Design for ignorance

Two weeks ago,  I attended a School  Board  work session with the intention of writing a news article.  I was a bit uncertain exactly what might be discussed, since the sole item on the public agenda was a presentation on “Design for Excellence 2020”, by Donna Dalton, of the CCPS staff.

Having spent three decades around public education, I rather suspected that this meeting might contain a higher-than-usual proportion of nonsense.  “Design for Excellence” could mean anything, but in ed-speak, it sounded suspiciously like one of those new initiatives ambitious administrators like to introduce every few years.

I was not disappointed.  Nonsense abounded,  

“Design for Excellence” might better be called “Design for Ignorance”.  Chesterfield’s schools are about to embark on a decade-long initiative which will, at best, result in a lot of wasted time and money.  At worst, it might do nearly as much damage as the SOLs.

In this column, and those to follow, I’d like to set forth my reasons for believing that “Design  for Excellence” will be an educational disaster.  Doing so will involve two things.

First, I’m going to have to provide a fair amount of background for readers who haven’t lived inside the world of public education.  It will help if you’ve worked for another big bureaucracy - corporate, ecclesiastical, military, etc. - but it’s still going to test your sense of the limits of human silliness.

Second, I’m going to have to give up writing news articles about school board matters.  There’s no way to say what I sincerely think about “Design  for Excellence” and retain any pretense of objectivity.  

But then, it’s hard to be objective about silliness that will detrimentally affect thousands of teachers and tens of thousands of kids.

So let’s begin.

When I was teaching, we faculty grunts knew what to think of new educational initiatives handed down from on high.  We called them “nifty stuff”.  Only the second word wasn’t actually “stuff”.

Most of us dreaded these initiatives, because we knew we were going to waste a lot of precious time on something that wouldn’t help us do our jobs.  Of course, there were always a few teachers - mostly newbies or sycophants - who professed great excitement over the “nifty stuff”.   I’m sure there  are eager beavers like that in every bureaucratic organization.  

And I’m sure most of the grunts - the front-line folks who do the actual work - wish, in their secret hearts, to strangle them.

At any rate, in education, most initiatives begin with a big production number during the week before school.  There’s usually a motivational speaker, to get the teachers excited about whatever new educational technique or technology is supposed to fix everything.

Often, too, there’s an expert - defined as someone from out of town with an advanced degree, a PowerPoint presentation, and a profound case of amnesia about the few years they actually spent in a classroom.  

Following the big kick-off, there will be a year in which teachers devote every in-service day to nifty training sessions which would insult the intelligence of the Dora the Explorer crowd. 

(Unsurprisingly, a lot of teachers have medical and dental appointments on those in-service days.)

After the training ends, there will usually be a few years of reminders - mostly from Central Office staff who have to justify their salaries.  But gradually, the teachers will get back doing to the same things they’ve always done - which usually works pretty well.

Until the next initiative.

Now, if you’re reading this with a sense of disbelief, I don’t blame you.  Until I became a teacher, I had no idea how much time and money could be wasted on sheer silliness - or with what heavy-handedness that silliness could be imposed.

But it happens.  And, since it’s about to happen to every teacher, student and - by extension - parent in Chesterfield, it’s important to understand why.

The first thing to understand is the necessity for superintendents to justify their plump salaries while preparing for the next rung on their personal career ladders.

The second thing to understand is the urgent need of university education schools to justify their existence.  

The third thing to understand is the increasing involvement of Federal and state politicians, who seek to seem relevant by enacting mandates which affect how our classrooms operate.

The final thing to understand  is this:  In our schools, essentially everything that happens which actually results in learning, happens in a classroom - or in the relationships between a building principal and a faculty.    

In other words, the key players  in education are teachers and school principals.  All the research says so.  Superintendents, central office staffs, ed school professors, and politicians have about as much to do with actual teaching and learning as the man in the Moon.

But sadly, educrats, researchers and politicians have the power to make life difficult for the overworked, underpaid grunts who actually teach our kids.

Comments

Design for ignorance

As usual, Mr. Gray hits the nail squarely on the head.

Back in October, I sent an e-mail to the CCPS's Community Relations Department asking, among other things, why CCPS changed its internet url from "schools.chesterfield.k12.va.us" to the current "mychesterfieldschools.com" instead.

The answer came in classic eduspeak: "This was done as part of a branding exercise to continue our efforts to engage parents and community members as invested stakeholders who have an ownership in our students' success."

As lame as that answer might have been, at least they had the courtesy to reply. By contrast, I cannot get the principal of my children's middle school to so much as answer even the most basic of questions that I e-mail to him. I have had to elevate four simple questions to his supervisors (one last year and three this year) after my inquiries languished 3 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks, and four *months* without any reply whatsoever.

I can only hope that the principal is more responsive to his teachers than he is to parents. If not, then under the precept advanced by Mr. Gray ("...essentially everything that happens which actually results in learning, happens in a classroom - or in the relationships between a building principal and a faculty"), any hope for my children lies entirely with the teachers and *not* the principal.

P.S. What happened to the arithmetical CAPTCHA? I much preferred that to the text CAPTCHA.

I have been in education for

I have been in education for many years and could not agree with you more!,, I have always said I would be glad to stake my education fom 50 years ago against anything they are doing now! I learned to think, read, speak proper Englsh and do math in my head. I learned to show respect and to behave. And I was blamed for my mistakes... Not my teacher!! We need to raise the status of teachers back to what it was and let them teach!
Parents need to be held accountable for their kids! They need to make sure their kids do their homework, get to bed at a reasonable time, eat dinner and a good breakfast. If that isn't done, teachers can't do their jobs. Thank you, Rick, for voicing your opinion!! Every teacher in the county should applaud your efforts!!

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