Saturday, September 22, 2012

Reincarnation of the Efficiency Movement is Here!

"U.S. schooling may be on a historic glide path toward lower per-pupil resources and significant labor-force reductions. If not thoughtfully considered, budget-balancing decisions could damage learning opportunities for schoolchildren."

"School productivity, measured as educational outcomes divided by labor or financial inputs, has declined dramatically."

"If the entire public-education system could be rendered more productive, that is, if higher levels of achievement could be coaxed from existing resource levels, some of the pain could be avoided or at least mitigated."
  Public Schools and Money  By James Guthrie and Elizabeth A. Ettema 

While the language may be modernized and centered around a high-tech, global economy, when you wipe the lipstick off this pig, we're hurtled back to 1911 and reliving the age of the efficiency movement. Why is that bad you ask? Because it's what led to an entrenched factory-model of K-12 schooling we're living with today that's not only an abhorrent to the entire concept of learning, but  costs continue to rise as a result. Pretty much everything that is wrong with education today can be directly linked to the time-bound, graded-school model we continue to chain ourselves. We don't need more efficiency, we need less. We need an education system that is not modeled after Henry Ford's assembly lines but instead is messy, chaotic, personalized, focused on competency, and respectful of the fact that learning can (and does) occur anytime, anywhere, anyhow. It does not require a square box with twenty-five seats in rows and one adult standing in the front of the room.

What came out of the end of the early Ford factory was not creative nor personalized. Ford provided one model and you could only get it in black or black. It was fairly easy to measure costs related to outputs when that's all you produced. 

If we want our schools to be efficient, please choose your color: We have black -- or black.  And anything that doesn't come off the line on time in perfect condition at the cheapest possible cost is simply just a reject.

Related posts:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

More evidence inequitable funding contributes to achievement gaps

Another day, another report on the damage done to public education and urban poor students from inequitable school funding. I can see our state leaders now -- most of whom represent affluent, high achieving school districts -- standing their with their hands over their ears shouting, "La, la, la, la, la, la...," hoping it all just goes away so they don't actually have to earn their pay by solving the problem.

"According to a report out of the Center for American Progress, inequitable per-pupil spending perpetuated by regressive state and local school-finance systems remains cause for concern in U.S. public schools, despite state aid formulas designed to work to the contrary.

"Inequitable funding of U.S. public schools contributes significantly to the under achievement of our low-income and minority students. It's something we have to fix if we are to progress as a society," Cynthia G. Brown, vice president of education policy at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Open Letter to Amy Wilkins - The Education Trust

I read your article in the September 2012 District Administration journal (Testing isn't the Problem, p. 40-42) and must point out your suggestion that educational testing bears any similarities to weighing oneself is a bit unremarkable. First of all, as you point out in your article, kids "have taken tests – lots of them – for as long as we've had an education system." That is certainly a true assertion but if testing is directly related to academic success, one would have to ask, "Why aren't all of our students earning high grades and demonstrating high achievement levels?" After all, if more testing begets better results as your "bathroom scale" analogy suggests, we should not even be having this national debate about testing.

But more testing does not lead to better results anymore than weighing yourself more often will cause you to lose weight. I personally have struggled with maintaining my own weight, despite the fact that I have run ultramarathons and served a 22-year military career, and I can assure you weighing myself more often was not, nor will it ever be, a productive solution because it usually leads to some degree of negative feedback. In my mind I see the results typically as either negative or never good enough and given the growing pattern of overweight people in this country, I suspect most people experience the same. Typically, I have one or more good days followed by a bad one, but either way the scale never tells me why this pattern persists. I receive no constructive feedback from a scale. It stares at me and simply says, "You're a loser!" (and not in weight, either) over and over again.

In researching this idea several years back, I came across the following blog post:

What do you think about when you step on a scale? Some common thoughts:

·       "That can't be right."
·       "I knew I shouldn't have had that extra breath mint yesterday."
·       "Did I really gain 5 lbs since yesterday?"
·       "I haven't lost a single pound. What's wrong with me?"

