Building an upside-down pyramid in a pyramid structure

Education Week follows the development of more and more teacher-led schools in an age of reform and today brings us the latest example in Detroit. A system as troubled as the Motor City’s probably stands to gain the most from such an experiment, but we should be careful to avoid a liberal use of the word “innovation” here as well as avoid the use of the word “ownership” as teacher/administrator Ann K. Crowley uses here:

It has taken a commitment by teachers to stick with the schedule, but teachers seem to feel that they have more ownership over student success …

While we applaud the experimentation the district, the teachers and the union have undertaken at Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, we would argue that allowing teachers to lead and manage district schools is different from empowering them to own their own schools.

Our recognition of ownership, in this sense, comes from encouraging teachers to be entrepreneurs, giving them the freedom to develop and implement their own curriculum and instructional style, and connecting them with the children who would benefit from this enterprise.

A district school that mostly transfers administrative duties to teachers doesn’t meet this definition, and many schools that have tried this have shown mixed results. Charter schools and private options for low-income students foster a model of public education that empowers families to find the right school for their child, and policies that build this infrastructure create opportunities for experienced teachers to freely develop an educational style and truly take ownership.

This is not to say that the teacher-led schools borne in Detroit, Denver, Boston, Los Angeles and Newark, N.J., would not attract families with an atmosphere unlike other traditional schools in their respective districts. Indeed,  650 students attend the Brick Avon Academy in Newark, a school run by a half-dozen veterans of Teach for America and one where the principal calls herself the “principal teacher.” (Brick, which stands for Building Responsible Intelligent Creative Kids, plans to seek International Baccalaureate status and require Mandarin as well as Spanish)

But as education policy adviser Tim McDonald told the New York Times:

You’re trying to run an upside-down pyramid in a pyramid structure. There is so much momentum against being completely different in most districts.

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BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit

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