Strip Down School Districts! Plus Mehlhorn On Adult First Ed Politics, Finn Defends Teachers Unions, Charter Myths And Charter Booing! And Keep Floating!

In U.S. News & World Report today I take a look at all the things we ask of school districts. It really doesn’t make a lot of sense:

School districts around the country are getting ready for the 2017 school year, which for many starts in just a few weeks. Officials are thinking about transporting students to school, what they’ll feed them, health services for them, sports teams and schedules, and all the other things we call on school districts to do. Meanwhile, if you’re lucky, someone might also be focused on who is going to teach your child and what they’re going to teach.

Backward? Yes, of course it is. And like many things in our education system it’s not what we might design but instead what has evolved and embedded itself over time. Teaching and learning, ostensibly the core functions of schools and school districts, are now just one among many important things we expect them to do…

…As a rule the highest quality institutions we see, in all sectors, are ones that focus on being excellent at something. It’s just hard to be outstanding at a lot of things at once. Yet that’s what we ask of school districts year after year even as they struggle, mediocrity is the norm, and high-quality instruction is often an afterthought. So maybe we shouldn’t?

You can read the entire thing there. Tell me your favorite school district activities or tweet me what you’d like to strip down from school district functions @arotherham.


Dmitri Mehlhorn on his old school and the adult-first politics in education.  See if you can figure out what Jay Greene thought of the recent Times piece on Detroit schools. So cryptic!

Checker Finn defends the teachers’ unions: Hey, could be worse, they’re not running around killing people!

Charter schools, boo! Sandy Kress really has a lot of patience!

Student loan sharking in NJ.

Getting hunted by bloodhounds. Just keep floating.

3 Replies to “Strip Down School Districts! Plus Mehlhorn On Adult First Ed Politics, Finn Defends Teachers Unions, Charter Myths And Charter Booing! And Keep Floating!”

  1. I was recently facilitating an in-service for private schools and while we were at lunch, several heads of schools were sending in their lunch count for the following day. When I asked about this, they all outsource lunch and send the vendor the count they expect for the following day. The lunch is then delivered. Complaints about buses, and lunches, and for the record – ATHLETICS, if outsourced, would then go to the vendor, not the school board. What a novel idea, the school board could focus on instruction!

  2. There certainly can be some advantages to outsourcing, but Kathleen: I think your view of accountability is naive. Even it outsourced, it is still a school district that would be responsible for managing the contracts for outsourced services. Imagine this scenario: food services were contracted out and a bunch of kids got sick eating lunch at school. Are you saying that the parents would accept being told to direct their ire at the food services vendor, not the school officials in charge of managing the contract? Or another: A private firm is contracted to do transportation for a district and there is a bus accident where students are injured. You think parents would accept being told by the central office or board “direct your complaints to the bus company.” Again, there are good reasons to contract out, but I think you have an unrealistic notion of how accountability works in outsourced systems.

  3. I don’t disagree with you in the context of outsourcing and I was being a little “snarky.” However, local school boards need to let instruction be guided by the outcomes of educators doing their jobs not the outcomes of themselves as school board members,

    Maybe we should consider outsourcing instruction- and let the school board be concerned with operations.

    I know this may appear a little novice- but I am not naïve- I am truly perplexed by the lack of accountability of school boards for minimal and poor instruction. Having served on a local school board in a low-performing district as an appointee for two years (on an elected board)– I was amazed that the board could argue until the wee hours on things like food, sports, transportation, but never, never, on instruction.

    I think this article points to how we must begin to rethink how instruction is GOVERNED, not managed. . Not sure how to do this, but I do think that it makes sense.

    I was once on a review team in a district in another state. At that time, the superintendent was appointed by the state and had all powers over instruction leaving the school board powers over only operations. Evidently, prior board members had been charged with mal feces and left the state no other option. Instructionally, for the first time in many years, the district was improving. When school boards refuse to defer to good judgement by the superintendent they have hired regarding instruction, things go sideways.

    Accountability is an outcome driven process. The problem here is that children are the outcome. We have to think out of the box to redesign what matters most, and in my humble opinion, instruction matters most for kids. If governance is a process, and I believe it is, how can we change governance to produce better outcomes?

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