Whatever you think about when you weigh yourself, one question you may not consider is this: Is weighing yourself helping you lose weight or standing in the way of success?

For some of you, the idea of not knowing your weight on a regular basis may seem as foreign as not knowing you hate lima beans. This is true despite the fact that a scale, unlike lima beans, has all kinds of emotions, thoughts and beliefs attached to it. The moment you step on it, you decide things about yourself: Whether you're fat or thin, whether you've succeeded or failed, perhaps even how you feel about yourself as a person.

For some people, the scale is an important and useful tool for maintaining weight loss but, for others, it can stand in the way of success.

Reasons to Ditch the Scale
Is the scale helping or hurting?
By Paige Waehner, Guide
Updated June 18, 2009

Your article assumes that students (and overweight people) can simply choose other behaviors as a result of testing or weighing themselves more often. Such an assumption demonstrates limited understanding of human behavior. Children and their teachers are not robots who respond to cold, hard results the same as cattle would to an electric prod. As humans, we make choices based on results and thousands of years of recorded history demonstrate those choices are not always positive.

I agree with Paige in that continuous testing, like weighing, will actually work against both teacher and student for the most part. There are always exceptions but those don't point the way to breaking this barrier for all. Using another analogy, if I were to attempt to become a sketch artist and each time I finished all or a portion of my work I received feedback that was less than inspiring or complementary, it wouldn't take long before I abandoned my pursuit. The emotional drain would sap my desire to learn.

On the other hand, if I were interested in creating something for my own purpose and had a way to determine if it worked or not by testing it out over time, I may continue plodding through experiment after experiment until I achieved success or determined the energy being expended wasn't worth it. However, if periodically during my learning process you came along and stopped me to administer a multiple-guess bubble test about what I have learned, I doubt it would add even an ounce of inspiration or drive me to seek the answers to the questions I scored low at. If I didn't have the ability to virtually ignore your test and treat it as just another venemus bug bite, I might even give up my pursuit as not worth the hassle.

Don't get me wrong – we all love feedback of some sort and younger generations get caught up in the feedback frenzy of video-gaming as well as traditional athletic pursuits. But feedback is not testing. Feedback is measured against the results I'm trying to achieve and basically says if you wish to achieve those results here's what you need to do differently. High stakes bubble testing on the other hand says, "I've spent all this time reading, writing, memorizing and practicing but I STILL SUCK!" Nothing from high stakes testing gives a student or teacher the feedback each needs to achieve their respective end goals.

You allude that testing should have an impact on the adults at the school, one way or another. In fact, I might argue those outcomes are the real motivation behind educational reformers like yourself and The Education Trust. You treat testing as if it actually is a cattle prod that will move the adults in a different direction based on results. In the meantime, students are left with the damaging results of incessant test results instead of productive feedback that will help them achieve their own learning goals. This abusive use of test measurement dates back to the World War I era when popular magazines and a growing industrial business world ganged up on traditional learning to regiment schools, create assembly-line learning processes, test the results regularly, and classify both educators and students as either successful or failures. Much of this type of reform – similar in many ways to what we see happening again today but in high tech fashion versus manufacturing – is what created our industrial model of education and led to the problems we have today. Will more testing and meddling by people who think they know what they are doing because they once attended school themselves lead to positive reform? I think not, and I firmly believe that positions like yours and The Education Trust are simply leading us further over the cliff.


David Britten
Lieutenant Colonel, US Army, Retired
Superintendent of Schools
Godfrey-Lee Public Schools

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Last Time the Corporate World Meddled with Public Education

Reading Raymond E. Callahan's 1962 tome on Education and the Cult of Efficiency is like being a Bill Murray caught in a Groundhog Day cycle of repetition. Murray eventually realized that continuing a cycle of insane and inappropriate choices would merely continue the cycle.

