The next big political ploy to be put into place to “reform and improve” the so-called “failing schools” in New York state is to identify schools as failing and then to put them into what is called “receivership.”
This concept supposedly turns the failing school over to an educational expert or small group of experts, who will then turn around the schools and make them successful in a very short period of time.
The nearly omnipotent receiver supposedly has the ability to do things that other school leaders could not, including firing and hiring teachers and principals at will, extending the school day and school year, changing the curriculum, purchasing needed instructional tools beyond local budgetary constraints and implementing new teacher evaluation systems.
The concept is that through making drastic changes, the receiver will bring about improvements in student performance in a year or less, as opposed to the in-place school administration and staff, which could not improve performance to the preordained level set by state politicians over a period of many years.
In short, we are looking at a “magic potion” theory here, which will fail along with all of the other politically-led, wrong-headed plans for school improvement that have gone before.
This is instantly obvious given even a cursory glance at what receivership will look like in New York state.
In most cases, the failing schools will be turned over to a receiver, who is none other than the current superintendent of schools. So, the concept is that the superintendent who could not move the school forward on Monday will be able to do so on Tuesday, simply because the new title of receiver was added to the office door.
Additionally, while it sounds very enticing to be able to replace staff instantly while extending the school day and year and spending money whenever necessary to improve instructional programming and practice, the truth is it is not going to happen any time soon.
Without major (and never-to-happen) revisions in state education law, teachers and administrators cannot be fired without cause (and a lengthy legal process). School budgets have restraints on them. And extending school days and years will cost money, a great deal of it, that is well beyond any community’s ability to pay.
Further, even if the receiver could magically do all of the things outlined above, the efforts will be futile. One very important part of the equation is not addressed in this plan, as it has not been addressed in other failed reform plans — the role of the family and the student in the educational process.
Those attacking public schools point to students who are not making the grade. But we could shift the focal point to the students who are making the grade, and in many cases exceeding expectations, while attending the very schools labeled as failing by those who would reform them.
Even the most challenged schools in New York state are home to students who would be classified from successful to extremely successful. This generally amounts to between 60 and 70 percent of the entire student body. That’s correct, even in the most challenged of the schools deemed failing by state leaders. At least six out of 10 students are doing just fine, thank you.
Wow, could it be that what the reformers are seeking is right under their collective noses and they cannot see them?
A closer look at those successful students in failing (and successful) schools might provide a model for students who are not making the grade and need help getting there.
The truth is that successful students universally display many of the same characteristics, including familial support for education; strong attendance records; positive school citizenship; school readiness at a young age; participation in school and community activities; and a sense of purpose that embraces education as meaningful in all endeavors.
The challenge is not to improve schools. It is to try to develop more students who display these characteristics. This will only be accomplished by intensive work with students and families.
The answer does not lie in firing teachers and administrators, altering the school day in an arbitrary manner, or buying new instructional tools.
Doing that is just a waste of money and time, and we have neither to spare. The truth is that the vast majority of teachers and school administrators are already doing everything in their power to help every student in their charge attain success. They do not need to be replaced; they need support for their efforts.
The receivership movement will fail, as have all other politically motivated school improvement plans.
The reason for this failure is that politicians are seeking a quick fix for a very complex problem. While changing one’s title from superintendent to receiver is very easy to do, improving student success takes a bit more thought and work.
Perhaps it is time to get to work on what will really help students succeed.
John Metallo of Slingerlands is a retired teacher and administrator.