Saturday, March 24, 2012

Are “Best” Practices Really the Best? What is the evidence?

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. -- Anne Lamott
Imagine walking into a Cadillac dealer and saying, “Don’t waste my time with long-winded explanations, just tell me: what is the best car?” If the dealer responded, “The best car is a Cadillac,” would you be surprised?

Educators are more subtle. Ask an eighth grade science teacher what the best teaching method is and she will likely reply, “For what kind of student.?” You pull out your list of pigeonholes and say something like, “A middle class, eighth-grade, male student not in special ed.” If the teacher responded, “The best method is the one I use,” would you be surprised?

Interestingly enough, you will occasionally get the reply, “The best methods are ones we are not permitted to use in this school.” This happens especially in foreign language or math where parents or school board members insist that the kids be taught as they, twenty to fifty years earlier, were taught; educational research, or whatever, be damned.

Why do we lust after “best” practices? Why not be satisfied with ones that are “generally good,” or “adequate” and the like. After all, to be literally a “best practice” something has to be proven to be better than all alternatives for a particular kind of student, with a particular kind of learning history, in a particular schooling environment studying a particular subject.

Consider this: if there were only 5 possible kinds of students, with 5 possible kinds of learning history, with 5 possible kinds of learning environment, studying one of 5 possible subjects, then for a single subject we would have to test and compare 5x5x5 = 125 possible situations to determine the best of the 125. Being too costly and time consuming, such research is not being done. Given parental concern that their own kids always get what they consider "the best" the school has to offer (Test new methods on someone else’s kids!), it is unlikely it will ever be done.

If you are interested in pursuing this further, see

Are "Best Practices" Good Enough?


-- EGR

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Politics in Schools: does it affect productivity?

When any organizational entity expands beyond 21 members, the real power will be in some smaller body.-- C. Northcote Parkinson
Politics is practically inevitable in most organizations.

Politics is the accommodation of individual interests by means not normally sanctioned within an organization. Needs often arise which cannot be handled within given rules and practices, so "adjustments" are often made with an eye to "discretion" and the avoidance of "setting a precedent."

But productivity, too, is far from being an absolute good. Productivity narrowly conceived and overenthusiastically pursued, particularly where resources are scarce, may cripple important organizational capacities.

To examine these issues further, see Productivity, Politics and Hypocrisy in American Public Education


Cordially
-- EGR

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Perpetual School Reform: an American Insanity?

Striving to better, oft we mar what's well. -- William Shakespeare, King Lear
Efforts for perpetual reform rests on the belief that all good things are compatible: that ever more of everything desirable is sustainable. Overlooked is the possibility that good things may be competitive: to pursue one may undermine our ability to obtain another. Yet most people can understand that you can't drive fast and at the same time save gas -- the shorter trip in time may not offset the gas wasted in fighting wind resistance. Athletes know that you can't build up for extreme strength and endurance at the same time.

The basic mechanism of perpetual reform is easy to understand. It takes a disregard for history and unending complaint about the present situation proclaimed in newsmedia much more concerned to attract the greatest attention than to report fact.

The costs of the present, since they are with us, look so much worse than the costs of any future alternatives, which, being future costs have the benefit, at least, of not existing, yet.

The benefits of the present, taken for granted and oh! so boring!, look much less attractive than the benefits of some alternative future. And so we blunder into yet another here-today-gone-tomorrow “revolution.”

So it goes with teacher certification efforts. On the one hand we hear much talk about the need to upgrade teacher training. This concern to "improve the quality of teachers" generally comes from those seen as having a “vested interest” in extending and complicating the certification process, e.g. teachers' unions, universities, professors of education and certification organizations. In the scandal mongering that characterizes many editorial columns "vested interest" easily becomes "selfish desire to exploit" therefore something any upright citizen ought to oppose and undo.

Yet this undoing is blindly pursued by school boards who, for example, facing teacher shortages, look for ways to put warm bodies in classrooms. Or, by the legislators who assist the downgrading of teacher preparation by allowing, even recommending, alternative routes into teaching. Seldom, however, do the media suggest that such school boards or legislatures are merely self-serving.

