When I was about five or six years old, my mother would often take my brother and me to visit our grandmother, where we would enjoy playing with two cousins who were about the same age. One of our favorite games was reenacting the Three Little Pigs in my grandmother’s living room. We would use chairs turned upside down for the houses of the pigs, and each of us would take one of the four roles. We would act out the entire story. We all had the dialogue memorized. When we were finished, we would change roles and do it all over again. We passed many an afternoon entertaining ourselves in this way while the grown-ups visited at the kitchen table…fond memories, indeed!
Interestingly, we had a family reunion a couple of years ago, and in the course of the conversation, I mentioned our old Three Little Pigs past-time. I was astounded to learn that neither my brother nor my cousins even remembered the game. I really couldn’t understand their inability to remember what was stuck so solidly in my own memory. I don’t suggest that there is any particular meaning to that, but clearly unlike my playmates, I never lost my fascination with the old tale (I have a collection of various versions of it) and this, I guess, helps explain why it was the first thing that came to mind when I read about Arne Duncan’s Principal Ambassador Fellowship program, which was announced last year.
According to details about the initiative provided by Dr. Mercedes Schneider in her two blogs here and here, the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Duncan is setting up a program that bears an eerie likeness to the Three Little Pigs tale. Under this program, individual principals who are accepted are provided with unprecedented opportunities for deepening their knowledge of key federal education programs and enabled to share this expertise with their colleagues in the local schools. As an encouragement to participate in this program, the DOE will pay a portion of the principal’s salary to the school district. Nevertheless, according to the job description, that was until recently posted on the USAJobs website, these principals would in fact be federal employees (See Mercedes’ first blog linked above for the actual language.) The Principal Fellow will thus become the DOE’s conduit to communicate (and enforce?) the federal perspective on how education should function at the school level.
The vision that came to my mind immediately when I read about this program was Arne Duncan in a wolf suit, knocking on the schoolhouse door intoning this plea: “Little school, little school, let me come in! I have spectacular benefits for you! You can even bypass those interfering state ed offices and have a direct connection to the wonderful, beneficent federal DOE–critical information and support on the latest directives related to No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and our expanding Early Childhood program, not to mention the high-demand Common Core State Standards. Not only that, you will only have to pay about half of the Principal Fellow’s salary! Of course, about half the time, he or she will be actually working for the DOE, but what a bargain for your cash-strapped budget! How can you not let me in? Don’t worry about the principal’s connection with the federal government. I’m sure he or she won’t tell us anything you don’t want us to know. No worries there.”
My mind-movie of the wolf has him salivating at the prospect of having this presence in schools, literally ready to pounce on and devour the schools, without interference from local school boards or state education agencies, but I realize others may not see the same picture. I fear there may be a number of cash-starved school districts out there doing their best to build their schools with the sticks and straw they have been given to work with that may be tempted by the wiles of the Wolf. They are focused on just making it through the next school year, and after all, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to hire a qualified administrator/principal for half price?
But I hope that most schools will recognize this offer for what it is. I hope that their response to the Wolf will be “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin! I get that letting the fed-funded principals into my school is a lop-sided trade. I know that what you really want is access at the school level–in my building!–to further undermine local control. I know that opening the door to you will give you eyes and ears as to how and whether our school is falling in line with your directives, many of which are of questionable legality. So take a hike, Mr. Wolf, and you might want to watch your back, because the winds blowing in from the grassroots of this country may just blow your house down!”