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  • by Blaine Helwig

Deceptive Educational Belief Systems

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

Mark Twain once said, “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.” This adage affects every human being to varying degrees. We are all subject to its temptation and affliction. As a person ages, they often evaluate the reasoning in their beliefs they once held so dearly and become less absolute in their views. They realize that belief and truth are often independent of one another. As the late United States Senator Daniel Moynihan stated so eloquently, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”

In large private and public organizations, a powerful and influential person with belief systems devoid of factual reality can be extremely problematic because those views can negatively impact so many employees. However, if a person in a position of high authority holds opinions devoid of reality that only affect them, then there is little general concern for whatever nonsensical opinion that is held. This situation is especially valid in the American public school system. Central office administrators and campus principals hold positions where their educational belief and management systems – when exercised – greatly affect children’s lives.

Ineffective Educational Belief Systems Affecting the Many – Children!

Much too frequently, administrators maintain their curricular belief and management systems despite the lack of the connected educational reality in Title 1 schools. As in any large organization, their powerful educational influence may adversely affect so many children’s lives. Across the United States, children of color, students classified as either economically disadvantaged and English Language Learners permeate our Title 1 public schools. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 60% of the children attending our schools are enrolled in our most challenging academic Title 1 public schools.

A vast majority of parents whose children attend Title 1 schools are often low-income or undocumented immigrants, and many of these parents are firmly satisfied and appreciative that their children are attending a school – any school. Frequently, they personally do not possess a high quality education, and these parents trust the school’s faculty to adequately educate their child.

Every spring starting in third grade, elementary students in Texas take a standardized reading and mathematics test. The non-Title 1 elementary school academic performance is invariably high in passing rates; whereas, the majority of Title 1 schools’ overall performance hovers between 30 to 70 percent minimum passing rates in all the core subjects tested. These anemic student outcomes become chronic and repetitive school year after school year.

What are the Reasons for Sustained Reliance on Ineffective Educational Belief Systems?

Educators press the same ineffective curriculum, or mollycoddle the latest curriculum fad in an attempt to ‘Buy Success.’ This behavior is contrary to analyzing the root cause of past failures and addressing them directly. There are three primary reasons this situation occurs.

First, educators in a district – mostly administrators from the campuses and central office – maintain their ineffectual curricular and management belief systems primarily for personal reasons. These systems have more than proven to not produce high academic student outcomes, but that does not deter their dogmatic reliance on them – regardless of results. Central office administrators are more than aware of their lackluster academic results, but those programs represent job security in both prestigious position titles and six figure plus salaries. Effective academic change outside their jurisdiction may jeopardize their professional standing in the district. The biggest fear a central administrator possesses is stellar school performance independent of them which may lead to their obsolescence. There are not many professional avenues remaining for them other than a return to the arduous daily workings of a Title 1 campus as a campus administrator, or heaven forbid - the tough work in the classroom.

Second, in reality, most administrators do not know the specific measures that will academically fix Title 1 schools. There are so many moving parts at these campuses that it is a major organizational undertaking just operating an elementary school’s physical plant – water, electricity and general systems of arrival, dismissal, recess and lunch.

Lastly, administrators are not professionally trained by the College of Education to problem solve in this analytical manner. Hence, generally speaking, school districts do not employ sufficient personnel capable to isolate the factors that will significantly improve Title 1 academics.

Why is there Sustained Reliance on Ineffective Educational Belief Systems?

The dilemma becomes more complicated if a viable solution exists that challenges ineffective curricular programming or the central office power structure. If there is opposition, district administrators often aggressively contest change despite mediocre performance outcomes. Fortunately for central office personnel, there is usually little push-back either internally or externally. Due to the lack of job performance accountability, unconditional and perpetual revenue funding each school year and the paramount priority of job preservation, it is relatively easy to simply, “Do it all over again the next school year!” Campus and district administrators convince their teachers and the Board of Trustees that tweaking the current lackluster program or purchasing the latest curriculum fad is the ‘Absolute Fix.’ In effect, administrators cajole all stakeholders into believing that the next big expensive curricular program or tweak will solve all their educational ills that annually plagued their Title 1 schools.

What is the Outcome if the Newly Purchased (or Tweaked) Program is not Effective?

Unfortunately, not much! Again, there is not much personnel accountability in school districts for failure and internal blame. If rare accountability exists, the terminated administrator plays musical chairs with another school district for a new tenure in a similar professional capacity. They are provided an opportunity in a new school district to implement the same ineffectual educational belief systems that continues to negatively impact a myriad of Title 1 school-aged children with unsuspecting parents. Of course, these children’s parents are naive and trusting that school officials will provide their children a quality education – and a better economic life one day.

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