Posts Tagged 'policies'

The Racket of Education

educationracket

The government doesn’t do a great job of educating our children, mostly because there is inherently some level of corruption, and people and organizations think they need (more) money to do the great work. So it all ends up gamed, and the blame diffused. There’s a lot of good, mind you. I’m not advocating tearing it all down. But we do need to learn to see through the B.S. and maintain accountability.

The Show versus Reality: For the most part teachers are evaluated primarily on observation and test scores. For the first few years performance is evaluated by an administrator who comes into into classroom to watch. It happens about two or three times a year, and they generally know when it’s going to happen because either the admin team wants to be sure the administrator is there on a day and time that makes sense for getting the evaluation done (not wasting his or her time) or simply to give the teacher a chance to shave up the dogs and ponies as a favor. I don’t mean to imply that all teachers get a pass all the time. The principle usually figures out who the good and bad ones are, but this process, which could be instrumental, is only incidental toward that end. It lets them put the right things on a checklist, and takes the pressure off of them to take significant action that would otherwise be warranted.

Standardized testing is a measure that’s semi-objective, at least on the surface, but is fraught with its own problems. One of the big ones is that many teachers will teach to what they believe the test is, rather than to the overall betterment of the student. It makes the teacher look better, and again removes the burden for anyone to take more difficult action.

The other concern is establishing what the standards should be that are tested. This process is inherently filled with bias, whether cultural, demographic, religious or otherwise. “Standard” by definition ignores the individual. How much of this makes sense is debated. One problem I see everywhere that I’ve spent years talking about in this blog is how programmed we all have become. We’re made to think and act in certain ways so as to more easily fit or conform to society and be good workers. Of course, this mindset comes from a time when we needed people to show up for work every day and be good, consistent, quiet workers who don’t upset the way things are done or challenge anyone or anything. To conform. These days we struggle because the world has moved on, and this deeply ingrained training no longer serves us. We can’t figure out what to do. Schools have been very slow to respond to these changes.

Principals and superintendents shave the dogs and ponies for their shows as well. Schools and districts are compelled by honors and accolades from various sources. From Lighthouse Schools to National Board Certification for teachers to publisher rankings to accrediting agencies, school leaders are compelled to score high. Competition is good and it makes us better, but the problem here is that schools are going through the motions. While accolades from publishers or high scores from accrediting agencies seem great, they’re merely snapshots. If you look good that day or that week, by teaching something that will impress them (in spite of what lesson really should be taught in the context of the course material), it creates a perception that’s not reality.

You may have heard of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which in many ways is an organization that tries to help. Teachers who receive NBPTS accreditation have done good work and have done a LOT of work. I’m sure many people have been through the process and found it to be incredibly effective and rewarding. However, some get the certification and the promised increase in pay only until the next time the state decides budgets need to be cut. The state got the appearance they were looking for and moved on.

It’s not just firms like NBPTS that cash in on education. Publishing companies write textbooks specifically for large districts or large states. We’re talking big money here. Once books are adopted, many firms have a leg up on their competition. Textbook adoption is usually a district level decision. I’m not going all the way down this rabbit hole here because this one topic is covered quite a bit elsewhere, and one would truly have to have her head in the sand to not have an inkling of how gamed it all is, but suffice to say that the values of a few in power impact the many in unusually profound ways given how few controls there are in place to manage the merits of texts. It reminds me of the phrase, “History is written by the conquerers.”

Software developers also benefit from this situation. Schools are eager to adopt a new program or system to manage grades or attendance or all sorts of student data with only a cursory review. Sure, they talk a good game: peer review, teacher and parent consultation, blah, blah, blah. What it often amounts to is a five or six person panel calling the shot for the whole district.

None of this compares to the accrediting boondoggle. These are for profit companies hired to manage…accreditations. Their agenda is to produce sales. Each time the accrediting agencies show up, the school puts on a nice show and blows a nice chunk of change on wooing them. They usually don’t even eat or spend time with students. Teachers, have you ever seen anyone from an accrediting agency so much as eating in the same cafeteria with the students?

Then there is the Cool Stuff Arms Race. Interactive white boards that barely can be kept working, or are so difficult to use they end up wasting more time than they are worth. Never mind that the school asks teachers to be careful about using it because the bulbs are expensive!  iPods (not pads, “pods,” the music players) were rolled out at many schools a number of years ago. Hardly used. Eventually dropped. Districts don’t seem to understand what it takes to feed and clothe these technological wonders they bring home. Each school seems to have its own handful of things, but the teachers are rarely consulted about what they need, and once they have (what they don’t need) they struggle with a less than fully trained IT staff to keep it running. It ends up being not worth the effort, and traditional means are often used, which in most cases work just fine anyway. It’s all up to whether the teacher is committed and good at it, not so much the technological pyrotechnics involved. Cool new stuff keeps getting added to look good to parents, the media, and accrediting agencies.

