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From K-12 to higher ed, we need significant, meaningful changes in the way our schools are run

We have to change the culture of education. Children and students are not products or inventory or merchandise to be shipped.

There’s a leadership crisis in administration from K-12 to higher education. Citing business-model reforms, the carefully cultivated authoritarian leadership quickly screams “budget catastrophe” while blowing up administrative and consulting expenditures and shouts “failing schools” while implementing the very tactics that create failures. Moves toward privatization in public schools always create fewer winners and more losers. That is the nature of capitalism. Suggesting that market-based reforms will do otherwise is insincere.

Photo by Jason Miller, Franchise Graphics and Photography
Nicole Helget

Without significant and meaningful changes in the way we run our schools and in the way we select our leaders, blights such as achievements gaps, opportunity disparities, and institutionalized racism and sexism will get worse, not better. These kinds of administrations undermine public schools, move toward privatizing curriculum and schools, scapegoat teachers, and dilute creative and critical courses. These styles of administration also hide behind women and people of color while implementing education reform that ultimately hurts women and people of color. Putting a woman or a person of color in a position of power should be an opportunity to explore a new leadership style, one that may be more lateral or communicative or democratic or inclusive or collaborative. But, in education reform, it too often means that that person is being used as a puppet operated by a puppeteer who’s hiding up in the rafters. This is a symptom of institutionalized racism and sexism.

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While there’s a lot of talk about (and expense for) research-y powerpoints and consultants, they’ve provided no evidence, none, that proves the market-based reforms geared toward work-force needs have ever led to a more educated populace or an improved economy. The consulting groups operate as laundering services by professionalizing unproven restructuring models. And, for some reason, the real research, which proves that market-based reforms lead to wider achievement gaps and opportunity disparities, is wholly ignored. The real research — which proves that inclusion and small, intimate class sizes with intelligent and empathetic teachers who feel secure and valued and trusted and empowered by their administration raises student success — is suppressed.

Same old top-down structures are perpetuated

The misuse of language is ubiquitous. While bandying about phrases such as “national searches” and doling out lots of money for hiring firms to discover top talent for its top leadership roles, school systems quietly plant predetermined people in those positions who replicate the same top-down structure as the system itself, and who fob upon the teachers, students, and communities the predetermined plan. And, in too many cases, the selections bring with them a résumé full of garbage, academic fraud and lax integrity. Maybe the hiring firms should try galaxy-wide searches.

Teacher and student inclusion in the creation of the education reform is a ruse. The hiring searches are a ruse. Out of centralized offices come decisions about the studies and futures of people the systems have never met and have no understanding of. Penetrating the insider’s circle to ask questions or get answers or provide tried and true research is impossible. The controllers make decisions behind the administrative fortress. No one is accountable.

These are not school systems. They are kingdoms.

Insight from communities is needed

Our schools, community colleges and universities need insight from the communities they serve and not only new leaders, but new leadership styles. We have to change the culture of education. Children and students are not products or inventory or merchandise to be shipped. Our goal in education includes preparing people who can work, of course, but our goal in education is to prepare people to adapt to all the changing aspects of our world and to help build the next economy, not become slaves to the current one.

Nicole Helget is a writer, an alumna of MnSCU, parent of an MnSCU student, former teacher at MnSCU, and current MPA candidate at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.


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