Saturday, December 04, 2004

Educational lessons from the USA?

If we think the compliance demands in New Zealand are a pain then an article in the New York Times (Dec3rd 04) by Philip Howard, author of’ ‘The Collapse of the Common Good’, shows perhaps thing aren’t so bad after all? But there are lessons for us to learn.

In an attempt to ensure all students get a fair go, schools in America now have to comply to a mountain of curriculum, accountability and legal requirements; established no doubt for good reasons by well meaning politicians. The trouble is that more time is now spent on excessive paper work than focusing on the core role of teaching and learning. Howard writes, that once rule based management takes root bureaucracy grows, tying principals and teachers in time consuming legal knots. Such a legalistic culture becomes poisonous, transforming what should be a cooperative enterprise into an audit culture that just wastes everyone’s time and energy.

In New York the legalistic overload is so great as to be comedic, according to the head of the teacher’s union, Randi Weingarten. Legal mandates are imposed on all sorts of things, ‘Every minute of the day and every inch of the classroom is dictated, the arrangement of desks, the format of bulletin boards, and the position where the teacher should stand.’ Teachers, she continues, ‘are demeaned, they’re stripped of their professionalism and they are expected to behave like robots incapable of independent thought’.

The efficiency movement that created the mass production factories of the Industrial Age it seems are alive and well in American schools. Henry Ford would be proud of them! Everyone will have an education, but one size will fit all. The legalist demands, Howard says, have basically killed the human instinct and judgment required to run a school able to focus on the needs of individual students.

Fixing American schools seems like one of the hardest tasks in the history of civilization and it seems beyond our grasp, says Howard. He goes on to say that before we throw good money after bad it would be wise to learn why school reforms almost always seem to fail.

Perhaps, he says, it is time to rethink basic assumptions and move away from micromanagement. Maybe teachers and principals should be allowed to think for themselves? That’s how successful schools have always worked. No amount of money will rescue a ship sinking under the weight of endless rules and bureaucracy.

He concludes that, ‘Schools depend on the energy, skill, judgment and sympathy of teachers and principals. Liberate them to draw on all their human traits. Then liberate some of us to hold them accountable. Throw most of the rules overboard. Let law set basic goals and principles, not dictate daily decisions’

A lesson to be learnt by our political masters in New Zealand?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Makes the NZ situation look ideal by comparison. Scary stuff!