Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Consistently Successful Educator: A Will-o’-the-Wisp?

... one way of looking at success patterns ... is that that people who are in high positions have never been in one place long enough for their problems to catch up with them. They outrun their mistakes. -- Robert Jackall (1988) Moral Mazes. The world of corporate managers. New York: Oxford. p. 90
As headmaster of a private school and, later, as a professor of education, I was privy to negative comments and rather scandulous informational items about private and parochial schools that I had never heard in my previous 25+ years as a teacher in the School District of Philadelphia.

Nor did I read or hear about such things in the media. Papers, pundits and politicians seemed only to focus on the ills of public schools. Private and parochial schools -- and, more recently, charter schools -- were presumed to be good, despite what investigators might have discovered if only they had bothered to examine them carefully or think about what they were supposed to accomplish. (See, for example, Cookson. & Persell (1985) Preparing for Power. America's Elite Boarding Schools. See also, The Teacher as Technician.)

This narrow focus away from the private and religious sectors of education can probably be understood partly by entrepreneurial interests in diverting to themselves a portion of the vast and seemingly discretionary public school funds. Normally, private and parochial schools have tight budgets. More importantly, however, is that control of public school budgets is accessible by the clientele of papers, pundits and politicians. (See Control in the School: Illusions and Realities)

So it has come to be that “School Reform” in this USofA does not mean making private or parochial schools better. Public schools, as some Americans have been griping for 120 years, are the ones that need reform. So “reformers” even go abroad to look for cures for presumed public school ills, to find that philosopher’s stone that will turn base public metal into private gold. (See School “Success”: hoping for miracles. )

But why go to other countries? Why not just import the practices and methods used in private and parochial schools to transmute the failures of public education into the presumed superiority of private/parochial schools? Why not sacrifice what may be crucial to public education to the holy grail of excellence -- whatever “excellence” is supposed to mean? (See What Works in Schooling: the “Newfanglers” versus the “Oldfashioned.”)

The ideal of the public school, as a kind of factory with clear goals efficiently pursued, by which public schools are judged by a religiously and socio-economically diverse public results in a misperception of public school failure. This is because there is little practical consensus among papers, pundits, politicians and their clientele as to means and ends the public schools should be pursuing.

The ills of public schools, to the extent they are not imaginative fabrications, are not generally school generated. Rather, they are brought about by hasty practical compromises on broad public controversies over culture, law or economy; for example, over sex education, access to sports and the need for arts/music education. However, private and parochial schools are not public business. Thus, if they are mediocre or worse, they are left to their own devices. (See The School Failure Mythology .)

Practitioners and administrators in public education lack sufficient power to determine what is to be put into practice as an effective method, scientific knowledge or no. Political and economic concerns tend to override technical pedagogy.

In private and parochial education consensus issues are generally kept “in house”. But consensus issues are so important in public education that a language of vague slogans that celebrate as they obfuscate, has been invented to control discourse and decision-making. (See Slogans in Education)

Large amounts of public funds are at stake. This is a real power struggle. (See Power in Schooling Practice: 
The Educational Dilemmas)

To examine these issues further, see Increasing Teaching Efficiency


--- EGR