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

Thus, while the nominal purpose for the funds that state legislators allocate to districts is to ensure an educated citizenry, control over the use of those taxpayer dollars is kept away from the particular portion of the citizenry that is most motivated to accomplish that very purpose.

Instead, in the political dogfight over spoils, it is the districts’ administrative class that ends up with the most effective control of those funds — which leads, unsurprisingly, to that class itself reaping the primary financial benefit of those state funds.

For such a regime to endure within a nominal democracy where public schools have been failing families for decades, is, thus, a citizen-provoking anomaly. To bridge it, some process of public disinformation — miseducation, if you will — is clearly required.

Toward that end, various public myths have been fostered and reinforced, keeping the public itself distracted, ignorant and oblivious as to the systemic causes of the chronic failure of their public-school tax dollars.

Let’s examine one critically important myth that still persists — decades after the reality behind it changed — having to do with principals.

While the public tends to assume that public-school principals are essentially lords of their domains, with authority over virtually all that goes on within their schools, that’s actually not the case.

Instead, they’re much more controlled creatures of rule-bound bureaucracies, and thus vulnerable to the random political blowups that can suddenly nuke a public-school administrator’s career.

As John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe showed in an important analysis of the structural conditions within which most public education nowadays operates, public-school principals are systematically denied much of what it takes to actually provide education leadership for the schools they nominally run:

It may be better to think of the public-school principal as a lower-level manager than as a leader. In the public sector, the principal is a bureaucrat with supervisory responsibility for a public agency. Most of the important decisions about policy have been taken by higher authorities: they set the goals and the principal is expected to administer them. Many of the important structural decisions are also taken by higher authorities: the principal is bound by all sorts of formal rules and regulations that dictate aspects of internal structure. And many of the important personnel decisions are imposed from above as well: the principal is unlikely to have much control over the choice of teachers or the incentives that motivate them. The real leaders of the public school are the authorities, not the principal. (Emphasis added.)

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