Principals Ask to be Given a Louder Voice in School Reform

Is the primary motivation behind the school reform movement financial? asks Carol Burris in an editorial for the Washington Post. A recent commercial released by former Washington D.C’s chancellor of public schools Michelle Rhee, claims that public schools trying to compete in the new academic marketplace is akin to a couch potato trying to stack up against Olympic athletes. Now Burris, the principal of the South Side High School in Rockville Center, New York, along with Harry Leonadartos, who is the principal of Clarkstown High School North in Rockland County, are asking if the derision often heaped on traditional public schools by eduction reform advocates is a good way to motivate them to improve.

The education system in the U.S. is in trouble, but it isn’t in the kind of trouble that appears suddenly and out of nowhere.

 In truth, while we and others see daunting and unfilled needs in many schools, there has not been a sharp and sudden decline in student performance as is being implied, and in fact scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — sometimes referred to as the nation’s educational report card — are higher than ever before.

Still, it’s hard to escape from an impression that schools have suddenly and drastically imploded. The answer could lie in the fact that there’s a vast potential market to be tapped — if only enough panic about the state of America’s education could be inspired. That is why, while Rupert Murdoch is trying to position his company, News Corporation, to take advantage of what he estimates to be a $500 billion market. His publications in New York and elsewhere dedicate a prodigious amount of space to criticizing the quality of schools and educators.

The idea that public schools are doing poorly is hard to square with results from surveys that show parents giving high marks to their local schools while at the same time having a low opinion of public schools in general. Is the disconnect there because parents can’t reconcile their opinion of the school their children are enrolled in to what they’ve been told is the state of public schools around the country?

And if public school reform really is needed as badly as has been claimed, wouldn’t it make sense to give a voice in the direction of that reform to the people who spend the time in actual schools and the classrooms? Principals and teachers should have an opportunity to weigh in too, says the editorial’s authors — but they’re frequently left out of the loop.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo won his election in large part because of his promise to reform the state’s education system. As promised, within the year of taking office, Cuomo’s Education Commission held a hearing in New York City, inviting stakeholders to weigh in on the slate of proposals to improve the quality of New York’s schools. Despite the promise of a forum, it turned out to be problematic:

Prior to the time and place of the meeting being posted, both of us sent a request to testify on the topic of teacher and principal quality. As high school principals, we are deeply concerned about the direction of the Regents reform agenda, especially in regard to evaluating teachers using test scores. We were joined by an outstanding New York City high school principal and two teachers from South Side High School. Both teachers had submitted requests to speak, one sending that request and her remarks weeks in advance.

We were not allowed to speak.