Demands for change are creating new laws, regulations, and programs which are overwhelming our public schools. Forty-nine states have enacted educational reform legislation! With the best of intentions, we've originated hundreds of change initiatives and generated thousands of pages of federal, state, and local mandates, regulations, and related documents intended to improve our schools. It is our position that, although many of these reform initiatives have the potential to help, the vast majority of them do not acknowledge or address the fundamental challenge captured in the following question:
How do we improve the performance of this large, complex system we call "public education" when its organizational practices and culture are so deeply rooted in entitlement?
We believe looking at the improvement of our public schools through a lens focused on a shift from entitlement to performance will enable us to begin "seeing with new eyes."
Our education workforce operates and negotiates from a perspective that its members have a right to their jobs, know what they are doing, deserve raises and good benefits because they have spent many years in education, have good intentions, care about children, and work hard. School districts, as monopolies, believe that they are entitled to educate the vast majority of students in their cities, towns, or regions; school boards believe a public obligation exists to provide the tax dollars required to run the schools; students believe, if they attend school for twelve years and don't cause any major problems, they deserve a high school diploma; parents believe their child has an inherent right to a good education. Thus, how do we get an organizational system and all of its people to really commit to improving performance when it operates daily from the assumption that it is entitled to its customers, jobs, budgets, facilities, and the other resources it requires?
Lloyd Dobyns and Clare Crawford-Mason in Thinking About Quality caution: "Before you can change what you do, you have to change how you think. Before you can change how you think, you have to change what you believe."1 While we are a society which shares a strong belief in the right of all children to an education, more and more voices are challenging the belief that public schools, in their present form, have an inherent right to provide that education.
The emerging expectation for a shift from entitlement to performance is not a dilemma unique to public education. Substantial transformations in this country and around the world were created by tremors reverberating throughout American business and industry in the late 70s and early 80s. The global marketplace expanded. Consumers began to demand higher quality and service. Investors pursued higher returns. Thousands of employees were displaced via massive downsizing. IBM was no longer entitled to its customers despite years of prior loyalty. Workers were no longer entitled to their jobs despite years of faithful service. Today, these same forces extend unabated into health care, utilities, financial services, the military, and non-profit organizations. We are only beginning to comprehend and live with utility deregulation, HMOs, the privatization of various government services, and even a performance orientation for non-profits.
Organizations and their ways of working are undergoing never imagined upheavals. Employees are learning to respond and perform within a whirlwind of ever shifting events, forces, and trends an environment in which investors, customers, and employment must be earned on a daily basis and can be easily lost.
Similar shock waves now bear down upon public schools. Education's reform forces demand far greater scrutiny of school practices and are raising expectations for dramatic change. The restructuring and refocusing of many other institutions and organizations away from previous entitlement toward improved performance are shaping the lens through which many now view our schools.
An essential concept behind this shift from entitlement to performance is that this effort will require changing a large complex organizational system* and include possible changes in elements of leadership, processes, goals, workforce, strategies, cultures, and structures. It is mis-directed for us to keep blaming individuals or groups for the shortcomings and failures of our public education system or that just focusing on symptomatic issues will change the underlying system. Our school reform efforts must be guided by thinking and actions more systemically focused! Known as the father of the quality movement and revered for his contributions in design and quality manufacturing, W. Edwards Deming, concluded in his life's work that, "Ninety-four percent of the problems in organizations are problems of the system and only six percent are the fault of individual actions."2 Deming's reflection implies that the majority of the time and resources we invest in change must be focused on the system issues. [*in this case, simply means a series of elements which have a common purpose.]
The good news is that many of the educational reform initiatives, in their myriad of changes, do reflect some understanding of the many elements that are interrelated and have an impact on student learning and achievement. The problem, however, is many of the strategies such as higher standards and expectations, more assessment, different school schedules, more time in the classroom, new curriculum, school councils, and site-based management are being implemented within a system whose fundamental beliefs and practices are based upon entitlement. The risk becomes, once again, that as long as schools are in compliance with the new directives and mandates and care about students, they cannot be held accountable if they do not improve learning and achievement. Good intentions, hard work, and being in compliance with education laws and regulations may be necessary, but they will not be sufficient in a world requiring continuous improvement, the ongoing capacity for change and adaptation, and a high responsiveness to customers.
