The Chancellor dubs the new principal on each shoulder with the ceremonial sword of leadership, grants him/her the scepter and the orb, and they stride onto the stage before the faculty, who snickers at the ermine clothed principal. Leadership is earned, not granted.
It influences not only the actions of the school population, but also its motivations and spirit (Peterson, 1999).
One of the ironies is that union activism and collegial school cultures are an inverse function. A highly effective school with a totally collaborative culture has a school secretary as the chapter leader, whose sole role is to post union notices on the bulletin board. Another school that uses lead teachers instead of assistant principals, a school in which teachers design and run the professional development, elects a chapter leader with little actual function. Schools with vibrant active chapters are frequently schools with toxic school cultures.
School cultures are thought to be located on a continuum, ranging from bureaucratic to collegial culture. And there is one type of school culture known as the “toxic culture” that is a death knell for longevity of teaching careers and an instigator of high teacher turnover in a school. The toxic culture is evident in a negative ambience where dissatisfaction is highly palpable.
Beginners in isolated settings soon abandon their initial humanistic notions about tending to students’ individual needs in favor of a routine technical culture characterized by a more custodial view, where order is stressed over learning, and where students are treated more impersonally, punitively and distrustfully. (Rosentholtz, 1991, p 73)
The Klein model lauds their increases in standardized test scores and graduation rates and points to an emphasis on accountability, the empowerment of principals and a focus on data through the Inquiry Team approach. In reality they have created toxic school cultures.
The disastrous NAEP math scores in New York State have deflated the claims of success by the chancellor. The widespread use of highly suspect unregulated credit recovery school-based programs question graduation rate figures. The State Ed Department has proposals before it to “tighten up” credit recovery.
Only 57% of 8th graders, as per Department data, with a score of 3.0 (proficient) on the State ELA test graduate within four years. Dropout rates in the City University (CUNY) system among NYC high school graduates are staggering. The phasing out of the local diploma and replacement by the Regents diploma has NOT prepared students for college and especially for the highly competitive world of work.
Thomas Friedman in his NY Times column, quoting author Daniel Pink hits the “nail on the head,”
In a world in which more and more average work can be done by a computer, robot or talented foreigner faster, cheaper “and just as well,” vanilla doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s all about what chocolate sauce, whipped cream and cherry you can put on top. So our schools have a doubly hard task now — not just improving reading, writing and arithmetic but entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.
Bottom line: We’re not going back to the good old days without fixing our schools as well as our banks.
Principals are empowered by their staffs not by the Leadership Academy. Highly effective schools are schools in which the line between supervisor and teacher, between leaders and the lead are blurred. School cultures cannot be imposed. Angry, disheartened teachers close their doors and go through the motions. They may produce adequate scores on standardized tests, but, are they creating educated students? Students prepared to compete in this new economy?
“Accountable” schools and data-driven classroom instruction is not antithetical to a collegial school culture. Raising the bar so that the advanced eight Regents diploma is the standard requires schools in which the entire staff, from school leader, to teachers, to support staff, all have a voice and a vested interest in the success of all students.
Tom Friedman is absolutely right, we must produce “innovative and creative” students, that can only be done in school with an “innovative and creative” staff.