A Guest Post from Robert Barkley
So much of the current attacks on public education have been framed inside a concept called the “business model.” As it turns out, many uniformed elected officials, and even many education-bashing business leaders themselves, apparently don’t understand at all the fundamentals of effective businesses.
The centerpiece of effective organizational practice, whether in the private or public sector, is clarity as to purpose. And it’s precisely there that those many critics don’t get it. Ask them what the purpose of education is, and you’ll likely get answers such as, “master the basics…prepare students for work…raise test scores…improve graduation rates…encourage life long learning…get more into college,” and the list goes on.
These are all commendable but they are the results and not the purpose. A well-conceived purpose will achieve all such objectives and more.
So let’s turn to defining the purpose of education. I devoted a full chapter to that topic in a book I self-published about 10 years ago. Following is the primary discussion pulled from that book:
W. Edwards Deming: “The purpose of education is to preserve and nurture joy in learning.” Schools must “increase the positives and decrease the negatives so that all students keep their yearning for learning.” The mission of schools is to maintain enthusiasm while increasing learning.
Based upon fundamental Hellenic philosophy: The purpose of education is to develop students—who are comfortable in meeting their survival needs, who have an increasing capacity and desire for rational thought, who can conduct themselves productively and virtuously and can distinguish what matters most—both in regard to their own interests and those of their community, and who can constructively contribute to the most effective governance of the society in which they find themselves.
Myron Tribus building upon Deming, advocated “creating joy in learning” as the chief aim of education. He then states the criteria for judging educational programs. He says, “A good educational program will emphasize: Knowledge – which enables the learner to understand how what is learned connects to what is already known and permits the learner to analyze new situations; Know-how -- which enables the learner to actually do something with the knowledge thus gained; Wisdom -- which enables the learner to decide when, where or whether to actually use know-how in a particular situation;
Character -- which makes the learner capable of being trusted with knowledge, know-how and wisdom.” Tribus adds, “When I look at a program I look for evidence that the teachers are aware of these four aspects of education and can demonstrate the efforts they are making in all four dimensions of good education.”
Marion Brady: “Each of us has acquired from our society a comprehensive model of reality. The most important task of general education is to help us understand that model, the models of those with whom we interact, and the range of alternative models from which we might choose.”
Paul Woodring: “The goal of a liberal education is to free individuals from the limitations of ignorance, prejudice, and provincialism; to enable them to see the world clearly and in perspective; to develop their intellectual capabilities, increase their sensitivity, and prepare them to make wise, independent judgments.”
Maurice Holt: suggests that we currently have competing needs which he describes as: “To deliver the knowledge and skills that business needs,” versus, “To equip students with the capacity to address the unpredictable problems of adulthood and to establish themselves in a world of growing complexity.”
It is clear that establishing educational purpose is not simply an academic or organizational and managerial process. It is a public policy issue given the level of societal interest, the political nature of education, and the level of public investment. My own espoused purpose for education—obviously taken from Deming: “Engendering increasingly enthusiast learners who continuously seek and achieve the skills necessary to advance their learning, satisfy their natural curiosities, and become contributing citizens.”
Step two in organizational effectiveness is to establish how progress toward the adopted purpose will be measured. And here is why I have brought this topic to the fore. Think of what the policy makers of both major political parties and well-meaning many critics of educational have chosen as their measurement tools. Think standardized tests! Once you reflect upon that you will quickly realize why we are headed in absolutely the wrong direction and why the international leaders in education have abandoned exactly what those in the US are advocating.
Robert Barkley, Jr., is retired Executive Director of the Ohio Education Association, a thirty-five year veteran of NEA and NEA affiliate staff work. He is the author of Quality in Education: A Primer for Collaborative Visionary Educational Leaders; Leadership In Education: A Handbook for School Superintendents and Teacher Union Presidents; and Lessons for a New Reality: Guidance for Superintendent/Teacher Organization Collaboration. He may be reached at email@example.com.
A guest post by Robert Barkley, Jr.
What I’ve learned so far – as of November 19, 2012
In February of 1958 I began student teaching in a small rural Pennsylvania town. Approximately one month into that experience my master teacher was drafted into the military. And since there were no other teachers in my field in that small district, I was simply asked to complete the school year as the regular teacher.
From that day on I have been immersed in public education at many levels, in several states – even in Canada and with some international contacts, as well as from many vantage points. So some 54 and a half years later, here’s what I have learned so far.
- There will be no significant change in education until and unless our society truly and deeply adopts a sense of community attitude. And a sense of community is first and foremost based upon an acceptance that we all belong together – regardless of wealth, race, gender, etc.
- The views of amateurs, otherwise known as politicians and private sector moneyed interests, while they may be genuine and well intentioned, are, at best, less than helpful if unrestrained by the views of the professionals working at ground level. Put another way, the view from 30,000 feet may give a broad sense of how the system looks, but the view from street level gives a sense of how the system actually works. Neither is wrong, but both are inadequate by themselves.