Some school districts have recently increased their focus on improving performance in terms of raising student learning and achievement. Even with those districts in mind, the over-arching and unaddressed issue for the existing public school system is: How do we develop and implement reform strategies which actually assist our schools in finding ways to move from organizational cultures and systems of entitlement to ones of performance? One of the authors, while part of a team doing research on factors influencing transformations within organizations, interviewed a senior vice-president of an international corporation who, when asked what had been his major learning in the successful transformation of his company, said, "The most important work is changing the culture, the underlying beliefs of the institution that are woven into its very being. This is the hardest work of all."
• The following chart offers several initial comparative characteristics of entitled and performing organizations. Use this chart as a starting point in weighing where you and your school are along an entitlement performance continuum. Consider, too, the implications to your leadership and how you might begin to develop a focus on performance.
It is time to acknowledge that true educational change is much harder and more demanding than creating additional tests or rules. We have much to gain from those organizations and programs which have learned how to focus on performance resulting in improved services and products [ie: health care, business, non-profits, and some aspects of government operations]. It is time to support and provide our schools with the practices which initiate and sustain meaningful reform and engender performance. Our legislators, business leaders, and educational policy makers need to realistically advocate for and support the following:
• Effective and strong leadership for improving performance:
This means looking inside and outside the present culture and systems of the organization for those who can lead change, finding sufficient time for this work, and establishing an effective collaborative process.
• Relationships with organizations which have achieved recognized change and improved performance:
These talents and strategies must be evaluated in terms of their value to school issues and change efforts.
• The development and maintenance of a different relationship between central office administration, school committee, and unions:
Trust, understanding, and communication are the building blocks for this change which must include new contract designs.
• Creating a powerful alliance among educators, parents, businesses, and the community for improved learning and achievement:
Fresh, imaginative, and workable ideas must be honored to help build these alliances.
• The improvement of schools' abilities to collect data and information, analyze and synthesize the results, and articulate its meaning:
Administrators will have to establish time for all staff to understand, internalize, and utilize this data to create responsive and improved programs.
• Increased clarity and focus regarding outcomes that are essential:
Schools and teachers will require greater freedom and flexibility to build and implement strategies for improvement of student learning and achievement linked to their community.
• The creation of processes created at the school district and school level for reflection and organizational learning in order to continously review strategies, their impact, and required modifications.
|In tandem with the above efforts, and as part of a sustained emphasis on performance, schools must take the lead in establishing organizational systems, practices, and structures focused on three factors:
School districts need to build local agreement and understanding of what their students must know and be able to do by the completion of each level of schooling.It is essential that the process to achieve this involve parents, community members, and educators.
To build the organization's...
The most critical factor in moving our public education system and local school districts from entitlement to performance is leadership. One of our favorite definitions of leadership is "bringing a group of people together to accomplish or achieve something that they probably wouldn't do on their own." Peter Drucker, the renowned management expert, once said, "Leadership is doing the right thing, management is doing things right. The problem we have in most organizations is that we have managers doing the wrong thing really well." The school change we advocate will require leaders who are teachers, school committee members, parents, superintendents, legislators, and members of local government to be in alignment about doing the right things. All parties must bring their communities and schools to do things that they probably would not do on their own.
A FRESH ADVOCACY
As leaders wanting to improve our public education system, we have the ability to initiate more systemic and systematic steps within our schools and community. To do so, we shall:
RETHINKING HOW OUR SCHOOLS MIGHT WORK
Organizations moving toward performance emphasize:
S u m m a r y...
A performance orientation offers a new lens through which to view the true potential and importance of our public schools and the students they serve. Let us begin "seeing with new eyes."
Paul McGowan is the founder of Education Associates which consults with state departments of education and local schools and school systems on how to create and sustain change and improvements resulting in improved student learning and achievement. Education Associates is located in Ogunquit, Maine and can be reached at 207-641-0870 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Miller has served as a teacher, Director of a Teachers' Center, and as school principal of an award winning elementary school on Nantucket, Massachusetts. He is presently working with Drs. Tom and JoAnn Shaheen of Rockford, Illinois on The Principal's Advocate, a book for school leaders. He may be reached at 508-228-4138 or email@example.com.
For further reading:
This term describes organizations in which people's attitudes and behaviors, as well as organizational practices, reflect a high value on input and processes with little attention to output or results. In schools, this means a primary emphasis on: a staff's good intentions, how hard they work, and how much they care about educating children. It also means that the organization's processes underscore such things as the curriculum, budget, negotiated contracts, schedules, technology, and facilities. Thus, despite our best intentions, over time this subtle entitlement milieu has resulted in ways of working which are unable to significantly respond to new requirements and expectations.