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RE: [xmca] Centralized vs. Distributed decision-making in schools
Thanks Jay (although this seems to be a dialogue between you and me, rather than something others are interested in discussing),
I do hope that you're not suggesting that we kill people who disagree with us ("but jail, penury, public ridicule, or death"). Though there are days......
I don't see a world in which teachers are making unilateral decisions. I see them given the opportunity to make few decisions, if any, at all. Arne Duncan's unilateral approach has been a thorough disaster, which supports your point. But that's top-down power exercised by one individual over many thousands. Teachers hardly have such opportunities, and so I'll spare their lives for the moment.
I don't think that there will be much in-servicing money available to have experts brought in to address interesting problems like cell phone usage, when in-servicing will no doubt be dedicated to meeting Common Core Standards developed by people with lots of money and no experience in classrooms.
When all's said and done, I don't think that anybody in authority will listen to me, Jay, or anyone else not backed by corporate power.
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of Jay Lemke
Sent: Saturday, March 31, 2012 5:12 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Centralized vs. Distributed decision-making in schools
Peter and all,
On the wider issue of centralized vs distributed, my view is that the real trick is to figure out how to assign power/responsibility for different kinds of decisions and policies across a range of more local to more global (centralized) levels of decision-making institutions.
I don't think that going all-central or all-local gives the best results. I'd like to see many levels of decision-making, which has been the US tradition in principle, though not in practice (local organizations, towns, counties, states, federal) as revenue and authority have become increasingly centralized here.
But what we really need is some actual political SCIENCE: theories and understandings that would enable us to make informed decisions about which matters should be in the purview of which levels of decision-making. "Distributed", not in the sense of maximally local, but in the sense of distributed across the various levels of organization of the eco-social system.
I think the systems of social and political organization that we have are really very primitive. Some european countries have experimented with more sophisticated systems, but mainly at an advisory, or public-input level. The main force working against the development of better approaches is the high-benefit, lo-cost dynamics of power accumulation. The logical countermeasure would be to greatly increase the risk to the decision-makers and power-brokers of bad policy. Not just losing an election, or floating off on your golden parachute, but jail, penury, public ridicule, or death. There needs to be a substantial incentive to make sure that power gets passed around and that decisions are made by the people who are best positioned to make the right ones.
In education, while I agree that teachers are often better positioned to make good decisions --- about some things --- than school boards, state officials, or federal agencies, what's important is to figure out WHICH things those are. And it may not be simply a category like Teachers which is the relevant alternative, but rather the functioning network of involved people: which means, at the local level, whether classroom or school, not just teachers, but also Students. And for some things, parents and perhaps others.
I think the recent discussion here about cellphones in the classroom pointed pretty clearly to ways in which teachers' judgments could be improved by sitting down and candidly discussing differences in viewpoint with students (Ken Tobin, formerly Penn, now CUNY, has a lot of research evidence to support this). The power to make unilateral decisions on matters affecting others is (almost always) the enemy of good decision-making. That applies to dictators, oligarchies, and bureaucracies; and it applies to teachers, parents, and professors as well.
Or so it seems to me.
Senior Research Scientist
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition Adjunct Professor, Department of Communication University of California - San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California 92093-0506
New Website: www.jaylemke.com
Professor (Adjunct status 2011-2012)
School of Education
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
City University of New York
On Mar 30, 2012, at 3:11 AM, Peter Smagorinsky wrote:
> Thanks Jay. My main point if that if you want to attract and retain great teachers, you need to make teaching an attractive profession. I'll take my chances with entrusting teachers with responsibility as a way to help them make the difference that they get into the profession for.
> Risks? Of course. But I'll go with whatever risks follow from listening to teachers, rather than having them straightjacketed by policies made by people who just don't understand teaching, learning, or schooling.
> I'm sure that people could contest Diamond's conclusions, and I think he does a nice job of presenting the views of people who disagree with him and explaining why he believes what he does. At http://www.amazon.com/Guns-Germs-Steel-Societies-ebook/dp/B000VDUWMC/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1333102072&sr=8-7 Amazon Prime members can download the book for free. So see for yourself if you think he's on or off the mark.
> Jay refers to two Washington Post pieces. Anthony Barra posted a link to one of them previously. I'll re-post that one, plus the new one, next.
> Smagorinsky, P. (2012, March 28). How to remake the Education Department (or, it's time to give teachers a chance). The Answer Sheet of The Washington Post. Available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/how-to-remake-the-education-department-or-its-time-to-give-teachers-a-chance/2012/03/21/gIQAFg3KfS_blog.html#pagebreak
> Smagorinsky, P. (2012, March 11). Why the Ed Department should be
> reconceived-or abolished. The Answer Sheet of The Washington Post.
> Available at
> If you're an orthodox Marxist, you might not like either one. But then, I'm a capitalist, albeit of the kinder and gentler sort.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
> On Behalf Of Jay Lemke
> Sent: Thursday, March 29, 2012 4:33 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Centralized vs. Distributed decision-making in
> Interesting to see the discussion about wrong-headed education policy in the US, and it seems elsewhere (as the same logic leads to the same mistakes).
> I think Peter's indictment of the DOE and our federal education
> policy, so ridiculously over-weighted toward test results (which test
> only what's easy, and profitable, to test, and not the higher aims of
> education) and inevitably driving the whole system toward mediocrity,
> is strong and on target. (I note that mediocrity is actually an
> improvement for those in the worst schools, though not an improvement
> that will have much lasting value in their lives.)
