Give schools the gift of autonomy

If public schools and teachers could be given just one gift this Holiday season, it should be the gift of autonomy. The push for standardization hasn’t improved public education and likely worsened it overall, and the driving force behind some of those so-called successful charter schools is the ability to do what’s best for their students. In other words, they have autonomy.

Each school and group of students face unique challenges. Attempting to apply a one-size-fits-all model is a fools’ game

Each school and group of students face unique challenges. Attempting to apply a one-size-fits-all model is a fools’ game. Our friends from Minnesota and Florida come for a visit. There is a chill in the air, so we all wrap ourselves in the same type of thin blanket. Our friends from the land of lakes may feel comfortable while our friends from the sunshine state may be shivering. Point is, we can’t toss a blanket over our issues and expect it to solve our problems.

Our principals, assistant principals, counselors, teachers, and other staff members of our schools are highly trained, highly-educated individuals, who likely know what’s best for their school and population better than any politician or policy maker sitting behind a desk. Let’s trust them to do what’s best for their school and population.

Some schools will need smaller classes. Let principals use their budget to hire more teachers. Some schools may need additional mental health workers. Others may need to invest in staff development, while others need to provide for after-school and extended services. Stop making decisions from afar. 

Some of these policy makers’ distant decisions center around charter schools, which are a mitigated disaster, but they like to point out the few that are successful. There are many reasons for their success, ranging from not educating special needs populations to a large number of struggling students magically withdrawing, but these schools possess something we don’t permit in our so-called failing public schools – autonomy.

Some of these “successful” schools have smaller classes, longer days, extended years, apply discipline, have full say in curriculum, and more. They can make decisions that best serve their needs as a school, rather than shoving the flavor-of-the-month curriculum, standard, or strategy down everyone’s throat.

I teach in partial magnet school. We have a large Visual and Performing Arts and Gifted and Talented magnet programs that serve mostly middle and upper class families. These students apply to our school. We also have a large resides population of disadvantaged students. They are assigned to our school of a total 1,350 students. The standardized approach simply isn’t going to work in our building. 

Give my administration a budget. Take the handcuffs off. I’m sure she’d love to hire additional staff to lower our class sizes among our resides population. I bet she’d love to invest in some specially trained individuals to help our disadvantaged students. I bet she’d love to employ various curricula that addresses the needs of each demographic, rather than being given some standards and no curriculum at all. 

It’s time to trust the people in the trenches. It’s time to pass the decision-making baton back to the schools. It’s time to rid ourselves of standardization. Let’s learn from each other and duplicate each others’ successes and learn from each others’ mistakes. Let’s address the unique needs of all children by addressing the unique needs of all schools. Otherwise, we are simply placing a band aid on a bleeding wound.