Getting down to basics.

Try to imagine, if you would, a professional football team having budget problems, and management’s solution is to lay off players but hang on to the front-office staff. As a result, they can field only a 10-man team. How would that work out? Does it make sense if their purpose is to win games? How could they win a game?

No professional football team in its right mind would attempt to pull off a stunt like that, but school systems seem not to give it much thought at all. Laying off teachers is no different from laying off players in this scenario.

Compare the impact on children and on the quality of instruction between laying off 50 administrators and laying off 50 teachers. Lay off teachers, increase class sizes and complain when kids don’t learn? Oh, then test the kids and, presto, you have a self-fulfilling scenario in which you can now declare that schools are failing. Got it?

I learned in the Air Force as a strategic air command combat crew officer that the mission must always come first. Those who carry out the mission are the priority, which means functionality outranks administrative services. On a SAC base the base commander was subordinate to the wing commander and nothing was allowed to trump the combat crews and their equipment – in other words, mission first.

Translating this to schools would properly mean teaching and learning are the mission and teachers, as the “mission” personnel, would have priority. Ideally, teachers would set the school’s priorities and establish the operational policies.

The administration would be subordinate to the needs and priorities of the teachers. Parents would be held responsible for both the physical and the mental attendance of their little darlings.

We can imagine a flat organization in which teachers and administrators are at the same level but with different responsibilities and functions. Regardless of the formal arrangements, the administration’s only reason for being must always be to support the mission of the school – that being educating children, which means providing teachers with what they need to carry out their responsibilities to the children.

The hierarchy would be defined by the mission and not by a person. Could this work? Of course it could, if people would set aside their ego issues and subordinate themselves to the mission. Administrators would have to get over their “front office” syndrome, work cooperatively and put teachers and children first.

This essay first appeared on

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