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    #223700 - 10/12/15 07:06 PM School Administrators as Politicians
    thx1138 Offline
    Member

    Registered: 01/30/12
    Posts: 100
    A gifted advisory center recommended I avoid using the word gifted when I approached my local public school principal about my gifted sons needs. In such a world, parents of gifted children need to carefully plan their interactions with school authorities. I have often felt confused, but have worked to construct a general theory that accounts for their behavior.

    School principals (administrators, headmasters, admissions directors, etc.) are ultimately, essentially, and primarily politicians. And politicians are not known for telling the truth. They serve many masters and broker decisions across them. And like any politician, they must regularly deceive their constituents, as they serve: themselves, their spouse, their board, the teachers, the parents, the students, and the future of the institution itself. Just because you’re funding the whole party, by no means are you and your child the first priority.

    On top of this, most parents face a monopoly (at best an oligopoly) of school choices. With public schools, you have no choice but to fund your local school with your taxes. You are handed one school and one administrator. I believe you would even help their budget if you pulled your children out into private school. And even with private schools, they often demand signed commitments, and paid tuition far in advance. In most places there are few gifted private schools on offer. You and your child are quite expendable, when there is a line of parents waiting to replace you. Net net this increases the power of the school administration, and decreases the power of the individual parent/student. The imbalance is unhealthy. Power corrupts.

    I advise gifted parents to carefully study and practice the Japanese concepts of honne and tatemae. Any time you set foot on school grounds, or interact in any way with anyone from the school, you must put on your tatemae facade. You, and the principal, may say you are sharing your true inner feelings, but it is naiveté itself to really do so. So while a school may be ostensibly “parent run” and paid for, in reality people will grab whatever power they can and hold onto it. Again we see the dichotomy between appearance and inner reality.

    Both meaningful feedback and true community in a school thus become rather unrealistic. Politician-principals really don’t want a truly strong parent community, as it would empower a group that is already far down on the priority list, making their job more difficult. PTA meetings become a farce in which only the naive really voice any of their concerns. The administration may ignore you until you go away… or they may make an example or scapegoat of you. I suppose its possible they are well intentioned and (believe they) know more about gifted education than any parent, but more likely they don’t actually want all that much feedback, and you only endanger yourself by revealing your inner thoughts (honne). If you are right, it means you have exposed the administration as wrong. I now look carefully at the parent community as a way of appraising a school.

    All one can really do is hope that your child has good teachers and healthy peers. That is ultimately where they spend their time. In theory a MAP test can reassure you if they are actually learning anything. While I like the theory and the goal, in practice some experts here feel MAP becomes less useful for gifted children.

    It often seems the goal of the administrator is to manage the parents. Ideally parents can be ignored. The nail that sticks up gets hammered. Or managed, by the carrot and the stick. For example, the principal might control teacher assignments. One begins to feel that their child is a hostage. I’ve had a principal intervene and prohibit a teacher from writing a recommendation 6 months after we changed schools. I’ve had admissions directors begin a meeting about admitting a sibling, by lecturing me about their power to “counsel out” a student. I have had another principal apologize that my DS was denied admission (as if the fish doesn’t stink at the head) while suggesting that I could always reapply. The alert reader will see the carrot and stick in operation.

    To summarize, my advice is to understand all school administrators as essentially politicians, understand your place in their pecking order, study tatemae, and consider home schooling. I didn't mean for this to come across as snarky, but I believe most gifted parents have had some bitter experiences. Am interested in your reactions to my framework.


    Edited by thx1138 (10/12/15 07:06 PM)

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    #223702 - 10/12/15 07:35 PM Re: School Administrators as Politicians [Re: thx1138]
    HowlerKarma Offline
    Member

    Registered: 02/05/11
    Posts: 5181
    In spite of occasional difficulties, I am in no way bitter about my experiences with school administrators. No, they did not always meet my child's needs. No, they did not always act in good faith or treat me kindly or with respect.

    However, I came into the arena with my expectations already very firmly in check. I expected that K-12 administrators would behave in many of the same ways that university administrators do-- and so they do.

    I expected that what I had learned through my mother (a lifelong primary teacher) of administrative behavior would be the case. And so it is.

    In short-- of course they are politicians. So are most managers, no matter the venue.

    The good ones, the ones that are there for the right reasons (and not for power or because they aren't competent to be managers elsewhere, or teachers in actual classrooms)-- they seek to serve the LARGEST NUMBER of students with the fewest dollars, and to have a way to SHOW that they have done something concrete or meaningful with that money.

