Education: How It Doesn’t Work
Chain of Command of the American System Of Education
President of the United States—Congress—U.S. Department of Education—State Governor—State Legislature—State Department of Education—County Department of Education—Local School Board—Superintendent—Principal—Teacher—Student—Parent
By Kenneth Woodward
In our national system of elementary and high school education the student, who is the prime product of the system, resides at the very bottom of a national chain of administration. There are 10 distinct levels of national, state, and local administrative departments, each driven by its own set of laws, rules, and/or procedures that must be navigated 365 days of the year before we arrive at the classroom level of the educational process for one single student.
To make matters more complex and confusing, the system has become highly politicized with the President of the United States, members of Congress, and the state legislatures, governors, and county and local school board members all vying for political office: each running on his or her own agenda for fixing the system.
Superimposed over the system, nationwide, are many millions of staff members who have little or no professional training and/or classroom experience, other than their own previous experiences as students. And to financially support this gigantic bureaucratic process that everyone seems to complain about, the federal, state, and local governing bodies needlessly expend tens of billions of dollars each year.
“We don’t trust you, so we are going to change the way you do business,” appears to be the frequent message directed at the local schools, principals, and teachers from the highest levels of a nationwide bureaucratic order. Interestingly, a local school system has never been the perfect model of a business organization. Its assembly line, the classroom, is a heterogeneous blend of a variety of young people from different backgrounds. They come from poor, middle, and upper class families and different ethnic groups. They have different learning skills and respond to their world environment according to personal perceptions and what they believe to be true. Students on this line, at the end of 12 years, do not always emerge as a perfect product of the system.
The system is not broken. It just needs a few major adjustments at several levels that are not within the scope of authority of the local school districts; and several others that can be accomplished by the districts if the major adjustments are addressed.
First: The responsibility for the education of our children needs to be returned to the custody of the local county departments of education and local school districts. The U.S. Department of Education needs to be completely eliminated and 75 percent of the State of California’s Department of Education phased out.
Two: Money saved to be returned to each school district.
Three: Change the training and certification methods for teachers. State universities must have responsibility to certify each new teacher based on a stringent written examination and a personal interview by a board of examiners made up of a retired or current professor, principal, superintendent, teacher, and parent.
Four: Every two years the school plant and the instructional technologies need to be evaluated by the administrators, teachers, and staff and updated as necessary.
Five: A method for the evaluation of student achievement needs to be developed collectively by the teachers and the principals and reviewed by the superintendent and board of education. The results need to be publicly announced each year and discussed with members of the local community.
Six: Teachers must be recognized and utilized as a major component to this process and included in any proposed change.
Seven: The chain of command in a school district has always been a convoluted process and that is why we have teacher unions. Most school districts have highly capable principals who work well with their teaching staff, but when it comes time to resolve major issues or meet the instructional needs of the teachers, the principals are often bypassed. Consequently, the teachers end up airing their grievances or needs to the superintendent or school board. This takes the principal out of the loop and diminishes his image as a problem solver and mentor to his staff.
To conclude, I have an interesting question. If the entire bureaucracy above that of the County Board of Education disappeared tonight, would teachers and students be able to function in the classroom tomorrow?
Kenneth Woodward, a retired educator, is director of the Guy B. Woodward Museum in Ramona.
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