Saturday, October 8, 2011

How Will 'Trickle Down' Work for Schools?

     I was listening recently to an old interview with Steve Jobs, when he was asked about his approach to building Apple, such a hugely successful company. What he said was basically that (and I'll get it as right as I can) other companies hire people and tell them what to do, we hire people to tell US what to do. The culture of ideas, access to the most, best ideas possible, the contributions of all, is the strong foundation that built Apple. The people who are involved with the product, know what is needed, what works, where and how it flexes and when and how it breaks are the ones who can feed the most useful ideas into the process that shapes innovation and the future. Now full disclosure: I guess I have to believe what I hear about Apple, but I'm presently a PC guy. It's what I know. But there's no arguing that man's success. I'm considering making the switch for my next laptop purchase, and I would appreciate any input those that know the pros and cons could give.
     Anyway, that interview got me thinking: with a clearly business-style approach to reforming and managing education, why are reformers insisting on such a top-heavy, mandates-from-above approach? Why are the practitioners, those with true familiarity of today's kids in today's swelling classrooms being so disrespected? What will the results of this approach look like? If the concerns shared in the social media, in local newspapers, and in discussions between teachers gathered when they can are any indicator: not well for schools, teachers, students or our country.
     Respect for the collective expertise, skills and experience of educators has been absent. Deference to the history of teachers wading through long-winded standards, a misguided testing approach, and cumbersome bureaucracy to do their jobs is non existent. Now, faced with the sad results of an economy trusted to those who abandoned us long ago, and an education system saddled with agencies, committees and testing industries, what road does "reform" take? More of the same! Would we ever think that if drinking wine doesn't make your problems go away you should drink whiskey instead? If yelling at your children doesn't get results you should switch to hitting them?
     Educators are not being approached regarding how to execute "reform" in the face of increasing mandates, swelling class numbers and shrinking staff numbers and funds. Students and families are held up as victims (in the "blame the teachers" game) instead of having their goals and ideas for education culled. Are we really to trust those furthest from the factory to decide how to create the best product? Are the privateers and business minded reformers really interested in creating the best product possible-or are they in the game for another reason? What would Steve Jobs do?

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