Sunday, December 15, 2013

Where America Shops – (Or not.)

searsDo you want a software engineer or hedge fund manager removing your appendix, filing your taxes, or fixing the brakes on your car? If you don’t want to wake up dead or incarcerated, probably not.

But we still give credence to the education “reform” movement spearheaded by folks who have never stepped into a classroom. There seems to be this idea that if a person makes billions of dollars in one industry their talent seamlessly can be used to “fix” education.

We need to run schools more like a business, we need to be data driven, we need more technology we need competition. Sara and I like to ask – exactly what business are you referring to? Enron?

The above tenets don't even work in business at times.

Sears CEO, (and hedge fund manager with no prior retail experience) Eddie Lampert gave some ideas that should sound familiar to the school reformist a spin with one of America’s most recognizable brands.

He pitted store managers against each other so that they competed for resources based on performance reviews.

He spied on and goaded his employees.

He became obsessed with technology and data collection – squandering resources on apps while his stores infrastructure crumbled.

So how did this work out for Mr. Lampert?

Sears has lost half its value in five years.

Tools that may have worked for him in his prior profession as a hedge fund manager did not translate into success when he became a retailer.

But we are expected to implement these very same steps in our schools and succeed?

We need to foster a feeling of cooperation and collaboration I the education world – not one where high stake test scores are published without context in order to scare and shame teachers into compliance. Hanging that sword of Damocles over our educator’s heads provides a disincentive for teamwork. The teacher can end up feeling that it is them against the world, why should they share best practices with the teacher down the hall aiding and abetting the competition?

This didn’t work with Sears – and it’s not going to work in school.

Requiring every lesson plan to cite a standard or worse yet that every teacher follow a script that is checked up on from some unseen terminal not only comes across as spying but infers to the educator that they cannot be trusted – that they need to be checked up on constantly. This not only infers that the teacher is inadequate it fosters mistrust between the classroom and the administration.

Didn’t work with Sears – not going to work in school.

The blind allegiance to technology and data collection while ignoring the root causes impeding robust instruction such as poverty, transience, infrastructure and curriculum not only breed failure but becomes an impetus for data manipulation. Technology has its place – but a strong inquiry based curriculum where the teacher, with parents, sets goals based on the student’s needs not on how well they will stack up against kids in the same grade level on the other side of the country is much more important than any iPad app.

Didn’t work with Sears – not going to work in school.

Now Sara and I fully understand that there must be some sort of assessment and that the implementation of standards is not inherently evil. (We’ve linked the applicable standards to all the lessons in our new teacher resource.) We just believe the execution be left up to teachers and their principals – not someone with no real world education experience.

So no, I don’t want some software engineer tuning up my car, putting a filling in my tooth, or writing my will – nor do I want one setting my school’s education policy.

Do you?

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