A Teacher Responds to Steve Denning’s Ideas: These are Education, Not Management Issues
By Anthony Cody on September 10, 2011 10:58 AM | 7 Comments | Recommend
I present here a rebuttal to the interview I carried last week with management expert Steve Denning. It was written by a Massachusetts teacher who goes by the name Chemtchr.
Guest post by Chemtchr.
Steven Denning’s Forbes essay on “The Single Best Idea for Reforming K-12 Education” was welcomed by teachers, because it deplores some of the egregious management practices imposed on public school systems in the name of corporate education reform.
Mr. Denning was then kind enough to answer some interview questions for teacher-blogger Anthony Cody on Edweek, and this led to a lively discussion in the comments.
Denning made one central assertion in that interview with which teachers would seriously disagree, and I’d like to follow up by exploring that disagreement. I’m addressing primarily teachers, but also Steve Denning and businesspeople of good will. I’d like it if we could actually talk them over.
If the issue is framed as an education issue, “how do we improve education?” there is a risk that anachronistic management ideas will be implicitly assumed as self-evident and imposed on the sector. …By framing the issue as a management issue, “what does the world know about running knowledge organizations?” then the whole array of evidence can be brought to bear on the discussion.
He justifies the leap because of his management consulting experience in the software development industry, which he contrasts to outmoded factory management thinking.
We actual educators know education issues need to be framed as education issues. Education is absolutely not a subset of the software industry, where profit is made from proprietary products and delivery systems, any more than it is a subset of factories. In spite of Denning’s idealistic writings about good businesses managing themselves to delight their customers, the goal of business management is profit. Public education is no kind of business.
I was disappointed that Denning twice ducked my challenge to address the issue of the aggressive drive of the new “public-private” interface, to manage education as an entrepreneurial sector. He has written repeatedly of his ambition to remake the “education sector”, and I wonder what he means by that.
I would be more comfortable with his management advice if he would comment on the corporate reform model of bringing public institutions under the control of private management. Privately selected management shares in government regulatory control, through “accountability” legislation, but serves its for-profit “partner’s” business goals instead of the public.
Denning’s dismissal was strange:
“Please tell Chemtchr not to hear music that isn’t being played. I have never suggested moving public sector schools into the private sector.”
Mr. Denning, that music is being played.
My question has nothing to do with “moving schools into the private sector”. The public-private partnerships demanded by Gates, Broad, and Duncan leave the schools in the formerly public sector, with its public revenue stream, which is all brought under private control.
Here are the Gates Foundation, Pearson, and Microsoft, playing the melody line. Microsoft is already developing computer games which can be aligned to Pearson’s standardized tests on the Gates/Pearson common core curriculum materials.
Here is Denning humming along, in his July 29 Forbes blog, “Wake-up Call for the Gates Foundation.
Denning reiterates (without quarrel) the same tired Gates lies about “lessons learned” (teacher unions and government monopolies are obstacles to education improvement), but he counsels Gates to think “bigger” by adopting Denning’s management formulation. Denning himself makes this reply to a commenter, “As you predicted, the $600 billion Government run system has proven more enduring than might have been hoped, although the results are even worse than expected.”
Please open the link above, to see Denning’s diagram of the “sage on the stage” model he claims teachers follow now. There is a one way arrow from teacher to each student, and no arrows between the students. Colleagues, is that true of any teacher you know?
In Denning’s more enlightened management vision, all participants are gathered around the “internet”. There is an arrow for student-teacher, and between students, but most interactions are through the internet, and all the arrows suddenly become two way. Neither of these diagrams, of course, reflects the reality of relationships among teachers, students, and the world they interact with. We frame the questions as education ones, not management.
For instance, I would draw all my arrows two-way already, within my students’ laboratory teams, and between the teams. Mr. Denning may not be aware that most teachers already do something like that, because his arrows are management arrows and not real communication arrows.