    Now, the devil is in the details, however. "We bought iPads for every kindergarten student" is far more "concrete" to the powers that be than "we staffed two more classrooms in each school, and now kindergarten class sizes are down 10%, which research shows is more effective, particularly for students who are behind or ahead of their peers."

    The latter doesn't, er-- sell. Ergo, doing that with the same sum of money will not get MORE MONEY for next year.

    This isn't malice-- it's often hard-bitten pragmatism that's grown as an exoskeleton to hide the deep desire to do BETTER, and the hopelessness that the entire system is sometimes rigged against it in every possible way.

    They do the best that they can. Sometimes it's not very good.

    Just remember-- to you, your child is the ONLY child.

    To a teacher, your child is one child in his/her classroom of children-- important in his/her own way, to be sure-- but still, one of a number of children with equal rights and demands.

    To an administrator, your child is likely impersonal-- not really a PERSON, so much as an idea, or a part of an idea, that is-- "students." You as a parent are merely part of an idea of "parents."

    The ideal parents are involved, supportive of education, and not looking for special anything beyond what all children have offered to them. The ideal parents have ideal children, who are well-served by typical offerings in typical classrooms, run by typical teachers and surrounded by typical classmates.

    THAT is who administrators are trying to serve. The tails of the distribution are problematic. They cost more. Period-- and if you meet their needs, you also have the problem that other parents will want to know why you aren't doing special anything for THEM and THEIR child...


    It really is a bit of a no-win situation for administrators.

    That is helpful to remember. smile

    This also doesn't touch upon the administrators who are there for less-than-noble reasons. But I have found that those are the minority-- perhaps 10-15%.
    _________________________
    Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.

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    #223710 - 10/12/15 08:57 PM Re: School Administrators as Politicians [Re: thx1138]
    blackcat Offline
    Member

    Registered: 05/23/13
    Posts: 2154
    I have the same cynicism you have, thx. I have come to the conclusion that it's not really about the kids, it's aobut their jobs and money and professional relationship first, kids second. Another parent told me that she witnessed DS's IEP manager and teacher yelling at each other in the hallway, with the principal standing there dumbly. They were arguing about DS and what he should be doing for math (the IEP manager was on our/DS's side and the teacher wanted DS to do grade level math). Of course, no one ever told me what that argument was about, or even that there WAS an argument, other than the parent. I brought it up and the topic was quickly changed. No one wants the parents to know what is really going on. I called the principal and he said "I'm sure the two of them can work this out, they are both dedicated educators." Ummm, thanks so much for your profound leadership ability!" I found it remarkable that there was even a teacher in the school willing to go to bat for DS, because it's their jobs and reputation on the line. My past experience is that teachers/staff members just go with the flow and accept whatever opinion someone else tells them to have, but the principal's role in this particular school was so undefined that the teachers decided everything on their own. His role as "politician", for whatever reason, was to have all the teachers on his good side and dismiss parent concerns unless the teacher was on board. He had no idea what to do when two teachers disagreed, so decided to just let them duke it out in the hallway.

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    #223711 - 10/12/15 09:12 PM Re: School Administrators as Politicians [Re: thx1138]
    thx1138 Offline
    Member

    Registered: 01/30/12
    Posts: 100
    Yes, another important point, for the administration, the school budget is a zero-sum game.

    Let's spell out how this specifically affects gifted children. Basically we are seen as asking for more resources. In a zero-sum game this takes away from other stakeholders. Since gifted represent 1 or 2 % of parents, which is not an important constituency to begin with, they would rather we just go away. You can get a soft-shoe shuffle out of them, but little action. I would not mind an extension of this discussion into any best practices or success stories in a negotiation with a school.

    Consider for example the vaunted Palo Alto Unified School District. They used to IQ test. They would call some parents in and say "well it looks like your child is gifted." Parents would then ask what happens next, and they would say "well, nothing, but we thought you'd like to know". I guess maybe they had tracking, but no gifted program. Now however PAUSD has improved the process. They no longer even bother to test. They just say that, like Lake Wobegone, all their students are gifted. Problem solved!

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    #223720 - 10/13/15 05:53 AM Re: School Administrators as Politicians [Re: thx1138]
    Thomas Percy Offline
    Member

    Registered: 11/18/12
    Posts: 206
    Incentive really matters. In China, high school teachers are often given bonus and rewards when their students got into the most selective universities. Guess what kids got the most attention?

    This is true for the lower schools as well because each level feeds into the next level of magnet schools who produce the most competitive students later. I would say the most advanced students always get the most attention.

