Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reforming Ed Leadership

My good TLN friend Ariel Sacks sent along this link to Bob Herbert's op-ed piece in the New York Times. Herbert is concerned about reforming our education system. He's written on this before so I know it's at the top of his list.
He's right. We need to solve the problem of what is wrong with schooling. Especially when we are looking at high drop out rates. (Wake up people! We can't toss our kids out on the street and expect to move forward as a nation.)
His current bright light in the reform issue is a new doctoral degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Educational Leadership. The stunning part of the degree is that it will be offered tuition free. Let's hope this is the beginning of a trend. On a teaching salary, pursuing an advanced degree isn't always feasible, and those most likely to pay aren't necessarily the best choice.
But, I have a problem with the description of the goals of the program. The article states that the degree is a collaboration between the schools of business and education. It says:
  • Kathleen McCartney, the graduate school’s dean, explained one of the dilemmas that has hampered reform. “If you look at people who are running districts,” she said, “some come from traditional schools of education, and they understand the core business of education but perhaps are a little weak on the management side. And then you’ve got the M.B.A.-types who understand operations, let’s say, but not so much teaching and learning.”
Let's get off this "schools need to be run more like a business" train, can't we? That kind of thinking has been around for thirty years and has culminated in charts and graphs and nutty ideas like paying teachers based on student scores (a plan ripe for corruption). The business model has led to more and more standardized tests and measurements and narrowed the curriculum to the point where a monkey can deliver instruction. (Ever read a scripted curriculum? Monkey talk.)
Kids are dropping out because school is becoming IRRELEVANT. Who wants to sit in a class when you can go home and write, produce, and distribute your own movie/blog/television show/music album from your bedroom?
And if you're already disadvantaged, who wants to go to a place that reminds you every day that you are far behind everyone else. Better to just drop out and find a job or disappear into the world of drugs or crime or who knows what.
School needs to be reformed, but I baulk at using business as the model for that reform. How can we continue to use that paradigm after what has resulted in the current recession and revealed the corruption in the business world? When Wall Street demanded that gains appear on spreadsheets every quarter, the gains showed up. Who cared how they got there just so long as this narrow measure of success continued to build (unsustainably, as it turns out).
Education is NOT a business. We are NOT producing products. My complaint is the same one doctors make in the current health care debate.
What we do (doctors and teachers) does not result in a measurable profit. At least not one you can see right away. We are involved in building charitable relationships that result in better people. Creating better human beings through an improvement in health and education does return dividends, but not always immediately. It's a bit of a leap of faith, but can be uncovered in the narratives of those who benefit from both good health and good formative experiences.
Harvard's plan for creating leaders is to place them in districts where they can learn from others. But we don't need more of the status quo with a sprinkling of management thrown in.
We need to entirely re-see education and make it meaningful, relevant, and vibrant.
We need to fling open the doors to ideas that engage students, create innovative thinkers, develop future leaders, and feed the dreams of our young people so they can work creatively with others.
It is ironic that the new landscape of this 21st century lies in the freeing collaborative nature of getting and giving information on the web, but that the response to that new world is the same "old-world" kind of thinking: More top-down managers.


  1. Great post, Mary. And thanks for linking to my blog. I agree with your entire argument. These lines ring particularly true in terms of the effects of the NCLB model: "And if you're already disadvantaged, who wants to go to a place that reminds you every day that you are far behind everyone else. Better to just drop out and find a job or disappear into the world of drugs or crime or who knows what." That is exactly what is happening, but policy makers don't seem to be looking at the dropout issue.

  2. Well put.

    Noble of Harvard to offer the program tuition free, but you make a good point about the questionable nature of our most recent business practices.

    And an interesting point also about school becoming irrelevant. That's got to be a tough perception to battle as a teacher.