No-Fault Reform – a Prerequisite for Sustainable Progress

June 12, 2012 at 9:31 AM Leave a comment

The bully-and-blame game is the cancer within our education system. It is invasive and thrives under conditions of failure. The only way to win that game is to be in charge, so the fight for the upper hand with the pointer finger will always supersede the mission of educating children. Such power struggles can only be resolved when the need for blame is taken out of the formula.

Scapegoating is antithetical to true leadership. It is the process whereby one stays on top by pushing others down. This is a non-starter for progress. Sadly, a common phenomenon within education is to end each discussion of a problem once the team determines whose fault it is…and, of course, that culprit is always someone else.

Functional behavior models teach us that any behavior that persists, regardless of its prima fascia dysfunctionality, actually serves a function within its milieu. Within schools, obsession with fault-finding has become an established feature of the system wherever there is persistent failure. We feel better when “It’s not our fault,” even though we have taken the short-cut to “It can’t be fixed.” The path out of this toxic culture is to generate conditions of success.

Creating a success may seem like an artificial concept or a pipe dream. However there are a few ways to focus on system reform in education without requiring a change in the players or personification of the problem. Among these…

  • Provide sound data, real information that replaces rumors and truisms with facts.
  • Reorganize resources around critical benchmarks to support their success. (A quick plug for my current favorite…a separate PreK-3 lower elementary school focusing on literacy and basic numeracy)
  • Create funding formulas and financial statements that allow for transparency in spending and performance. Document the matching of resources with need among the children and empower the schools with discretionary spending.
  • Put all the players in the same merit compensation pool so they share in the perks related to achieving their goals and can never be paid for undermining one another.
  • Abandon the value-laden “best practices” label in pedagogy in a system that is undergoing technological change and suffers from a dearth of real information. Change requires taking risks with new methods. We can figure out what really worked once we have achieved more than tenuous results.
  • Break the firing-and-rehiring cycle with a system of baseline funding for districts that reduces or eliminates temporary lays-offs…LIFO matters less when you don’t binge and purge with each academic session.

Our current reform logic presumes people are at fault, overvalues new (young) people, and equates fitness for the job with unsustainable martyrdom for the cause. Each group of new recruits is bolstered with the knowledge that they are the heroes who will save the system, the natural enemies of their dumb, fat, and happy veteran colleagues. We have to get over ourselves and see the real deal. It’s the system…and it will continue to break people until it gets fixed.

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Entry filed under: ESEA-NCLB, Issues and Ideas, School Transformation. Tags: , .

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