Schools are Multifaceted Organizations

It may seem unnecessary to state it, but schools are places where children are present. Lots of children. Seriously, they are everywhere. They reflect the social, economic, racial, ethnic, religious, and other characteristics of the local population. They affect every decision made in schools. Whether those decisions are in the best interest of those children is questionable in many cases.

Consider, for example, there is ample evidence that school-aged people benefit from a late morning beginning of the school day. Despite this, few schools have changed the start time of the school day. If we were to make decisions that are “the best for the students,” then we would make drastically different decisions about teaching and school operations.

The reason we do not make such decisions is that schools are not really educational organizations.

Schools are political organizations. They are funded by governments, usually local governments in the United States. Typically, they are governed by local school boards, comprising elected officials. These boards approve budgets, set policy, and supervise the school administrators to ensure school operate as they. Because those are elected positions, the decision-makers who affect school priorities, operations, and curriculum are subject to political influence. That political influence in often grounded in their own school experience which should be given no more privilege than anyone else’s.

In addition to the political influences that arise from outside the school, strong internal political relationships that arise within school communities affect decisions as well. Most school leaders accept advice from others and reject it from others. The capacity of leaders and lead depends on the trust members of the organization have in the leader. This is capacity depends on the political skills of the leader. 

Schools are regulated organizations. Agencies within the state governments in the United States define the qualification necessary to be a licensed teacher or administrator. They also specify actions the schools are expected to take. For example, those agencies define the common tests schools are expected to administer and the data they are expected to report. While the federal government has a minimal role in setting laws and regulations related to schools, it does award grants and support programs are supported by the federal government, and there are laws and requirements associated with using those funds. The agencies regulating schools are often directed by political appointees, which can extend the political influences on schools as well.

Schools are hierarchical and authoritative social organizations. Teachers have some authority over students (not absolute authority, of course). This arises both from the fact they are adults, and the students are children and from the fact that they are experts compared to students. Even in classrooms in which the students are adults, there exists a hierarchical and authoritative relationship between students and teachers. Further, these relationships affect adults. School administrators have authority over teachers and others, and the school board has authority over the administrators. 

Schools are organizations in which decisions are made and actions are taken. These are consequential decisions and actions. People’s lives are affected by them. Too often educators fail to recognize the many facets of their schools. We hear advocates for “making sure grades reflect only what the students know,” and we fool ourselves into thinking we are unbiased. At least if we recognize the politics, regulations, and authorities that affect our decisions and actions we have hope of understanding their influences and minimizing the adverse influences where they exist.