To examine these issues further, see The Dynamics of Teacher Certification: mythologies of competition

Cordially

-- EGR

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Abetting Fraud in School Systems and Universities

In a state where corruption abounds, laws must be very numerous.-- Tacitus
School systems, colleges and universities across the country get billions of dollars from the federal government on the strength of their accreditation by various professional and state organizations. Accreditation is taken as assurance that the school has met certain standards.

Federal false claims legislation has been used to penalize colleges and universities who have acquired accreditation by hiding their failings from accrediting organizations.

But often, the accrediting organizations are in cahoots with the institutions they accredit. They overlook severe deficiencies, if they even bother to note them. Members of accrediting site-visiting teams are colleagues, even friends, of faculty and administration of schools which are candidates for accreditation.

The track to accreditation has been greased by all of the following:
a. schools providing luxurious hotel rooms demanded by visiting teams well-stocked with expensive liquor;

b. six week’s advance receipt of the examiner’s questions so that “spontaneous” answers might be prepared, and skeletons locked away in hidden closets;

c. visiting team members who were students or friends of faculty in the candidate schools;

d. faculty threatened with dismissal or non-promotion should they bring up program violations of the schools under consideration for accreditation;

e. interference from local politicians to ward off disaccreditation when malfeasance was discovered;

f. direct interference in state-level agencies to block disaccreditation because of felonious activity by school administration, e.g. selling drugs.


Faculty in candidate schools seem to be (or pretend to be) unaware that their personal efforts in disregarding published school procedures, or hiding embarrassing violations, will have abetted a fraudulent claim when -- seldom, if -- their institution makes application for federal funds.

This misfeasance at some of the country’s biggest universities persists unchallenged by federal authorities for two apparent reasons:
1. many schools are seen to have formidable legal protectors, especially universities with law schools;

2. many investigators do not understand how responsibility is situated in the university and what might be indicators of violation -- often overlooked by otherwise highly competent lawyers with organizational experience only in the business world.
To examine these issues further, see Combatting Educational Corruption

Cordially,

-- EGR

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sacrifices to Parental Ambition and Pride: the new molechs?

And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech… -- Leviticus 18:21 (KJ)


Many parents, feeling that it puts their kids on the "fast track," support school policies that turn the children’s education into counterproductive drudgery. How much more convenient it is to have the school dump hours of homework on our kids than to have to deal with them ourselves in our otherwise ever more scarce "free" time. Why not rid the curriculum of art, music, drama and recess in order to prep the students for standardized testing?

But what is a kid’s childhood worth if it pleases our own ambition to destroy it? The kids, of course, resist our subversions by cheating, plagiarizing and turning off in even the “best” schools. So far as their education is concerned, they are “burned out” before they finish adolescence.

In Genesis 22, Abraham is commanded to, then restrained, from offering Isaac as a burned sacrifice. Some biblical scholars take this story to indicate the renunciation by Israel of the ancient practice of child sacrifice, commonly done in times of extremity by a variety of peoples.

We have reverted to that ancient practice of child sacrifice; not physically, perhaps, but psychologically and spiritually. But the gods we sacrifice our children to are unworthy ones: our own ambition, our own self-aggrandizement, our own reputation.


To continue this train of thought, use this hyperlink Tracking in Schools

Cordially

--- EGR

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Do Most People Really Want Power and Freedom?

Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me
And before I'd be a slave I'll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free -- Lucy Kinchen
Do most people really want power and freedom? A common answer to this question is offered by a rule of thumb:
The more power and freedom a person enjoys, the stronger that person’s belief that those with less power and freedom “really” desire neither.
But is this "rule of thumb" just self-delusion, a hope to stifle competition? After all, unless you have followers, you’re not much of a leader.

Or is it likely true that unfree people seek even less freedom?

To examine these issues further, see Leadership as Usurpation

Cordially
--- EGR