Sunday, April 17, 2005

Oh Right... It Must Be Bush's Fault

My mom is a Kindergarten teacher in another district. She told me all about the problems they're having with the implementation of No Child Left Behind.

For those just tuning in, a little background: I did not support NCLB when it first was proposed, not because I didn't think education needed improvement (ha!) but because I didn't think it would accomplish that as written. Nevertheless it is now the law of the land, so we deal with it.

Unfortunately, some district officials (including those at my mom's district) have decided to deal with it by passing the entire buck on to the teachers. Instead of respecting the teachers as professionals that would love nothing better than to have all their students learn, and seeking the teachers' input, these officials dream up crazy programs which they dump on the teachers without thinking for one minute how the teachers are going to implement these on top of all the other pre-NCLB crazy programs they already had dumped on them. Instead of seeing their job as giving the teachers the support they need to do a better job, administrators content themselves with yelling at teachers to "do a better job, and while you're at it do it this way."

It's no wonder teachers are frustrated and find themselves unable to comply with all the requirements. I don't blame them for being frustrated-- it would take much less than that to get me to the point where I'd throw in the towel. In fact, it took much less than that, because I decided not to be a teacher after I subbed for a while and saw the way "the system" was set up for teachers to fail at their job. The teachers who maintain professionalism in the face of all this crap are true saints. But it really bothers me when they blame their woes on NCLB, as if without NCLB they would be allowed to do their jobs without interference from the state or district at all. The biggest problem teachers have right now is the same problem that they had ten years ago when I decided not to be one: nosy, dictatorial administrators. NCLB is just their latest excuse.

You can't blame NCLB for people like the guy who's driving the teachers at my mom's school nuts, a guy who, when he had a problem with a teacher bringing a file into the meeting, took the file away and chastised the teacher publicly for bringing it. You can't blame NCLB for a principal who refuses to make decisions in her own school without input from her supervisor at the district, a woman who was so noncommittal that she made an entire conversation out of the law of the excluded middle. You can't blame NCLB for administrators who, when faced with a challenge, do the same thing they've always done when faced with a challenge: make up a program and foist all the paperwork for it on the teachers.

School districts and teachers' unions need to take a long, hard look at why the administration is so devoid of the most basic leadership skills that are Business 101. Part of the problem is hiring and firing policies that are union-endorsed. In some districts, being an administrator is the only way teachers can get a raise, so the job attracts people with few leadership skills instead of lots of leadership skills. In some localities it's practically impossible to fire bad teachers or administrators. Part of the problem is teachers being denied merit pay and "hazardous duty" pay-- if they could get more money by being good teachers, there wouldn't be so much incentive to get into an administrative job for which a candidate is unsuited. And then there's the financial incentive problem at the district level-- unlike businesses, school districts do not have any incentive to put their best leaders at the top of the organization. If you've been the most incompetent leader for twenty years, you're ahead of a better leader who's only been in for ten.

As long as teachers keep supporting this sort of stuff (my mom still defends her union even though she disagrees with practically everything they stand for), they are going to have the system that's the natural consequence of it. And somehow, this is supposed to be the fault of NCLB and, by extension, President Bush??