Guest Blog: Unsolicited School Reform Advice
Submitted by RF
Dear Mr. Baker:
Now that the reorganization of the Prince George’s County Public Schools governing structure has been achieved, I want to wish you luck in your quest to improve our schools. While I continue to have some concerns about the reorganization and I was unhappy with the manner in which the legislative action was orchestrated, I realize we must all move on and help you and the new superintendent—whoever that may be—to succeed. Our children deserve nothing less.
As you ponder the selection of the new superintendent and the direction you want to take our schools, I—a PGCPS parent and PTA activist—want to provide you with my unsolicited advice about the kind of approach I would like to see:
- First and foremost, please leave decisions about instruction, curriculum, and testing to forward-looking real education experts who have learned from the mistakes of recent past all across our nation. Do not hire a superintendent who does not understand actual teaching and who is eager to implement the latest purely data-driven management crazes borrowed from the business world. I don’t want to drive our education system toward even more mindless, narrowly-focused continuous testing which alienates good teachers and does not produce well-rounded students.
- Second, do go boldly for administrative reforms that relate to the nuts and bolts of our school system and how it is run. Make the buses run on time, get rid of administrative waste, and weed out questionable contracts and contracting procedures. Use appropriate technologies to gain efficiencies. Demand effective and timely school-to-parent communications—the first and necessary element for enabling parental involvement.
- Treat teachers as professionals. Listen to them and provide them opportunities to influence how schools are run. Don’t come up with arbitrary compensation schemes that will make teachers accountable for conditions they have no control over. This does not mean you don’t demand accountability and high performance. But be a partner, not a punitive leader who is out to get teachers. Make PGCPS a place that values innovation and professionalism—an attractive place for good teachers to work.
- Do not abandon neighborhood schools. Most people want their children to attend the school in their own neighborhood—they just want those schools to be good. I do not want to see more charter schools. It is highly immoral to abandon some children in failing schools while providing the most active and/or lucky parents an opportunity to escape underperforming schools (even though there is no evidence that, on average, charter schools provide any better results than regular schools).
- Keep listening to the school board and its elected members. It is important to retain a venue for meaningful parent and resident input. No matter how competent a superintendent you find, he/she needs to be open to community input and feedback. After all, I know more about my child’s school than you or the superintendent ever will.
- Demand election reform. We must move away from a system that enables elected officials and party insiders to ensure that their preferred candidates always win down ballot races, such as elections for Board of Education members. Slates formed by incumbent elected officials and their “sample ballots” must go. We deserve to have real elections where all candidates must sink or swim based on their own merits.
- Realize there is no silver bullet. Real improvements in a school system take time and hard work. Miraculous sudden improvements in student achievement are likely the result of outright fraud or a rigged evaluation system designed to produce desired results.
Best of luck, Mr. Baker. I desperately want you to succeed.