How to Improve School Decision-Making
are a lot of things going on in our school that I don't agree with, and I know
other parents and teachers don't like them, either. How do busy parents go
about finding out why certain decisions are made, and how do we influence the
decision-making process more effectively?
You have to stay on your toes,
because bad data flow, fraud, stupidity, and any number of other factors can
cause bad decision-making in schools, the way they can in the private sector,
other government operations, and anywhere people are involved.
But specifically, in education,
these conditions can contribute to bad leadership:
-- Educators tend to be
reactionaries. They are usually "people persons" who tend to be more sensitive,
rather than less, and so they often overreact to stimuli and demands.
-- Educators are often meek, mild,
compliance-minded people, rather than bold, confident, innovators who aren't
afraid to bend the rules when the rules need to be bent.
-- They tend to be "clubby" and
self-isolating; even their marriages tend to be to other educators; they hang
out mostly with other educators and don't gain the breadth of business
understanding and experience that comes from having friends and associates who
are in a broad range of other lines of work.
-- They tend to recruit school-board
members to run for office whose chief qualities are loyalty and enthusiasm - a
prominent doctor's wife, an aspiring politician, a busy sales executive on the
lookout for lucrative school contracts - rather than business, management and
finance experience as befit someone who is supposed to hold school
Consider these bad business
decisions in school situations:
small Midwestern school district experienced an enrollment bulge in two grades.
Administrators used the opportunity to make a 10-year projection based on that
bulge to justify a multimillion dollar school construction project. They said
the trends indicated that student enrollment would double over the next 15
years and that the district had to prepare. Luckily, there were business people
on the school board, and after a more professional analysis of the data, it was
determined that the projections were bogus; the district barely avoided
building a huge new school. As it turns out, enrollment has declined 45% over
the last decade.
n In early summer 2005, voters in
Clark County, Nev., were treated to a tour of their school district's new $14.5
million administration building. It has a marble foyer, three kitchens, several
showers, a conference room with plush furniture, leopard-skin carpet, $500,000
worth of art and furniture, even remote-controlled curtains in the executive
suite . . . but no space large enough to hold a school-board meeting. No one on
the school board had raised so much as a whimper of protest or questioned a
cent of the expenditures.
n A homemaker asked to serve on a
district's calendar committee listened to administrators present a case for
changing to year-round schooling, and asked for the data proving that students
learned more on a year-round calendar. She was handed a box of clippings from
popular magazines, brochures from consultants, and propaganda from the
year-round education organization. She learned that there WAS no data behind the
district's push for this hugely expensive change. That kind of
smoke-and-mirrors approach does not work very often, if at all, in the private
sector, where executives are more accountable to stockholders. Fortunately, she
was able to sway the rest of the committee away from what would have been a
disastrous experiment. But it left her wondering how many other big decisions
were being made based on opinions and administrator wishes rather than what's
best for kids.
the answer? Vigilance on the part of parents and taxpayers just like you.
Contact your school board members; get to know them; become active in your
parent-teacher organization; encourage other parents and taxpayers to start
attending school board meetings, serving on district committees, and speaking
out. At election time, hold candidate coffees in your home and cover important
topics like the percentage of kids in your district who can't read at grade
level, or pension underfunding, or a high percentage of graduates from your
district who have to take remedial courses in college. Don't get "snowed" by
the same sorts of things that can yield bad decisions in schools. Instead, help
create an environment where good ones are the norm!
interesting work on educational administration and how it needs to change its
management and planning practices in the book Why Johnny Can't Think: The Other Achievement Gap, by Tony Wagner
of Harvard University's graduate school of education, due out in 2008.