“What Would You Do?”

It’s not unusual for me to get push back from friends and others that goes something like this. “You give lots of criticism, and no answers.  What would you do?”

I hate it when that happens.  For a number of reasons.

One reason is that what these questioners are really asking is, “What is the solution that you would impose on others if given the opportunity?” The question is asked in ignorance of the fact that education is under assault because some, mainly business leaders, outside of education are imposing their solutions on others.  This question obscures issues of power.  It doesn’t recognize that any solution has to be determined with those directly affected by the solution.  In this case, those directly affected are educators, parents and children. The question  also accepts the assumption, ignorantly again, that “failing schools” and teachers are a problem, thus the need for a solution. To quote Peter Block,  “When we believe that the ‘other’ is the problem and that transformation is required of them and not of us, we become the beneficiaries of their suffering in the world.  Some of us make a living off of their deficiencies…All in the name of virtue.”  Replace “the ‘other'” with “teacher in the above quote and Block’s description offers much clarity to what is taking place under the auspices of education reform.

The main reason I hate this question is that it shows that those who ask it just aren’t paying attention. And, because of its highly politicized nature, those of us in public education greatly depend on the knowledgeable attention of those outside of it. There are lots of great programs, visions and ideas around.  Just ask educators.

This is why I greatly appreciate An Alternative to Failed Education ‘Reform,’ If We Want One.  This article explains the ways in which the state of California has resisted federal testing mandates and develop an alternative system that is actually based on teaching and learning.  Michael Fullan is credited with much of the philosophy behind the California Model.

Fullan contends American education policy since NCLB has been obsessed with “the wrong drivers.” In his studies of education systems around the world, he finds, “In the rush to move forward, leaders, especially from countries that have not been progressing, tend to choose the wrong drivers. Such ineffective drivers fundamentally miss the target.”

Four ‘culprits’ Fullan finds that ‘make matters significantly worse’ are over-emphasizing accountability and test results, promoting individual rather than group solutions, substituting technology for good instruction, and choosing fragmented strategies instead of systemic strategies to improve the system.”

Sound familiar?

In my mind this approach outlined isn’t perfect. The article uses phrases such as “high performing countries,” without explaining what “high performing” might mean. Is this in terms of test scores? Economic health? In other words, it still projects forward a language of business rather than education.  It also doesn’t address the broader and crucial context of poverty and the racialized culture that schools operate within.  (Though it does show how California addresses some issues of equity.)

Still, it rests on important foundations- that we need to move beyond “…a myopic attention to test scores to look at other kinds of results,” that educators are also solutionaries, and that looking at students as whole beings rather than test data are all important.

What are Fullan’s “right drivers”?

  1. Building capacity in schools and teachers rather than stressing accountability.
  2. Emphasizing teamwork and group quality instead of individual performance.
  3. Focusing on instructional improvement rather than technology.
  4. Enacting whole system reforms rather than piecemeal reforms.

So if someone asks, “What’s your solution?” let them know that this approach is leading in the right direction.


10 responses to ““What Would You Do?”

  1. Sheesh! Makes me think of Pogo’s “We have met the enemy and he is us!” One of the issues: “changing education is like moving a cemetery. There is little internal support.” You, Michael Fullan and others have it right.
    “illigitimi non carborundum…..”

  2. Reblogged this on DCGEducator: Doing The Right Thing and commented:
    My man Bill.

  3. When I took educational administrative courses, I recall that legitimate organizational theory teaches that all stakeholders must be participants in any organizational change. Only when stakeholders are part of the change process, will the change be accepted. In addition, the stakeholders must view the leader of any change as being “legitimate.” None of this has taken place. If change is not accepted, the informal leaders of any organization will sabotage the change (opt out).

  4. Bill, I so appreciate how eloquently and effectively you seem to always take the words right out of my mouth! Lol! I’m learning I can count on you to say what I’m thinking, but don’t always have the capacity to express in writing. Thank you!

