Thursday, July 08, 2010

Educational Concept Worthy of Study

Since not all teachers want to be "principals", each school will need a few teachers who do want to lead other teachers else chaos will eventually reign. Expectations of not having these types of leaders emerging may take longer than three years or never. The Concept is worth a hard try.


From the Detroit Free Press, Thursday, July 8, 2010. See
Detroit Public Schools tries something new: A school run by teachers

By Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki

Detroit Public Schools is set to open its first school without a principal -- teachers will be running the day-to-day operations and making all pertinent decisions.

They won't have to wait for the central office's OK to purchase needed items or increase their emphasis on fractions or writing, for instance.

Founded on the belief that those within the building know best what their students need, Barbara Jordan Elementary will be the district's first teacher-led school, open only to students whose parents agree to be involved. State officials know of no teacher-led schools in Michigan.

The Detroit school, for students in kindergarten through fourth grade, is modeled after teacher-led schools in Boston, Milwaukee, Denver and Los Angeles.

It's too early to know test results, said Michael McLaughlin of the Boston Teachers Union School. But he can name one indicator of the Boston school's success: "The families in the area, they're clamoring to get into this school."

In Detroit, the high-profile experiment in school reform could have long-reaching implications, said Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

"It's an unprecedented opportunity," Johnson said. "We cannot fail."

Less bureaucracy at school could make it easier to educate students

Summer has barely begun, but Ann Crowley can't wait for school to open in the fall.

The 22-year veteran teacher and administrator is part of a new experiment in Detroit Public Schools -- a school run by the teachers.

Her enthusiasm is obvious and contagious.

"I returned to the classroom to better meet the needs of the children, right at the ground level," said Crowley, who expects to teach at Barbara Jordan Elementary. "That's what this school is all about."

She's part of a DPS group called Detroit Children First, which is made up mostly of teachers. It has been asking for a teacher-led school for years.

With the backing of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, it convinced the district's emergency financial manager, Robert Bobb, to let it run a school that bypasses layers of bureaucracy that can often slow decision-making. It is a school where the staff makes all the decisions, from lessons to hiring to building repairs.

It is believed to be the first teacher-led school in the state.

The hope is to "cut out the middle man," said Kim Kyff, a teacher with more than 20 years' experience who also hopes to teach at the school.

Without bureaucracy, "there's more direct communication," Kyff said. "You are able to more readily implement and make changes, without having to go through multiple layers."

Increased responsibility will come with that increased autonomy. The school's success will rest on teachers' shoulders.

"Teachers here do not fear accountability," Crowley said. In fact, some had offered to surrender tenure in exchange for a teacher-led school -- a sacrifice the district didn't ask them to make in the end.

DFT President Keith Johnson knows the importance of the school's success and the price that could be paid for failure.

"I'm excited about it, but I'm also cautiously optimistic, because we've got to make sure that we do it right," Johnson said. "We cannot let the school crash and burn. I think the perception of teachers as effective educational leaders would be severely damaged if we can't make this school a success."

Detroit's teacher-led school initially will be for students in kindergarten through fourth grade, with a middle school operating in an adjacent building. Eventually, the entire K-8 campus will be part of the teacher-led school.

The school, which will be funded like any other DPS school, will have an extended day, with enrichment programs such as music or art after lesson hours, and a longer school year.

This first year, the DFT will hire the teachers, but Barbara Jordan teachers will eventually take over that task. There will be no principal. There will be a building administrator, probably with experience as a principal, to handle the administrative duties that teachers aren't familiar with. That position is expected to be phased out in about three years, with teachers taking over those duties, as well.

School governance will come from teacher committees. Teachers will meet in small groups to make decisions for their students. Each small group will choose a point person to represent the group at meetings of point people from the rest of the building. Teachers will rotate the point-person position.

"The teachers just did not have a lot of leverage in meeting the needs of the children that were sitting in front of them," Crowley said, explaining the desire for the school.

They hope to change that. The school is envisioned as a model of democracy, with every employee having a say in how it's run and parents as important participants. In fact, parents will have to sign a contract promising to be involved in their child's education and the school.

Admission will be based on the parent's willingness to participate.

DPS officials said it's up to the teachers to make this school a success.

The federal No Child Left Behind law "requires that failing schools face sanctions, up to and including closure. We have shown that we will close failing schools," said Barbara Byrd Bennett, Bobb's chief academic adviser.

"That said, nobody intends for this school to fail. Everyone is committed to making it a success, and interventions will be put in place to ensure it succeeds."

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