When a fellow teacher stopped me in the hall to whisper a brief description of the book he was reading, I listened. The book, he explained, discussed individuals in positions of authority who abuse the trust that they have been given, as well as the lives over which they rule.
The book explained that the next-to-the-worst boss is the one whose goal is to ruin an employee’s tenure with the organization. The worst type of boss is one whose goal is…to ruin an employee’s life! (We had spoken in rushed whispers for just this reason.)
Unfortunately and too often, these types of people are working at some level in public school administration. Unfortunately and in increasingly greater numbers, such administrators are coming from the ranks of the least intelligent; the least qualified; the least scholarly. Tom Shuford explains in his article, GRE Scores of School Administrators:
Mean Verbal-429, Mean Quantitative-520, Total-949: These are the mean Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores of applicants for graduate study in Education Administration tested between July 1, 2000 and June 30, 2003. Of 51 intended areas of graduate study, applicants in 45 fields had higher Total GRE scores than applicants in Education Administration.
…Verbal and Quantitative scores follow the same pattern. Applicants in 46 fields had higher Verbal scores than candidates in Education Administration. Applicants in 4 fields had lower Verbal scores. (The data seem to explain why articles and Op-Eds by education administrators are extreme rarities.)
…What do the data on Graduate Record Examination scores of aspiring Education Administrators mean? What do the data tell us about the quality of decision-making in state education departments, in district central offices and in principals’ offices? How are curricula, textbooks, instructional programs, teachers impacted by school leaders with such academic aptitude scores?
…But for all their limitations, the GRE and the SAT measure what they purport to measure with some success. There is, therefore, a special irony if — as seems certain from the data — we are selecting as heads of our K-12 academic institutions, individuals who demonstrate negligible academic promise.
Let me repeat those questions… “What do the data tell us about the quality of decision-making in state education departments, in district central offices and in principals’ offices? How are curricula, textbooks, instructional programs, teachers impacted by school leaders with such academic aptitude scores”?
Such questions are of great importance for there are currently thousands of teachers; millions of pupils; under the control of these low-scoring candidates, many of whom are not only inept, but defensive; retaliatory; and manipulative.
Such questions are also important since public schooling shows greater failure rates with each passing year. These failure rates mean greater numbers of illiterate and uneducated citizens; which mean increased numbers of persons who barely exist, and most certainly fail to meet potential and so fail to thrive in life. Every year more taxes are taken from working people in order to support growing numbers of welfare-dependent individuals and rapidly expanding prison populations.
Such questions and their answers are of greatest importance since, in the process of pondering them, intelligent, reflective persons will discover yet more reasons for the steady decline of America and of the American way of life. More will note exactly where the blame should be placed. Rational people will come to the conclusion that the era of mass public schooling should come to an end, and the sooner, the better.
Too few people are aware that the most capable teachers and administrators — those who understand the real issues in education and seek to effectively solve the problems — have their hands tied by inappropriate leaders and bad legislation, at all levels. Many skilled individuals not only have their hands tied but their mouths gagged. Without their voices, they cannot speak the truth and warn parents; without their hands they cannot protect throats that are, figuratively, in danger of being slit.
At all levels, the actions of too many administrators prove that Tom Shuford’s concerns are valid. Such administrators hire non-assertive teachers who will pose no threat to the system, or to administrative power, even if such screening denies students the opportunity to be taught with excellence. Too many listen to gossip, tossing out positive recommendations in order to support their refusals to hire teachers who could bring literacy and scholarship back to public schools. Too many spread distortions fueled by personal agendas. Some just prefer to “stay out of it” rather than hire a teacher who a fellow administrator has blacklisted and is attempting to destroy. Neither common decency nor integrity is expected of administrators, anymore.
“Curiously, the mean Total GRE score of applicants for graduate study in Education — broadly-speaking — is 981. That of aspiring Education Administrators: 949. That might make for some interesting differences of opinion on curricular issues.” Shuford
Ask any teacher you know to be capable of teaching any willing learner, and capable of motivating most students to become more interested in learning. Ask any teacher you know to be a real scholar in life, both personally and professionally. Ask any teacher who spends time researching and learning better methods for better instruction. Ask any teacher who sees through shallow and irrelevant teacher development inservices; teacher training classes; No Child Left Behind mandates. Ask them if they have any differences of opinion, interesting or otherwise, with their administrators.
Ask those teachers…but do it quickly — for with each new batch of administrators that slide through education schools and into positions for which they possess few scholarly or leadership qualifications, more capable teachers leave the field.