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    #223722 - 10/13/15 06:51 AM Re: School Administrators as Politicians [Re: Thomas Percy]
    mecreature Offline
    Member

    Registered: 03/14/11
    Posts: 358
    Originally Posted By: Thomas Percy
    Incentive really matters. In China, high school teachers are often given bonus and rewards when their students got into the most selective universities. Guess what kids got the most attention?

    This is true for the lower schools as well because each level feeds into the next level of magnet schools who produce the most competitive students later. I would say the most advanced students always get the most attention.


    I would say this is true for most private schools also. In middle school most will post where they kids will go to high school and high school will post what universities there students are attending.

    When ds was in public elementary everything seemed 50/50. DS was subject accelerated 2 years, this was easy. When it came time to get creative on what to do, meetings got pretty heated on what needed to happen. Some teachers had great ideas and were willing to go the extra mile and some just sat there quiet. We had a lot of meetings.

    I found it very interesting in the 4 years we were there 3 of my ds following teachers either quit or were moved. The school district also fired 2 High Ability curriculum coordinators in that time. Both were great but one was particularly informed about giftedness. She loaned us A Nation Deceived and Developing Math Talent. She was also a big fan of Carol Dweck. When ever I read Indigos posts I picture this lady in my mind. I would swear they are the same person.

    She never stood a chance in this district.

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    #223724 - 10/13/15 07:39 AM Re: School Administrators as Politicians [Re: thx1138]
    indigo Offline
    Member

    Registered: 04/27/13
    Posts: 4958
    Originally Posted By: thx1138
    A gifted advisory center recommended I avoid using the word gifted when I approached my local public school principal about my gifted sons needs.
    Unfortunately, yes. In case it may be of some help, this recent thread discusses some options to substitute for the word "gifted".

    Originally Posted By: thx1138
    Politician-principals really don’t want a truly strong parent community, as it would empower a group that is already far down on the priority list, making their job more difficult. PTA meetings become a farce in which only the naive really voice any of their concerns. The administration may ignore you until you go away… or they may make an example or scapegoat of you. I suppose its possible they are well intentioned and (believe they) know more about gifted education than any parent, but more likely they don’t actually want all that much feedback, and you only endanger yourself by revealing your inner thoughts (honne).
    The web is ripe with anecdotes and lived experiences which support your observation, including the posts of one school district's informed residents. Free from any hint of bitterness or cynicism, the posts are insightful, raise awareness, and help pierce the fog of naiveté.
    Two general thoughts which have been shared with me regarding awareness and advocacy, and which I will pass along:
    1) If ignorance is bliss and knowledge is power, where are you on your bliss-power continuum?
    2) "Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves" - ancient sacred text

    This recent post points to the climate change in US public schools.

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    #223725 - 10/13/15 07:43 AM Re: School Administrators as Politicians [Re: thx1138]
    Cookie Offline
    Member

    Registered: 05/28/14
    Posts: 599
    That's funny because as far as I know indigo has never indicated his or her gender. I picture indigo as a he.

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    #223726 - 10/13/15 08:00 AM Re: School Administrators as Politicians [Re: mecreature]
    indigo Offline
    Member

    Registered: 04/27/13
    Posts: 4958
    Originally Posted By: mecreature
    Both were great but one was particularly informed about giftedness. She loaned us A Nation Deceived and Developing Math Talent. She was also a big fan of Carol Dweck. When ever I read Indigos posts I picture this lady in my mind. I would swear they are the same person.

    She never stood a chance in this district.
    Originally Posted By: Cookie
    That's funny because as far as I know indigo has never indicated his or her gender. I picture indigo as a he.
    Please note that the board rules include: Try not to post any information that will allow others to identify you, your children, or anyone else.

    Essentially, no doxing.

    Please help avoid negative impacts to members of the gifted community, and do not use the forums to speculate on the identity of posters. smile

    Originally Posted By: thx1138
    One begins to feel that their child is a hostage.
    Agreed. There are recent threads which discuss retaliation. While parents are not to blame if a teacher or school retaliates, a fact-based and unemotional approach to advocacy may sometimes be effective for gaining what is needed for a child's education, while avoiding pushback.

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    #223727 - 10/13/15 08:32 AM Re: School Administrators as Politicians [Re: thx1138]
    thx1138 Offline
    Member

    Registered: 01/30/12
    Posts: 100
    I should add that parents may like to study basic negotiating skills before any discussions with school administration. One book I like is Secrets of Power Negotiating by Roger Dawson.

    Thomas, perhaps we have something to learn from China. Though education in Asia is often based on tests, that are based on memorization. Now that so many facts and data are a click away on the internet, I don't see much value in memorization, but rather on analysis. It could be said though that the established power structure doesn't want people thinking too much.

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