- Moneyed interests such as test and textbook manufactures and charter school enthusiasts will destroy general education for they have little commitment to the general welfare and common good
- No institution or organization will excel until and unless it adopts at all levels a shared sense of purpose – a central aim if you will, and agrees upon how progress toward that purpose will be measured over time. Education is no different.
- At the basic levels all education must begin with the recognition and nurturing of the natural curiosity and the current reality of each student.
- Teaching is a team sport. In other words, the structure and general practice in schools of teachers operating as independent sources of instruction is flawed. Anything that exacerbates this flawed structure, such as test score ratings of individual teachers and/or individual performance pay schemes, will be harmful and counterproductive.
- The separation of knowledge into separate disciplines may be convenient to organizing instruction but it is counter to the construction of learning. Therefore, integrated curriculum strategies are essential if neuroscience is to be appreciated and taken into account.
- School employee unions can be useful or problematic to educational progress. Which they become is dependent upon their full inclusion in determining the structure and purpose of education. The more they are pushed to the sidelines, the more their focus will be narrow and self-serving.
Robert Barkley, Jr., is retired Executive Director of the Ohio Education Association, a thirty-five year veteran of NEA and NEA affiliate staff work. He is the author of Quality in Education: A Primer for Collaborative Visionary Educational Leaders, Leadership In Education: A Handbook for School Superintendents and Teacher Union Presidents, and Lessons for a New Reality: Guidance for Superintendent/Teacher Organization Collaboration. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A reader pointed out this exchange and segment on CNBC, a business channel. There can be no doubt that the financiers that brought us the great recession see education as the next area ripe for looting
Anchor: Charter schools have become very popular... But are charter schools a wise addition to your investment portfolio? Well let’s ask David Brain, President and CEO of Entertainment Properties Trust. David, why would I want to add charter schools into my portfolio?
DB: Well I think it’s a very stable business, very recession-resistant. It’s a high-demand product. There’s 400,000 kids on waiting lists for charter schools, the industry’s growing about 12-14% a year. So it’s a high-growth, very stable, recession-resistant business. It’s a public payer, the state is the payer on this category, and if you do business with states with solid treasuries then it’s a very solid business.
Anchor: Well let me ask you about potential risks, here, to your charter school portfolio, because I understand that three of your nine “Imagine” schools are scheduled to actually lose their charters for the next school year. Does this pose a risk to investors?
DB: Well, occasionally—our Imagine arrangement’s on a master lease, so there’s no loss of rents to the company, although occasionally there are losses of charters...In this case it’s a combination of relationship with the supervisory authorities and educational quality; sometimes the educational quality is very difficult to change in one, two, or three years. It’s a long-term proposition, so there are some of these that occur, but we’ve structured our affairs so this is not going to impact our rent-roll and in fact you see this is maybe even a good experience as the industry thins out some of the less-performing schools...
I don’t—there’s not a lost of risk...the fact is this has bipartisan support. It’s part of the Republican platform and Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education in the Obama Administration, has been very high on it throughout their work in public education. So we have both political parties are solidly behind it, you have high demand, high growth, you have performance across the board...it’s our highest growth and most appealing sector right now of the portfolio. It’s the most high in demand, it’s the most recession-resistant. And a great opportunity set with 500 schools starting every year. It’s a two and a half billion dollar opportunity set annually.
Education plays a fundamental role in American society. Here we take a look at school enrollment, costs and educational outcomes. How does school enrollment today compare with 1970, when the baby boom generation was in its prime years of school attendance (age 6 to 24) and made up 90 pecent of all student enrolled in schools? The American Community and other Census Bureau survey provide us with information to answer these other valuable questions. Education statistics are vital to communities in determining funding allocations and guiding program planning.
“Reform movements in education are notorious for their tendencies toward presentism–for painting the past in the darkest possible light in order to stress the urgent need for rapid and major transformation of the status quo”–Sedlak & Schlossman, 1987
Unfortunately, economic decline has opened policy windows for educational reformers to wreak havoc on public education, impacting all public school educators. In this environment, there are clear winners and losers; individuals who are losing during this time are recent college graduates. From the Economic Policy Institute:
As more and more teachers are cut from the public sector, public schools are left with a teacher shortage. During typical decline, student enrollment decreases which sparks school closings and teacher cuts. However during current decline public school enrollment is projected to increase nationally, by about 6%. Consequently, classroom student-teacher ratios are at risk of increasing if jobs continue to be slashed. More importantly, preservice and beginning teachers are being stranded on the sidelines without employment opportunities. I wonder how teacher certified college graduates have managed to stay current with educational trends if they have not found full time teaching jobs over the past 2-3 years? Will these recent graduates ever be able to find jobs in education if they haven’t found full time employment in the past two years? I suspect that college graduates who were aspiring to become teachers but who have no found full time employment have moved onto other professions. For public schools teachers who are in the profession, I predict the following will be important to keep in mind going forward:
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