The Biggest Bully in Schools

Bullying in schools is big these days.  As a nation we are struggling with just how much our children are being subjected to derision, coercion and just plain abuse on school buses, online, in classrooms and hallways, and after school.   We have decided to get tough on bullies, to have zero tolerance until we have zero bullies.

The problem is that only seeing kids as bullies misses the biggest bully in school: top-down school reforms.  School reforms bully better than any kid because they enlist many different means and personnel to do their bidding.  While trickle-down economics might not work, trickle down bullying does. Here’s how.

An ailing school district brings in a new school reform czar (read edu-bully) who brings in a new turnaround plan for the schools.   The plan is imposed on schools, with lots of test scores and other performance metrics put in place to measure it’s success and to keep everyone below “accountable.”  The tests we can call “back end bullying” because they bully teachers and administrators by creating a desired end state and backing people into it with a few carrots and lots of sticks.  The performance incentives put in place for schools and often tied to administrator’s performance reviews we might call “boot licker bullying” because they rely on someone who wants to curry favor with those above coercing those below.

The bullying trickles down into classrooms.  Teachers find themselves under the thumb of standardized tests and curricula and with administrators breathing down their throat to improve the school- at least on paper.  Teachers are bullied into becoming bullies, into coercing kids into passing tests, into doing anything that makes the reform “work,” which  making those above look good.  Bullying trickles down and credit goes back up.  Better yet, when the reform inevitably fails we just bring the next edu-bully on, who usually promises to be more of a bully than the last one.  What a racket.