Monday, December 1, 2008

"To teach is to touch the heart and impel it to action."

The quote I used as title of this post is by Louis Sullivan, architect, mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, from "Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings". The man was considered the "Father of Modernism" and the skyscraper. He inspired the group of Chicago architects known as the Prairie School. And unlike the legions of so-called reformers of American Education, he understood the very essence of what it is to teach.

I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal (go figure?) on education reform by Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. The man is a senior advisor of the Carlyle Group, and was its chairman until he stepped down in October 2008. Now normally, someone in such close association with the Bush Crime Family is not a man whose opinions I would read, let alone, consider. In his 1995 book, "Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America's Public Schools", he wrote, "techniques and disciplines of business have much to offer in the field of education."

Haha...bullshit. Kids are not inventory, and how, and what they learn is not a product. That he now laments the "corporate governance" of the public schools when that was what he pushed for 13 years ago, to run them more like a business, irritates me.

He has come to recognize the one point in which I am of total agreement with him. The structure of education is "unbelievably unwieldy ".

"Abolish all local school districts, save 70 (50 states; 20 largest cities). Some states may choose to leave some of the rest as community service organizations, but they would have no direct involvement in the critical task of establishing standards, selecting teachers, and developing curricula."

Gerstner does not go far enough. There should be no local school districts, and a national license. Local school districts are unbelievably political. School boards often elect or appoint any old fool who is politically connected. I worked under an AP who failed her Principal's exam 5 times-never passed but was given a job, because her uncle who is a principal, got a place for her. She NEVER passed.

Principals are in a different union, and on a different tenure track than teachers. What this means is an experienced teacher will not take the Principal's exam. He or she is opened up to firing-because there is no protection of tenure as an principal. Also there is often a loss of 10,000 or more for a teacher who switches career tracks and becomes a principal. Why? One's years of teaching are not taken into account, and a new principal is on step one. So most newer principals (anyone under 60) are people who were failing teachers who took the test before they were denied tenure. The least experienced are running our schools, hiring teachers, and evaluating them.

Teachers who move from their district lose their tenure. This is why so many teachers travel long distances to their jobs. They are rooted in place. It is a huge gamble to move. If a teacher, leaves the state, he or she must be re-certified in that state. A costly, time-consuming and maddening process. Then if the teacher does not know somebody, make influential friends a job is not guaranteed. Or if there is one the school will likely be not a good, safe place to teach.

This has to end. End all the impediments to recruiting and keeping teachers who want and know how to "...touch the heart and impel it to action."