the media has been filled with news of economic woes, not just
here in the US, but globally. People everywhere are tightening
their budgetary belts and that includes taxpayers, towns and
school districts. It seems like everyone and every institution
is making cuts. While at home, budget cuts generally mean that
we have to learn to do without, budget cuts in schools can sometimes
lead to a better educational experience for students.
can the economic downturn be a GOOD event for schools? The tightening
of the school's money belt usually means cutting out nonessentials,
reexamining priorities and reducing the number of people working
in nonacademic and administrative activities. Basically, cutting
the waste and cutting excess staff. Often this can mean fewer
people working in the upper layer of the school and fewer gatekeepers
for those people. Here are 5 reasons why this could result in
a better system for children:
Smaller staffing creates more direct and personal contact between
students and administration. Rather than going through secretaries
or assistants, students may spend more time directly interacting
with administration. This creates a stronger environment of
trust in the school. And the development of trust and the perception
of trust is probably the biggest factor in predicting whether
students are willing to report threats of violence and bullying
in schools(1), as well as ensures their successful school adjustment(2).
The more people involved in any activity, the more likely it
is that any one individual will fail to take initiative. Most
of us are familiar with the "too many cooks in the kitchen"
scenario and this is true in schools as well. Heavy-staffed
schools can create a "too many cooks" scenario. No
decision can be made without a meeting. Discussions tend to
go in circles, little is accomplished and details are rarely
planned well, if at all.
smaller-staffed school allows teachers and other staff to feel
more involved, more willing to make decisions, and more willing
to speak out about problems they see. Given that nearly half
our population of adults are reluctant to speak out about anything
when placed in a group situation(5), a smaller decision-making
dynamic allows people to be more comfortable in expressing their
ideas. Poor projects that traditionally continue simply because
no one is comfortable speaking out against them, could be retired.
diffusion of responsibility leads to greater empathy and better
learning outcomes. The greater the perception we have that we
are solely responsible for the helping of another human (in
this case, a student), the greater empathy we have for that
person and the more willing we are to respond to them(4). When
there are fewer staff and support persons in a school, there
is less diffusion and /or confusion of responsibility. Each
staff person becomes more empathetically involved and more willing
to help. (3)
glance, you may panic at the thought of losing your classroom
aide. You may feel that having a special ed support person or
paraprofessional in every classroom is a good thing. In fact,
it often leads to poorer instruction due to this diffusion of
responsibility. As I write in my book, "Enhancing
Your Layered Curriculum Classroom",
seen many school districts, in their zealous attempts to run
a well-funded special education department, actually end up
defeating the purpose of inclusion. When special education
students come into the regular classroom with an aide or other
professional specifically there because the student is there,
we often undermine differentiation. This happens because it
now becomes tempting for the regular education teacher to
not worry so much about including that particular student,
because there is another professional adult in the room who
will be doing so. Not only does the regular education teacher
not worry about including the student, they may feel that
to do so would encroach upon the special education professional's
territory.. . . (scenario given). . .
If we look at this classroom, which by the way is
run very typically, we can see how an overzealous special
education program has undermined the concept of differentiation
and inclusion. [the regular ed teacher] feels no need to run
a differentiated classroom because [the special ed teacher]
is there in the room each day and takes care of individual
accommodations. Not only that, [the regular ed teacher] might
feel uncomfortable offering accommodations to these 3 students,
because that would in essence be taking away [the special
ed teacher's] job. (8)
So the turf
battles we often create by adding staff, can sometimes undermine
benefit when schools have a more streamlined staff. When a school
has an excess amount of people doing a myriad of jobs, a system
develops to ensure each of those jobs continues. After all,
if there are 3 layers of gatekeepers around a principal or other
administrator, then a system develops to ensure students pass
through all 3 layers before the ultimate face-to-face meeting.
This perpetual ensure-everyone-keeps-their-job scenario
was seen recently in an expose' on New Jersey's failing hospital
system. They had so many specialists on staff that test after
test and a myriad of lab screenings were prescribed to all patients,
whether they needed it or not, just to ensure they were utilizing
all their specialists. (7).
see this in schools. A local high school in my area has a guidance
department which consists of a receptionist, a secretary, the
guidance counselors and a director of guidance. A student with
a schedule change request must first state their business to
the receptionist who then sends them to the secretary, who then
schedules a meeting with the guidance counselor, who then after
meeting with the student gets final approval from the director
of guidance. The whole system really has no purpose other than
to sustain the system.
5. A more
efficient school leads to better academic achievement and possibly
more money spent on those directly involved with instructional
delivery (teachers). Look around your school and imagine if
you could cut out the excess, streamline processes, policies
and decision-making. Imagine if ALL staff were empowered to
make decisions, not just those who seek leadership roles (by
the way, groups of people consisting only of leadership-seeking
types tend to squabble the most and solve the fewest problems
teachers and other individual staff members were each given
autonomy to solve problems and do what you do best - serve children.
So the next
time you hear the bemoaning of the masses over the budget shortfalls
and the cuts that will need to be made, smile and imagine the
M (2011). An investigation of students' willingness to report
threats of violence in campus communities. . Psychology
of Violence, Vol 1(1),53-65.
J; Grant, S.; ;Morlock, L. (2008). The teacher- student relationship
as a developmental context for children with internalizing or
externalizing behavior problems. School Psychology Quarterly,
Vol 23(1), Mar 2008, 3-15
G. (1991). Diffusion of responsibility : Effects on the escalation
tendency. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 76(3), 408-415.
L, Batson, C. & Todd, R. (1994). Empathy avoidance: Forestalling
feeling for another in order to escape the motivational consequences.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 67(5), 879-887.
(5) Henderson, L.,
& Zimbardo, P. (1998). Shyness. In H. S. Friedman, R.
Schwartzer, R. Cohen Silver, & D. Spiegel (Eds.) Encyclopedia
of mental health, Vol. 3, (pp. 497- 509). San Diego, CA: Academic
J. & Johnson, J. (2010). Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen:
Group Profieciency and a Function of Social Boldness and Reticence.
Presented at the NEEPS Conference, New Paltz, NY
Healthcare: Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen. http://www.inside-healthcare.com/index.php/sections/columns/1608-too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen
K. (2011). Enhancing Your Layered Curriculum Classroom: Tips,
Tune-ups and Technology. Brains.org: Amherst NH.