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

The rise of rule-following bureaucrats

The reality is that successive generations of politicians — for over a century — have ever-increasingly made principals into rule-following bureaucrats, rather than education leaders. Note Chubb and Moe:

Authorities want principals to ensure that formal hierarchical directives are put into effect; they do not want principals to exercise real discretion. The public system is set up accordingly. The position of principal is a bureaucratic office in a recognized hierarchy of offices. (Emphasis added.)

Consequently, although much of the public still tends to see principals as leaders who determine how successful their schools will be, in today’s state systems those expectations are not realistic. Not only has autonomy been largely engineered out of the principal’s position, but the selective processes of administration-centric systems also work to keep natural teacher-leaders out of those positions to begin with.

Because teacher-leaders not only need autonomy but also the discretion to serve the individual instructional needs of students, their mere existence threatens the basic admin principle of control.

Thus, we arrive at today’s rule-bound, bureaucratic systems that reflexively kill the love of learning in both teachers and students. The politically-correct imposition of Common Core — now increasingly recognized as a debacle that has damaged student learning — is a classic case in point.

The gap between pretense & reality yields cheating

Given the major gap between the pretense and reality of so many modern public-school systems — think of the recent frauds documented in Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago, to start — it’s little wonder that bureaucracy-bound administrators can easily find themselves at risk, personally.

Under heavy pressure from higher-ups to show excellent student-achievement results — but lacking the personal leadership attributes, training, teachers, students and school cultures that would yield such results — principals, in the age of educationist “accountability,” can easily be tempted into cheating strategies.

Often such cheating is rationalized as merely temporary — “just until we catch the students up to where they ought to be.” That particular justification was advanced by perpetrators of the Atlanta Public Schools testing frauds, Philadelphia’s frauds as well as CCSD’s own 2012 Matt Kelly ES test-erasure scandal. It also was put forward in-house at Harriett Treem ES in 2018 and 2019 to justify its administration’s grade-changing deceptions.

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