Tag Archives: schools

Transform Education? Challenge the Governance Model!

EDUCRATS_AT_WORK_smallI recently read Michele McNeil’s piece in Education Week, “Rifts Deepen Over Direction of Ed. Policy in U.S.”, and was heartened by what I read. The piece begins with this overview…

In statehouses and cities across the country, battles are raging over the direction of education policy—from the standards that will shape what students learn to how test results will be used to judge a teacher’s performance.

Students and teachers, in passive resistance, are refusing to take and give standardized tests. Protesters have marched to the White House over what they see as the privatization of the nation’s schools. Professional and citizen lobbyists are packing hearings in state capitols to argue that the federal government is trying to dictate curricula through the use of common standards.

New advocacy groups, meanwhile, are taking their fight city to city by pouring record sums of money into school board races.

Not since the battles over school desegregation has the debate about public education been so intense and polarized, observers say, for rarely before has an institution that historically is slow to change been forced to deal with so much change at once.

I take heart in reading this because it appears that there may finally be emerging a profound challenge to the governance model of public education, an institution designed nearly 200 years ago to be governed in a highly centralized structure by a small powerful elite at the top of its hierarchy of control. Parents, teachers and (heaven forbid) students have never really been part of the governance structure of our public school system. Could there be some danger now that this situation could finally begin to change?

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Redefining Teachers as True Professionals

So why is it that doctors play a key role in running the institutions (hospitals) where they practice their profession and defining what constitutes quality practice, but teachers generally don’t? Aren’t these both considered “professions”, and as such should be given comparable stature? No hospital would think of having a governance structure where doctor’s don’t play a key role, particularly in the delivery of medical care. Shouldn’t teachers play a comparably critical role in running their schools and defining what constitutes educational practice?

Perhaps as a parent, and not a professional educator, I am not in the ideal position to pose these questions, but I don’t find the teachers I know posing them. The teachers I know personally generally define themselves as “labor”, union organized labor in most cases, in opposition to the people that run their schools, who are considered the “management”. Even the teachers whose words I see on Daily KOS or elsewhere in the media championing their profession rarely call for that profession to play the key roll governing their schools and the education process generally.

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Moving from Hierarchy to a Circle of Equals

When people ask me, “What do you do?” or “What kind of work do you do?”, they generally are asking me what kind of job I do to make a living. And particularly because I am a white male person of some economic and educational privilege (with a head full of gray hair), they often presume that that job is a fairly high-powered one, and a major part of how I define myself. My job is fairly high-powered, I am a “business process consultant” for Kaiser Permanente, specifically the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, which is a not for profit health insurance company. But nowadays, that is not how I answer the question of what I do or even what my “work” is.

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Education and the Cult of Efficiency

This is the title of a book by Raymond Callahan first published in 1962, but brought to my attention in the suggested reading list in radical educator John Taylor Gatto‘s book, The Underground History of American Education. Callahan’s book focuses on the history of the public education system in the U.S. in the first three decades of the 20th century, and his premise that, the system was transformed into a business-industrial model which one could argue continues to this day. Perhaps we have seen a resurgence of that business-industrial model in recent decades with curriculum standardization, scripted teaching methodologies, high-stakes testing, the growth of and “education-industrial complex” and efforts to exert more external top-down control over teachers.

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A Fledgling Teacher-Led School Trend

As a follow-up to Ken Bernstein’s Daily KOS diary, “Education – Moving Past Excuses: What Excellence & Equity Require”, republished on our Daily KOS “Education Alternatives” group, I wanted to explore further some perhaps more radical thoughts behind Ken’s statement which I (as a parent and not a professional educator like Ken) completely agree with…

Teachers are quite capable of serving in a number of productive capacities outside of their individual classrooms and their individual schools.

