about the governor's education plan
March 17, 2009
Bill Wilken, a retired businessman and educational finance expert, responded to a February 18 Ohio Gadfly editorial (and newspaper op-ed) concerning Gov. Ted Strickland's education proposals.
What strikes me about the Strickland plan (like so many other state education policy initiatives) is its silence about school management. Essentially, it preserves unchanged the historical congeries of many cooks in the kitchen, a system in which many are responsible for running the schools but in which no one is really responsible. Everyone can point fingers at everyone else. The story is no different than the one about the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Just as in that fable, we never seem to tire of arguing about the source of our problems-teachers, principals, school boards, state bureaucrats, or various elected officials.
While I concur with your desire for improved standards, I seriously doubt that any revisions on this front will have much impact without parallel and substantial changes in our mechanisms for managing schools. We need to move aggressively toward a management structure which vests unambiguous responsibility for education management and outcomes either at a single point at the state or building level. Equally important, we need to make certain that those at the locus of responsibility have the training, experience, and disposition necessary to serve as managers.
The Strickland plan places primary responsibility for educational outcomes not on management, but on labor. While teachers obviously are pivotal to educational outcomes, it defies logic to argue that they should be responsible for outcomes when they have no actual management authority. Making matters worse, we allow teacher unions to muddy and diminish management authority by granting them the power to effectively dictate a wide range of often perverse and byzantine work rules. Add to this equation principals and school superintendents who have had virtually no formal management training and school boards divided by single-issue agendas and you have, well, a real mess.