Just when we thought Bill Gates was going to take over the schools as well as the world, there's a new awareness in town . . . a little more along the lines of "Hey! Wait a minute!! What are all these CEO's doing in here?!" That's kind of what New Yorkers wanted to know over the past few weeks in the wake of the mayor's appointment of a publishing executive to take over the job of schools chancellor.
I think I laughed out loud when I first heard the news. After all, let her try it out . . . I mean, why spoil the fun of watching another CEO discover that managing schools is just not a straightforward task? That would be a little like the Gates Foundation School of the Future in Philadelphia, which has had a revival now, but which floundered for a few years while the people in charge slapped their foreheads in dismay because the students just didn't know what to make of completely computerized everything. You know, as in "where are those worksheets"?
Yes, it takes a little more than building a new structure, even if it is high-tech city, to convince the public AND the kids AND their parents that doing things a new way might be a good idea. Think of a complete rewiring of public expectations of school, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what Microsoft ran into in Philly when they first started out. The experience was right in line with what Mr. Gates said, in his own dismay, a few years ago when he was spending millions to rally the troops for school reform: He told the NY Times in an email interview that the "lack of public will" was the biggest barrier to true reform.
Well, yes, people are happy to live in the traditional world of the traditional school, because it's safe, it's familiar, it's . . . tradition! Like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, we allegedly independent and forward-looking Americans are clinging like Saran wrap to our traditions. There are precious few left in this new millennium, and our beloved public schools are primary aspects of our American identity. You know how it goes: Where did YOU go to high school? Were you on the football team or were you a nerd (a brain, a party girl, etc.)? Everyone who matters shows up at high school football games, the band parents raise tons of money to buy new uniforms for the marching band, the debate team travels to out-of-town contests . . . and the activities are just so much fun. But all of those things are NOT what school reform is about. We all love our activities and, precisely for that reason, we want to make academic work just as engaging, based on the work of real teachers with real experience in how students learn, and real school leaders who know how to create collaborative environments for teachers, parents, and kids.
As charter school operators across the country are proving to themselves every day, there's just so much to be DISCOVERED about how schools really operate! So, pay attention, CEOs: Schools are not "in trouble" because the people in charge don't know how to manage; they're in trouble because times have changed drastically over the past 50 years and schools are still struggling along with the zeitgeist of the 1950s dogging their every step. We need a reinvention of our traditional model, and it does need to be public, and the CEOs can't help us. The people in the schools need to do it themselves, with the input, support, and collaboration of all of those disenchanted parents and community members.
At last, the public is starting to ask the real questions: Why are we letting business leaders run our schools? Even in New York, the most politicized environment in the nation (well, right after the DC beltway), real people are asking real questions. I guess it's time for all of us to stand up and say, "Hey, guys! School is NOT a business--surprise!!" Find out more and join our campaign to create REAL change in schools on our Facebook fan page. We need all the clout we can get to make a dent in public opinion--and those traditions!