For years America’s public school system has had to endure individuals in educational leadership positions that have no real education degrees or background involving how children and adolescents learn—and who have scant experience in the classroom.
Think about state superintendents. There’s John White in Louisiana, or Kevin Huffman who once ruled in Tennessee. Of course, there was D.C. Superintendent Michelle, tape their mouths shut, Rhee in D.C. Most of these individuals had 3 years max in the classroom and were Teach for America groomed. Some administrators like White, and Robert Bobb, Detroit’s one-time emergency financial manager, attended the Broad Superintendents Academy.
There’s many more. Ask yourselves, where does our superintendent both district and state come from.
These individuals have ruled with reform initiatives that sank public school classrooms and teachers and students through draconian testing. The factors involving poverty were ignored. Students were to pull themselves up by their bootstraps with no excuses allowed.
For most real career teachers, who played the game fairly and got education degrees and credentials when they mattered, taking directives from the new unqualified was a bitter pill.
Test-and-punish policies are still running rampant through America’s educational system—there’s still too much of an emphasis on “rigor” and aligning standards, and, of course, Common Core State Standards haven’t gone away.
But if you scan the landscape thoroughly, you will find a bit of hope.
We are beginning to see a few places resorting to real teachers as leaders again—like what we recently saw take place in the troubled Detroit Public School System.
Alycia Meriweather, who grew up in Detroit and is a teacher became the new interim superintendent. Her speech on this link will make you cry!
Meriweather began teaching science in the district in 1995 at Farwell Middle School. Before becoming executive director of curriculum, Meriweather spent four years as the deputy executive of the district’s office of science, and spent two years as the supervisor of middle-school science. She joked on Monday that her tenure in the district began when she was 4 and enrolled in a Head Start preschool program.
“Teaching is a calling on my life,” she said. “It has been a calling on my life since I was a little girl instructing my class of stuffed animals in my attic.”
Meriweather has her work cut out for her.
But it is not just Detroit.
In Jennings, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb where 44 percent of household resident’s earn less than $25,000, Tiffany Anderson, teacher turned superintendent, is working to lift students out of poverty.
Anderson has created a lot of excellent outside-of-the-box initiatives to address the difficulties facing students.
She teamed up with the St. Louis Area Food Bank to open a school-based pantry. She also installed washers and dryers in each school and set up a clothing boutique for students. There they can get free coats, socks, undergarments and other essential clothing.
She instituted community meetings with the local police to discuss problems and how to collaborate on solutions.
In addition, an unused classroom became a health clinic.
Jennings still talks “high expectations,” but there is substance, not just high-stakes testing, behind her words.
It is time for real teachers to fix up the mess that has been created in this country by years of neglect and bad policy. Let’s hope this is a trend that will continue and that better funding will be put behind the effort.