Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Ask the Administrator: Jobs in Education Reform

A dispirited correspondent writes:

I'm wondering if you have any words of advice for those of us who are interested in paying jobs in the field of educational reform. I need to earn a living, but I'd like to further the cause if I could. I have 20 years experience in the college classroom, and am currently full time and tenured at a community college, but I am more than ready to leave the classroom. It's painful to me to have to constantly "game" statistics on so-called student learning outcomes while dumbing down the curriculum ever more to improve our "retention" and "completion" rates. We are getting ready for our re-accreditation, so we are in "full assessment mode"; I find it harder and harder to cooperate with the fundamental dishonesty of the whole process. I'd like to leave and work for real reform and excellence in education. My Ph.D. is in one of the humanities, not ed leadership, and I don't have a math/statistics background, so perhaps I'm not the ideal candidate. Then again, who is?

My knowledge of this is pretty limited, so I'll ask my wise and worldly readers to chime in and fill out the picture.

I'll start with the obvious: if your local administration is pushing you to dumb down the curriculum in the name of retention, then your local administrators are idiots. The flaws in their strategy are several and basic. If you water down the degree, you'll lose transferability over time. If you water down the classes, it will become harder to maintain order in the classroom, since students will see no reason to take sanctions seriously. If you tell creative workers that their daily work should be entirely in the service of pleasing the customer, you'll actually get more displeased customers, because the quality of the work will suffer when their morale collapses.

Assessment is another matter, but I'll just say that if it's entirely dead weight, they aren't doing it right.

That said, I'll concede that many of my administrative colleagues seem to miss the big picture. (That's one of the reasons I've stayed in administration so long. I've seen the damage lousy admins can do, and I want to prevent it.) It sounds like you want to address the big picture. Getting paid for it is the tricky part.

Obviously, one way to do that is to go into administration yourself. That will take time and patience, though, since the first rung of the ladder involves far more trivia than thought.

Another way is to look at grant-funded programs. Philanthropic agencies usually have some sort of change or reform agenda; the trick is finding an agency with an agenda you find congenial, and that needs the skills you bring. One fairly common model is a grant that funds a partnership between a social service agency and a community college, usually teaching non-credit courses for targeted populations in specific niche occupations. Introducing yourself to the continuing-ed side of your college and expressing interest in working with them can open up opportunities in ways that are hard to anticipate.

Nonprofits and various ngo's often do the kind of work that seems to speak to you, though you'd have to figure out what your unique contribution would be. If it won't be on the financial or technical side, it could be on the fundraising or publicity side. I wouldn't expect to find a full-time, decent-paying job right out of the gate, but if you're willing to take baby steps, you might be able to find a niche.

Of course, there's always writing. That's my personal fave.

I'm reasonably sure that some of my wise and worldly readers have something to offer on this one, so I'll put out an open call. Does anyone know another way to make a living while fighting the good fight?

Good luck!

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.