If you can find talented teachers who are willing to talk; who dare to talk; you will discover that most are now, or have been at some point in their careers, on the hit list of a less-than-smart, more-than-devious, small-minded administrator.
Many teachers elect to leave teaching rather than work for administrators who are incapable of even researching educational problems, let alone solving them. In fact, too often administrators resent any teacher who would, and could, improve the school. The worst, as exposed in my friend’s book, would rather oust and destroy their arch enemies — teachers who erroneously believe that schools were designed to educate the populace; the citizenry; for literate, wise participation in a republic — and any teachers who vocalize that conclusion.
Many teachers, too often the bright ones, leave the field of education within the first five years of teaching. Others stay longer, often at great personal and professional sacrifice, for they view teaching as a mission. Many of those teachers began their careers back in the good ole days, working for fine administrators who have now retired, leaving committed teachers at the mercy of saucy upstarts. Every year, retirement and early-retirement further reduce the numbers of skilled teachers who are willing to work in public miseducation.
Jeffrey Weld explains in his article, Attracting and Retaining High-Quality Professionals In Science Education
The average number of years in the classroom that beginning chemistry teachers endure is an alarmingly short four years, according to a 1993 RAND Corporation study, and the average is only slightly better for physics and biology teachers.1 Teacher attrition across the disciplines is a serious problem, but it is particularly acute in the sciences, and it is particularly disturbing when the teachers who leave are talented and reflective people. Any teacher can tell stories about “the good ones” who have left the classroom — whether to “move up” to administration or to leave education altogether. A study of 13,000 teachers who began their careers in Michigan during the 1970s revealed that only 56% were still teaching after six years. For chemistry teachers, the figure was 49%.2 Furthermore, an older study showed that those with higher scores on the National Teacher Exam had stayed in teaching less time than those with low scores.3
Eventually the teachers who remain in the classrooms will mostly be: young, inexperienced, non-tenured, unwilling to speak the truth/fearful of losing their jobs. Then…getting back to testing, this time to look at SAT scores…we are confronted with this problem:
The Math SAT: As would be expected, Mathematics majors scored highest of all the majors on the Math portion, with a 626 point average. They soundly trounced the Language and Literature majors, who were 76 points behind. But here’s the kicker: Language and Literature scored 67 points higher in Math than Education majors!
Not to put too fine a point on it, but well over half of future teachers will end up either teaching math or a math-heavy field such as science. Meanwhile future linguists, authors, and literature critics might not ever see another equation in their life.
And yet with Euclidian aplomb they fairly kicked Education majors’ butts (by 1.75 standard deviations, no less).
Ok, we hear your protests. Not every teacher will teach math, granted. So let’s look at the Verbal scores.
The Verbal SAT: Here, Language and Literature majors got their reciprocity, outperforming all other majors with a score of 603. Mathematics majors were forced to lick their wounds 58 points back. But (and you knew this was coming) the Math majors came off as quite cultured in comparison to our soon-to-be public school teachers, beating Education majors by 63 Verbal points!
This is embarrassing.
It could be worse: In a comparison of 21 college categories (we’re eliminating the non-college categories of “Home Economics” and “Technical and Vocational”) Education majors come in third-to-last place on the Math portion. Only “Agriculture or Natural Resources” and “Public Affairs and Services” majors scored worse.
In the Verbal portion — which should be a teacher’s strong point, or so we thought — Education majors took the silver medal in the race for last place. “Public Affairs and Services” again occupied the basement.
Wait! It gets worse. In his article The Truth About Grade Inflation, Bruce Bartlett explains:
According to the College Entrance Examination Board, the average combined score on the Scholastic Assessment Test (formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test) has fallen from 1059 in 1967 to 1020 in 2002. However, this greatly understates the magnitude of the decline because in 1995 the SAT was “renormed.” In practice, this statistical legerdemain added 100 points to everyone’s score — 76 points to the verbal score and 24 points to the math score. What this means is that for anyone who took the SAT before 1995, if you want to know how well you would do today you must add 100 points. Keep this in mind when some friend brags about how well his child did on the test. You can knock 100 points off for grade inflation in comparison to how your generation did.
ReformK12 concludes: “Now isn’t it about time we dismantle ‘Schools of Education’ nationwide, and actually permit college students who major in something else (anything else but government) to become teachers? Please?”
Shuford concludes: “We select leaders for our school systems from a pool of individuals whose standardized test scores are not only among the lowest in education-related fields but are among the lowest in all academe. This is lunacy.”
With such people in the seats of power there is no hope that any plan, of any kind, will ever successfully reform public education.
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] is an educational consultant, homeschooling mom, and public school special ed teacher. She is available for presentations, inservices, and workshops.