> In particular, I was surprised at just how much a single educational publishing and testing corporation (McGraw-Hill) makes off the memorize-test-forget system. And Peter's analysis of the lack of real qualifications of the last two heads of the federal Education department (Duncan and Paige) seems to show that our senior politicians still believe, as do most Americans, that everyone and anyone is an expert on education, since we've all been to school (and most hated the experience).
> But Peter's recipe of decentralization (elaborated on in a new opinion piece in the Washington Post -- click the original one, then search on his name) seems to carry a lot of risks as well. We used to have a completely decentralized educational system in the US, town by town, and to a lesser degree state by state, and one of the most significant effects of this was the enormous disparity between local districts in what they taught (e.g. no evolution in biology) and how much they spent (a factor of 2 or more between different districts and states, per student). Education in some states was reliably awful (Alabama, Mississippi) and in others reliably decent (Minnesota, Wisconsin). Local school boards everywhere in the country were notoriously financially corrupt, and rarely were those elected to them more qualified than Duncan or Paige, and probably even less so. The few good districts could be very, very good. The many bad districts were terrible.
> Peter puts a lot of faith in teachers and their judgment, or at least their commitment and their capacity to innovate responsively in the interests of their students' learning. I think this is a difficult area to have certainty about. In the last 50 years the teaching profession has lost a lot of really smart women as other career paths have become open to them, and many teachers who served their students well with experience built up over 20 years of more on the job have been replaced by a rapid turnover of very young and inexperienced teachers who leave the profession, often disillusioned, after a few years. Working conditions in schools are very poor compared to almost all other MA-requiring careers. The teaching profession today is drawing its candidates from the bottom tiers of college graduates in terms of academic achievement. Good teachers can overcome many other obstacles in the system, but there just aren't enough of them -- and I don't think there ever will be. A radically different model is needed.
> Peter's new piece relies a lot on Jared Diamond's analysis of the benefits of decentralized competition, but frankly I don't think his work is really all that good. A lot of the analysis and conclusions strike me as exculpatory toward European imperialism and colonialism on the global historical stage. I enjoyed a lot of the details and some of the connections he makes, but I don't think the grand conclusions are reliable.
> Anyway, Peter, I really applaud you for putting your views out there in such a public forum (more of us should!), and I think you've targeted one of the key problems; I'm just not so persuaded about the solution.
> Jay Lemke
> Senior Research Scientist
> Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition Adjunct Professor,
> Department of Communication University of California - San Diego
> 9500 Gilman Drive
> La Jolla, California 92093-0506
> New Website: www.jaylemke.com
> Professor (Adjunct status 2011-2012)
> School of Education
> University of Michigan
> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
> Professor Emeritus
> City University of New York
> On Mar 12, 2012, at 3:27 PM, Greg Thompson wrote:
>> As an interesting side note, this argument has been particularly
>> welcomed by the political right in the US.
>> Makes me wonder if there isn't the possibility of a political
>> convergence in the US?
>> (e.g. OWS and the Tea Party coming together. If only they didn't hate
>> each other so much...).
>> (a post-democratic revolution?)
>> On Mon, Mar 12, 2012 at 7:05 AM, Andy Blunden <email@example.com> wrote:
>>> Wow! That article breathes fire! Great writing, Peter. Education
>>> Departments in my country as in others have been obliged to copy the
>>> US system! Presumably political leaders that only ever learnt when
>>> to put their hands up and how to tick boxes want a population
>>> trained in this way of life. But seriously, is decentralisation the way to go?
>>> Is idiotic education policies the result of "big government" or just bad government?
>>> Or is this just a polemical stance, like "show me a good reason for
>>> having an Education Department, then"?
>>> Anthony Barra wrote:
>>>> This dispatch on US education reform and the powers that be landed
>>>> on my Facebook page last night: "Why the Ed Department should be
>>>> reconceived - or abolished" - by Peter Smagorinsky
>>>> - abolished/2012/03/09/gIQAHfdB5R_blog.html>
>>>> An educator on education policy, in the public sphere! More of
>>>> this please.
>>>> One excerpt:
>>>> "Instead of having a highly centralized administration powered by
>>>>> contributed by textbook publishers and other entrepreneurs cashing
>>>>> in on the lucrative enterprise of educational materials
>>>>> production, I would have a *highly distributed approach*** in
>>>>> which most decision-making is local and includes - and indeed,
>>>>> relies on - the perspective of teachers.
>>>>> Presently, there's little reason for practicing teachers to<
>>>>>> **keep up with the latest ideas emerging from credible sources,
>>>>>> or to
>>>>> in the process of producing those ideas and becoming credible
>>>>> sources themselves. The approach that I suggest would lend urgency
>>>>> to the need for teachers to be informed in order to make sound
>>>>> decisions. It would place a premium on being a reflective
>>>>> practitioner who is attentive to classroom processes and student
>>>>> learning, because such observations would become part of the
>>>>> broader school conversation about how to best educate the students
>>>>> who attend the school."
>>>> ***emphasis added* because I (as a citizen, not just educator)
>>>> would love to hear more about this especially.
>>>> xmca mailing list
>>> *Andy Blunden*
>>> Joint Editor MCA:
>>> c om/toc/hmca20/18/1> Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
>>> xmca mailing list
>> Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
>> Sanford I. Berman Post-Doctoral Scholar Laboratory of Comparative
>> Human Cognition Department of Communication University of California,
>> San Diego __________________________________________
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