Having been raised in Maine and worked there for many years, I am sure I experienced snowier, icier, colder winters. I just can't remember one. This winter has tried the souls of most superintendents. What child doesn't enjoy hearing the "no school" announcement early on a cold winter's day? It seems to me that we call school off more frequently than in years past. Why?
Calling school off for bad weather is not a science. It is more like torture. It begins by rising at about 4:30 a.m. and discussing the decision with neighboring superintendents. We tend to have a herd mentality; when one of us makes a decision, most of us will follow.
But why has the decision to close school become more frequent? Doppler radar! Truly this is a device from Satan himself. In the Northeast, for example, we begin to watch a storm days in advance as it develops, and the "meteorologists" hype this for ratings.
Usually it begins with the acknowledgment that the "computer models" have the storm tracking three different paths. One will miss us entirely, the second will give us some snow but change quickly to rain, and the third (the one everyone focuses on) has us in a blizzard for three days. I especially love it when, following these predictions, the local announcer says, "Kids, get ready for a day off," which I hear as "Your superintendent wouldn't dare have you go to school with an inch on the ground." So by the time we get up at 4:30 a.m., our nerves are so frayed that we would cancel our own birthday.
The part I love is listening to why the storm never materialized. At the last minute, just before it was going to slam into the state, it took a right-hand turn and surprisingly went out to sea.
Question: How will Race to the Top affect teacher accountability, and how will that, in turn, affect the curriculum?
Marc Hoyle, Dean of the Upper School
Lawrence Woodmere Academy; Woodmere, N.Y.
Secretary Duncan and President Obama have been clear about the goal of Race to the Top. President Obama said in a speech to the National Urban League, "Our goal is accountability." Simply put, the administration wants more teacher accountability and is advocating teacher-evaluation systems that are based on student performance. The administration has been masterful in getting states to change various laws relating to using student performance to measure teacher performance, declaring that their applications for Race to the Top money would not be successful without such changes.
While I am not afraid of accountability and believe that most teacher-evaluation systems need some changes to include student performance, I am concerned about the impact on students and the curriculum. Will the changes encourage teachers to try cutting-edge teaching and learning strategies—the ones that engage students in becoming productive citizens—or will they push teachers to use strategies that perhaps work in the short term to raise test scores but cannot be justified pedagogically? Any changes to teacher-evaluation systems should be developed in collaboration with teachers.
I think the impact on the curriculum will be to narrow it to those items that improve test scores, as they will be the measure to be used in evaluating teacher effectiveness. The curriculum began to narrow under No Child Left Behind, and this will be exacerbated further.
Question: I am writing a new curriculum for middle school students related to college readiness. One of the lessons is a basic introduction to college selection criteria, such as region, setting, size and afffiliation. The materials contain an informational table with Web sites for various ethnic- and religious-related colleges and college associations, and a Web site for colleges that support learning-disabled students. One Web site is for LGBT-friendly campuses. Although I'm sure students can handle this information, I don't want to put forth a curriculum that offend parents or contains controversy. Do you think it's appropriate for a middle school curriculum?
Susan Mulcaire, President of Tween Publishing
Corona Del Mar, Calif.
With the increasing emphasis on raising the bar academically, I think students in middle school should be spending their time focusing on high-level thinking skills within their academics, keeping college and their own interests in mind throughout. Having been a guidance counselor, I feel the details of where they go to college should be left to guidance counselors and parents. I think we often are too quick to push students into areas where they don't need to go yet. To take your example, I don't think it is necessary for students in middle school to be researching LGBT-friendly colleges.
Send your questions regarding education leadership challenges you have encountered to firstname.lastname@example.org. Randy is currently executive director of the District Administration Leadership Institute for school administrators.