What you said about school administration

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I've been getting a lot of feedback about Saturday's column, which discussed a new report outlining a dramatic increase in school administration staff in the past two decades.

The first out of the gate was Barry Wilson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Northern Iowa College of Education, who objected to my using research from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. The foundation is, as I mentioned in the column (and they mention in their name, you might notice) dedicated to promoting school choice as a way to foster excellence in our K-12 schools. Wilson wrote asking me to consider the source, calling the report a "piece of trash."

"The Friedman Foundation, like many right-wing think tanks, is dedicated to privitazation of public education as was their idol, the economist Friedman," he wrote. "The simplistic correlations using numbers are not based on sound research but to the naive, seem like the 'real thing.'"

"Public education is being trashed by people who see it as a business opportunity," Wilson went on to write. Something I don't necessarily disagree with, but in fact, the Nobel Prizewinner Milton Friedman and his wife, Rose, aren't the foundation's "idols," they're its founders. And as I mentioned in the column, I don't buy that school choice is an automatic answer to the increase in non-teaching staff, but if the numbers themselves are "trash," I'd like to hear about it.

The report's numbers seemed a pretty accurate reflection of reality to several other readers, like the guy who called Monday and introduced himself as Not Usually a Fan -- a self-described former high school social studies teacher who usually finds me to be a "stereotypical whiny liberal" but wanted to tell me he thought I was right on about this topic (um, thanks?), and to regale me with stories about red tape and bureaucratic idiocy at his former school -- in a local district whose name you'd recognize but which shall, at his request, remain nameless.

Another reader wrote to say he recognized the trend in the Cedar Rapids district, and was curious to know more specific school-level data. "Historically, in most businesses, we need to question the need for administrative labor on a regular basis," he wrote. "Managers have a tendency to 'empire build' by growing their staff to justify larger powers/salaries for themselves."

As for my question about whether running a school is honestly 26 percent more complicated than it used to be, if school administrator Doug McBride's response is typical, then I'd say that's a conservative figure. He wrote:

"I become increasingly discouraged at the amount of forms and reports that have become required for pleasing the Departments of Education (state and federal). As society has become more technologically advanced, it has also advanced the bureaucracy that is our state and federal departments of education. We are required to report, datacize, and justify more and more details of our work to a state and federal bureaucracy. It doesn't necessarily mean better education for our students and it certainly doesn't mean more time for me to work with children (the reason I went into education). It is simply satisfying the requirements of a bloated governmental bureaucracy. So, in a way, I guess I agree. Just wanted to make sure that you understand that, as a building principal, it's dangerous to generalize that all administrators are part of the problem. My duties have increased by quite a bit since entering the field, and very little of it means more time working with students."

Sounds like there's lots of red tape that could be cut. I'd love to hear more from people on the ground before legislators pass a whole slew of new laws and regulations that sound like progress but yield mostly paperwork.


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