The title of this Washington Times article, “Satanists to Distribute Religious Pamphlets in Schools” tells you all you need to know about the rationale for the separation of church and state. If schools distribute Gideon’s Bible will they allow the distribution of the Koran? FL legislators might want to take another look at this issue before some school board is asked this question.
Here’s a report from the EParisExtra.com, an on line newsletter from Teas, reporting the latest results from Texas: the public schools outperformed charter schools academically AND financially. I am not expecting a press release on these findings from Governor Perry or Arne Duncan any time soon.
Diane Ravitch’s column yesterday described the latest privatization debacle in Chicago, this one involving the privatization of custodial services. Ms. Ravitch’s reflexive opposition to privatization doesn’t take into account the difficult balancing act Superintendents and School Boards face each year putting a budget together, a balancing act that CAN result in privatization of non-instructional services being in the best interest of students.
Throughout the 29 years I led school districts I dealt with privatization proposals for non-instructional functions like food services, transportation, facilities management, payroll, and scheduling. There are several overarching issues that affect each of these areas:
- Administrative skill sets: School administrators typically have no experience operating restaurants (food services); overseeing public transit systems (transportation); serving as landlords (facilities management), operating payroll departments, developing computer programs to efficiently schedule students.
- Program managers in short supply: The media has reported widely on the shortage of teachers but under-reported the ongoing shortage of school business leaders and program leaders. Any superintendent will tell you that their most valuable employee is the Assistant Superintendent for Business who oversees the non-instructional services…. and the Assistant Superintendents, in turn, rely on their subordinates in the various functional areas, and those administrator are also in short supply. I know from experience that every minute a school superintendent spends on a non-instructional issue is a minute he or she cannot spend working on teaching and learning.
- Personnel oversight: Every time a school district assumes responsibility for a function that requires staff, it assumes the responsibility for hiring and overseeing that staff. In many districts it is not unusual for the district to have nearly as many non-instructional staff members as teachers, making it possible that nearly half of an administrators time is spent managing non-instructional issues as instructional ones. As noted above, if effective leadership is lacking in a non-instructional area the loss of time increases dramatically.
- Budget realities: Additional dollars spent on non-instructional functions are dollars drawn away from the classroom. Voters and parents will generally not support budget expenditures that are directed away from the classroom unless it is clear that the services are essential for their students.
- Time realities: School boards, like administrators, have limited time… and every minute a school board spends on non-instructional issues is a minute they cannot spend working on teaching and learning. An aphorism for school boards and superintendents is that they spend 90% of their time on budgets, busses, and buildings and 10% of their time on teaching and learning.
- Political realities: Making decisions on non-instructional issues not only drains time from administrators and school board members, it creates contentiousness in the community no matter which decision is made. No one wants a higher tax bill or money taken from classrooms and given to custodians, bus drivers, or “the administration”… but no one wants to pay more for school lunch, have a scaled down lunch menu, or have a satellite lunch of a home-cooked one… everyone wants the bus stop in front of their house and wants to be picked up 5 minutes before the opening bell… everyone wants a spotless school with evenly distributed heat that is open to the public every evening… and everyone wants their administrators “spending more time in the classroom”.
Given these overarching issues, it is not surprising that school districts of all sizes explore the feasibility of privatizing food services, busing, maintaining facilities, managing payroll, and developing high school schedules. As a high school principal and superintendent I tried my best to spend time in schools or talking with teachers and principals about instructional issues… but budgets, buses an buildings inevitably consumed large chunks of my time, especially if there were personnel matters that needed my attention.
The bottom line: in some cases the privatization of non-instructional services is in the best interest of the district if boards are sincerely interested in having their administrators focus on classroom teaching. Delegating food service issues, busing issues, and maintenance issues to a third party can save enormous amounts of administrative time… and… as noted above, every minute a school superintendent or principal spends on a non-instructional issue is a minute he or she cannot spend working on teaching and learning and every dollar spent on non-instructional functions is a dollar that cannot be spent on students.
If you listen to the mainstream media and Governors like Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and– yes– Andrew Cuomo you’d think that US teachers need to work harder and be less greedy if we ever expect to become competitive in the global marketplace. But, alas, the reporting in the mainstream media and the exhortations of “reform minded” Governors are all too often NOT based on facts. If FACTS were the basis for the debates about education, it would quickly become evident that we can’t expect our teachers to work harder because they already work more hours than those in any developed nation and we can’t expect them to work for less because they are already relatively underpaid compared to other developed nations. And the source of this information is not the NEA, AFT, or the “liberal media”, it is the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development or OECD.
Here’s my frustration as one who wants to have an informed dialogue about how to improve schools: when the OECD issues test results demonstrating that US do poorly compared to students in other developed countries the “reformers” use this data to excoriate teachers. When the same organization reports that US teachers work longer hours, receive less compensation, and have middling pay increases compared to other developed countries the data is ignored. It is possible— indeed LIKELY— that these two pieces of information are linked, especially given the Center For American Progress’ findings that “…mid- and late-career teachers are not earning what they deserve, nor are they able to gain the salaries that support a middle-class existence”.
Here are some highlights from the report, drawn from a Huffington Post article from earlier this week:
- American middle school and high school teachers spend more time educating students than peers in every OECD country except Chile
- U.S. teachers are required to be at school for more hours than most of their international peers.
- While U.S. raw teacher salaries are high compared with the rest of the world, the pay lags behind that of similarly educated American workers.
The charts that accompany the story give graphic details on this and the 500+ page report provides more information than I have time to glean… but I’m certain that some cherry-picking will occur on the “reform” side of the aisle. When hear a reformer use data from the OECD, keep this bullet point in mind:
“Teacher pay relative to other countries, in absolute terms, is quite competitive in the United States,” said Schleicher. “But when you look at this relative to the earnings of other people with college degrees, actually the United States is pretty much at the end of the scale.”