William Petrick, superintendent for the Little Falls School District, and principal for School No. 3, said the bill promises no real change.
"The bill does very little to change any superintendent who is uninspired, unmotivated, and/or too weak to exercise the means that have always been within his or her authority to document cause for termination of a bad teacher or administrator, tenured or otherwise," Petrick explained. "And it promises no real change because it's a compromise bill that waters down the original intention of the governor. But that doesn't matter because no law, not matter how well-written and intended it might be, will ever be able to address the dysfunction that plagues public education, in my opinion." [emphasis mine]Whoa! Nice to see an administrator say what's really on his mind for a change.
Despite the hyperbole about a plague of disfunction (I really don't have to point out all the evidence that New Jersey has great schools again, do I?), he makes a compelling point: superintendents have always had the power to document poor teaching practice. If they haven't done it up until now, why assume they will start? Where is their incentive?
(Or could it possibly be that there isn't as much poor teaching as some would like us to believe?)
Petrick also commented on the legislation's easing costs for districts when it came to blocking tenure.
"Yes, it has been a very challenging and costly endeavor in the past, however, it was already our job before the legislation passed, and more of us need to do it better, sooner and more often," he added. "And many of us would if the intention of this reform legislation addressed the real source of administrative authority in every school district across the state." Petrick also referred to training school boards in what he called "methods of competent, authoritative, appropriate oversight."
"Authoritative and appropriate oversight by a well-run board of education is, I believe, the only thing that could and would ultimately improve public education in our state, because it's the only thing that can consistently inspire and compel superintendents to live up to their charge," he remarked. "I've yet to see any initiative or legislation that directly addresses the dire need for improving the training of boards of education in New Jersey. It seems to me that they are being completely left out of the equation."Sorry, but I wouldn't say that school boards are being left out: they are at the heart of the debate about local control. The fact is that both Governor Christie and Education Commissioner Cerf do not trust urban school boards to do their bidding, which is why they are taking away as much power away from them as they can. And even though they've run into more push-back in their suburban base than they counted on, they clearly want more influence over policies there.
Cerf is an autocrat; I think he sees school boards as little more than annoyances that must be dealt with on the way to a reformy utopia.
All that said, I still think Petrick is on to something: a fish rots from the head down, and the ultimate head of a school district is its board. But charter schools and state/mayoral control and parent triggers are moving the power that used to rest with boards to new places: unelected bureaucrats, insulated charter school boards, and partisan politicians.
Can anyone make a compelling case that this will make administrators more accountable? Is there compelling evidence that giving up the governance of democratically elected school boards leads to better educational outcomes? If so, I haven't seen it.
I'm all for better school board training, and I'm all for boards holding superintendents accountable. Petrick is correct in saying that we've spent a lot time talking about better teachers and better principals and very little talking time talking about better school boards.
But maybe that's because the reformy plan is to supersede those boards anyway.