  5. If you don’t articulate your own recommendations and act to make them happen, you can be sure that others will be more effective than you in directing the actions and change that they believe in. I look to you as an educator to act toward continuous improvement in educating my child. If you offer only criticism and excuses, it makes responsible others doubt your capability and become more likely to intervene with their own solutions. My observation is that you are far far more critical of business than business people are of you. If you would spend a fraction of the time acting toward solutions than lashing out at others, I can only imagine the progress. Include all the stakeholders in your solution, articulate the solution, sell it, and go for it. As long as you are just complaining, you’ll continue to lose your battle. Parents don’t see the role of educators as voicing their political opinions and endless complaints. We see the role of educators to create a vision that excels education, to tell us and show us how to do it and to do it. It’s the job we pay you to do as employees of the public. If an employee of mine was only negative, constantly criticized and did not offer any solutions, I’d fire him because I would not have confidence in him to advance or improve the cause. If educators are only negative, constantly criticize and don’t offer solutions, I’m losing faith and I’m listening to all others with positivity and ideas.

    • Hi Glen,
      As an educator and long-time reader of Bill’s blog, I found your comment an … odd follow-up to Bill’s post – which focuses on recommendations for progress: i.e., building capacity, teamwork, pedagogy, etc.

      Notwithstanding, I think this assertion is quite illuminating: “My observation is that you are far more critical of business than business people are of you.”

      Further along you suggest that Bill should “articulate the solution [and] sell it”.

      This, I would suggest, gets to the heart of the dissonance: equity. Business seeks profit. It advances by way of objectification and self-interestedness. This is a vision of the common good that is inconsistent with the values of many educators – Bill and myself included.

      The insinuation that you’d fire Bill for his “endless complaints” was particularly absurd. Remember how the 8 hr. workday was achieved? Folks died fighting for it. The boss didn’t give it to us. Same with child labour laws. And maternity leave. In a sense, it’s the folks with “endless complaints” that are leading the way to a more equitable tomorrow.

      So forgive me, Glen, if I take your comment as less than helpful and a distraction from Bill’s very meaningful work.

  6. Toby – I would say that vision, positivity, influence, action and yes objection to status quo are the tickets to progress, but just objection not teamed with these other components is not sufficient and quite frankly exhausting. Taxes and money enabled by business are quite necessary to succes of education and biting the hand that feeds vs partnering is an odd way to go. I love Bill as a main influencer in my life (college roommate and lifelong friend) and we mostly disagree on the route to success while mostly sharing the vision of what success is. I’m a business person, like others, as a result of interests, finding value in improving people’s lives, and needing a vocation to support myself and family …same reasons people become educators. Business is not a Vilian, business is lots of human beings with kids we love and want great education for. I desperately wish to see educators, especially those with such great intellect, bring vision, plans and action to collaborate toward progress. I’m ready to sign up for positive actionable collaborative difficult work with partners but not with those that only articulate complaints

    • “The starting point has to be the recognition that there are two distinct logics at work. One is a logic of education, based on social and individual needs, and notions of equality and democracy. The other is a logic of business, whose bottom line is profit. Not everything business wants to do is incompatible with educational interests. But the logic of business is incompatible with the logic of education.” – Hatcher

      • Hi Toby,
        I think business is very much about social and individual need and democracy. Our society, individuals, democracy and educational system would not function without business. Business is not about equality and I believe education should be funded in a manner that enables education to create equality of opportunity. 99.9 prcnt of businesses and business people have no interest in Running a school that takes over from public education. I think the recognition that both business and educational dynamics are flawed but that both have value to the other is the start. I understand the fight between public schools and business run schools, but let’s stop extrapolating that in the rhetoric of the conversation to all business. It”s divisive and the fact is that businesses and schools need each other, benefit each other and our society needs both.

        Take care,

  7. I think the question “What would you do? ” is a fantastic fantastic opportunity (given by someone reaching out) to influence, create allies, begin change and begin to collaborate toward positive change. No one asking this question is asking you to impose anything on anyone. The asker is seeking solutions, opinions, and ideas. Why would one not take advantage of this opportunity to build common goals toward positive change. I guess I’ll just ask someone else what they would do and keep asking. “What would you do” seems like a very positive question and beginning.

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