This is not to say it is all bad. Good schools do well overall. It’s just frustrating to watch the massive amounts of waste in the process. Waste that results in no money for things that matter. Like the teachers. They are treated like the same commodity pens and paper are in a lot of ways. We try to build a structure that forces them into a paradigm that some idealistic administrator visioned without really understanding that it’s nearly impossible to manage that type of human interaction so systemically. (The medical profession, by the way, suffers from the same thing.) Instead, we should be taking every possible step to build the competency of the teachers, and then paying them accordingly so that once they become brilliant and skilled, they will actually want to remain in the profession, rather than going out to get a real job where they can earn a professional living.

Nobody wants to pay more taxes, and it really shouldn’t take more, but the reality is it probably will. Government is horribly inefficient, but it’s the best thing we have. Until people get serious about (first) understanding what education is needed for kids and then (second) demanding it, I doubt things will change significantly anytime soon.

Meanwhile, how do you know if your kids’ teachers are doing a good job and the district is a good one? You can start by asking your kids and watching what’s going on with their scores on standardized tests. Look deeper. Ask your kids’ teachers what the kids are supposed to learn and ask the kids about those topics. Talk to your kids about the content of their courses. If you’re kids’ teachers are worth their pay, they’ll be glad you did. There’s no substitute for being an involved parent. Not an overbearing, annoying one. But one whose head is in the game paying attention, and talking with the teachers.

Some take this to the extreme of homeschooling. In some situations this may be a viable alternative, and I absolutely applaud folks who can do it, but I expect there are precious few qualified to teach their kids AP subjects in multiple disciplines. Private schooling can be a good answer answer. Certainly many of the inefficiencies and half-baked decisions are minimized, not to mention the elimination of the grindingly slow pace of any kind of change in any governmental body such as eduction. The good private schools can’t game their reputations as easily because they are accountable for what happens to the kids once they leave because they are populated by kids whose parents have resources and talk to each other in the community, not to mention many of them knowing themselves from experience what a good education looks like. But that’s the elite. Below that, it’s still going to require diligent parenting to ensure success.

Hands on. No escaping that. Look past the BS for reality.

 

 

Advertisements

New Information

newinformation

What do we do with it? New information likely means it’s time to consider or evaluate change, which is often more difficult than it sounds.

To some people, it means admitting you were wrong.

But of course, you weren’t wrong. You made a decision based on one set of facts, but now you’re aware of something new.

To some people, sunk costs are a real emotional hot button, and walking away from investments of time, of money, and mostly, of commitment, is difficult. Add a moral component to this and the weight of change can get dramatically greater.

But of course, ignoring sunk costs is a key to smart decision making.

And, to some people, the peer pressure of sticking with the group that you joined or reinforced when you first made a decision is enough to overwhelm your desire to make a better decision. “What will I tell my friends or family?” “What will they think of me?”

The moral component, if it’s really valid and not just something to hide behind to stay comfortable, is another issue.

A useful riff you can try:

Sure, I decided that then, when I knew what I knew then. And if the facts were still the same, my decision would be too. But the facts have changed. New facts mean it’s time for me to make a new decision. This is not done lightly, without regard for what I was busy doing yesterday, without concern for the people who might disagree with me. It is done because it is right and best for everyone involved that me and my actions be congruous with what I know now. My supposition is that once they realize these new facts, they would be likely to make the same new decision I just did, or to at least understand why I need to. If they truly respect, value and even love me, then they’ll give me the space to make this course correction.

This decision is more important than my pride.

Bad Guys and Castles

musclemanprotectscastle

People, men especially, seem preoccupied with protection centered around having something to protect. It’s as if guarding the castle is somehow what makes them men. There are primitive systems at work within us here. Though most would claim otherwise, and point to all sorts of evidence to rationalize it, the truth is we engage in this way not (usually) because it’s legitimately necessary, but because it gives us a means to validate ourselves and satisfies a need, even chemically.

It parallels our tendency to gravitate toward outrage, or choosing to get offended. Yes, it is often a choice. It’s bottled with so much righteous indignation, judgment, and in extreme cases even hate. It’s also often bottled with baggage of our own. Things we’re hiding from and want to protect. We build things, ideas, beliefs, and lives that are sacred to us, then spend a lot of time and energy protecting them from any kind of affront. We become territorial. It’s us and them. We’re trained that this gives us power, makes us feel like men, protecting the helpless. Meanwhile, we sometimes want what they have, which then reinforces our belief that it’s a danger. We’re easy prey for this because of our ancestral instincts.

