Friday, February 23, 2007

Reform Targeting

I posted this over in comments at From the Trenches of Public Education.

When I started researching education and entered the edublogging realm, I was a blank slate.

I believed in many of the standard talking points. Preschool will fix everything, all we need is more money, etc..., but was open minded in general.

My thoughts and opinions evolved (and still do) as I learned more.

I am now pretty much in the "drastic reform" camp, but I don't think I have ever been a big proponent of H.S. level reforms. I do like the idea of smaller schools, or at least schools within a school, since I think having stable relationships with teachers is a pretty good thing for students. I think there should be a bit more ability grouping, though with honors, college prep, and regular classes there is some. Having said that, I think that High Schools do a pretty decent job of teaching those who come to them on skill level. Basically for the top 50% to 95% of students, our High School program works relatively well.

It's the lower 50% that really needs educational reform, but by HS they have pretty much already been broken.

In the military we see all sorts of fads as well.

We had Total Quality Management for a while, now the latest fad is ATSO 21 (Six Sigma)... all adaptations of the latest business models out there. Like you, we as workers roll our eyes, try and take the best of the theories and await the next reform.

So I understand the resistance to school reform advocates.

I think a major problem for reform advocates has been an inability to separate the education system into component parts.

Different levels of education need different amounts and type of reform.
Perhaps it is the union mentality of teachers, where HS teachers react negatively to reform targeted at the elementary school level.

I still think there is something to the idea of enlisting HS teachers as allies in the push for K-5 reform.

Certain principles of "di" are going to be universal (the military uses a lot of elements of it teaching recruits), but its probably most critical at the early basic skills level to rely on scripted programs.

I think there probably is a critical mass point where scripted programs can give way to more flexibility in teaching freedom after kids have learned to read and compute at a certain level. It is probably at this point that kids really have been taught how to learn (such a cliche).
Certain concepts of "di" though are certainly worth incorporating into all levels of education. Things like breaking concepts down into components, ensuring mastery, reinforcement of concepts over a period of time, and ability grouping.

Secondary school teachers differ from elementary school teachers. They are usually (or should) have degrees in the content area they teach, more like college professors than elementary school teachers.

I suspect that utilizing DI and scripted programs, a school full of Junior College graduates could outperform our current elementary school programs.

(Cross posted)


Dennis Fermoyle said...

Rory, since I'm a high school teacher, I'd like to think you're right about elementary and middle schools needing most of the reform, but I'm not sure the statistics bear that out. My understanding is that on international test scores, America does fine through the fourth grade. It is after that that our scores start to fall off a cliff. (If you have an understanding that is different than this, let me know.) I think this is caused by our toleration of kids who won't try and won't behave. I say that because it's at the middle school and high school years where peers have the greatest effect on each other. I don't think any other nation has the concepts of "right to an education" and "due process" like we do. And I think we are paying a very high price for them while receiving few if any benefits. As I've said before, I think our courts' interpretation of "right to an education" has effectively destroyed that right for a frightening number of kids in our country who really wanted one.

Eric said...


If you end up in Alaska, you might have the chance to see if TQM in education acually works. Chugach district is a Baldrige winner, and other districts were quick to leverage Deming.

I've seen some AFSO 21 materials with a compare/contrast to TQM ("To Quote McPeak"). Looks like an improvement to me. Have you seen Gen Creech's "Five Pillars of TQM?" It's one of my favorites and is quite applicable to school reform.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on the process model discussion at jennyd.

Parentalcation said...

I have already commented over at that discussion, but didn't address the performance aspect.

I am rather sceptical of TQM and AFSO 21 as far as the military goes. At least at the level of supervision and management I work at.

You do make a good point though, about Quality Management principles being applicable to education.

My line of work is too unpredictable to get accurate metrics of performance, but schools are almost purpose built for metric measurements.

The only problem I see is that Quality Management requires input from "stake holders" like teachers, and I am just not confident that teachers can make good decisions.

I don't think there is going to be any more innovative new ideas in education. I think the challenge in education now lies in getting the proven methods adopted on a broad scale with fidelity.

Even school choice isn't innovative, its supposed purpose is to provide competition to motivate adoption of change.

All this talk of "creativity" and "inquiry learning" ignores the fact that the goal of K-12 education to provide a firm basis of knowledge.

Eric said...

sceptical of TQM and AFSO 21 as far as the military goes

What I read suggested the intent to make AFSO 21 more like what Creech suggests. His "Five Pillars" is a CSAF bookshelf selection.

requires input from stakeholders like teachers ... getting the proven methods adopted on a broad scale with fidelity

Ohio TQM'ed their school Operating Standards, which now require input from stakeholders like parents (surprise)! I volunteer in schools with some AF folks, and we're asking ourselves "What would an IG do?" There's reason to hope the playing field has shifted toward level.

Parentalcation said...

Continuous improvement is not a bad thing per se as far as the military goes, its just that the military brass tends to over use it.

For logistics operations it is great, but for day to day aircraft maintenance some of the tenets of the philosophy tend to be a bit daunting. We are "over trained" as it is, so having to attend a class on AFSO 21 or some other flavor of the month tends to get a bit monotonous.

Having said that, I do agree that the education system could learn alot from the military. My view is the military tends to be results oriented, and has a decent system of checks and balances. The military also know the importance of adopting "what works" policies vs unproven methodologies.

All and all, TQM principles are good as long as they lead to proven results.

Eric said...

Air and Space Power Journal has an article critiquing Air Force quality programs, i.e. "The Four Pillars of Partial Quality." Think there's a similar critique in education? I'll ask at jennyd...

Have you had any exposure to "transformation" and DOTMLPF? The jointness issues within DoD have parallels in education as well (except there's little if any chain of command).

I'm with you on the importance of reform and curriculum for struggling students. I'm convinced. though, that quality tools have a role in fixing the broken governance systems which prevent meaningful reform.