My mom, who was a very capable volunteer political activist (with a Bachelors in Sociology, but also not a professional educator), always used to say that, “Teachers should run the schools”. Where she came to that insight, I really don’t know, but as a kid I used to think, “Yeah mom, whatever”. Now as an adult, and parent to two now young-adult kids who struggled in their public schools, her insight keeps coming back to me as I watch the increasing standardization and top-down control of those public schools.

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Further Thoughts on Charter Schools

I got a nice acknowledgement on my most recent blog piece from Robert Skeels in his piece for the blog “Schools Matter”. Robert liked my insight into the teaching profession being disrespected and never fully treated as a real “profession” (like doctors and lawyers) because it has historically been and continues to be a “pink-collar ghetto” dominated by women. He took great issue though with my position in support of charter schools as the “only game in town” for communities to make any sort of real educational changes in their neighborhoods. Robert wrote…

I find your stance on charters somewhat lacking nuance and I think we need to find another mechanism than charters to move in a direction of democratizing schools.

In saying that “we need to find another mechanism”, I think Robert is acknowledging that he is not aware of any other mechanisms right now for moving “in a direction of democratizing schools”.

So I put it out to folks who read my blog (including the Daily KOS version), what other way is there out there for parents to transform their neighborhood public schools so those schools offer different educational paths to suit a diverse democratic community? What other way is there to see a new neighborhood school created that meets their need say for a different sort of learning venue that might be more suited to some of the kids in their neighborhood that do not do well in a highly academic, highly instructional (rather than say experiential) conventional public school?

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Thoughts on Diane Ravitch’s Critique of U.S. Education System

Reviewing Ken Bernstein’s piece, “Diane Ravitch is interviewed – by Diane Ravitch”, I think Ravitch has presented a thoughtful and comprehensive critique of our education system, including critiquing assumptions made by those up at the state and federal level who govern and control that system. To continue the discussion that I assume Ken is attempting to provoke, here are my thoughts on some of Diane’s, bringing my take as a parent (of now young adult kids who both left school in their early teens, and not a teacher), a left-libertarian (which I believe puts me outside the mainstream of both progressive and conservative conventional positions on education), and as a supporter of what I like to call “many educational paths” (rather than our current one size fits all system).

Says Diane…

If you are a teacher, you have watched as state legislature passed bills to cut your salary, cut your pension, cut your health benefits, take away your collective bargaining rights, and base your evaluation on students test scores. You have seen governors call you greedy. You have watched as the richest man in America suggested ways to cut your annual paycheck. You wonder if your profession will survive.

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Day 4 – The AERO Education Conference in Portland

The last day of the conference, with just a short morning session. I did not attend any of the workshops but was there for the final keynote by Linda Stout and her closing call out to the youth at the conference to have their moment to speak.

Linda told her story of being the daughter of poor white agricultural workers in North Carolina, and how she managed somehow to get an education and go on to become a grassroots organizer. An organizer who built and led an organization that brought people together across racial, gender and class lines to help over 40,000 people overcome the obstacles of racist Jim Crow laws and vote for the first time.

Linda is a Baby Boomer like me, representing a generation that fought the battles for civil rights, women’s rights, and for peace instead of war. From that experience, her wisdom is that a movement for educational change needs a full spectrum of efforts on at least four fronts. First, activism for profound structural change in the U.S. education system. Second, “reform” efforts by people working within that system to try to hold the line and support individuals as much as possible until structural change can happen. Third, providing educational alternatives to conventional public schools to demonstrate new models that public schools can adopt. Fourth, setting in motion a shift in consciousness and intention, some would say the spiritual aspect of change.

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Day 2 – The AERO Education Conference in Portland

Once again experimenting with this thing of blogging each day from an event. Not terribly satisfied with yesterday’s quickly written piece… but on with the experiment!

As I said yesterday, this my third AERO conference, my strategy has evolved to focusing on connecting with people, not so much in attending workshops for the content of those sessions. Today I continued to reconnect with (and introduce Sally to) people I had previously met, while also meeting and connecting with some new folks.

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