Young Harold Hills in Education

Think men....thinkI’ve been in the education biz for 23 years.  Now that I have officially called myself out for being really old, I have a point to make.  What is UP with districts hiring educational experts who have little to no classroom experience?  We got a bunch of Harold Hills coming into school districts with really nothing more than pretty talk, big ideas, and “The Think System”.

Doctors put in a bajillion hours of field experience, and lawyers work like dogs and tote partners’ brief cases for three to five years before they get a good case.  Business men and CEOs, accountants and others really do pay their dues before they are afforded the corner office with a window.  Even the McDonalds worker has to run the cash register and empty trash before s/he goes into middle management.

Somehow, though, someone decided that school and district leaders don’t really need that.  Someone decided that theory was enough; that The Think System is really going to work in closing the achievement gap.  That’s all it is, too: theory not steeped in practice because no one sticks around long enough to actually make the plan or the practice work. But that is the trend.  Spend, oh, I don’t know, three years in the classroom, and you are qualified to run a school.  And after you run that school for, oh I don’t know, three years, you are then qualified to run a school district, and not even a small one.

Fulton County Schools is doing just that, hiring a superintendent from Oregon with three years classroom experience…in one school and at one grade level.  This guy, Dr. Jeff Rose, is taking the helm at the second largest school district in the state of Georgia with three years classroom experience.  And he’s been hired to close the achievement gap with those three years of experience…in one school and at one grade level. I wonder what Alvin Wilbanks, the patriarch of Georgia Superintendents, thinks about this.

I haven’t asked Dr. Wilbanks, but I’m wary.  No, I’m reticent.  When I was coming up, the principal’s job was something that was awarded teachers who did their time, were excellent in content and pedagogy, and who were steeped in the community.  That’s where the best teachers, who did their time, went to die.  They had the experience in the classroom to understand that teaching is hard, and kids are different.  They had the experience in the schools to know that some parents are just more difficult than others, and the experience to know that some teachers can be straightened out with a stern conference, not a letter of direction.  They knew that central office was only for those who retired and were wooed back from retirement into the fold.  They had the experience to see education for what it is, warts and all.

Nowadays, counties are hiring these young pups who have little to no classroom experience and the same degree pedigree that I have, except my degrees came from real live universities (they didn’t have online education back in the day…and the Broad Institute for Superintendents is sketchy…sketchy I say!).

How are these youngins going to know the ropes or deal with the real life things that happen in school?  How can anyone without boots on the ground, nights in trenches, late practices, rehearsals, mock trials, rivalry games, or open houses know what it’s like in education?  They don’t. They think they do.  They have the theory, the think system.  They come in, make grandiose promises, and then high tail it out of town for the next Professor Hill to come in with a new plan, some new system, with little experience, and with no plans to stick around.

And the achievement gap remains.  And the kids still suffer from grown folk Harold Hills and hubris.