Guard the Local Control in Education Reform

I notice that Mike, of Assigned Reading, is cynical about the ratcheting up of consequences for failing schools that Andrew mentioned yesterday. Here’s Mike:

This is why education bureaucrats drive me crazy. Today Commissioner Deborah Gist announced that five schools in Providence have been performing so poorly for so long that the Department of Education is stepping in. Radical change is being mandated that could result in the closing of these schools. And how does Superintendent Tom Brady respond? … My best translation: We have utterly failed, but offer no apology, and are pleased that someone else will now be making the decisions.

Mike goes on to wonder why, if there’s such enthusiasm among education leaders who face the new reforms, the schools have been allowed to deteriorate so drastically. Andrew emphasizes an arguably contrary perspective:

Significantly, unlike the usual RI options, these new options involve making changes directly at the individual school level. The message is that schools, as a fundamental unit of education, matter.

One could cast the statements to which Mike objects as precisely what one would expect from bureaucrats; they can’t exactly proclaim the untranslated message. Still the subtext of the interactions — the projected submissiveness of highly paid professionals with substantial responsibility — is important. That’s why I find this news vaguely disconcerting:

PAWTUCKET — The quest for a new school superintendent is getting more attention than usual.
The search committee that convenes Tuesday will include the usual School Committee representatives as members, but also Mayor James E. Doyle and Deborah A. Gist, the state commissioner of education.

It may be that I’m making too much of it, but it seems to me that the inclusion of Commissioner Gist on such a committee is a signal of obsequiousness. Perhaps she’ll favor a district whose leadership she helped select, but it would be in the nature of a powerful person to expect the controlling influence to continue beyond the date of hire.
Is anybody in Rhode Island educational sufficiently motivated and confident to enunciate an understanding of the real problems of the system and declare an intention to address them without the intervention of a state-level appointed official? Commissioner Gist may do wonderful things for education in Rhode Island, but (one) she won’t hold the seat forever, and (two) when it becomes clear that policy decisions rest not with local elected officials accountable to the people of the municipality, but to an unelected director, the strategies of the people behind the current mess will change, with the prize being more-direct and less-correctable control.

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14 years ago

I am not cynical of the “ratcheting up of consequences for failing schools”. In fact, I’m excited that schools will be able, finally, to make the significant changes needed. My cynicism is directed towards bureaucrats who act as though this is a reward, rather than lowering their heads in shame at the failure under their watch. Providence administrators continue to micromanage the city schools, mandating district-wide programs and structures that clearly fail these children.
Also, I think Gist is being aggressive, which I appreciate. She must use her power to restore decision-making to individual school communities, not insert herself in this role. Serving on the superintendent search committee is a big mistake and truly worries me, or should I say, makes me cynical.

Dick Tuck
Dick Tuck
14 years ago

That fatuous bullfrog Flanders has to go…..

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