Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Nebraska is one of only a handful of states that is a “closed shop” for important and lucrative school leadership jobs. The only ones who can be public school administrators here are educators who are, probably without exception, longtime teacher’s union members. Of course, they quit the union when they attain administrator status, but the years of union propaganda, indoctrination and habits of thinking are entrenched.

Once again, the power of Nebraska’s teacher’s union is exposed, since as long as their ideology controls the pursestrings of school districts, the unions control the school districts.

This explains why collective bargaining is such a joke, since it is educators bargaining with other educators – their longtime buddies. The attitude of “what’s best for educators” prevails, rather than a classic labor-management negotiation with a rallying cry of “what’s best for stockholders” – students, parents and taxpayers, in the case of public schools.

But the playing field is changing. Once again, Nebraska is behind the times, and once again, there’s an opportunity for a Nebraska state senator to do some catch-up and make a real difference with a proposed new law.

Most other states already have, or are working on, alternative certification programs for school administrators. This way, “outsiders” with broader, deeper management expertise can come into big-dollar, highly-complicated school district executive offices, and get rid of a lot of the archaic, wasteful management practices that persist in public education but would never fly in the private sector.

In Florida, for example, some superintendents only have to meet the qualifications of anybody running for public office – American citizen, can’t be an ax murderer, etc. – to seek elective office for superintendent seats. Others are appointed the usual way, but the point is, there’s “choice” allowed, and school boards are empowered by the open political process, rather than just being rubber stamps for the edu-machine.

Who knows how much of Nebraska’s $2 billion annual bill for public schools could be cut out, and how much better our schools could be, if management pro’s without so many conflicts of interest could get their hands on the reins of public schools?

It would only take one or two of these “outsiders” to be given a chance in Nebraska to prove the point, that there’s plenty of room for improvement in the public education executive suite.

That’s not to say that it is adviseable to give noneducators the cushy principal and superintendent seats everywhere, willy-nilly, especially in small districts where the top brass have more direct, operational duties by necessity, and sometimes are needed to teach and so forth.

But boy, it’d be great to see some options, and some fresh, new blood among those big shots, personnel heads, curriculum chiefs, and other central-office jobs.

You know, they’re the ones always spouting the Politically Correct slogans about “diversity.” Let’s make them seek diversity among their own ranks, shall we?


How to Get Quality Administrators

Q. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but the chief financial officer of our multi-million dollar school district is a former gym teacher, and the superintendent’s expertise is in special ed. I realize they contract with professional accounting and law firms, and other advisers, but is it really in our best interests to limit complicated administrative jobs to educators who’ve come up through the ranks of school staffs?

Yes and no. The best managers know the nuts and bolts of the operation they lead, whatever it is. There are many examples of private-sector CEO’s who started at the bottom and count that experience as crucial to their effectiveness. Education experience is obviously valuable for a job in educational leadership.

But most states have now passed laws that say that it isn’t essential any more, and alternative certification programs for school leaders are on the grow.

There’s a lot to be said for a fresh perspective, cross-disciplinary training, and an attitude of loyalty to the “stockholders” – in the case of public schools, the students and parents -- more than to the employees. That attitude is common in the private sector, but not, so far, in public education.

Basically, “outsiders” who didn’t go to teacher’s college, aren’t certified, and haven’t worked in education ever, or for a while, can’t have those administrative jobs. Thus, the talent pool is pretty stagnant. That creates inbreeding, nepotism, overspending, biased thinking, defensiveness and lots of other impediments to good management. No wonder collective bargaining is such a mess: it’s educators bargaining with educators, rather than labor and management.

No one is saying we should mandate that you CAN’T be an education manager if you’re an educator. Increasingly, though, people are saying that alternative certification for administrators is long past due. Schools are much more complicated enterprises now than in the past, and the budgets being managed are much bigger.

Most people believe that a retired military leader, a private-sector executive, or an entrepreneur still in his or her prime, should be allowed a chance at a high-paying, fulfilling school leadership job.

Many states have alternative certification and conditional licensure programs for superintendents, principals and other key school staff already operating, or about to. If it becomes commonplace to have a nonteacher at the helm, most school observers say it’ll be a very good thing.

Homework: You can check your state’s requirements for school administrators on the website of the National Center for Alternative Certification,

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