Teachers also work, as educators, to preserve the human and community core of American education. Deborah Meier can give some references. We help our students build those precious two-way arrows that lead out of the box. These are their own experiential connections, between themselves and the world that is really around them in the physical universe, and in their communities.
Denning omitted those from his diagram. At his management system’s heart is, not the student or the community or the world, but a red box labeled internet. Rather than a tool in students’ hands, it has become a conduit through which educational services, testing, and virtual “experiences” can be dispensed and managed. Should the digital transformation be a business management decision, or an educational one?
Bankrolling the “Pearson Foundation” and “Gates Foundation” are two of the most insatiably expansionist for-profit entities history has ever seen.
I am disappointed in Denning’s answers, so far, because we need knowledgeable people who aren’t auditioning for the Gates juggernaut. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s talking to us because we took the stage, finally, on July 29. We went over his head to our people. Let us not be eager to hand our microphone over to him. We need to take back the narrative ourselves, because these are education issues.
Diane Ravitch also responded to the Forbes call for ideas about what its wealthy readers might do to improve public education. She (alone) didn’t suggest they take it over, but instead offered ways actual philanthropists could work more humbly to alleviate the horrors of child poverty.
What do you think? Is Chemtchr’s critique on target? Or is there value in Denning’s framing of the issues?
Chemtchr teaches science and advises a student service club at a public high school in a diverse low-income community in Massachusetts . She is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz and MSU Bozeman, and has taught in urban community-based programs and at a tribal college, as well as in public districts. She’s active in Citizens for Public Schools, and in local and state councils. She thanks Susan Ohanian for links used in this commentary.
Sanford University Education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond’s speech at the Save Our Schools Rally 7/30/11Posted: August 2, 2011
Many people are asking: Why are we here? We are here because we are committed to a strong public education system that works for ALL our children. We are here because we want to prepare children for the 21st century world they are entering, not for an endless series of multiple-choice tests that increasingly deflect us from our mission to teach them well. We are here to protest the policies that produce the increasingly segregated and underfunded schools so many of our children attend, and we are here to represent the parents, educators and community members who fight for educational opportunity for them against the odds every day.
We are here to say it is not acceptable for the wealthiest country in the world to be cutting millions of dollars from schools serving our neediest students; to be cutting teachers by the tens of thousands, to be eliminating art, music, PE, counselors, nurses, librarians, and libraries (where they weren’t already gone, as in California); to be increasing class sizes to 40 or 50 in Los Angeles and Detroit.
It is not acceptable to have schools in our cities and poor rural districts staffed by a revolving door of beginning and often untrained teachers, many of whom see this as charity work they do on the way to a real job. And it is not acceptable that the major emphasis of educational reform is on bubbling in Scantron test booklets, the results of which will be used to rank and sort schools and teachers, so that those at the bottom can be fired or closed – not so that we will invest the resources needed actually to provide good education in these schools.
We are here to challenge the aggressive neglect of our children. With 1 out of 4 living in poverty — far more than any other industrialized country (nearly double what it was 30 years ago); a more tattered safety net – more who are homeless, without health care, and without food security; a more segregated and inequitable system of public education, in which the top schools spend 10 times more than the lowest spending; we nonetheless have a defense budget larger than that of the next 20 countries combined and greater disparities in wealth than any other leading country.
We have produced a larger and more costly prison system than any country in the world — we have 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its inmates — populated primarily by high school dropouts on whom we would not spend $10,000 a year when they were in school, but we will spend more than $40,000 a year when they are in prison – a prison system that is now directly devouring the money we should be spending on education.
But our leaders do not talk about these things. They say there is no money for schools – and of poor children, they say: “Let them eat tests.”
And while many politicians talk of international test score comparisons, they rarely talk about what high-performing countries like Finland, Singapore, and Canada actually do: They ensure that all children have housing, health care, and food security. They fund their schools equitably. They invest in the highest-quality preparation, mentoring and professional development for teachers and school leaders, completely at government expense. They organize their curriculum around problem-solving and critical thinking skills. And they test students rarely (in Finland, not at all) – and almost never with multiple-choice tests.
