The League of Education Voters is trying to co-opt dissent by creating a campaign called Education Revolution and using a lot of incendiary language and images, but not taking any action.
It got me thinking about what the Revolution really is or should be. Help me clarify my thinking on this.
I think that the Revolution is about re-defining and re-purposing the District's central functions and responsibilities. The change will come when the role of the central administration is defined. What do we want the District’s central administration to do? And what DON’T we want them to do?
Ideally, the District's headquarters will take responsibility for everything that isn't better decided at the school building level. They should relieve the school staff of those duties. They should:
1) Provide centralized services when those services are commodities and can achieve economies of scale. For example, HR functions, facilities maintenance, data warehousing, contracting, food service (to some extent), procurement, accounting, and transportation.
2) Provide centralized services when those functions require expertise outside of academic expertise. For example, management of capital projects and grantwriting.
3) Provide for District level non-academic administration. For example, policymaking, program placement, enrollment, student assignment, legal services, communications, IT support, fundraising, and executive functions.
Those are the normal boring things. I don't imagine there is any contention around centralizing these efforts or having them conducted at the district level. The next few things, however, are at the root of the revolution and speak to the relationship between the District and the schools. They also speak to the District's involvement in academics.
4) Provide compliance assurance. The District should confirm that students in each classroom in each school are being taught the grade level curriculum (at a minimum). The District should confirm compliance with IDEA and other laws, confirm compliance with collective bargaining agreements, confirm compliance with grant agreements, and confirm compliance with District Policies. Here in Seattle the District not only doesn't do these things, the District isn't interested in doing these things.
5) Provide quality assurance. The District should have some way of confirming that the students who need support are getting support. I’m talking about individual students – not schools. The District should have some way of confirming that the students who need additional challenge are getting that challenge. The District should confirm the quality and efficacy of programs. Here in Seattle, the District not only isn't doing these things, the District isn't even interested in doing these things.
6) Provide curricular guidance. The District should have a few people who are expert in the various disciplines (math, science, language arts, P.E., art, etc.) who will shape the District-approved curriculum - and, by this, I mean the body of knowledge and skills that students are expected to acquire in each discipline at each grade level. These experts should convene meetings of teachers from around the district to keep them informed about innovations in their discipline and to share best practices. They should also have a role in professional development. Procuring it, not providing it. They could and should do some coaching when teacher performance needs bolstering (not when student performance is low). Here in Seattle the District has gone too far with this effort. They should guide, not dictate, and they should set the outcomes, but not mandate the means.
7) Provide corrections as necessary. It isn't enough for the District to note failings in quality or compliance. The District needs to take steps to address those failings when they are identified. Here in Seattle, the District not only isn't doing these things, the District isn't even interested in doing these things.
In all of these cases, the District should set the expectations for outcomes and rigidly enforce them, but should not intervene with the methods unless the school either requests the assistance or proves incapable of developing their own effective practices.
It seems to me that the revolution should be about creating a smaller central administration with a more narrowly defined role but a more meaningful role. It's about a School Board that acts less like cheerleaders and more like auditors. It's about a district leadership that cares less about internal politics and more about kids. It's about a district leadership that sees students instead of schools. It's about a district leadership that can distinguish between statistics and reality.