Friday, January 04, 2008

What Schools Are Doing and What They Should Be Doing

I am in the midst of reading Linda Perlstein's book Tested and this passage jumped out at me:
It's hard to imagine a business running efficiently with the level of bureaucracy educators face. When the speech therapist at Tyler Heights meets with each of twenty-seven students a week, she must log twenty-seven progress reports. Special education teachers must fill out so many Medicaid forms for their low-income students that they wind up cutting short the time they work with the children. Tyler Heights has to document every parent attending every meeting and every event, every hour of reading intervention for every child. Just getting a translator from the neighborhood to help out, last-minute, with parent conferences requires fingerprinting for a background check. Not only does the school have to run all manner of safety drills (Code Red for an active shooter, Code White for toxins, Code Green for a fire drill with a silent walk two blocks away, etc., etc.), each one has to be timed and evaluated in writing.
The chapter in which Perlstein writes is called "Market Discipline Is the Key" and it speaks with disdain regarding the concept of applying business practices to the business of education.

Admittedly, there are a lot of documentation efforts involved in education. But in looking at the list of activities above, I am left wondering, why is a teacher filling out Medicaid forms? Why does a translator, who will not be wondering the halls or teaching kids, need to be fingerprinted? Where do the speech therapy reports go and how extensive are they? It just seems to me that the schools are doing much more than they should.

Perlstein referenced a book by Good to Great author Jim Collins, called Good to Great and the Social Sector: Why Business Thinking is No the Answer. I have not read the later tome, but I can almost bet what Collins said. Not every bit of business thinking and procedure applies in the public sector, but some basics almost surely do. One of the fundamental precepts of Collins work is that organizations should focus on their core competency. Businesses get to choose that core competency, but public agencies, like schools don't. All that means is that the schools' core competency is selected by their mission and role, not that one does not exist.

My point is that schools need to get out of the business of doing all this other stuff. Sure, the safety of students is important and teachers do have to document their work. But if Medicaid needs something from the schools, they should send a worker to the schools to manage the paperwork, not require a teacher to do it.

I remember a post from an Illinois teacher (I will try to find the link) that talked about all the stuff a school is now expected to do, along the lines of social services. Almost all of it detracts from the mission of the schools, their core competency--teaching.

If you want a fast way to improve teaching, start by letting teachers actually teach rather than make them into part-time social workers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Helping spreading the word, to save the world.

How does Romney, Mccain, Giuliani or Huckabee feel about this?