What Does Your School Choose: Money, Outsiders’ Perceptions, or Education?

The focus of all service industries should be…service. All too often the focus is instead on profits and/or public perception over the service being offered. By working in international education, I have only worked in private schools. I have found that administrative focus has a tendency to stray towards the bottom line and/or outsiders’ views. This then leads them to enact policies that are focused on those issues.

These policies take teacher attention away from educationally useful activities and the quality of education students receive inevitably declines. When the focus is on money, students will use outdated textbooks and teachers will have a very limited access to technology. Infrastructure naturally decays over time. But when the bottom line is the focus, the infrastructure will either not be repaired, or it will be done cheaply and possibly become more dangerous than before.

When administration is focused on outsiders’ views (including higher-ups that renew their own contracts) the policies will focus on appearance. This always leads to extra work for teachers. Work that is educationally empty. Busy work for adults. In my experience this often includes entering datasets that have not actually been assessed, therefore they are pure judgment calls that generate extra data for administration and will not be used to improve classroom instruction. This type of data generation can be tolerable, if educationally pointless because they are not constant and do not directly lead to lower educational quality.

The next level of policy takes directly takes away from learning. I have found that this can involve regular assemblies, contests, and events that have no set end time (whenever the adults speaking run out of breath, I guess). If your class intersects with this time, you could have a full class period or miss anywhere from 5-20 minutes. Also, students who return from sitting in an assembly are less focused and more squirrely than normal. So on top of less class time, it takes more effort and time on the teacher’s part to get the class settled. But at least the school will have good photos to share with current and prospective parents…

The final level not only takes away from instruction but can change teaching methods for the worse. I believe policies that fall into this category are inherently immoral. The solution may be to flat out disobey administration, game the system, or to leave the school (work for change first). Administration should be disobeyed when following their policies requires you to become educationally negligent or dishonest. It is, however, very necessary to check and make sure you are not being needlessly rebellious (It’s a big temptation when you don’t see eye to eye with admin).

Gaming the system is necessary when administration does not have realistic expectations. In this type of case, get the work done as fast as possible with as little effort on both your and the students part as possible. It is generally better to deal with a small complaint about the quality of the work than to waste even more instructional time making things look acceptable to admin (‘pretty’). Finally, if things show no realistic hope of improving, it may be necessary to leave your school.

Folder checks, student work checks, or whatever a school calls them have their uses, but they should primarily be the student’s responsibility to prepare for and the administration ought to clearly communicate that it should be a low/no stress task. When a school places a high value on the folder check and wants every student’s notebook to be graded, corrected, regraded, and put in order, the responsibility falls on the teacher to make every student become perfectly (or at least close to it) organized. This is an impossible task that adds puts an astronomical load on teachers for an incredibly tiny benefit. In my experience, there are only two ways to do this type of folder check; cheat or spend many hours fixing each student’s notebook.

Another intrusive policy that is used to make the school look good is to require that all students pass. When outsiders hear about how successful every student is at the school, especially ones that struggled at previous schools, its prestige will rise. However, doing this leads to a myriad of ethical issues. If student A earned a 34% but receives a 60%, how is that fair to the students who earned their D? Do you bump the whole class up on a curve? What about the students who received an A, do you give them an A++++?

Passing students who should fail cheapens the grades of all students. It also lies to parents. Parents should know that their child is struggling, but if they see a 60%, then they can reasonably conclude that they are doing alright (especially if there is a learning disability or the child is ESL). I feel that this is the most unethical and hardest policy to live with. It must be disobeyed.

 

What does your school focus on money, outsider’s perceptions, or education?