Friday, May 4, 2012

School Reform: It’s not bricklaying; it’s juggling.

Policy is not made once and for all; it is made and remade endlessly. Policymaking is a process of successive approximation to some desired objectives in which what is desired itself continues to change under reconsideration.

... A wise policymaker consequently expects that his policies will achieve only part of what he hopes and at the same time will produce unanticipated consequences he would have preferred to avoid. -- Charles E. Lindblom, "The Science of 'Muddling Through'", Public Administration Review, 19, Spring 1959, 79 - 88.

Lindblom's comments are highly pertinent because school reform depends importantly on policy-making, on the goals we set for schools. But goals, themselves, can be reached only when consensus on three basic items stays put long enough to get things to “gel.” Consensus itself is an often short-lived thing, especially in a culture where so many different opinions claim our attention.

In addition, with the advent of superquick communications like Twitter and Facebook, consensus on an issue may be here today and gone tomorrow. (Will the hordes of enthusiasts who chanted “Yes, we can!” in 2008, show up at the polls in November 2010?)

Three “balls” need to be juggled, kept aloft at the same time:
a. expectations – what do (which?) people (think? say?) they want? Is there sufficient consensus on this? Will it last?

b. resources – how much money (whose?) is available to pursue these (which?) expectations and for how long will it be available? Is there a different consensus, on this item also?

c. tasks – what actual productive skills (whose?) have to be exercised and how long will they be available? Is there a different consensus needed here?
You can guess why its easier to get small, private things done with small groups than big, public things done with big groups.

Much of American political talk attempts to paper over this difficulty.

To examine these issues further, see POLITICS, CONSENSUS AND EDUCATIONAL REFORM

--- EGR