Administrative Oppositional Behavior Disorder: An Epidemic

Confession: I rarely watch T.V.  But on a recent Friday night while channel surfing, I stumbled across Jaime Oliver’s “Food Revolution” and was stunned.  The Superintendent and Board of Supervisors for the Los Angeles Unified School District ( LAUSD) have declared war on this crusader chef, who just wants to analyze the quality of the school district’s cafeteria food.  They banned Jaime from visiting any school kitchen or cafeteria in any Los Angeles public school upon penalty of arrest for trespassing, with the excuse that cafeteria food in the LAUSD is just fine.  Jaime, an impressive organizer, had secured some media coverage over his school lockout experience.  Using a radio interview, he asked parents to bring their children with samples of  cafeteria food to his kitchen studio so he could analyze its nutritional value. You can guess the results: overly processed and carbo heavy.  Undefeated, Jaime politely presented himself to the LAUSD Board of Supervisors during their public testimony period. Looking disinterested and chewing gum, some of the board members made a distinctly bad impression as he eloquently requested access to just one Los Angeles public school cafeteria.   Denied. Will they ever let him in?

In the face of an obesity epidemic (14.9%) among children in L.A. combined with more than 30% of L.A.’s children coming to school hungry, you would think that the Superintendent and his Board would leap at the opportunity for “free” consultation with an expert who knows how to improve the quality of food in a cost effective way. Their pride is apparently more important than our children’s health.

I have testified in front of the CSU Board of Trustees and Chancellor about their poorly planned policies implemented without faculty consultation. The most recent one is Mandatory Early Start.   Rarely do they look up from text messaging or email during anyone’s public testimony.  I know exactly how Jaime Oliver feels: the disbelief and despair at non-experts shunning your own knowledge as irrelevant.

We have so many administrators and “managers” now in the public education business who refuse to listen to faculty expert advice.  They dismiss the input of talented teachers with experience in the classroom; consequently, they  make bad policy decisions that impact the lives of millions of children across the country.  We have so many politicians like this with power to dismantle and privatize public education.  They simply refuse to listen.

This type of destructive policy implementation appears to have gone viral.  It is a specific managerial behavior pattern: the inability to admit that you might be wrong, to openly consider a wide range of opinions in order to solve a complex problem, to adhere to ethics, to consider evidence that may contradict one’s ideology or beliefs.  This behavior reflects a lack of empathy.  It leads to superficial, data driven, education experimentation on other people’s children. Let’s label it  “administrative oppositional behavior disorder” (AOBD).

This personality disorder, now found among politicians and education managers, fosters the implementation  of  bad policy.  It is Governor Scott Walker‘s behavior in Wisconsin, sneaking a bill to dismantle collective bargaining rights for teachers through his legislature by overriding the state constitutional process for open discussion. It appears in the form of the New York State Board of Regents and Governor Cuomo’s decision to increase the percentage of student test scores required for teacher evaluations to 40% in the face of significant, quality evidence proving that type of data misjudges teacher effectiveness.  Did they do it for Race to the Top money?  Does that make it okay?

AOBD appears in Washington DC in the form of Arnie Duncan who commissions a NCEE and OECD study — “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform”— and then dismisses its criticism of No Child Left Behind. To dismiss constructive criticism, especially when one has asked for it,  is a weakness of character.  Yet we see this disorder everywhere, with the aim of slash-and-burn dismantling and privatization of the  country’s public education infrastructure. Some people are making off like bandits through the redistribution of public funds provided by this opportunity of privatization.  It will take our entire global village of empathetic teachers, parents, and allies working together to turn this juggernaut around.