Public education finds itself in a similar cycle whereby professional educators and administrators are having to bow to public pressures stirred up by the media and corporate headquarters. Their stooges in the state houses and halls of Congress have joined them on the bandwagon attempting to push public education over the cliff.

We know this to be true because it happened at least once before (perhaps twice which is why Callahan published his book in 1962 following the early hysteria of the Cold War and launching of the Soviet Sputnik) dating back to the 19-teens, when a frenzy of economy and efficiency-mindedness destroyed the humanized virtues of learning and turned public schools into assembly line operations bent on providing "service-station" schools to satisfy the public whims. At that time, the frenzy was whipped up by a number of periodical magazines and school administrators did little to nothing to head it off.

"Undoubtedly the sheer number of students to be educated, plus the great moral commitment to educate all the children to the limit of their ability, would have created stubborn educational problems even if Americans and their educational administrators had not been economy-minded and had not developed a mechanical conception of the nature of education. But fifteen years of admiration for the mass production techniques of industry on the one hand and saturation with the values of efficiency and economy on the other had so conditioned the American people and their school administrators that they allowed their high school teachers to be saddled with an impossibly heavy teaching load. The American people not only allowed this to happen but their insistence on economy forced it upon the schools. And just as some of the leading school administrators did not repel but actually invited lay interference, they not only did not resist this increase in class size but actually initiated the steps, advocated and defended them, and put them into effect." (p. 232)

"With the growth of population, the improvement in child labor and compulsory attendance laws, and the change from the classical curriculum, each year after 1910 more students were attending secondary schools and staying longer. With the subsequent problem of increasing costs for salaries and buildings, which was aggravated by the continuous rise in the cost of living, it was natural that administrators would look for ways and means of reducing the costs of secondary education. The largest item in the budget was of course teachers' salaries, and it was in this direction that they sought relief. Clearly the way to economize was to get more work out of teachers, either by increasing the size of their classes or by increasing the number of classes they taught or both." (p. 233)

Thus, public education, and high schools especially, evolved rapidly to be service stations that would meet the need of every student as well as the general public (and private business in particular). Classical education that created learned individuals who would go on to the great universities and become the very corporate and public leaders that were sought, learning their craft along the way as they started out at the bottom of the ranks, was doomed and virtually non-existent in public schools by the mid-1920's. Instead, we established factory-style, overcrowded schools and classrooms and reduced the curriculum to rote memory and recitation. Circumstances in the early 1960's woke us up to this massive mistake but by then, public school traditions and frameworks were so ingrained in the American public that all we could do was water it down even more by creating the cafeteria-style high school, "new math," and whole-language literacy among other proven failures.

"…it was understandable that administrators who were faced with a public that was often critical and almost always concerned with economy, would utilize the service station notion (i.e., the idea that schools would respond to every whim thrown at them to provide or participate in new programs to satisfy the public). It was also true that the American pattern of support and control makes it inevitable that the schools will be responsive to society's needs. But the exaggerated idea of the schools as service stations has been responsible for some unfortunate developments in American education. To the extent that it was accepted it meant that educators relinquished their responsibility for providing educational leadership and became mere technicians who…produced the product according to specifications…, it meant arranging the school program so as to impress the public that the schools were making a major contribution to whatever fetish the nation happened to be concerned with at the time." (p. 230)

"When educators operated under this extreme service station philosophy, they not only did not repel but actually invited all kinds of pressures to be exerted upon the schools." (p. 231)

Now we find ourselves stuck in a deeper rut and once again vulnerable to the amateurs who want public schools to be nothing more than training facilities for private business. In the meantime, a number of public interests work hard to pile on more requirements such as financial literacy, sex ed, and every possible program to skim the pounds off little Johnny and Mary so I as a parent don't have to do any of this at home.

"The public school cannot be made an intellectual handmaiden to all the special interest advertising campaigns now under way in this country. From all these we must declare our independence, that the schools themselves may be free to perform their real functions." ~ Henry Suzzalo, 1927 (cited by Callahan)