Sizer’s new book is out

All of Ted Sizer’s books thus far have been worth reading, so I’ll be ordering a copy of the Red Pencil.

Sizer comes closer to my own view of things than any other education guru. Central to his vision is the notion that the school itself is where quality must be created and sustained--and thus the doings of large bureaucracies are often distractions from the work.

I often run into people who scoff at the idea of local control, because they can cite incidents of local idiocy. They have a point. I’ve encountered my fair share of local loopiness, and I can tell my own harrowing tales about the logic of local school board members. For example, when I was a principal I once wrote a proposal for a $750,000 grant. It was announced in the national media that our school was one of 10 finalists. At the board meeting where I was explaining the next steps, a board member interrupted my presentation to ask this question: “Mike, this school was screwed up when you went to school here. It was screwed up when I went to school here. Why the hell are you trying to change it now?”

I know local control is not a panacea. It is full of challenges. It can go horribly astray.

Nonetheless, it is our only real hope. Steven Covey likes to point out that “when morays are sufficient, laws are unnecessary. When morays are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.” Schools, like towns, will either figure out how to govern themselves well or nothing will really fix their problems. Despite the siren song of fixing things by making rules, the more a school is controlled by external rules, the less likely it is that the people there call on all the resources of their full intelligence and energy.

It’s a simple thing to match every tale of local lunacy with a tale of bureaucratic insanity, but the important truth remains that every really great school is great because of local leadership and the intitiative of local teachers. The only way, ulitimately, to build quality schools is to use the methods of teachers: models, resources, opportunities, information, encouragement, and accountability. The methods of controllers--rules, forms, directives, and reports--simply aren’t powerful enough.

Sizer knows that we are past the point where the habitual platitudes of either the left or the right are an adequate guide to where we need to go now.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 01/26 at 05:34 AM
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