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School Management        < Previous        Next >


Managing Change in Schools


Q. Sometimes when our school staff members try to introduce something new, it just seems real faddish and kind of wacky. They usually use emotional manipulation to get what they want, and are very light on facts and figures. Consequently, our school has done a lot of stuff that doesn't work. A few years later, they quietly go back to the way it used to be. I don't see a lot of businesses changing as often as the schools seem to do. I'm not against change, but I am against change that makes things worse, not better. How can we fool-proof our school managers a little better?


Unwise change in public school settings comes down to human pride, for the most part. School administrators and educational regulators want to justify their own jobs, so they think if they do a lot of "administering" or "regulating" they can make it seem like they're really busy and therefore deserving of high pay.


Administering or regulating, to them, means changing what is in place. It's challenging, because as a group, educators haven't liked change very much over the years. A whole lot of it has been forced on them in recent years by the increasing bane of school management's existence, the "unfunded mandate" from state and federal governments. Unfortunately, a lot of sound educational practices have gone out the window in the name of "change." That makes rank-and-file educators suspicious of the next change that comes down the pike.


The problem is, school administrators bring a lot of the problems on themselves with unwise changes. When they overmanage, add new programs on their own hunches or because of peer pressure from their colleagues in other districts, or succumb to "mission creep" and get schools involved in all sorts of nonacademic new programs, it's often out of their own pride and desire for feathering their own nests and empire-building, instead of focusing on cost-efficiencies and doing what's truly best for kids and their families.


That's exactly why we don't have tried-and-true, traditional reading and math instruction in our grade schools. There isn't a shred of evidence that all the newfangled, New Age, Whole Language and Whole Math philosophies work, but they are considered "new," and therefore, somehow, "better" than what has worked well for centuries.


A lot of the things school managers often work hardest to change seem to cost more money and require more staffing, but don't appear to help learning any more than the old methods did, if that. Examples: cooperative group learning, multiage grouping, year-round school, early start times in high schools, ending math drills in grade schools, allowing calculators on standardized tests, and so forth and so on.


But when you ask them for proof that shows that this new method, curriculum or style has worked well on a large scale in other schools, they get really defensive, and boom! You get labeled as a "troublemaker," and your child may suffer. That's because the realities of political gamesmanship in a public school often lead to bad things happening to the children of people who openly question or criticize top management. Suddenly, your child doesn't "make" the gifted program, or doesn't "make" cheerleading, or starts getting bullied or ostracized by children whose parents are on the school board or work for the school district.


But the alternative - letting bad change and unwise decision-making happen without speaking out against them out of fear - is unacceptable to most good citizens, too.


How can parents keep school staff members accountable for making only the changes that will really work, without risking harm to themselves or their children?


Become an article clip-and-send activist! Identify the 10 or 12 most important issues in your school or your district, either current or upcoming, and start culling quality education publications for fact-packed articles about them. Photocopy and share with important others. You could even take it upon yourself to educate your local education reporters with this practice. Sign your name and make a comment or point out when the pertinent issue will be coming up in your district, but mostly, keep your opinions and criticisms to yourself, and use the facts and opinions gathered by others to do your talking for you.


Homework: A subscription to Education Week ( could be purchased by your parent-teacher organization and a parent's job during the year could be to clip, copy, and send important articles on issues in your district to parents, teachers, administrators and school board members. That's basically a pro-government, pro-university, pro-big spending education publication; be sure to watch moderate and conservative publications regularly, too, including the Eagle Forum's education newspaper ( and


By Susan Darst Williams School Management 03 2008


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