Small Schools & Accountability: Present vs. Past

The small schools teacher known on these pages as Gnats threw down last week with some excellent ideas about the divided loyalties of small schools in the Gates era -- and how to make things better.

Not surprisingly, Gnats' post got a lot of readers and a response from small schools wise man Mike Klonsky, the gist of which was that Gnats' ideas were wrong-headed and would worsen things. I'll let them go at it in the comments section in the future, but below you can find Gnats' response to Mike. 

As one who thinks of small schools as a monolithic set of voices, it's fascinating to have a peek into the internal tensions and dynamics of that world.  I sort of think of it as a small schools discussion between youth vs. experience, or present vs. past.

From Gnats:

Mike says that I'm wrong for wanting CHSRI to stand up and insulate us from CPS mandates -- that CHSRI already does that, and that even if it doesn't we should stand up for ourselves.

As anyone in a CHSRI school can tell you, CHSRI has never been a powerful force in shaping what goes on in small schools.  As for standing up for ourselves, maybe in the past when the Board was less of a center of power or didn't care what small schools did that could work, but not these days. 

Times are different.  Accountability is the key word in urban public
education today, in large part probably as a result of NCLB.  Every
day, every week, every month, quarter, semester and year the pressure
on schools to meet the expectations of outsiders, as set and
interpreted by outsiders grows.  Talking about Small Schools without
talking about accountability is simply unrealistic. 

What Mike writes sounds noble--Small Schools should "stand up
for their kids and themselves"--but, in practice, that is a recipe for
failure because we'd be on the floor with a lump on the skull before we
knew what hit us. There are simply too many things coming down from too
many places in the area and central office for this to be a meaningful
philosophy of school governance.  Or maybe you'd say that today's generation of small schoolers just isn't as tough as you guys were.
In today's education environment, we need  something to ward off the bureaucrats and the areacrats,
to persuade them that we can't and won't do all of the contradictory and
ever-revolving things they're asking us to do because we were already
bound to do certain other things.

We turned to a mythical CHSRI which we could cite as
justification for doing things our own way instead of the area's way
and as justification for asking faculty to do things that are outside
of our comfort zone. I don't see anything wrong with this. People in
difficult situations need help and support--even if it is imaginary to
a great extent.

The fact that the CHSRI we invoked has not materialized
over the months has probably been a disappointment to many in our
school.  CHSRI could hold Intiative Schools responsible for achieving
high standards in organizational and procedural areas vital to their
success--things like having ongoing faculty-centered school improvement
processes in place, holding regular faculty meetings about instruction
and student enagagement. And another role that CHSRI ought to
play--because someone has to play this role--is in helping Initiative
schools to protect these vital and easily destroyed processes from the
machinations of the areacrats and bureaucrats. CPS -- even with a new small schools AIO in place -- isn't doing that job.

As to some of Mike's other points, I don't know why any of what I've said leads to any sort of discussion about
selling off public schools, but I certainly don't believe that it is
the responsibility of Small School teachers and principals to
"transform the system." These are the thoughts of someone who plays
chess with Small Schools; they are not the thoughts of the people who,
to finish off the unfortunate metaphor, live and work in the chess
pieces. We are just trying to do something good on our little spot of
the world.


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  • Gnats,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I need some time to think about your arguments and get rid of my hangover from yesterday's Small Schools Family Reunion, before I respond on my Small Talk blog.


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