Administrative Agenda: Let's be Accountable

April 1, 2007
One-size-fits-all just doesn't apply to schools

You'd be hard-pressed to find an education institution that isn't absorbed in “strategic planning.” All of the planning elements must be tied to action steps that carry us to the edge of the academic cliff, which will arrive in 2014 when all kids must be “proficient” or funding dries up like a Texas riverbed in July.

It's either that or our schools rewrite their constitutions and become charters, because we will have proven ourselves incapable of educating kids in the eyes of those “in the know” in Washington. This is all prescribed by the No Child Left Behind Act, but students lose when school districts must meet mandates without funding.

Let's compare this with another segment of our society: police departments. Why aren't they held to this standard? Let's say that all murders and sex crimes must be arrested (pun intended) by 2014. Who could possibly object? This is a noble goal and if there is the complicit threat of loss of funding or chartering out our police departments, then all is fair and enforceable. The scary thing about this proposal is that it will make sense to some.

Let's keep on rolling with this idea … what about hospitals? They receive a lot of funding and are entrusted with our lives. How about zero-tolerance for mistakes and deaths? The time has come to open up this discussion and expand the breadth of influence of this accountability mentality.

What I find most interesting in this whole accountability discussion, however, is that when I work with my operations staff, I don't threaten or float any balloon of daggers over their heads in order to get them motivated to do great things for kids. Instead, I talk about the business that we are operating.

Like the proverbial janitor at Cape Canaveral who was getting the astronauts to the moon, we are all educating kids no matter what our job assignment. That seems to be enough, and everyone understands. When we fall back on dire warnings of negative consequences, everyone is awaiting the shock wave, so in the meantime they forget their jobs.

An alternative approach would be to temper the existing law rather than expanding its jurisdiction, but lawmakers say that “the law is nearly perfect” and in no need of tweaking. The law treats all kids the same, yet the prevalent wave of conventional wisdom sweeping over the education world says schools should be concentrating on differentiated learning — not sameness.

Quinn, AIA, REFP, is executive director of operations for St. Paul Public Schools, Minn. He can be reached at [email protected].

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