Teachers, Not Superintendents, Deserve Recognition

The TRUTH is, teachers are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Tug of War by JoePhilipsonadministering standardized and high-stakes tests. While the opt out movement gains steam and moves forward, teachers face a very difficult reality of playing by the rules or risking their jobs by being insubordinate. Recently, more and more teachers across the nation are choosing to refuse to administer the tests; but other teachers face backlash and repercussions for doing so.

The irony of the situation is that when the test scores are released, it often is the district superintendents who receive all of the praise. If teachers are abiding by the rules and administering the tests, and often putting aside their own feelings toward the testing madness in the process, let’s give credit where it is due.

During this era of low morale, increased responsibilities for data collection and analysis, more hoops to jump through in the evaluation process, and larger piles of paperwork that include several extra hours of work for lesson planning and completing report cards, it is the teachers who work tirelessly in the trenches to teach and support their students. Often, all of the district and state mandates are a tough pill to swallow for educators who just want to teach, so giving them the credit is the least their administrators and communities can do.

A September 2014 blog post, “The Myth of the Superstar Superintendent,” points out that school district superintendents “often get lots of media attention, are in charge of big budgets and, in theory, set the educational agenda.” But, it questions whether these administrators truly matter in terms of student success and cites a study that analyzed student scores from two states over a ten year-period to determine the answer.

Matthew Chingos, a senior fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, co-authored a broad study that examines the link between superintendents and student achievement. Chingos and his co-authors, Grover Whitehurst and Katharine Lindquist, determined that “hiring a new superintendent made almost no difference in student success.” As Chingos puts it, “‘We just don’t see a whole lot of difference in student achievement that correlates with who the superintendent happens to be.’”

Another important finding of the study is that student achievement does not improve the longer a superintendent serves in a district. In fact, Chingos contends that it is the wider school system, including the culture, community, and local school board that are much more influential than the person serving as the superintendent. “‘When you see a district that’s doing really well with a visionary superintendent, it may also have a very proactive school board, a very involved community, and a whole bunch of other things.’”

Along the same lines, education writer and author Dana Goldstein contends that “‘too many Paperwork by luxomediasuperintendents have been paper-pushing administrative overlords wedding to traditionalist views and averse to change.’” Goldstein also differentiates between successful and poor superintendents: “‘A good superintendent empowers leading visionary principals and teacher leaders at the school.’ … But what actually happens too often is that superintendents ‘squash interesting ideas, so you’d have principals afraid to try something new, afraid to try something innovative.’”

As author of The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, Goldstein reflects on the public school system and contends that public schools “desperately need more autonomy and authority to innovate.” Goldstein says, “‘Sustainable education reform in the United States is going to come from the bottom up.’ … ‘There is too much focus on these top-down reformers and the idea of the crusading, superstar superintendent. And not enough on the people who matter more – the principals and teachers.’”

_MG_9850 by Saul LewisUntil the high-stakes testing madness ends or a national moratorium on standardized testing is put into place, we need to consider where we place our praise and recognition. Let’s give teachers the credit they are due, even if we don’t agree with the current testing, curricula, and timelines under which they are suffering.

Images via Flickr by JoePhilipson, luxomedia, and Saul Lewis

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