Why public-school structure fosters fear and failure for administrators, teachers and students

“We’ve called for your observation,” Principal Brown said to Oliver, “and for some reason they won’t give it to us. And our admin is very upset because we need that observation before we actually give you one.” (Emphasis added.)

In light of later developments in Oliver’s story, multiple terms in that statement — “our admin,” “very upset,” and “we need that observation before we actually give you one” — merit much closer examination.

— from Part 4: What went down at Treem ES

Let us examine that statement, element by element.

  1. ‘Our admin’: In context, this term clearly suggests the involvement of a midlevel district administrator — someone above the Beckley principal and vice principal, but somewhere below the level of the CCSD superintendent. Either Beckley’s administrators contacted that midlevel administrator for instructions, or the midlevel manager contacted Beckley to ensure a particular course of action was followed. In either case, it reveals some measure of administrator concern.
  2. ‘very upset’: In using this term, Beckley’s principal revealed that Oliver’s new presence was producing even more than a modicum of anxiety within some administrators. While we don’t know what exactly triggered that anxiety, or with whom it was primarily located — within Beckley‘s administrators, within the midlevel district manager or with the district superintendent — it is clear that alarm bells were ringing. On the face of it, it was the midlevel manager feeling the most pressure. Was that pressure coming from above — to, specifically, ensure that the “dirty” Treem observation remained in Oliver’s personnel folder? Was that how CCSD managers planned to “disappear” Oliver from the district? That indeed, followed in due course — forestalling, for almost two years, the public revelations of the district’s grading corruption.
  3. ‘We need that observation before we actually give you one’: This sentence — like the somewhat-bizarre operating rule it expresses — highlights the existing rigidity of CCSD’s administrative culture (even in the face of ostensible directives from a new district superintendent). It reveals how firmly institutionalized is the lack of principal discretion, and thus its consequence: the subtle fear that pervades administrative ranks. Principals, vice principals and midlevel managers all come to realize the vulnerability of their careers in a frequently corrupt district — whether from those in the hierarchy above them, or from those below, ultimately in the ranks of idealistic, unhappy or even possibly whistleblowing, teachers.

The Gap

Such anxiety — in an intrinsically political (because ultimately government) organization — is a natural byproduct of the large gap between how CCSD and other massive school districts present themselves to the public, and what they’ve actually become.

Their self-description, of course, is that they are educational institutions. But, as this report will show — and most Americans in recent decades have more and more come to understand — the actual education of students is today increasingly only a secondary or even tertiary goal, among the many others pursued by the modern, heavily bureaucratized and regulated public-school state monopolies.

Speaking practically, their actual primary function and goal is to simply continue collecting and spending public money for the personal benefit of all those employed by the monopolies — quite independently of whether or not those moneys actually accomplish the purpose for which these state monopolies were even first formed.

These monopoly districts, thus, are primarily administrative institutions, within which a distinct administrative class, while anxious, still reigns supreme. And while its nominal role is to facilitate and foster student learning, in practice that is defined as the administrators directing and controlling a clearly subordinate class — still known as “teachers” — in the implementation upon students of detailed instructional regimes blanket-approved by state politicians but concocted by distant, tinkering, ideological enthusiasts.

Of these instructional regimes, the often-dysfunctional, already failing, Common Core State Standards initiative is only the latest example. In Nevada as elsewhere, it was imposed by oblivious, herd-following state-level politicians and careerist bureaucrats. Eager to conform to the latest unproven, fad-borne “fix” for public education’s chronic failures, they thereby get to look “good,” while keeping their public jobs.

For the distant tinkerers, however, their goal and enthusiasm is clear: even more national and unified control over the education of America’s young.

That’s about as far away as one can get from the better-informed viewpoints of the primary experts on, and advocates for, young students’ individual needs and learning natures — their parents.

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