Monday, March 20, 2006


Q. I think the problem with our schools is too much bureaucracy. Our school districts employ so many people who don’t even have contact with kids, and don’t have any idea what goes on in the classroom today. Private schools have little, if any, middle management. Why can’t we follow that model?

There’s been a lot of hype about student achievement, a lot of hype about new programs, and a lot of hype about ground-breaking superintendents. What’s missing? A focus where the rubber meets the road – on the people doing most of the managing and decision-making within public education.
After all, people ARE the education business. A hard look at how they function makes a lot of sense.
Middle managers are program managers, assessment chiefs, content-area directors, budget specialists, and others whose work may actually have more impact on the school day than the proclamations of the school board, superintendent and union president combined.
All too often, though, they feel like mere paperwork-pushers caught in the middle between school leadership and the rank and file, unable for a variety of reasons to really change things for the better for kids, much as they’d like to.
According to the Chicago-based advocacy group, the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, a study of school administrations in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Seattle showed that changes in the way the bureaucracy creates strategies, guidelines and procedures can be pivotal for turning a failing district around.
School leaders can be using the relative experience and consistency of mid-level managers much more wisely, the study found. It suggests:
-- Decentralization and school-based budgeting and management to a much larger degree than is now in place in most school districts around the country.
-- Dialogue about the real issues of teaching and learning between school leaders and mid-level managers, rather than heavy-handed directives.
-- Paperwork reduction.
-- In-school visits by central-office administrators, rather than an over-reliance on emails, memos and phone calls.
-- Central administrators should operate as brokers, working on improving the exchange of information and expertise within schools and districtwide, as well as to the greater community.

Homework: Read the outstanding report, “Leading From the Middle: Mid-Level District Staff and Instructional Improvement,” on a Chicago-based urban school reform group’s website,

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