Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Orthodox Responses to School Failure: Governance

Great principals can turn around failing schools, but most principals are not great. Therefore those entrusted with governing our schools (most often local school boards, in big systems operating through superintendents) too often find themselves faced with complaints, and are often too distant from the day-to-day affairs of the schools they try to oversee for them to be able to do more than hold one or more meetings, investigate the situation, decide a change is necessary, remove the principal in charge, and begin (anew) the desperate, familiar search for that magical being, the educational leader who will solve all of the school's problems.

In America, in big school systems and small, this often combines vaguely informed scrutiny with a leap of faith, since no one hiring a new employee can ever be certain that the newly hired will satisfy expectations, which are sometimes heightened when the political pressures and those due to competition are making themselves felt.   

An interesting alternative to this strategy, both more local and more democratic, is that of New Zealand, which in 1990 abolished all of its local school districts, had each existing school form a board of trustees, had each school write for itself a charter to guide its operations, and has ever since had each of these boards govern its school, in the context on an overall national education strategy. Results have generally been positive.  

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