On Monday we held our first National Educational Accountability Forum via a video call with 26 participants. Eric Simpson, my co-director on the Texas Public Accountability Consortium, made a comment about the wind for once being at our back regarding solving the accountability issue, and that we’d better take advantage of it. George Thompson of the Schlechty Center sent me what follows in response, and I thought it worth sharing here.
As I was listening to the Forum discussion yesterday, I remembered something I learned from my mentor superintendent. He advised that one should never even hint at leaving a leadership role until you are ready to accept the fact that you will, from that day forward, be treated as a lame duck. He said that people in the organization will act as if you never existed and will become preoccupied with who they think the successor will be. Reminds me of the song, “Mister Cellophane,” from the musical, Chicago. “You can look right through me, walk right by me, and never know I’m there …” I recall about a month after I left the school district, I ran into a teacher who approached me to tell me how much she and her colleagues missed me. Then as she said goodbye, she called me by the name of the person who had served as interim superintendent before a permanent one was appointed.
So what does this have to do with the Forum yesterday? It was the combination of Eric’s comment about having the wind to our backs, and the pastors comment about parents expecting superintendents and school boards, and not government, to make the hard decisions needed now. Federal and state DOE departments are not only lame duck, they are out of sight and out of the minds of parents. The test has left the room, whether it knows it or not. Dr. Phillip Schlechty used to say that the standard is set on the outside by the customers of the organization—not on the inside. The standards have shifted, and most of us are acting like the test is still the standard. The new standards that parents care about, have to do with their children being safe when they return to school. They are concerned about mental health and how their children will either maintain or establish healthy relationships with peers and adults. They want their kids to have memorable experiences both in academics and in extracurricular activities.
The test is a lame duck, and so are those who have staked their reputation on it. But more than that, the political, and often partisan, impact of departments of education is waning. Even in cases where departments are helpful, they are still lame ducks because parents are looking right past them, walking right by them, and don’t even know they’re there.
Quick note: you can find George and all the Schlechty folks at https://www.schlechtycenter.org.