Friday, October 13, 2006

The Insiders: An Outsider's Perspective

It's the end of the work week and I'm a little low on energy, but the good folks at Public Agenda are making this easy on me. I'm sure they've gotten other bites besides this blog, but here goes anyway. You're welcome.

The Insiders: How Principals and Superintendents See Education Today, a new report in the Education Insights series is worth a look. The report, among other things, takes the contemporary pulse of school leaders (at-risk and on-par contexts included) on several topics including math and science achievement, teacher professionalism, and meeting NCLB requirements. For me there were few surprises here. For most questions I could have put on a superintendent hat and then switched to a principal hat and my responses in both hats would have been with the majority responses every time. Some surprises curdle at the top. *Note: these are not verbatim findings, only casual observations that will misrepresent Public Agenda's research if you don't read their published findings here.

One: Superintendents believe kids are learning enough math and science and that academic standards are high enough. Public Agenda (PA, here onward) cites a disconnect between what business leaders perceive: in a flat world this would be more worrisome.

Two: Principals and superintendents put stock in their teachers knowing their subject matter, i.e. they are confident that NCLB teacher quality mandates are being met and will continue to improve.

Three: Although PA portrays this statistic positively I latch onto the negative. PA summarizes the finding thusly: Most superintendents and half of principals say the quality of new teachers is improving. What is more interesting to me is that 19 percent of principals surveyed believe new teacher quality is worse--8 percent of sups say the same! Is there too great an age gap for these folks to relate? Have standards in ed schools supplanted talent, enthusiasm, and creativity? Or is there a more deviant correlation--ed schools have trained a generation of teachers incredulous of standards. It's probably none of these--it's probably just lousy memory--but further inquiry would be valuable as to why some school leaders perceive less teacher quality in their corps.

The report's findings about leaders at "mainly-minority" schools are revealing, if not troubling. Go read them. I could say a lot about why these school leaders' responses don't surprise me, citing theory and sources, but I can sum it up easily with one word: politics. Project what you expect and it will almost be as if it is.


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