Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Core and Bad Supervision

Here's another problem we don't discuss often enough.

Education is one of the few fields where supervisors and administrators don't understand what the vast majority of their supervisees do.

Building principals and superintendents usually come up through the teaching ranks. But they come up through a particular discipline.

You could make me a school superintendent tomorrow. You could even train me for the job for a few years. But at the end, I would have only a tangential understanding of what the elementary teachers or the math teachers or the industrial arts teachers in my district do. I mean, teaching is teaching, and I can certainly supervise the process and tell whether they're on the mark or not. But are they teaching the right content? Are they teaching it well? If the science department comes and tells me they want to try this new book series, I won't be in any position to evaluate the quality of those books. And if I've got to oversee the development of a new social studies curriculum-- well, I don't really know enough about what social studies teachers do to be able to tell whether that's on track or not.

The last almost-two-decades of ed reform have put math and reading in the spotlight. The pressure has been on to lift the quality of these programs in schools. And yet all across the country, there are math and English teachers being supervised by administrators who literally have no idea what those teachers do in their classrooms.

Enter the Common Core (or [Your Name Here]) Standards.

Administrator: I don't really know what exactly does, or should, go on in a math or English class.

Standards: Here's a handy checklist of what should be happening.

Administrator: Hey, look! Now I know exactly what math and English teachers can and should do!

The cruel irony here is that the standards were developed by people who also did not understand what math and English teachers actually do. So what we get is a tone-deaf person's ideas about how to lead a symphony orchestra.

Certainly it doesn't have to be that way. I have never worked for a principal or superintendent who was previously an English teacher, and yet plenty of them have educated themselves and consulted experts in the field (aka the people who work right here in the building) in order to build an understanding of what teaching English is about.

But I've heard and read the tales of teachers out there in the world who work for supervisors who are lazy or overwhelmed or just not very good who just grab the standards, wave them in the teacher's face, and say, "This. You're supposed to be doing this." Then they call it a day.

This is one more bad side effect of the standards-- the enabling of bad administrators who practice unthinking Management By Checklist.


  1. When we had our first PD session for the (then) new Marzano rubrics (which now line my bird cage), I noticed that none of the 42 rubrics had anything to do with content knowledge. I brought it to attention of the Marzano expert and he just shrugged his shoulders (in embarassment)

  2. Try being evaulated by an admin who doesn't speak or understand your language of instruction (problem for bilingual/dual-language or foreign language teachers).

    Then, bite your tongue when you bring this up and they reply, "I don't need to understand what you're saying, I know good teaching when I see it".

  3. This has long been the music teachers' lament: Principal has no idea what we're trying to do in band or chorus or elementary music. They want shows, not music pedagogy.

    When working with candidates for National Board Certification, coaches frequently find content errors in the instructional samples provided by candidates. Ethically, coaches should not be correcting those, as NBC is an assessment, not a professional development experience.

    This kind of correction or knowledge acquisition should happen pre-service or in field experiences before licensure. But let's get real--it doesn't. All good teachers learned how to deliver and apply accurate content knowledge on the job.

    What it does speak to is mentoring of young teachers, and collaboration between experienced teachers. Lucky, indeed, is the teacher who works with skilled, knowledgeable and generous colleagues.

    1. My first full year, the entire English department was brand new. That left us all scrambling to figure out what worked ad hoc.