student enrollment levels, it is principals.” In short, integrity for principals means success in the area of reforms. Real integrity, however, means not cooking the books when evaluations of the school are undertaken.
Sullivan, et al. (2010) continued, “On the other hand, this attention to accountability does not reach the teachers that principals supervise. Despite teachers’ awareness of enrollment trends, as profiled above, there is little personal incentive for them to attempt to retain students—the fact that their school is losing students should, in the simplest sense, make their jobs easier. Furthermore, many teachers questioned the nature of the competitive model. Some showed animosity towards charters, describing the charter movement as an attempt to put public schools out of business. As one teacher opined, ‘They want us to fail. They want to close these public schools.’”
In short, an adversarial and closed mouth community within a school districts is not helpful but, rather, encourages negative pressures to conform at all costs—including painting the school as more successful than it is in some areas while never facing real causes of non-learning head on. However, I should note that his inability to communicate in an appropriate manner goes for the state and federal legislative and executive branches in America, too. “One teacher [In Washington, D.C.] discussed her doubts in the political motivations behind the [charter school and NCLB] movement[s], stating, “I think a lot of people are using us from the [Capitol] Hill as a guinea pig to see what they can push here so they can go home and try to replicate it back in their districts.”
Naturally, informed teachers most definitely need to make their voices and experience better understood by political educational leaders in and out of their school districts. Articles, like the one I discussed in my second assignment by Catherine Garrison and Michael Ehringhaus explain to middle school leaders across America what needs to be done from the teachers level onwards in the face of calls for unwarranted over-assessment mandated at higher levels of government. Garrison and Michael Ehringhaus suggestions are more helpful than simply complaining that Washington is not listening and simply muzzling oneself. Likewise, schools, districts, and the DOE (and SBOE) need to offer better vertical communication from bottom-rung teaching staff, in order to enable brilliant and important concepts and practices to make there way into the news media locally, statewide, and nationwide.
Blogs, like these (below) are helpful and a start , but blogs for teachers are not enough. Teachers and administrators must take the high ground of raising the level of integrity shared by members in our profession–and thereby challenge what is wrong in the system, i.e. a massive lack of communication and coordination.
A promotion of school integrity essential for raising the status of all professionals.. Teachers, principals, and other district leaders should go on an offensive that reveals their integrity in straight talking to the local, state and federal intergovernmental leadership. This integrity offensive will involve speaking up and speaking the truth as well as demands good mediation and communication skills. Leaders that don’t have these skills need to acquire them, especially the conflict resolution skills, which have been deemphasized in administration masters’ and doctorate programs until recently.
Likewise, teachers should not hold their tongues about hot topics, like immigration, issues of too many ELLs in a classroom, and the underdevelopment (and lowering of) educational standards. All such controversial issues will eventually need to be discussed more widely in the press. Therefore, when the news of such issues are in the press, qualified teachers-with-lots-of-integrity need to be the ones giving their input. Another example of a hot topic are the problems of bullying in middle schools, especially with bullies who put down academics and put down academically-motivated students, need to be stopped. By standing up for students who are strongly interested in education, parents will come to see that teachers and school districts mean business. This allowing students to learn in the classroom must be given more weight by teachers. Students with categorical state support who do not wish to learn need to have pressure put on both them and their parents to take this lack of zeal for learning more seriously.
Moreover, the over-regulation of schools needs to be brought to a stop as well. Let’s talk about state and national rules about student attendance, for example.
A few years ago, one Dodge City principle started up a very effective policy of allowing those high school students who were passing their classes and doing their home work (before school) to go home early during the school-wide study hall at the end of each day. Soon most everyone was completing their homework before class.
However, some local administrators and outsiders contacted Topeka, and soon the successful project run by that particular Dodge City principal was halted. Students quickly returned to not doing their homework, and study hall returned to being a waste of time for many. In short, overly-mandating school attendance based on contact hours in school is not the best way to motivate many students anywhere on the planet. Such basic educational mandates need to be called into question by teachers, principals, and legislators. Flexibility in solving local problems need to be permitted and encouraged in different school districts and communities.
In conclusion, if teachers and principals are not emboldened to speak truth to state leaders and to help motivate students to learn, what are the points of all these different expensive reform efforts nationally? Without more cooperation across the board, no reform will demonstrate permanence.
Garrison, Catherine & Ehringhaus, Michael (2010) Formative and summative
assessments in the classroom, National Middle School Association, http://www.nmsa.org/Publications/WebExclusive/Assessment/tabid/1120/Default.aspx
Kirst, Michael W. & Wirt, Frederick M.(2010) , The Political Dynamics
of American Education, (4th Edition), Richmond, CA: McCutchan,
Sullivan, Margaret D., Campbell, Dean B., & Kisida, Brian (2008) The muzzled dog
that didn’t bark: charter schools and the behavioral response of D.C. public schools, http://hpi.georgetown.edu/scdp/files/MuzzledDog.pdf