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Running schools like a business

By Michael Moore Savannah Morning News My 10th-grade science teacher did not inspire me to become a scientist. But he did inspire others in our class and some did become scientists. Back then (and not that long ago), the only people in Mr. Sheffield’s classroom were he and his students. Today, Mr. Sheffield’s classroom would be overcrowded – just not from students. His inspiration and influence would be severely impaired. When Mr. Sheffield taught biology, his administration respected his content knowledge and his job. His superintendent respected his work, as did his board of education, the parents of his students, the public and the state. I think most were in awe of his ability to transform a classroom. He was a school leader and coached the science club. Today, Mr. Sheffield would face a teeming classroom. He would be subjected to “walk throughs” by threatened administrators looking only to be sure that the day’s science standard was prominently posted on the board. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (Margaret Spellings in wingtips) would be wandering through Mr. Sheffield’s classroom deciding whether critical federal dollars should be given to Georgia, provided Mr. Sheffield does not have intellectual aspirations beyond his bachelors degree (his experience and status as a leader and role model are not eligible for financial reward). Mr. Sheffield would need to save extra seats for Gov. Sonny Perdue and the state board of education, who show up to make sure his test scores reflect what’s being taught, even though such tests merely measure socio-economic status and what he didn’t have time to teach because he was forced to teach to the test. Mr. Sheffield would no longer be able to administer his own qualitative tests that include written responses that would inform him as to his students’ progress and enable him to individualize his instruction. Today, weeks of instructional time are lost to testing or test preparation. The board of education would be cutting Mr. Sheffield’s supplies. His curriculum would be selected by others, but developed by test makers to narrow his focus toward the all-important test. The superintendent would be unilaterally adjusting his school day and instructional schedule, so precious dollars can be saved at the end of the year. Lost in all this would be his innovative planning. Today Mr. Sheffield, like most teachers, would be assailed at all levels. Reductionist political sound bites like “no excuses,” “non negotiables” and “accountability” have eroded the perception of teachers among the public, our political leadership, administration and ultimately – and sadly – students. A number of years ago, Mr. Sheffield died relatively young in his forties of a heart attack. Were I pressed to explain to him what happened to his beloved profession over the last 10 years, I would have to tell him that while we were all busy with teaching, we thought others who we trusted had our backs. Unfortunately, no one had our backs. A highly intrusive government at every level descended on schools. When the dust cleared, what was left was just another poorly run business.

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