A reader responds to our discussion about the importance of content and explains how administrators matter in relation to content. If they are indifference to content it shapes their vision and their behavior:
I am a professor of educational administration and I’m struck by how little content area knowledge is required to become a principal or superintendent. Standards related to administrator certification seldom (if ever) include anything related to the need for developing even a basic understanding of math, science, reading, etc. Most preparation programs do not include any instruction at all in this area, and are instead committed to an organizational perspective rooted in a very specific kind of business-thinking that emphasizes efficiency and equality over a sensitivity to difference and equity.
This makes administrators particularly susceptible to the sirens of standardized “accountability” because focusing on the “bottom line” of student achievement “shows them” who is a “good or bad teacher” and they can avoid completely the difficult work of learning that leadership and instruction can and should look different in a high school science lab, a Kindergarten classroom or a middle school composition course. Also, since the reformers use leaderlingo like all children can learn, a shared vision, we must change for our students’ sake, let’s focus on the bottom line, they are speaking in a language they understand. Unfortunately it isn’t the language of schools or the language of learning.
I would love to see administrators taught that content areas matter and that each is supported differently. I would love to see them taught that both processes and outcomes are equally important. I would love to see them taught that excellence in education has never been standardized because everything is dynamic–content areas change, students’ needs and talents evolve, teachers improve and develop new skills and expertise, family situations fluctuate, etc.
I guess what I’m saying is that the standardization of education in the form of some kind of ostensibly objective and measurable outcome sees flawed at the core as a way of thinking about (and forming policy for) schools. It is out-of-touch with the dynamic world in which we live and the dynamic schools in which our teachers work. The diversity in US public schools, coupled with the high level of expertise among our teachers, makes them among the richest educational environments in the world. They shouldn’t be the same because they can’t be the same. I would love to see us developing new ways of thinking about schools that are more grounded in what we know about various content areas while also acknowledging that there simply is no one best way to teach, only best practices, research-based practices that necessarily need to evolve. Standardization moves us, unfortunately, in the opposite direction–toward a vision of the world and of teaching that is static.