Man, it is just not as hard as we make it. The proverbial boogie-man isn’t outside your door. Yes, terrible things happen sometimes, but most of it is so overblown by the fear-inducing media that it’s skewed in our minds. We’ve been trained to look for discord, to protect from nearly any possible threat; to worry. By the way, we must remember that this day and age, the function of news organizations is to attract an audience so ads can be sold. Drama, controversy, and fear compels people to engage. It’s a simple formula. Hollywood uses it, too. Our value and contribution is as consumers. If we happen to overreact along the way, no big deal (to them).

We don’t really need the media to take us there. It simply reinforces and capitalizes on primitive stuff that already exists within.

A man wants to feel like he is the king of his domain, the protector of his castle. That’s part of what validates him. Simple as that. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It doesn’t help that women often validate this behavior.

Mankind, on the other hand, needs harmony. Sure there are legitimate threats, and we do need to be mindful of them and take appropriate actions. But we feel threatened by things that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t ultimately matter that much. We feel threatened when people do things we don’t approve of, or understand, even though they may not seriously affect our ability to live a life. Our way of life may be challenged at times, and we hate that. We recoil at the idea of someone taking something away from us, whether it be a perceived bit of freedom, a possession, or the time and heart of another. It’s all perfectly understandable, but taken to the extremes we’re fighting what becomes an impossible war, and we’re caught in the crossfire of it at the same time. Any semblance of control over others is a dangerous illusion. See the writing on the wall. Be, and, this is really important, let others be.

Your validation and happiness as a human isn’t going to ultimately be found in what you protect and hold on to. Let go. Let the chips fall where they may. Let others make their decisions about what they care about.

Getting to the Change

headinsandwoman

One of the most difficult skills to master in life is helping people  (ourselves included) make changes that will benefit them in the long run – even if it means annoyance or sacrifice in the short term. That could mean anything from getting a child to clean his or her room to convincing a customer to switch from a competitor’s brand to yours.

We’re all selling something, but you can’t force anyone to buy it. Worse, if someone feels you are pushing it on them, emotions will take over and they will resist buying it even if it hurts them not to.

That’s why the best salespeople see themselves as trusted service providers and advisors, not product pushers. They understand that change isn’t easy, and that’s what makes them effective in creating strong relationships with customers. Regardless of the context or gravity of whatever the situation is, these basic questions apply:

  1. What does the person want to change?
  2. Why does the person want to change?
  3. What does the she really want? What is the ultimate goal?
  4. What is preventing someone from changing? Why has he or she not already changed?
  5. What motivates the him? What makes her tick?
  6. What is involved in making the change? What will it take?
  7. How will the person behave before, during, and after the change?

You can practice this almost anywhere you encounter people, even picking random ones out of a group at a restaurant or park. See what answers you can come up with: Why is this person here? Where does that person want to go in life?

To quote Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” How many times a day do other people ask you to do something without going to the trouble of outlining how you’ll benefit from taking on the task? People need to feel ownership over change, even if the idea doesn’t come from them. Before you ask someone to take a step in a new direction, be sure to communicate your vision of a new and great experience.

Structure as Wisdom

Girder1

When we lack the maturity or day-to-day wisdom to guide ourselves properly it can often be compensated for by providing structure.

This is the role of policies, as well as our attempts to remove temptations from our lives. We make rules, rituals, schedules, lists, and even track our actions all to funnel ourselves down a preferred course while trying to hold ourselves accountable to it. Accountable to something tangible. Something that requires a little less thought, or whatever that inner quality is that provides wisdom to us in a way that keeps us content.

Structure is often a valid tactic for managing ourselves as well as others…in the short term. Good habits can be formed. Setting a standard communicates something about ourselves, to ourselves and others. Adhering to one also does. But we mustn’t fool ourselves. Structure can appear as maturity, but it isn’t. It denotes a modicum of it. That one has the foresight and wherewithal to deploy a workable structure is meaningful. But the end game is to not need it.

To live a life where the wants and desires are reconciled with the needs is the real goal. That harmonious balance is the place from where peace and happiness come. Put your structures in place if you need to. Obey the rules where it makes sense. But don’t let them become a crutch for real growth, because they will ultimately hold you back. It would be better to graduate beyond that, to a higher plane of awareness.

Note: this doesn’t mean doing what other people, or society thinks you should do or any conventional wisdom (those are just rules and structures in disguise). It’s a matter of figuring out your real Self, what you really want, and then accepting it and living consistent with it while unburdened from the rest.


Pages

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: