There is no question in my mind that "wealthy" suburban municipalities have school systems that are the victims of "predatory" management and vendors.
The administrators, consultants, publishing companies (selling curriculum) and every layer of union, specialists etc. have contributed their portion of excessive profit taking to leave us with a torrent of spending resulting in bloat, and little to no accountability for results.
A generalization that fits here....
Our schools appear to be high quality because our children are simply high performing (in general) and come from households which are education oriented, set high expectations and are involved and assertive in their child's learning. For the most part, you could put this profile of child in almost any school, and they will do well.
I have some cynical views on how we the "powers that be" spend our money - mostly on visible items like themselves (sharp/well spoken/well dressed) infrastructure, equipment (fancy exercise rooms, fields and theaters and smart-boards), because these give the appearance of quality and visually represent "progress." Yet, our curriculum is gutted, there is little to no investment in the soft/invisible skills delivered by humanities, art and critical reasoning, exposure by travel to the great city we live, museums etc.
You get the picture.
Barring those important educational aspects, the school day is reduced to a form of day care where state tests are the focus. Again...you know the rest. That puts us on a vicious loop of paying extraordinary taxes for little beyond what any other school can offer educationally - without all the bloat. Correcting this is the the principal behind Charter Schools.
I have some ideas on how to pick-away at this, and it involves very concrete steps using novel approaches form technology...
First crowd-source community help to...
1) Translate all state mandates and laws governing schools into plain English. This way the community can defend itself every time the Administrators and come Board member invoke inertia in the name of "well it's the law" or "it's NY mandate." We as a community should know those rules better than they do.
2) Create a Benchmarking group or citizens from like and non-like communities with high performing schools and low performing schools to uncover what goes right and what goes wrong. We are way too much in a vacuum.
3) Create another team that looks for visionary, unorthodox ways to deliver great results with little spending. There are example all over the country of great leaps in education by making small changes no one thought of.
4) This is risky and counter-intuitive: Do challenge the budgets, hold back money and where appropriate, encourage communities to vote no, because if the money dries up, the vultures will leave.
5) Create regular surveys to act as plebiscites and referendums to steer the school's philosophical direction in line with the community. Today it is a disconnected space ship answering to the great Oz.
You cold have a volunteer group report everything up to the board in open community meetings every month, so as to distill the info gathered, and present it as workable ideas that can be voted on to implement.
Study how Giuliani and Bloomberg neutered the unions in NY, because they will always be a challenge here. I would also make a very public showing of removing the "Union Free" name in our schools. It's misleading, and the unions hide behind it. I would go as far as calling them Union based schools. They won't be able to hide. You will be amazed how many people don't know we have a very strong union to answer to over there, even though it's our money. They dictate to us. I am not anti-union, but I am very anti- lack of progress and results and a very high cost. They are part of the problem if they don't allow the teachers the flexibility that many of them want to further our kids along. With few exceptions, we have good educators and they deserve our support. The Administration, Union, NYS and even sometimes the Board is often in their way. They deserve our support. I'd love to see them all get raises (with less ongoing Health and Retirement Benefits - sorry, join the rest of us!), and way less to the Administrators.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
answering to the great Oz
from a parent: