I wonder what would happen if we polled the American public, including teachers and students, and determined an approval rating for our district, state and federal education leaders. I suspect it would be just as dismal as the Congressional approval rating, which is currently at 12.5% according to recent polls. And I also suspect ED leaders would continue to look at themselves in the mirror every morning and say, “I am doing what’s right for students and educators.”

Leadership in this country, in general, is blissfully ignorant.

The problem is our ED leaders have the inability to self-reflect. For example, day in and day out students, parents and educators express concern about the same things over and over:

  • “The overuse of testing is killing the educational experience for students.”
  • “Teachers are completely fried because of all the unreasonable demands placed on them.”
  • “Students are stressed out because of testing.”
  • “I hate school because I cannot relate to anything taught.” (I heard this complaint on a daily basis as an administrator).

It was far easier for Arne Duncan to deflect responsibility when confronted with the opposition to Common Core, when he said, “I find it fascinating that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

All of a sudden, huh?

Arne Duncan could use a crash course in self-reflection because there are a lot of angry, informed citizens, and he is choosing to ignore every last one of us.

Perhaps leaders feel to self-reflect is to give in or show weakness. Self-reflection and action taken after self-reflection is actually quite stoic and responsible.

I remember my first year as an assistant principal, I found out I had the highest suspension rate in the county. The reason, I was following the code of conduct to a fault. When I saw those numbers I could have done what lots of leaders do and say, “Well… those kids deserve to be suspended. They aren’t following the rules!” Instead, I took a look inward and thought, “maybe my inexperience and my stringent rule enforcement was actually detrimental to students and I may want to loosen up a bit and find an alternative to suspension.” I did change my practice and things got a lot better. I was wrong. It was as simple as that. I was also vocal about it and told my colleagues and students that I would work on loosening up a bit and work on being more flexible. The kids forgave me and I had a much better experience the following year.

Why can’t our district, state and federal leaders do the same? There is research to support the complaints; there are studies to reinforce our concerns. Yet it is simply easier for leaders to walk through their service blissfully ignorant to trepidations of the people they serve.


Rather than self reflect and actually do something regarding the complaints and concerns over bad education policy, one tactic our leaders have employed is to pretend to listen. For example, after outrage over a rushed adoption of Common Core and the tests that go with them, Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and her administration decided to take action and show people she is listening.  So they reworded a few standards, included some calculus and cursive writing guidelines, and then slapped the title Florida Standards at the top where the words Common Core once were. 

This is even more infuriating than being ignored because she basically thought to herself, “let’s placate these idiots and go ahead with the plan anyway.” Then she gets up every day and thinks she is doing a great job for the people she serves.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.   The crazy people in this situation are those doing the same thing over and over again, calling it something different so the public believes they are actually being heard, and expecting better results.

5 Responses

  1. amferry

    I am a very reflective person by nature (maybe to a fault), and I don’t know how anyone improves personally or professionally without engaging purposefully in self-reflection. Do I always like what I see? Absolutely not. I can rip myself up one side and down the other better than anyone else can. But, especially when the reflection is ugly, being brave enough to be real with myself incites change. And, I firmly believe that seeking to change and grow constantly is as important as breathing.

    I used to look to fill my life with the things (tangible and intangible) that say, “You’ve arrived, baby!” Now I realize in my personal and professional journeys, I will never arrive. Nor do I want to.

    Thanks for bringing this valuable practice to the forefront.

  2. Tree Trimmer Jim

    Two social events are happening simultaneously, major communities are going into or approaching bankruptcy while rural communities are going extinct. Financially our nation is borrowing and spending 40% more than it earns and passing the debt to the following generations.

    Poverty is defined as not having the basic capacity to adapt to society. Shrinking towns are not adapting, they are going extinct. Our nation was founded on a common core, ethics, morals, integrity and education. We are failing our children in each category. We are becoming a nation that does not trust its neighbors and other nations are leery of trusting us. Business can not survive without mutual trust.

    When enough people prosper the community prospers and attract others. Rural America is not prospering because the school systems are not meeting the local community needs. Individuals must prosper where they live, that takes deep, critical, moral, ethical thinking in conjunction with freedom, faith, persistence and community. For 200 years individual minds solved local needs creating prosperous individuals. That synergy in the 1800s resulted in our nation’s communities out producing the rest of the world.

    So is our nation’s education problem finding a single leader wise enough to know the best solution for every community or parents in every community trying to find the best solution for their children?

    Across the nation, every state has had compulsory education since 1917. If a measure of our nation’s success is its productivity and productivity results in cash flow than the 1800s were the most successful period in United States history. Twentynine of our top thirty wealthiest people were born and therefore educated in the 1800s. One was born since WWII when the grip of compulsory education begin to squeeze the local community’s control of curriculums to the strangle hold that exists today.

    In an age when we need more specialist, it takes more people to make an iPad compared to the pencil it replaces, our education system is intentionally producing fewer specialists. Production line education has developed into $5 billion dollar annual business. Repealing compulsory education at the state level would kill the goose that lays $5 billion dollar eggs and spread the wealth around. Not good for those businesses like Pearson Publishing that control most text books and tests.

    Returning the curriculum to the community would return the responsibility and the means for each community to decided its fate, growth or extinction, a choice not available to any community in the nation today.

    Our Pilgrims left England in search of freedom of education. We have no where else to go. We must get freedom of education back. First step is repeal, in each state, the compulsory education laws.

    We have the teachers, we have the desire. When teacher performance is measured by community performance those states who repeal compulsory education will have a competitive advantage. There will be some Tories, change is difficult. After 40 years of stagnant NAEP scores, even the dullest among us knows we can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

    Mighty rivers flow from single drop of rains getting together.


  3. Tree Trimmer Jim

    End Common Core in your state, repeal compulsory education.

    Erase the limitations on your child’s education, repeal compulsory education.

    Give your child a head start, teach them to develop their heart’s desire at the earliest age possible. Repeal compulsory education.

    Return the responsibility for preparing children to become parents to the parents, repeal compulsory education.

    Return prosperity to your community, repeal compulsory education.

    Return creativity and innovation to your state, repeal compulsory education.

    Put thousands of government employees back to work paying taxing and lowering our nation debt, repeal compulsory education.

    Bring jobs to the United States, repeal compulsory education.

  4. kteach87

    Great article – self reflection is truly the only way we can grow and move forward. It seems as it is always “one step forward, two steps back” in education. Kathleen, you mentioned:

    “This is even more infuriating than being ignored because she basically thought to herself, “let’s placate these idiots and go ahead with the plan anyway.” Then she gets up every day and thinks she is doing a great job for the people she serves.:

    I agree with this 100%. It is OFFENSIVE – and really indicates the lack of respect for educators, and the education system in general.


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