A central flaw of
corporate paradigms, as is often noted in popular culture, is the mind-numbing and dehumanizing effect of
bureaucracy. Sometimes we are horrified and sometimes we laugh, but arguments
for or against the free market may be misguided if we fail to address
bureaucracy's corrosive role in the business model.
Current claims about private, public, or charter schools in the education reform movement, which has its roots in the
mid-nineteenth century, may
also be masking a much more important call to confront and even dismantle the
bureaucracy that currently cripples universal public education in the U.S. "Successful teaching and good
school cultures don't have a formula," argued legal reformer Philip K.
Howard earlier in this series, "but they have a necessary condition:
teachers and principals must feel free to act on their best instincts....This is
why we must bulldoze school bureaucracy."
however, remains an abstraction and serves as little more than a convenient and
popular target for ridicule -- unless we unpack what actions within bureaucracy
are the sources for many of the persistent failures we associate erroneously
with public education as an institution. Bureaucracy fails, in part, because it
honors leadership as a primary
quality over expertise, commits to
ideological solutions without identifying and clarifying problems first, and repeats the same reforms over and over while expecting
different results: our standards/testing model is more than a century old.
Public education is by necessity an extension of our
political system, resulting in schools being reduced to vehicles for
implementing political mandates. For example, during the past thirty years,
education has become federalized through dynamics both indirect ("A Nation at Risk" spurring
state-based accountability systems) and direct (No Child Left Behind and Race
to the Top).
As government policy and practice, bureaucracy is
unavoidable, of course. But the central flaw in the need for structure and hierarchy is
that politics prefers leadership characteristics above expertise. No politician
can possibly have the expertise and experience needed in all the many areas a
leader must address (notably in roles such as governor and president). But
during the "accountability era" in education of the past three decades, the
direct role of governors and presidents as related to education has increased
dramatically--often with education as a central plank in their campaigns.
One distinct flaw in that development has been a
trickle-down effect reaching from presidents and governors to state
superintendents of education and school board chairs and members: people
who have no
or very little experience or expertise as educators or scholars attain leadership positions responsible for forming and implementing education policy.
The faces and voices currently leading the education reform
movement in the U.S. are appointees and self-proclaimed reformers who, while often
well-meaning, lack significant expertise or experience in education: Secretary
of Education Arne Duncan, billionaire Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee (whose entrance
to education includes the alternative route of Teach for America and only a few
years in the classroom), and Sal Khan, for example.
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