The Washington Post

Maybe schools shouldn’t work as teams

My colleague Valerie Strauss’s “The Answer Sheet” blog had a thought-provoking guest column by blogger and recently fired D.C. teacher Peter Gwynn. He wrote about why he was dismissed. That issue was interesting but not what stuck in my head. I kept wondering, as I read his piece, that maybe I am wrong to think that schools should work as teams.

Gwynn didn’t get along with the administration at the Columbia Heights Education Campus, a D.C. secondary school whose work I admire. His “teacherbad” blog, and other CHEC teachers I have been in touch with, say the school has a big turnover in teachers. Many of them think the school’s administrators are not friendly and helpful to them.

That may be. I know other schools that have had similar complaints. The CHEC principal, the longest serving school leader in the D.C. system, appears to want only teachers willing to adapt to her system, which has done well with immigrant parents and their children.

My view has been that principals should be carefully recruited and trained, and once they have shown themselves to be worthy of running a school, they should be given the same powers that baseball general managers have—they can hire and fire whom they want, whenever they want, in order to produce a team that plays together and wins.

If the general manager’s team doesn’t win—in school terms doesn’t find a way to significantly raise student achievement—he or she ought to be let go, and have someone else give it a try. But the general manager should always have the ability to remove players who don’t want to be part of the team, who complain and create dissension and do things their way.

Gwynn sounds like an interesting teacher, but one who didn’t like the team he was on and wrote about that in his blog. Should we say it is okay to dismiss him, and assume someone that bright will find a school that likes independent spirits, a place without many rules, like the HB Woodlawn Program in Arlington?

Or is the idea of making a school a team unworkable, because it often doesn’t have room for people like Gwynn?

Jay Mathews is an education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, his employer for 40 years.


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