Many of the top-performing nations rely increasingly on assessments that include research projects, scientific investigation, and other intellectually challenging work – developed and scored by teachers – just as progressive educators here have been urging for years.
None of these countries uses test scores to rank and sort teachers – indeed the Singaporean minister of education made a point of noting at the recent international summit on teaching that they believe such a practice would be counterproductive – and none of them rank and punish schools – indeed several countries forbid this practice. They invest in their people and build schools’ capacity to educate all their students.
Meanwhile, our leaders advocate for teachers with little training – who will come and go quickly, without costing much money, without vesting in the pension system, and without raising questions about an increasingly prescriptive system of testing and teaching that lines the pockets of private entrepreneurs (who provide teacher-proofed materials deemed necessary because there are so many underprepared novices who leave before they learn to teach).
Our leaders seek to solve the problem of the poor by blaming the teachers and schools that seek to serve them, calling the deepening levels of poverty an ‘excuse,’ rewarding schools that keep out and push out the highest need students, and threatening those who work with new immigrant students still learning English and the growing number of those who are homeless, without health care and without food. Are there lower scores in under-resourced schools with high-need students? Fire the teachers and the principals. Close the schools. Don’t look for supports for their families and communities, equitable funding for their schools, or investments in professional learning. Don’t worry about the fact that the next schools are – as researchers have documented — likely to do no better. If the banks are failing, we should fire the tellers. [And whatever you do, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.]
But public education has a secret weapon: the members of communities and the profession like yourselves who are committed first and foremost to our children and who have the courage to speak out against injustice.
This takes considerable courage – of the kind that has caused each of you to be here today. Remember, as Robert F. Kennedy said:
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”
Thank you for each ripple of hope you create – for each and every time you do what is right for children. Thank you for your courage and your commitment. It is that courage and commitment that will, ultimately, bring our country to its senses and save our schools. Keep your hand on the plow. Hold on!
Leading mathematician debunks ‘value-added’
This one is also from V. Strauss’ Answer Sheet blog at the Washington Post. And this one is also a guest column, written by John Ewing, current president of Math for America (a non-profit dedicated to improved math education) and former president of the American Mathematical Society (the leading profesional organization for mathematicians in America). In fact, Ewing’s article was originally published in the Notices of the AMS. He presents a carefully reasoned paper which surveys the scientific articles analyzing the “value-added” method of evaluating teachers. The conclusion:
When we accept value-added as an “imperfect” substitute for all these things because it is conveniently at hand, we are not raising our expectations of teachers, we are lowering them. And if we drive away the best teachers by using a flawed process, are we really putting our students first?
Ewing’s article is also available directly as a pdf.
Those who can, teach. Those who cannot pass laws about teaching.
The reality is that teachers in K-12 U.S. public education have little autonomy and professional power–and that is even more pronounced today than 40 years ago–but the architects of how schools are run, politicians and self-appointed education experts, have somehow shifted all the blame and accountability onto those teachers who are mandated to implement the misguided policies dictated by elected officials, who are overwhelmingly without experience or expertise in education.
Yeah. And the beat goes on.
Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System
By Chris Hedges
(Posted on Apr 11, 2011)
A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.
Please read the rest at truthdig.com.
Check out the website with the latest news on the The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman film, including a sneak peak. The Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) made this movie. The b;og post has another trailer for this film. Also, GEM has a number of related vimeo videos.
Ravitch, research professor of education at New York University, is the author of the bestselling book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” Meier has been a teacher, writer, and education advocate. Her latest book is “Playing for Keeps: Life and Learning on a Public School Playground,” co-authored with elementary teachers Brenda Engel and Beth Taylor.
Diane Ravitch joined Deborah Meier on April 27, 2011 at Indiana University. The 72 minute video was posted to vimeo: