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September 9, 2013

CUMMINS: Every classroom is a one-room school

A good school requires good teachers. A good school also needs a good principal to help keep the roof on the school and keep children sitting quietly in their seats absorbing knowledge from good teachers. That’s about all a good school needs.

A good school doesn’t really need a superintendent in a central office surrounded by assistants, directors and coordinators, thinking up additional things for teachers to do. A central office has one primary responsibility — to hire the best teachers and principals they can find, and then not bother them. 

A good school does not need a state Department of Education in a large building dreaming up stuff such as grading schools A, B, C, D or F. Ever wonder what became of E? Indiana grades its schools without seeing them. They sit and study test scores, which hinders eyesight and insight. It’s like doctors diagnosing diseases on the Internet.

Lesley Weidenbener, a writer for StateFileCom, recently reported how the Indiana Department of Education bureaucracy is governed. What she discovered was rooms filled with committees, commissions, councils and round-table advisory groups. If you’ve never served on a round-table advisory group, do. They pay for mileage, lush hotel rooms, gourmet meals and parties where you feel free to advise outlandish things. In a nutshell, which is what bureaucracies are, Weidenbeber said, “I tried to determine how education policy would now be made in Indiana. I finally gave up.”

The Indiana Department of Education currently employs 238 “specialists.” Far removed from the firing line in the schools, they employ specialists such as outreach personnel, nutrition experts, excess cost supervisors, warehouse architects (what do they do?), payable specialists, learning-resource specialists — it goes on and on. Obviously, there is a need to hire more “complaint investigators.” The state superintendent has five assistant superintendents who form committees and write emails. The federal Department of Education is 49 times worse. What it all boils down to is politics. A side note: count the specialists in your local central office.

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